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4.0 out of 5 stars Patrick Harpur's daimonic universe: a thoughtful essay on paranormal phenomena, 1 May 2013
This review is from: Daimonic Reality: Field Guide to the Otherworld (Arkana) (Paperback)
Like other seriously challenging works on the paranormal, British writer Patrick Harpur's `Daimonic Reality: a Field Guide to the Otherworld' is not an easy book to summarise in a couple of paragraphs. In common with writers as diverse as Carl Gustav Jung, Jacques Vallee, Graham Hancock and Michael Talbot, Harpur demonstrates to us that ghosts, apparitions, UFOs and alien abductions, encounters with faeries and elves, bigfoot and lake monsters, stigmata, Marian apparitions, even phantom hitchhikers and `men in black' are objectively real as part of `the otherworld' but can never be understood through the prism of what he terms `scientism': the modern western intellectual convention of scientific reductionism which must always seek "a rational explanation, Mulder". These phenomena Harpur names `daimons'. Both physically real and unreal at the same time, they are manifestations of the `world soul' or `collective unconscious', leaving physical traces sufficient to profoundly affect percipients but to never quite convince the hard-nosed skeptic that they exist.

As the late Michael Talbot approached this vast subject through `the new physics' and the holographic universe model, Harpur settles for the Jungian `anima mundi', the tradition of esoteric alchemy and neo-Platonism, and is more poet than scientist. One of his profoundly interesting ideas is that it may actually be a lack of imagination in seers and psychics which causes `the otherworld' to enter their lives in spectacular, physical manifestations - turning conventional wisdom on its head:

"People who are commonly called `psychic' may be those who are unreflective, not especially well integrated, so that their daimons are experienced not as subtle influences, growing convictions, enlightening intuitions, but as external persons - spirits who bring messages, make demands and predictions, issue orders. People who believe in UFOs and long to see them notoriously do not: they have already imaginatively accommodated the daimonic. If imagination is denied recognition it is forced, as it were, to mount a stronger display - to body forth its images not only externally but concretely, because no more subtle approach will impress the literal-minded percipient" (p118).

Well if Harpur is right about this, Seth Shostak and James Oberg should be having spectacular UFO sightings every day of the week, and getting abducted on a regular basis.

Harpur's case is weakened by his occasionally displaying a merely casual acquaintance with his subject matter. His inclusion of the abduction phenomenon in his daimonic model appears to rest on his having read a single book of some 80 in print on the subject: the late Budd Hopkins' `Intruders', possibly because this work was made into a successful film. A couple of other works are referenced in the bibliography but not in the text, and he interviews no witnesses but merely reports the case of UK police officer Alan Godfrey's encounter in the 1980s. In the author's defence, most serious writings on the subject have appeared since DM was published in 1993. As with crop circles, to which Harpur devotes a chapter, these phenomena cannot be so easily made to force-fit his `daimonic' model. Their proven intergenerational nature exhibits the detailed consistency characteristic of literal, empirical reality and does not appear to be dependent on the percipient's beliefs or state of mind.

Harpur's book can be hard going at times; for example when he tries to categorise relationships between these phenomena using mathematical models, diagrammatic representations and flow charts (see pp153-156), or launches into a prolix essay about the differences between spirit and soul, or hair-splitting dialectics on the distinction between the Jungian collective unconscious and the anima mundi.

Overall however, DR is intelligently written. Though like Jacques Vallee (with his ridiculous `control system' idea borrowed from Bill Powers) Harpur appears to be barking up the wrong tree, DR makes for interesting reading for anyone curious about what may lie behind these diverse phenomena. Proofreading is exemplary; the book has a comprehensive index and a good bibliography and is a serious work with some refreshingly original perspectives.

Readers interested in exploring original ideas about the causative agency of paranormal phenomena may also care to read Michael Talbot's excellent `The Holographic Universe' and (Apollo 14 astronaut) Dr. Edgar Mitchell's difficult but rewarding `The Way of the Explorer'. For a less challenging and more populist perspective, try Graham Hancock's `Supernatural.'
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Review Details



The Guardian

Location: UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 63