Friday, 16 January 2009

That Hideous Strength (Part II)

Like a gold thread discovered in a lump of coal, encoded into Harrison's account is a praisee of some of the most thoughtful research ever conducted into the nature of so-called UFOs. From the 'air snakes' in Conan Doyle's short story The Horror of the Heights; to the atmospheric 'critters' theorised by Ivan Sanderson and Trevor James Constable, at the edge of the phenomenon lurks a corpus of rich but rarely explored sightings of truly Lovecraftian dimensions. Like the amorphous organisms described in HPL's From Beyond, however, the Uninvited Visitors of Sanderson et al are described as somewhat ethereal in nature, lighter than air and vast in size. The closest precursor to Harrison's alleged UFO derives not from Lovecraft, then, but HG Wells, whose Martians combined an octopus-like appearance with a compact physicality. Was the connection signalled (unconsciously) by the timing of NASA's announcement of methane plumes on the Red Planet barely a week since reports of a 'Tentacle UFO' made national headlines? (Report here.)

Possibly... But the report must still be bollocks, surely? A tribute to the potency of the local moonshine, perhaps; or the imaginative powers of a man who spends far too much time around sheep? Well... not necessarily. The 'Octopus UFO' was by no means the first of its kind to be sighted in Britain, nor even the first this year. When MoD declassified its first tranche of files in May 2008, one concerned 'an object with approximately 300 tentacles' allegedly sighted in the skies over Reading; whilst in 2004, 'two brown jellyfish... swimming in the sky' were seen by a man in Northants: apparently organic entities that made 'a swishing sound' and pulsated. (See here.) But by far the most significant forerunner to the Conisholme event was an extraordinary report filed on New Year's Day and published in the Daily Telegraph on January 12. Its author was one Lyn Meall, who was returning with four others from a Hogmanay celebration in the Scottish Highlands. 'We were driving through forestry when we spotted four orange balls of light in the sky ahead of us,' she is quoted as saying. 'Then another one emerged to our right which had silver tentacles reaching down from it towards the ground, like an octopus.' Of the similarity between this creature and the description given by John Harrison just three days later, Meall said she was 'convinced that they were the same things.' (Report here.)

A tentacled entity of a very different kind emerged into the American consciousness in 2005, as a satirical protest against the mandatory teaching of Intelligent Design in Kansas. Conceived by Bobby Henderson, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was intended to parody the deliberate ambiguity of the Creationists' references to an unspecific 'Designer'- an ontological black hole perceived as capable of being filled by anything. Beginning as a self-amusement, Henderson's mock religion quickly assumed a life of its own- as these characters and creations (archetypes by another name) so often do. The likelihood of any meme descending the ladder and emerging in physical form is in direction proportion to the attention paid to it. If the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not itself drop in, did another of the specie of tentacled monsters that haunt the imagination? A correspondent to the Louth Leader, one Leta Burch of Illinois, seemed to suspect so. An art teacher, Burch described 'a large tentacled creature' drawn by a student, a former Navy seaman, he claimed he had seen crawling on the deck of his vessel during a hypnagogic episode whilst on watch. Intriguingly, in line with our own speculations, Burch directly connects this anomaly with the 'Octopus UFO'- see here. (The comment is at the foot of the article.)

On at least one previous occasion, a visitation from these dank strata has resulted in tragedy. In March 1976, according to a 'secret report' leaked by former CIA pilot John Lear, Air Force Sergeant Johnathan P Louette was abducted from White Sands Proving Ground by a tentacle protruding from a disc-shaped craft. His body was discovered three days later, Lear claimed, drained completely of blood and with eyes, genitals and rectum missing. The officer present at the time of his disappearance, originally charged with his murder, was released without charge. (See here.)

Events like those reported by John Harrison, then, however unlikely, are not without literary and Ufological precedent- categories, in the murky world of Ufology, with a high degree of overlap. Nor was Conisholme the first time a UFO is alleged to have collided with a windmill. A mill owned by Judge Proctor of Aurora, Texas, was the centre of a comparable storm when a reporter for the Dallas Evening News claimed that it had been hit by a spaceship in April, 1897; a notorious hoax which bears some comparison to recent events in Lincolnshire. Could this have been Dale Vince's template when he leaked the news of the 'crash' to the press? Something of a Ufologist, Vince has admitted having 'a bit of fun' with the Conisholme story, 'to take the edge off what was otherwise a serious and very bad event for us.' (Report here.) (Expansion of wind power is contested bitterly in rural areas; any indication that the technology is unsafe would be grist to a rather different mill: the voluble lobby who consider the elegant turbines a hideous carbuncle on the face of the land.) 'As for UFOs,' says Vince, echoing the thoughts of many, 'I believe absolutely that intelligent life exists in the universe. But I doubt that if it could get here from another galaxy it would crash into a windmill.'

The point is valid, but rests on a comprehension of UFOs informed by the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis long since discarded by most thoughtful researchers. It was the press (with Vince's assistance) who evoked a crash to explain the anomalous damage to the turbine- not the evidence. (Nor any of the witnesses whose reports I have read, many of whom were careful not to make a rash connection between the well-documented presence of nebulous craft and the expensive destruction wrought- very probably- by metal fatigue.) That there is a connection, however, just as there was in Point Pleasant in 1967 when the destruction of the Silver Bridge was the climax to a paranormal flap of massive proportion, is self-evident- though it need not and is unlikely to be causative. The phenomenon entrains a vast arc of experience of which aerial craft are merely the most tangible fraction; to reject a link between the lights and the mill on the basis that 'UFOs don't crash' is to evince a very limited understanding of its occult and quantum properties.

On the other hand, many researchers have suspected that the famous Roswell 'crash' was a staged descent, a deliberate attempt at contact by an intelligence far too powerful to cock up the driving. Could the same not have happened at Conisholme? But if there was no collision, UFO or otherwise, as a lack of foreign debris would seem to suggest, was the damage a demonstration of 'controlled demolition'- physical theatre curiously rich in symbolism for those gifted to interpret? Nowhere else have I seen this elementary concept even suggested.

Is there not a precedent for it? Fields of maize, grass and wheat are hardly the natural ampitheatre for messages from cosmos, yet we take it almost for granted that that is what the majority of those wondrous hieroglyphs are. If ET- by which I mean the intelligence controlling UFOs- can communicate through symbols scored into a wheat field, why should a windmill not also be its stage? We are not, after all, dealing with a human agency... It will communicate in the way that it chooses, and its methods may well surprise us. ET certainly was present in Conisholme on the night of January 3, and it sounds very much as though It's still there, judging from a story published on January 14, but which could very easily have been drawn from the files of John A Keel.

'The ancient procession of the damned.' This is how Keel described the coming of 'the strange ones'- the Men In Black who flock to the scene of a UFO flap, and exhibit a peculiar and sometimes intimidating interest in the lives of witnesses and their children. As much a part of a flap as the craft themselves, from a report by Gemma Gadd of the Louth Leader it would seem that the strange ones have descended upon Conisholme. 'A Conisholme resident today told us she received a visit from a French man who asked her if she would wash his clothes,' she writes. 'When the lady asked what he was doing he replied he was in the area 'for the UFOs'. There is no indication that the resident concerned had been been effected by the flap, but so typical is the story of an MIB encounter that- in The Mothman Prophecies- Keel cites a near-identical example from Point Pleasant. 'In several instances,' he writes, the deeply-tanned occupants of the black limousines 'merely asked for a glass of water. The old fairy trick, taken up from the Middle Ages and dusted off.'

None of these paranormal indices, however, as significant as they are, nor the multitude of witnesses to the same effect are as reliable a gaussometer of the supernatural as the rich symbolism aspired to by the whole tableau; and it is in this regard that the Conisholme mystery most truly excels.

Tangled Up in Blue... More to follow...


wise woman said...

I had not thought to look at this from a symbolic viewpoint - had a look a symbolism in dreams just to see what they said;

"To see a functional windmill in your dream, represents the power of the mind. It is also indicative of your emotional state of mind. To see an idle or broken windmill, signifies unexpected obstacles"
"To see one broken or idle, signifies adversity coming unawares."

I do wonder about the whole 'tentacle thing'. I read once that we cannot imagine that which we do not know about - so from where does this sci-fi tentacle imagery come? When I hear of War of the Worlds, I also think of 'The Tripods' which was made into the BBCs (I think) most costly (to that time) production. The author John Christopher (real name Samuel Youd) has, I feel, a lot of knowledge.

Ben Fairhall said...

Wasn't that based on the book by John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids? Yes, there is a close connection between Wells and this later mythos. Oh hang on, I'm getting my sci-fi in a twist. Yes, OK, The Tripods... I think I'm with you. (Vaguely remember it, actually.) I'll have a Wiki later.

I forgot to mention another precursor to Harrison's 'Tentacle UFO'- which I will add to the finished article at BTB- the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (Thanks to Michael for drawing my attention to this.)

Thank you for the dream material. That wasn't the symbolism I had in mind but is very relevant.


Anadæ said...

Whoa... beautiful wordsmithing you wield, Ben. If only this Confederate boy were as gifted. I'd love to be able to have a clothbound of yours in my barrister bookcase to proudly show dinner guests.

Be that as it may, it does resemble more & more the scenario in the Fortean investigator's œuvre, intangible, unpigeonholable, yet with its influence exerted physically enough to impress itself into our psyches as well as outwardly into the corporeal world.

Ever read John A Keel's swan song title, "Disneyland of the Gods" before? It dovetails nicely with Jim Brandon's "The Rebirth of Pan: Hidden Faces of the American Earth Spirit", the premise beyond each of which is that we are, like Charles Hoy Fort himself opined so long ago, "...being fished for."

I'm still scouring the resources to determine WTF a couple of nights ago I'd seen hereabouts.

Continuing radiant beams of support,
Anadæ ( :-)}

Ben Fairhall said...

Hello Anadae,

Oddly enough, I ordered Keel's swansong just a week or so ago. I picked it up because, knowing it was his last work, I wanted to see to what extent he had developed the theories that were already (in my opinion) very far-sighted, as manifest in earlier classics like The Mothman Prophecies. Should be a good read.

Thanks for your comment,


Michael said...

Marvelous. Devin at My Favorite Monsters is currently going over the great Airship mysteries of the late 19th century.

Also, Robert Heinlein described Martians as enormous blimp-like entities in 'Stranger in a Strange Land', a book that has always held a strange fascination for me.

A windmill, farms, millers, grain, wind farms, all seem to be circulating around... something. Throw in Don Quixote and tilting at windmills and it is quite odd.

Cheers, Michael

Ben Fairhall said...

Great comment, Mike- thanks.

The airship mysteries are of great interest to me; another example of the imitative (and precognitive) aspects of the 'UFO' phenomenon. According to Jacques Vallee in Passport to Magonia, the airship craft were in the skies just ahead of the conventional, 'civilian' versions of the same technology. (A relationship we've seen imitated in the twentieth century by the coming of the Drones and other triangular craft, apparently anticipated by ET first.)

Heinlein also discussed 'sky critters' in one of his books or stories, I recall...

Am I tilting at windmills with this investigation? I know at least one or two Ufologists who think so, but to me the evidence for... something going on... is mounting up daily.