Monday, January 22, 2007

BOOK: "Strange Attractor Journal One" (cont.)

Mark Pilkington (ed.): Strange Attractor Journal One. (Winter 2003/4.) Devizes, Wiltshire: Strange Attractor, 2004. ISSN: 1742-4534. ISBN: 0954805402. x + 260 pp.

[Continued from, um, last year.]

Deciphering books

There's also a delightful article about “strange lit crit” (pp. 243–52) — various kooky efforts to reveal hidden messages in books, from Donnelly's Great Cryptogram (a nearly 1000-page tome purporting to prove that Shakespeare's works were written by Francis Bacon) to the more recent “bible codes”, which try to arrange characters from the bible on a grid and look for interesting words consisting of several non-adjacent characters.

And one Pope R. Hill claimed, through thorough analysis of supposed inconsistencies in Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, that “Doyle wrote each story; falsified the ending; and then introduced deliberate errors to point to the original solution. The idea was to create an ‘entirely new and novel’ type of detective story, in which ‘the reader himself must solve each mystery.’ ” (P. 248.)

The emperor of all these kooks, however, has got to be the one who, by a thorough search for acrostics in John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, convinced himself that most of the great literary works, from the classical times onwards, were written by a small group of authors including Thackeray, Mark Twain, and a few less well-known ones (Henry Wriothesley, John Henry Miller, Helen Stoepel, Edward Everett Hale); p. 251.

Incidentally, I'm not quite sure what the author of this article tried to achieve by this, but he spells Shakespeare's name differently every time: Shakespere, Shackespeare, Shakspere, Shakspeere (p. 246), Shaxpear, Shaquespeare, Shaxperian (adjective) (p. 247), Shakespierre (p. 248), Shakspar (p. 249), Sheikspear (p. 251). Maybe some cryptographer will be inspired to puzzle out some meaning from all these variations of the name.

H. P. Lovecraft

There's a longish article about H. P. Lovecraft (pp. 169–96). I have been aware of Lovecraft for a long time; a friend of mine in secondary school was an avid reader of science fiction, and seemed to be quite an enthusiast for Lovecraft's books, so I often heard about Lovecraft from him.

But I never felt the need to learn more about Lovecraft or read any of his books; the Cthulhu mythos, with its antediluvian monsters and extraterrestrial entities, struck me as a silly piece of pointless megalomania. I did, however, enjoy reading the (spoof) “Necronomicon Anti-FAQ”; I'm glad to see that this page has remained practically unchanged since I first saw it back in 1995 [cough, wheeze :-)]. See also this page, and the hilarious illustration on the table of contents (a blood-encrusted copy of the “NecroNeocon, from the Cheney personal library”, with a dollar bill used as a bookmark :-)))). My only other encounter with Lovecraft was seeing a cheap horror movie, The Unnamable, which makes some references to the Necronomicon and is, according to IMDB, based on a story by Lovecraft. It is apparently a very bad movie, so (unsurprisingly) I rather enjoyed it.

Anyway, the article here in Strange Attractor has an interesting discussion about the origin of the mythos and its subsequent influence on occultists: “Lovecraft saw the development of the Cthulhu mythos as being akin to a ‘parlour game’, and encouraged his circle of literary friends to cross-reference the various monsters, books and deities of the mythos in their own tales. [. . .] references to the mythos began to appear in the tales of a number of different authors, leading some readers to suppose that these writers were drawing on an ‘authentic’ body of myth.” (P. 173.) As a consequence, some people are taking this whole Cthulhu nonsense rather more seriously than it deserves; “over twenty different versions of the Necronomicon have been published since the 1960s’ (p. 174).

The bleak tenor of the Cthulhu mythos may be due to “Lovecraft's profound sense of displacement and alienation in the modern industrial age [. . .] it is possible to treat the Old Ones as emblematic of the ‘return of the repressed’, the resurgence of those non-rational, unconscious forces” (p. 178) that are now being repressed by modern rationality. Lovecraft was “a resolute atheist and mechanistic materialist [. . .] without ‘a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism’ ” (p. 177), but “despite espousing scientific atheism, he also waged a ‘war with rationality’ ” (p. 178). I can strongly sympathize with this, seeing as I myself also wage a small-scale private war of the same type.

During his visit to the Athenaeum Library in Providence, the author of the article “couldn't resist checking the catalogue to see if the library held a copy of the Necronomicon. Although I could find no reference to that particular grimoire of prehuman lore, I was nonetheless surprised and delighted to discover that some enterprising hoaxer had slipped in reference cards for The Eltdown Shards and the Pnakotic Manuscript, two other entirely fictitious tomes from the Cthulhu mythos. Unfortunately, neither item could be found in their allocated places on the library shelves.” (Pp. 173–4.)

“In an article entitled ‘Cthulhoid Copulations’, Lovecraftian magician Bill Seibert describes his magical, sexual encounters with the Old Ones” (p. 195). ROTFL!!!! This one belongs right there in the hall of fame next to UFOs and Royal Incest. But anyway, if it's Cthulhoid sexual encounters you want, you ought to visit the late, lamented Ghastly's Ghastly Comic.

Ghost recordings

As I said above, most of the articles are fairly short. However, two of them are a bit longer; unfortunately, they were also among the more boring. One is the above-mentioned article about Lovecraft, where the first half was actually quite interesting, but the second half is about the author's visit to some of the places where Lovecraft had lived; this part is quite boring.

The other long article (pp. 124–59) is about “Electronic Voice Phenomena” (EVP) — “EVP researchers mostly believe that, using various radio and electrical engineering techniques, it is possible to record the voices of ghosts” (p. 125). Commendably, this article is written from an entirely skeptical perspective that doesn't take this ghost bullshit in the least bit seriously. Unfortunately, it is also fairly pedantic.

What really seems to be happening is that these are recordings of what is for all practical purposes electromagnetic noise; and since the human brain is very good at pattern matching and signal interpretation, one can usually convince oneself that one can hear syllables and even words and sentences in these signals (pp. 135–8).

There's a hilarious picture of a page from a “Hewlett Packard catalogue circa 1996”, showing a device called “HP 11759D Dynamic Ghost Simulator” (“The HP 11759D dynamic ghost simulator easily simulates the ghosting and airplane flutter that commonly degrade terrestrial TV broadcasts”, p. 127). Of course, this HP device doesn't have anything to do with ghosts as a paranormal phenomenon — ‘ghosting’ is a technical term for a kind of interference in television signals.

“After an image has been sensed by the human retina (upside down), it is the mind turns the image back the right way up. If people then wear special glasses that re-invert the visual image, after a while the mind turns the image back the correct way up again. When these glasses are taken off, we temporarily see the world turned upside down, without wearing any special glasses (until the mind again makes the appropriate correction).” (P. 145.) This sounds fascinating, although I wonder if it is really quite true. If it is true, this means that the mind can selectively either invert the image or leave it alone, depending on whether the image reaching your eyes is upside-down or not. But it seems much more likely to me that the eye-to-brain connection is organized so that the image always gets inverted, because this is what is practically always needed in everyday life. What evolutionary advantage could there be for our hunter/gatherer ancestors to be able to not invert the image? Anyway, in the absence of special glasses, I wonder if I can abuse the pivot feature of my monitor to see if my mind can adapt to upside-down images...


All in all, this journal was well worth reading. It's true that several of the articles are a bit boring, but others are quite interesting, and even in the boring ones there are often interesting factoids, and pointers to interesting-sounding books that I haven't heard of before. I look forward to reading the subsequent issues of Strange Attractor.


I got a number of pointers to things I'd be interested to read — in fact I consider this to be one of the best things about this journal.

  • Martin Green: The Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture Begins, Ascona, 1900–1920 (1986). P. 4.

  • Valerie Preston-Dunlop: Rudolf Laban, An Extraordinary Life (1998). (“One of the pioneers of modern dance”, Laban organized dance summer schools at Monte Verità in the 1910s; pp. 9–10.

  • Elliott O'Donnell: Strange Cults and Secret Societies of Modern London (1935). P. 56.

  • Marek Kohn: Dope Girls: the birth of the British drug underground (1992). Describes “the moral panic over drug abuse in the years after the First World War”, p. 62.

  • Daniel Harms, John Wisdom Gonce III: The Necronomicon Files, The Truth Behind the Legend (Mountain View, CA: Night Shade Books, 1998). Cited on p. 174 as a reference for the statement that over twenty fake Necronomicons have been published since the 1960s. And what a lovely name for an occult publisher — according to the Wikipedia, the nightshade family includes such plants as the belladonna and the mandragora.

  • G. V. Lachman: Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius (2001). Cited on p. 175 regarding the growing interest in Lovecraft during the 1960s, “primarily within the then burgeoning American counterculture”. The author, incidentally, was one of the founding members of Blondie, and has edited two Dedalus books: The Dedalus Occult Reader: The Garden of Hermetic Dreams and The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse.

  • Marion Adler: Drawing Down the Moon (1979, 1986). Adler was “a journalist who conducted a survey of North American paganism in the 1970s”, p. 194. A passage from her book is cited on p. 195: “science fiction and fantasy probably come closer than any other literature to systematically exploring the central concerns of Neo-Pagans and Witches”. But according to, her name is Margot, not Marion. Anyhow, the book seems to have been updated and expanded several times, and the most recent edition is from 2006.

  • Isabel Meredith (pseudonym of Helen and Olive Rosetti): A Girl Among the Anarchists (1903). A “semi-autobiographical” (p. 205) book; it also mentions the Greenwich bomb incident.

  • David Tibet (ed.): The Collected Poems of Count Stenbock (London: Durtro, 2001). As well as his Collected Works of Count Stenbock, if/when he publishes them.

  • Timothy d'Arch Smith: Love in Earnest: some notes on the lives and writings of English ‘Uranian’ poets from 1889 to 1930. A “seminal book on the Uranian movement in English literature” (p. 233).


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