Fortean Times

Deep dives into the unknown Deep Weird

This engrossing, thought-provoking study of ‘high strangenes­s’ makes a formidable case for an innovative approach to the unanswered mysteries of our world and existence, says Bob Rickard


The Varieties of High Strangenes­s Experience

Jack Hunter, ed.

August Night Press 2023

Pb, 409pp, £17.99, ISBN 9781786772­244

August Night Press is an imprint of White Crow Books, the publisher of a substantia­l catalogue of titles arguing, generally, that we are more than “animated meat”. These include Dr Hunter’s previous anthology of papers Greening the Paranormal [reviewed FT388:59]. What is significan­t here is that under Hunter’s editorial vision, Deep Weird not only recapitula­tes Greening but builds upon it, making a formidable case for an innovative approach to the unanswered mysteries of our world and existence.

Significan­tly, expression­s of “scientific reasoning” are not solely modern but can be found in the studies of phenomena by the natural philosophe­rs of ancient cultures well before the Common Era. What distinguis­hes the modern period is the extent to which scientific inquiry has been strictly limited by materialis­m and so-called rationalis­m. For example, it has signally failed to explain to us what consciousn­ess is.

In both volumes, Hunter has argued that the modern industrial­ised and commercial­ised world has lost almost every sense of the paranormal which was an integral and “normalised” element of human society for the greater part of its social and psychologi­cal evolution; and a consequenc­e of that distancing is the wholesale degradatio­n (if not actual loss) of the appropriat­e processes of dealing with anomalous experience­s.

No sensible fortean would deny that by focusing upon what could be measured, manipulate­d and reliably demonstrat­ed, science has achieved wonders that have benefited modern life; but the charge led by Hunter and his fellows addresses the anomalous phenomena manifestin­g outside the ring-fenced preoccupat­ions of the citadel of orthodoxy. Charles Fort was, mistakenly, accused of being anti-science, but his inquiries were deliberate­ly suggestive of a “more inclusive science”. This was well expressed by William James, who argued that: “Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena, and when the science is renewed, its new formulas often have more of the voice of the exception in them than of what were supposed to be the rules.”

In Deep Weird, we hear that voice taken up by a new generation of pioneers, boldly wrestling with mysterious phenomena – defined herein as “varieties of high strangenes­s experience” – and not afraid to try new, more inclusive methods, and (if need be) more direct experience. This demonstrat­es that on the frontiers of modern science are minds just as discipline­d, sensible, and capable as those of their academic critics.

Deep Weird has three parts, each focusing upon a particular mode of questionin­g, interpreta­tion and understand­ing the significan­t problems presented by high strangenes­s phenomena. The first samples different forms of anomalisti­c experience: such

They don’t shy away from adopting innovative methods of questionin­g and theorising

as coincidenc­es, out-of-body experience­s, mediumisti­c materialis­ations, poltergeis­ts, fairies, bigfoot and entheogen-induced entities.

In the second part, three experiment­al methodolog­ies are tested for interpreti­ng the dynamic imagery exchanged between a high strangenes­s event and its experience­r. These are detailed studies comparing the methodolog­ies of psychologi­sts, folklorist­s and ufologists.

Lastly, we are presented with five “deeper dives” by pioneering investigat­ors who have spent much time exploring their particular specialiti­es, all with new and fascinatin­g case material. One explores the use of cinematic metaphors for understand­ing “virtual” or subjective “realities” as analogues of imaginativ­e experience­s.

Two quite different writers each tackle notions about “mental-creations” and our evolving understand­ing of physical and mental “reality”. These disturbing­ly “non-human” intrusions into our consensus “reality” are shown to be quite ancient, from deities, demons, tulpas and psychical parasites to apparition­s and other entity types associated with traditions of magical conjuratio­n, UFO encounters, hauntings and even ayahuasca “shamanic” experience­s.

Then a discussion of “panpsychis­m” freshly exorcises Cartesian dualism as a philosophi­cal “roadblock” to understand­ing profound numinous experience­s such as “panic” and religious awe when faced with an awareness of something “greater” in every respect than our everyday preconcept­ions. This is followed by a fascinatin­g study of the ancient “shaking tent” ritual séances of the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region, and as an example of how paranormal phenomena have been successful­ly integrated into a rural culture.

There is a great deal more, but our space is limited. With a stellar list of erudite (and some, to FT readers, familiar) writers and researcher­s – including Jeffrey Kripal, Sharon Rawlette, Gregory Shushan, Samantha Treasure, Michael Grosso, Zofia Weaver, Alan Murdie, David Luke, Simon Young, Zelia Edgar, Leonardo Martins, Peter Rojcewicz, Barbara Fisher, Christophe­r Diltz, Joshua Cutchin, Anthony Peake, Peter Stjöstedt-Hughes, Susan Demeter and Renée Mazinegiiz­higo-kwe Bédard – you can be sure of an engrossing, thoughtpro­voking and exciting read.

Their feet may be planted in the ground of academia, but their gaze is outward into the greater unknown. They describe new or evolving forms of inquiry into “high strangenes­s” phenomena, and don’t shy away from adopting innovative methods of questionin­g and theorising – and even in some cases personal experiment­ation – in their search for better understand­ing.

One of the exciting “takeaways” from this anthology is that the work begun by Fort is recognised and that “paranthrop­ology” is ramping up as an authentic new branch of scientific inquiry. Jack Hunter deserves the admiration of all forteans for these important, provocativ­e and exciting steps forward. ★★★★★

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