Magonia 23, July 1986
The new ‘folk devil’ of the dope fiend or the glue-sniffer carries on the tradition of the demoniac: the addict is ‘possessed’ by the drug and thence radically marginalised; he becomes the embodiment of all those anti-structural indecipherable aspects of the human, which we do not publicly display. The dope-fiend/demoniac is in Turner’s terms in a state of chronic hyper-liminality and closely associated, in many people’s eyes, is the stereotyped ‘brainwashed’, zombie cult member.
J. Gordon Melton has described the conversion and often superficially bizarre behaviour of cult members in terms of liminality . The image of the cult member has been compared with that of the demoniac and ascribed distinguishing marks such as glassy eyes, Moonie Rash, Moonie Odour, ‘thousand mile smile’, monotone voice, reduction of peripheral vision, and in one case “a beam of red light shot out of her eyes”. To rid them of such stigmata, deprogrammers imprison cult members, keeping them away from other family members lest they pollute them, lock doors and windows lest they be enchanted away into wilderness. The return to the cult thus signifies a withdrawal from the psychological habitat of relatives and friends.
The haunted house reverses the stereotype of the home as the bastion of order: the ‘Englishman’s Castle’ keeping the wilderness at bay by powerful psychological and cultural moats and drawbridges. This reversal reminds one of the Fipa notion that the interior of the hut partakes something of the character of the wilderness: a domain of what is private, dark and obscure, cut off from conscious knowledge and control – a region of “women, sexuality and death” and the “secret anti-intellectual life of lawless passions” . The Fipa realise that all too often castles have dungeons. To them there is in the secret heart of every habitat and every person, an interior wilderness.
To understand the full import of the image of the haunted house as a ‘disorderly house’ on the sort of people who corresponded with the early SPR, we must remember that the house as secure habitat was the sign of respectability, of emergence from the wilderness of the rough masses, from whose cheerless habitations escape was to the gin shop and music hall. The ghost, the insistent voice of ‘history’ refusing to remain buried, threatened a reversal of the historical, progressive habitat-creating process, and a reversion to the wilderness of the unacknowledged ancestors.
Mediums like Daniel Home,
halfway along the road from shaman to super-star,
were themselves examples of the chronically liminal
The Victorian seance was an occasion of liminality. Mediums like Daniel Home, halfway along the road from shaman to super-star, were themselves examples of the chronically liminal. Home himself is an excellent example: a strange sick childhood, a history of visions and wild talents, ambiguous sexuality and for much of his life a nomadic, permanent house-guest existence. He floated between the interfaces of Victorian society, occupying the court-jester’s role of confidant and trickster-in-chief to the royal and famous. From his position of chronic liminality, Home became the ‘medium’ between the living and dead.
But for the Victorians all too often the dead came from the secret world of the wilderness, not from the celestial Mechanics’ Institutes. In the seance room the ancestors reanimated the pantomime of the village wakes, rough bawdy and boisterousness. They banged tambourines and hit people on the head with trumpets, in fact played the sorts of jokes that the ancestors as they really were played – not how the bowdlerised Family Bible lists told it. In the liminality of the seance room the boundaries between living/dead, reality/hallucination, possible/impossible, even the boundaries of physical and psychological individuality were blurred, and sometimes fell. The bounds were broken in a sort of carnival in which the living and the dead were joined together. It is hardly surprising that under the enchantment of liminality even sceptics like Sir David Brewster reported signs and wonders – only for them to fall beneath the disenchanting dawn of daylight reason, common sense and structure, when the shipboard romance with the dead was over.
The descriptions of deprogrammers holding the ‘brainwashed’ cult members in sealed cabins where the cult/wilderness cannot seduce them, is more than reminiscent of the procedures used to capture and hold those enchanted by the fairies. It will be remembered that Turner described communitas as nature in dialogue with structure”: our encounter with the wilderness requires mediating figures.
Fairies make excellent mediators. They mediate between matter and spirit, in that whilst they are insubstantial shape changers, they are mortal, give birth and eventually fade away.
They mediate between habitat and wilderness, structure and communitas. They reside either in the wilderness or parts of habitat that have fallen back into the wilderness, such as raths, deserted churches, etc. However, they possess a structured society of their own, often inverted to the ‘normal’ – nocturnal and matriarchal – and maintain an interest in human affairs. They mediate between the polarities of good and evil, encapsulated in the tradition that they are fallen angels, too bad for heaven, too good for hell.
They mediate between the human and divine, as both elevated ancestors (the ghosts of the prehistoric dead) and fallen gods.
The fairies fall into two broad types: the trooping, who maintain their own counter-structure deep in the wilderness; and the solitary, who have little society and can be domesticated by humans.
The fairies take people who are in a state of liminality, at “the time between time”, “between night and day when the Fairy King has power”, people who happen to have strayed into places where the fences between wilderness and civilisation are particularly weak. The fairies abduct mortals to Tir-Na-Nog – Magonia – the dreamtime of timeless liminality and communitas – a sort of endless end-of-term party. Magonia seduces men, such as the legendary Fianna of Ireland, from martial duty, and women from housewifely and maternal duty. From the perspective of the society from which they are taken they are either physically or socially dead (‘not the person I knew’: the complaint made by the parents of cult victims). They become wild, wanton, feral, unkempt: they have joined what the Greeks called the ‘exotika’, those from ‘out there’  In our society such people may be called ‘mad’ or depressed, but is this not just the substitution of the vocabulary of one culture for another? In some psychologies, such as Laing’s, madness itself is seen as a creative process, a necessary period of liminality.
The ritual for the recapture of the ‘taken’ (whether in rural Ireland or by modern ‘deprogrammers’ is a reorientation into the world of structure and societas, ensuring that the ‘victim’ returns to his (or more usually her) appointed social role. Of course, given the conditions of the people when the fairy faith flourished it may be doubted if the victim was always happy about such a ‘rescue’! The dream of being taken by fairies, gypsies or demon lovers may have played the role in peasant societies that soap-operas and Mills and Boon romances do in ours: that of a romantic liberation from the drudgeries and routine of a life of structure.
Magonia itself was an ambiguous place. From the enchanted perspective of liminality and communitas it was a golden palace of great aristocrats; from the disenchanted perspective of structure and ‘daylight reason and commonsense’ it was often portrayed as a dank cave or the grave. But the fairy tradition could never agree as to which was the ‘really true’ picture. That would have meant a truly intolerable plumping for either communitas or societas. [29.30]
The descriptions of being taken, the often discontented, half-fey, behaviour of those who are (forced to?) return is extremely reminiscent of the Near Death Experience. Death is the supreme moment of marginality and liminality. The entry into the realm of the dead, down a long tunnel, is a sort of initiation ceremony, a symbolic re-birth. The land of the dead in the majority of these accounts too is clearly Magonia, the land of idealised, happy ancestors, the place of perfect communitas.
The Near Death Experience (NDE) straddles the fence between the world of the living and the dead. The experient has entered the ‘second world’ and on returning gains shamanic powers.
In the traditional, static society, the shaman alone gains power, and is a transformed individual in a static world. In the dynamic, transforming world the returning shaman often becomes a prophet preaching ‘the world turned upside-down’ in transforming liminality in which the rich, powerful, urban and corrupt are swept away, and the saving remnant will establish on Earth the communitas of Magonia.
The ‘solitary fairy’ represents the mirror image of this: it can be domesticated, though will always display tell-tale signs of wilderness, which manifest in secret. For example, the fairy wife may have goat’s legs or a fish’s tale, only visible at certain times when her husband is not allowed to pry. It is his violation of this ‘secret heart of things’ which sends her back into the wilderness.
The sasquatch exists in the liminal zone
between socially constructed rational reality
and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies
This solitary fairy is close to the ‘wild-man’, l’homme sauvage, the apeman or Bigfoot. The American Bigfoot is yet another excellent mediating symbol between humankind and wild nature or reality and non-reality. For Marjorie Halpin the sasquatch exists in the liminal zone between socially constructed rational reality and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies. It is part of the ‘uncanny’ which crashes in on us in marginal situations such as twilight (when the Elfin King holds power), and sensory deprivation. Sasquatch straddles and incorporates boundaries such as being/not-being and mind/matter. A creature of the mind which leaves a huge footprint, a message of man’s animal nature on the ground.  Monsters exist in the liminal regions between habitat and the wilderness, mountain peaks, water, and fissures in the ground through which power emerges. Monsters are associated with liminal regions because both constitute ruptures in the fabric of ordinary classification .
Monsters manifest their marginal quality by their ‘other-worldly’ elusiveness. In this they mediate between the natural and spiritual – the primitive, hairy, asocial character of the ‘manimal’ signifies the ‘regression’ to brute strength, ‘gross animality’ of man gone to the wilderness, yet the elusive, semi-magical quality hints at the ethereal wilderness of the dark spirits. [35,36]. Bigfoot lives in the ‘waste places’ of the earth, the forests and high mountains. Yet in much folklore he is coming into town, like the urban fox, trading the wilderness.
The central appeal of the mystery animal is the survival of wilderness – the reminder that there really are savage and unexplored places, holes in the maps which claim the whole world for habitat . In the secret heart of Africa, where even python and pangolin fear to go there are beast of the prehistoric, cousins of the saurians of the watery depths [37,38,39]. Even in England’s green and pleasant land pumas stalk the tidy gardens of Surrey, that most archetypal suburban of counties.
The sea-serpent and the lake monster derive their power in the imagination from their presumed prehistoric survival. Paul Lester and Roger Grimshaw point out that the Loch Ness Monster’s huge body and small head points to an excess of instinct over reason, desire over restraint – heightened by the long, phallic neck . The very existence of such a prehistoric survival in defiance of the scientific establishment challenges the complacency of our view of the world .
Yet there is something else about lake monsters which is always overlooked. In the old tradition they were water horses or kelpies which, like the Great Selchie of Sule Skerne, were a beast on the waters but a man upon the land, capable of begetting a child on a human girl. In the traditional tales just such a child – mediator between humankind and the natural world – is killed by a ‘gunner true’, an excellent symbol of structure, habitat, daylight reason and common sense. This murder is a sort of ‘cosmic catastrophe’ which sunders man from the natural world, which regresses into something utterly inhuman, prehistoric and saurian – the protean beast of the waters of the first chaos. Thus alienated from the natural world, humanity sees it as something hostile, alien and ‘other’; to be exorcised as at Loch Ness.
We can draw a table to represent this progressive descent into the wilderness of the past:
Personal past – Spirits of séance, ‘Ruth’
Remembered Past – Ghosts
Unremembered Past – Fairies
Presocietal Past — Alma, wildman, demons, poltergeist
Prehuman past – Manimals, Bigfoot. ABS
Premammalian past – Sea serpents, Loch Ness monster
Perhaps, somewhere in the category where we assigned the fairies lie the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other religious personages. The BVM is not only a mediator between God and man, but as William Christian  points out, she mediates between the local society and the forces of nature, both in terms of weather, devastation and disease, and in terms of the natural round of birth and death. The image of the mother and child is a symbol of the power of nature on the human body.
The Virgin is encountered, or her image found, at liminal spots, such as trees and mountains which connect with the sky; or caves and springs which link to the underworld. In these threshold places energy is exchanged between the supernatural world and the world of man. Most of the supernaturally found images were discovered by domestic animals, a part of nature built in to culture; the overwhelming number of human intermediaries were herdsmen, the most ‘wild’ of humans.
Much of these insights clearly applies to modern visions of the BVM, witnesses often being children of the rural lumpenproletariat, partly wild and close to nature. As in the early Spanish cases, the image of the BVM is only distinguished from the local ghosts and fairies by the adult structure of the church . The Virgin preaches a message of submission to the liminality of poverty, chastity and obedience; as well as the overthrow of the current structure in a period of millennial liminality.
At first sight it appears difficult to fit the UFO into this scheme. After all, as a super-machine it appears to be the epitome of structure and habitat. One could agree with the late F. W. Halliday that the UFO/disc is the natural antithesis to the dragon/sea-serpent:
UFO:From the SkyFrom the far futureUfonauts heve big heads, small bodies, representing an excess of reasonSea Serpent:From the deep waterfrom the distant pastSmall heads, large bodies, instinct over reason
The iconography on which Holliday based much of his argument represents the struggle of the solar-god against the primal dragon of chaos, the supreme symbol of the struggle of light, reason, order and habitat against darkness, instinct, chaos and wilderness.
But readers of Magonia know that there is much of the wilderness in the UFO. Above all the UFO ‘comes from space’, the ‘final frontier’, the ultimate absolute wilderness. The UFO is therefore the grand mediator between absolute habitat and absolute wilderness, past and future.
Though the UFO represents a technology, it is increasingly observed as part of the wilderness. Humanity is no longer seen as fashioning machines, but machines are seen as fashioning mankind. Modern cities are described as urban jungles. The machine and the urban jungle become the artificial wilderness, which needs mediators. Furthermore, UFOs are super-technology, their silence, ambiguous quality, selectivity and elusiveness speak of the supernatural.
If UFOs are seen as coming from outer-space, they are also seen as coming from such interior locations as the human mind or the hollow-earth; they mediate between outer and inner wilderness, between mind and matter, between dream and reality; between being and not-being.
The car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity
of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver
can convert it into a zone of interior wilderness
The typical UFO experience takes place in the liminal time between night and day, either in the wild places, or in the liminal boundary between habitat and wilderness. One chief theme is the night car journey: the car represents a fragment of habitat penetrating the wilderness. As transitions from one place to another, journeys themselves are episodes of liminality. As Rogan Taylor points out  all travel tales are recapitulations of the shamans journey to the underworld and back. The Romance of the Open Road, wherein ghosts and ghoulies are met  is a secularised version of this heroic journey, phantom hitch-hikers the shaman’s spirit guide or even spirit wife. Furthermore, the car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver can convert it into every bit as much a zone of interior wilderness as a Fipa’s hut. The car represents a perpetual liminal zone.
There are slower ways habitat can venture out into the wilderness: building developments which encroach on wild nature, such as the Benilee Estate in Staffordshire  or Runcorn New Town, or the trailer parks which mark the outer limits of many American cities, prominent in much ufological lore.
Many witnesses in European and South American cases seem to fit Christians’ description of ‘those closest to the wilderness’ – a hallmark of the ‘sincere’ UFO witness being illiteracy and lack of urban sophistication. An excellent example is the French witness discussed by Bertrand Méheust and Thierry Pinvidic , who was described as an orphaned outsider living with adoptive parents, barely literate, almost ‘simple’, but wise in the ways of nature and animal tracks, a true homme sauvage like Victor, the ‘wild boy’ of Aveyron, and a shaman-to-be. His UFO encounter takes place while gathering mushrooms in a wild place halfway up a mountain – afterwards he develops shamanic powers.
The UFO experience, let us interpret it as ‘radical misperception’, itself throws the percipient into a state of liminality, sometimes described as conceptual rape. The ‘misperception’ breaks down the fences of socially determined consensus reality, projecting the percipient into the wilderness where they are dramatically confronted with the fact that there is ‘an outside’, a numinous, powerful domain beyond the exorcising power of scientists and newspaper headlines.
It is not surprising that this should lead to spontaneous experiences of classical liminality which are called ‘UFO abductions’ . Remember how Turner described classical initiatory liminality as being ground down, stripped of rank and possession, subject to the absolute will of an initiation master. It is in the UFO abduction, rather than the saccharine Near Death Experience, where this classic initiation is best represented, and where in our western society we come closest to extreme liminality, as an anomalous, passive patient in an authoritarian medical examination. And where are these liminal experiences recovered? – in a ‘hypnotic trance’ where social expectation reduces the the hypnotised to a state of extreme liminality, passive instrument of the master hypnotist.
The real medical examination is a sort of ritual ordeal, after which the patient is returned to structure having changed states from ‘ill’ to ‘well’, his ‘well being’ proclaimed to the guardians of status and structure.
The abductee is a shaman-initiate, in transition to a new state of consciousness: the one who has been ‘outside’ so as to truly know what it means to be ‘inside’. One can speculate further on the connections between nuts-and-bolts ufology and structure, as contrasted with the ‘New Ufology’ as communitas. In static periods of retrenchment such as the 1950′s or 1980′s the UFO is seen as a concrete, mechanical force; in liminal periods such as the 1960′s it is seen as diffuse and ‘supernatural’.
Much of what Clark and Coleman in their classic The Unidentified ascribed to the unconscious can better be seen as expressions of liminality, communitas, and wilderness. The authors took the romantic road, lamenting over society’s failure to acknowledge the secret, Dionysian heart of our own life: we stand in peril, the unacknowledged wilderness may crash in on us so hard that it will sweep all aside.
Fortean phenomena and paranormal experiences, then, are the necessary anomalies which remind us of the limits of the known. They emerge in twilight, marginal situations when either individual or collective crises open up gaps in the fences of social reality to a domain of wilderness. We can slip through the gap, and hopefully return transformed, or power from the outside can ‘crash-in’ and transform our lives. We may react in terror, sensing a threat to the integrity of the rational world, or we may react with joy, believing that we see what is really real, and dream of re-enacting that reality in the world of habitat.
If Fortean phenomena belong to the world of wilderness or to the liminal zone between habitat and wilderness, they are not going to be explained or proven. We can either exorcise them so as to tidy up habitat, try to capture them with ‘explanations’ and ‘proof’ and drag them into habitat where they will loose much of their power, or we can stand wondering facing the breeze from beyond the limits in our face, perhaps trembling at the though of what lies within the interior and exterior wilderness impinging upon the torus of habitat.
Even Charles Fort never thought of that: rationality as a cosmic donut.
Notes and References
- DUERR, Hans Peter. Dreamtime; concerning the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, Oxford, Blackwell 1985.
- WILLIS, Roy. Man and Beast, Hart-Davis, Mac-Gibbon, 1971.
- For these general topics see also any social and economic history; of special interest are: STORCH, Robert D. (Ed.) Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England, Croome Helm, 1982 and CUNNINGHAM, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, Croome Helm, 1980.
- Some of these themes are discussed in: DUDLEY, Edward and NOVAK, Maximillian E. The Wildman Within, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
- BERGER Peter. The Sacred Canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Doubleday, 1969.
- CARRINGTON, Hereward. True Ghost Stories. Werner Laurie, 1916.
- GUIDHAM, Arthur. Obsession, Spearman, 1972.
- DE MARTINO, Ernest. Magic, Primitive and Modern, Stacey, 1972.
- Derived from the account of Bergerian thought in: MARTIN, Bernice. A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change, Blackwell, 1983.
- TURNER, Victor W. The Ritual Processes, Routledge, 1969.
- This account of liminality was compiled from references 10 and 11, and from MELTON, J Gordon and MOORE, Robert L. The Cult Experience, Pilgrim Press, 1982.
- TAYLOR, Rogan P. The Death and Resurrection Show; from shaman to super-star, Blond, 1985.
- ERIKSON, Karl. Wayward Puritans, Wiley, 1966.
- COHEN, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon & Kee, 1972.
- CHIBNALL, Steve. Law and Order News, Tavistock, 1977.
- WALLIS, Roy. Salvation and Protest, F. Pincer, 1979.
- ZURCHER, Louis A and KIRKPATRICK, R George. Citizens for Decency, Univ. of Texas Press, 1976.
- CONDON, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.
- FORT, Charles. Book of the Damned.
- PEARSON, Geoffrey. Hooligan; a history of respectable fears, Macmillan, 1983.
- GAUL D, Alan and CORNELL, A. D. Poltergeists RKP, 1979.
- OWEN, George, Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Helix Press, 1964.
- ROLL, William G. The Poltergeist, Star, 1976.
- CRAMER, Mark, The Devil Within, W H Allen, 1979.
- GOODMAN, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Annelise Michel, Doubleday, 1981.
- SHUPE, Anson D. The New Vigilantes; deprogrammers, anti-cultists and the new religion sects, Sage, 1980.
- BLUM, Richard and Eva, The Dangerous Hour, Chatto, 1970
- BRIGGS, Katharine, The Vanishing People, Batsford, 1978.
- GREGORY, Lady. Vision and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Colin Smyth, 1970.
- RING, Kenneth, Heading Towards Omega, Morrow, 1984.
- GREY, Margaret, Return from the Dead, Arkana, 1985.
- HALPIN, Marjorie M. and AMES. Michael (Eds.) ‘Investigating the Goblin Universe’ in Manlike Monsters on Trial, Univ. of British Columbia Press, 1980.
- BUCKLEY, Thomas. ‘Monsters and the Quest for Balance in Native Northwest California’ in 33.
- SLATE, B. A. and BERRY, Alan, Bigfoot, Bantam, 1976.
- CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren. Creatures of the Outer Edge, Warner, 1978.
- HEUVELMANS, B. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Paladin, 1970.
- The python was a sacred animal of the Fipa, the pangolin of the Lele.
- MACKAL, Roy. Searching for Hidden Animals, Codogan, 1983.
- GRIMSHAW, Roger and LESTER, Paul, The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Univ. of Birmingham, 1976.
- LESTER, Paul, The Great Sea Serpent Controversy, Protean Pub., 1984.
- CHRISTIAN, William A. Jnr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Spain, Princton U. Press, 1981.
- McCLURE, Kevin, The Evidence for Apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Aquarian, 1983.
- HOLIDAY, F.W. The Dragon and the Disc, Sidgewick & Jackson, 1973.
- GOSS, Michael,The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-hikers. Aquarian, 1984.
- STANWAY, Antony and PACE, Roger, Unidentified, Undeniable, BUFORA, 1971
- MEHEUST, Bertrand and PINVIDIC, Thierry. Presentation to the 1986 Anglo-French UFO Colloquium.
- RIMMER, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, Aquarian, 1983.
- CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren, The Unidentified, Warner, 1973.
- GINZBURG, Carlo. The Night Battles, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.