Borderland Phenomena Volume One: Spontaneous Combustion, Poltergeistry and Anomalous Lights, by Louis Proud
Reviewed by Robert A. Charman
Louis Proud is an Australian writer specialising in Fortean literature recounting weird anomalous experiences and events that, if true, lie at the borderland of scientific understanding and often stretches credibility to its limits. Proud is the author of Dark Intrusions (2009), The Secret Influence of the Moon (2013) and Strange Electromagnetic Dimensions (2015). This account, written in the first person, carries enthusiastic endorsements from Whitley Strieber ‘sparkles with brilliance’, Mitch Horowitz ‘Proud is, hands down, one of today’s brightest and most gleaming intellects in the area of anomalous phenomena’ Gary Lachman ‘fascinating excursion into the not-yet-known’ and Jeffrey J. Kripal ‘Able and trustworthy guide through this strange, liminal realm where almost anything is possible and nothing quite adds up.’
Fascinating though they are, cases of claimed spontaneous human combustion (SHC), a term coined in 1746 for bodies found almost completely incinerated without apparent cause, the baffling appearance and behaviour of strange atmospheric lights, and the often truly bizarre behaviour of ball lightning and glowing balls of ionised plasma (thought by some to exhibit intelligent behaviour) are well outside the investigative interests of the Society for Psychical Research. These interests are defined as ‘those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognised hypothesis’ manifesting themselves as instances of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis as in influencing by intention the physical behaviour of objects across space or the physiological processes of living systems as in distant healing. The modern term that brings all such proposed mental faculties together under one heading is psi. This being so, theories offering possible explanations for these Fortean non-psi topics as explored by Proud in Parts 1 and 3, can offer no clues as to the unsolved nature of psi, although according to Proud there may be a tenuous relationship centred upon being in the presence of poltergeistic activity.
This brings us to Part 2, consisting of two chapters The Dark Night of the Soul and A Bundle of Projected Depressions respectively, concerning ‘poltergeisty’ phenomena such as chairs, chests of drawers and tables moving across floors, ornaments sliding around, small objects flying through the air in slow motion arabesques without apparent cause, stones falling onto the roof or falling from the ceiling, doors opening and shutting, loud thuds or knocks, bedclothes being pulled off and so on. It can also include the sudden appearance of puddles of water or small outbreaks of fire. Proud does not think that official explanations of SHC such as the wick effect of burning dresses or pyjamas soaking up the body fat adequately explain what is found and wonders whether in some cases there is a link with poltergeistic outbreaks of localised fires, described by Guy Lyon Playfair (2011) as ‘instances of paranormal spontaneous combustion’, or ball lightning travelling down chimneys as some victims have been in front of fireless fireplaces. He even considers the possibility of incineration from ionised plasma ball explosions.
The apparent relevance of poltergeistic phenomenon to psi is the possibility that such phenomena may be caused by consciously unaware, uncontrollable psychokinetic energy seeking an outlet as it often centres around someone, usually in their early teens, said to be suffering from difficult to resolve mental distress. Sometimes, however, it seems that such unwanted physical phenomena attaches itself to someone much older and not apparently suffering from mental trauma as in the present Keith Linder (2018) case, occurring in Washington, USA (see Sugg, 2018a, 2018b). This personal relationship seems confirmed when such phenomena, as with Linder, actually moves with them to new addresses both at home and work.
An alternative explanation is that this phenomenon is caused by invisible entities existing in their own right as their behaviour often looks as if it is governed by self motivation and apparent awareness of people including their thoughts. Particularly fascinating are cases where the invisible entity and those involved engage in question and answer conversations of the knock once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’ and three times for ‘not sure’ variety, or knock repetitively to indicate the required letter in the alphabet such as four times for ‘d’, as recorded in the well documented 1974 Andover case investigated by the experienced investigator Dr Barrie Colvin (2008). That it was the Andover entity responding by raps as if coming from within the wall or bedhead and not by someone present was confirmed by the difference in acoustic profile between the raps recorded by close microphone recording in answer to questions compared to recordings of externally applied knuckle and object raps (Colvin, 2010). This a landmark case surprisingly omitted from Proud’s account as is the painstaking investigation of Australian cases by Healy and Cropper (2014).
Proud covers in detail the Drummer of Tedworth (1661), the Fox sisters (from 1848), the astonishing and well documented Great Amherst Poltergeist Mystery (1878) the Enfield poltergeist (1977), the Miami poltergeist case, and young Matthew Manning’s poltergeistic experiences at home and at school (1967 into the early 1970s). Also discussed is the witnessed and filmed intentional psychokinetic abilities of Nina Kulagina (late 1960s to 1980s) who sometimes lost up to 2kg in weight during the test as if her metabolism was being converted into psychokinetic energy and felt so drained of energy that she became dizzy, uncoordinated and sometimes temporarily blind by the end of these sessions. Kulagina also generated intense heat, as experienced by Benson Herbert, who said that the heat was so intense and painful when she held his wrist that he had to clench his teeth, and beat his forehead to try and distract himself. In fact, Kulagina’s experience raises the interesting point that if it requires so much energy to move a small object or spin a compass needle by voluntary intention, then those associated by large scale poltergeistic phenomena could not possibly be the psychokinetic source whatever their emotional distress as they feel no proportionate loss of energy nor are they aware that they are the apparent source until it is pointed out to them. Also, no one around them senses any unusual energy emanating from them during the poltergeistic disturbances or changes in gravitational pull when objects fly freely through the air as if unaffected by gravity instead of dropping straight to the ground.
In his chapter Journey into Fairyland Proud investigates folklore and wonders whether poltergeistic phenomena are caused by jinns, faeries, sprites, pixies, trolls and suchlike who, in folklore from across the world and down the centuries recounted by people living next to nature are ‘magical beings who occupy a middle realm between earth and heaven’ not as trivialised tiny Victorian creatures with tiny wings but as feared entities who could cause damage, illness and death when provoked or laughed at or even when offended unintentionally. Maybe, he speculates, these beings, or entities, are our cosmic overlords who inhabit a universe, or universes, that interacts invisibly with ours in some psychic dimension through which they can act at will. Looking, says Proud, at the world from an occult perspective, we do not rule the world as the supreme superior and intelligent species that we think we are:
... we exist within a vast, cosmic hierarchy, and our position is hardly on the top rung, and just as we dominate, exploit and manipulate beings below us in the hierarchy so we are dominated, exploited and manipulated by beings above us.
With chapter references and a bibliography Proud writes interestingly across a range of topics relevant to his subheadings including ‘electric’ people who, after experiencing a severe shock of some kind, whether illness or trauma including being struck by lightning, find that watches fail and electrical equipment from kettles to computers breaks down, or they become hypersensitive to every source of electricity, but I do not feel that we are any further forward as far as the nature of psi is concerned. This is not Proud’s fault as he does not attempt to find an explanation for psi as such. Maybe he will discuss psi directly in volume two.
Colvin, B. G. (2008). The Andover Case: a responsive rapping poltergeist. Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research. 72, 1-20.
Colvin, B. G. (2010). The acoustic properties of unexplained rapping sounds. Journal of the
Society for Psychical Research. 74, 65-93.
Healy, T., & Cropper, P. (2014). Australian Poltergeist: The stone throwing spook of Humpty Doo
and many other cases. Sydney, Strange Nation.
Linder, L. (2018).The Bothell Hell House: Poltergeist of Washington State (2nd Ed.). CreateSpace
Playfair, G, L (2011). The Flying Cow: Exploring the Psychic World of Brazil (2nd Ed.). Guildford,
UK: White Crow books. [Original work published 1975].
Sugg, R. (2018a). Paranormal Report: Keith Linder and the Washington State Poltergeist. Part 1.
Paranormal Review. 87, 20-21.
Sugg, R. (2018b). Paranormal Report: Keith Linder and the Washington State Poltergeist. Part 2.
Paranormal Review 88, 22-23
Robert A. Charman can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org