Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Wonders in the skies"

Dear readers,

Well, Adelaide, South Australia is in for two very hot days. Today's forecast maximum is 39 degrees Celsius, and tomorrow is going up to 43 degrees. Time to retreat to an air-conditioned room with a good book.

Today's post is about such a book; in fact a new book by Jacques Vallee. Any new book by Vallee is worth waiting for. His new book is co-authored by Chris Aubeck, and is titled "Wonders in the sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times." Published in 2010 by Jeremy F Tarcher (Penguin.) New York. ISBN 978-1-58542-820-5.


The foreword to the book is written by David J Hufford, Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Psychiatry, Penn State College of Medicine.

Hufford's PhD was in the field of Folklore, and Hufford reminds us that he "...was taught that such beliefs were both non-empirical and non-rational...However, I was pursuing the heretical idea that folk belief traditions might actually incorporate accurate observations, and that if they did they might point to important new knowledge."

Hufford comments that Vallee's book "Passport to Magonia" "...recognised the difference between the core phenomenonology of reports and the local language and interpretations that clothed that core in traditional accounts." (p.2.)

Hufford praises Vallee and Aubeck. "Their rigorously scientific insistence allows Vallee and Aubeck to retain the most challenging and interesting aspects of these events without the distraction of premature commitment to any particular interpretation."

The book:

Speaking about reports of UFOs, the authors believe that "Influenced by books and movies, most people have jumped to hasty conclusions: they believe that unidentified flying objects are spaceships from another planetary civilization..." (p.7.)

They state that "The phenomenon did not begin in the 1940's, or even in the nineteenth century. It is much older that that." (p.7.)

The book presents a catalogue of 500 reported sightings "...from antiquity to the year 1879..." The cut=off year was deliberately chosen so as to be able to exclude any possibility of observations being due to "...airplanes, dirigibles, rockets and the often-mentioned opportunities for misrepresentation represented by military prototypes." (p.8.)

The authors "...have emerged with four major observations:

1. Throughout history, unknown phenomena variously described as prodigies or celestial wonders, have made a major impact on the senses and the imagination of the individuals who witnessed them.

2. Every epoch has interpreted the phenomena in its own terms, often in a specific religious or political context. People have projected their world view, fears, fantasies, and hopes into what they saw in the sky. They still do so today.

3. Although many details of the events have been forgotten or pushed under the colorful rug of history, their impact has shaped human civilization in important ways.

4. The lessons drawn from these ancient cases can be usefully applied to the full range of aerial phenomena that are still reported and remain unexplained by contemporary science." (p12.)"

The authors argue that "...if the phenomenon has existed in fairly constant form for a very long time, it becomes harder to hold to a simplistic "ET visitation" scenarios to explain it." (p.13.)

The collation of material about older cases has been undertaken by "...several teams of historians, anthropologists, folklore specialists and philologists..." (p.19) aided by the availability of the Internet.

Citing historical references, the authors argue that claimed sightings have always changed the course of history.


The book is divided into three parts:

Part I: A chronology of wonders, pages 27-352.

Part II: Myths, legends and chariots of the Gods. Pages 353-449.

Part III: Sources and methods.

Part I:

The 500 "Wonders" start with an observation in about 1460BC in Lebanon, where a "star" defeats the Nubians (p.29.) Each entry provides a date, a location, the text and a source. Many entries have comments added by the authors.

Among the "Wonders" we find 'moving stars'; 'abductions'; 'hovering objects'; 'heat generating globe'; 'self-propelled cloud'; and many other descriptions.

Part II:

This section of the book looks at "...the stories we have rejected from the main chronology, under four major categories..." (p.354.)These are:

"1. Deceptive story, hoax, fictional account or tall tale.
2. Religious vision.
3. Natural astronomical phenomenon.
4. Optical illusion or atmospheric effect."

This section provides an examination of some of the weird and wonderful tales which have emerged in the past, and which keep circulating despite evidence that the account is incorrect.

Part III:

The authors relate how they screened and selected the material for inclusion in the book. Their rules for inclusions included credibility; specific rather than general date/time and elimination of known hoaxes.


Finally, the authors describe some of the things which they have learnt from undertaking this work. "...from all this work, how significant are the findings, do they teach us anything new about the modern phenomena generally called "UFOs" and is there more yet to be discovered?" (p.477.)


This book was a delight, both to browse through as soon as I received it, and to read through thoroughly which I now have made time to do. I have always looked favourably on the concept that the UFO phenomenon has deep roots and that the July 1947 "start" was only of the modern interpretation of what was being seen. I have always found compelling the arguments for a long history for the phenomenon, and to find it including other elements of the paranormal.

Two Australian cases feature in the 500 "Wonders."

Mount Wingen - case 408

"March 1828, Mount Wingen, Australia
Cigar shaped object lands
A mysterious flying object was said to have descended upon Mount Wingen at the Burning Mountain Nature Reserve. It was "cigar-shaped and had a funny silver colour" and made a loud banging noise. According to the report, "when it landed it set fire to all the vegetation and killed the cattle."

Allegedly, tall strangers appeared in the town at the same time. "They never said anything but always pointed to the things they wanted."

The event must have caused quite a stir as the folk of Wingen began linking it with strange disappearances among them: "Quite often people just disappeared and dogs and domesticated animals disappeared too," wrote the informant, referring to the tale his grandfather used to tell.

Source: Australian Post, June 17, 1989, and W Chalker, Project 1947, Australian Aboriginal Culture & Possible UFO connections (1990.)"

I was disappointed that the source for this entry was not some newspaper in 1828, but had only been set down in 1989. I turned to the reference by Bill Chalker at retrieved 27 December 2010.

"About six kilometres north of Wingen an underground coal seam has been burning for possibly 5,000 years...Kisha, who wrote a psychic column for the Australasian Post, recorded a bizarre story of a strange flying object landing at Burning Mountain (or Mount Wingen). She attributed the following text to a man named Ted:

"Grandad used to say that it was cigar-shaped and had a funny silver colour. When it landed it set fire to ll the vegetation and killed the cattle. The noise was dreadful and there was a series of loud bangs. Grandad also spoke of tall strangers appearing in town. They never said anything but always pointed to the things they wanted." Quite often people just disappeared and dogs and domesticated animals disappeared too.

"We always thought that Grandad's stories were good but he knew they were true and never made light of them."

"Kisha did not indicate a date for the events in Ted's grandfather's tale, but presumably its vintage would have to be at least contemporary with the first settler awareness of the burning mountain back in 1828."

Unfortunately, this account is ultimately sourced to a man called Ted who related it to a psychic named Kisha who published it in the Australasian Post magazine dated 17 June 1989.

25 July 1868, Parrammata, New South Wales - case 474.

"Mr Frederick William Birmingham, an engineer and local council alderman...saw what he described as an "Ark" ...a distinct voice, said, slowly, 'That's a machine to go through the air'...the machine the grass..." Birmingham was then "...lifted off the grass and gently carried through the air and into the upper part of the machine..." He was shown various things and given a set of papers "...the witness later experienced paranormal phenomena."

Source: Memorandum Book of Fred Wm. Birmingham, the Engineer to the Council of Parramatta. The authors of the Wonders add "The following account based upon a transcript of a manuscript that has never been located, must be taken with great caution."

Overall comments:

The book is an excellent example of the dedicated work undertaken by a number of people, in locating, screening and compiling material, from often hard to locate sources. I will be returning from time to time to browse sections of the material.

If you are at all interested in pre-1879 aerial phenomena, or simply wish to check if that ancient days story of yours has been determined to have been a hoax, then I would strongly recommend this book to you.

My copy came through the Special Orders section of , Dymocks Bookshop, Adelaide, and took three weeks to reach me.

1 comment:

  1. I have also reviewed this excellent title - a brief extract of that initial review appears on my blog which refers to my comments on the "1828" Mount Wingen story. I was surprised that Vallee & Aubeck use it in their book.
    The 1868 Parramatta case is an entirely different matter. I do not agree with their characterisation of the case, which is based on limited information. My opinion is based on very extensive research into the case. While Chris Aubeck had asked me about the case, had I realised these sorts of comments would have been made I would have fully addressed them. What is surprising in the book is that other cases to which the same problem applies (lack of original document)and far less information is available, do not draw such comments as needing to be "taken with great caution." Such comments could apply to most cases in their compilation.
    I suggest you read my full review which has appeared in the latest issue of the Ufologist, along with reviews of the excellent new book by Eddie Bullard "The Myth & Mystery of UFOs" and Jeffery Krippal's "Authors of the Impossible."


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