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There are quite a few ghost tales which, had they been publicised in different cultural environments, would serve just as well as sightings of non-human entities. Peter Ackroyd, in his compendium of English Ghosts retells the experience of Mr Andrews and friend in Swinbrook, Oxfordhire in the early seventies.

Something `jet black` stood ahead of them on the country road they were walking along. It rose into a `column` and became the shape and size of a man – except it was composed of what looked like smoke in zigzag patterns (Ackroyd p110-11.) We would say now that they had beheld a shape-shifting shadowman!

A good source of modern unclassifiable reports of this kind is the `It Happened to Me` section of the Fortean Times online forum, although these are difficult to follow up or verify.

What I do find credible is a recent thread about a `spiky thing` seen in houses by a number of Australian posters. One of them describes as being like a `three dimensional asterix`. Another tells of a gelatinous looking spider like being clinging to the ceiling of her bedroom. This was seen by more than one person. We are back in Nameless Thing territory! (see www.Fortean

Down to brass tacks.

Non-human entity claims are not that difficult to debunk. We are more apt to misjudge the nature of something that we are not so familiar with –like a passing animal – than something we are used to.

In accordance with this, sceptics have written off many of these sightings as simple misidentifications of known animals. Nor are they without a point. A walking reptilian entity was seen by some policemen in Loveland, Ohio, USA and was dubbed the Loveland frog. It has since transpired that what they saw might well have been a rare, but classified Nile Monitor Lizard (Bord, p-246-247.)

In that same tradition Joe Mitchell has proposed that the Flatwoods monster was nothing but an owl (see After all, many are now satisfied that the Kelly-Hopkinsville case, where eight adults were besieged by floating demons, may have been triggered by a hysterical misperception of owls following a UFO sighting. The famous `Mothman `with its glowing red eyes has been given a similar reductionist explanation. (See and www.csicoporg, for example)

Likewise a British UFO investigator called Chris Wolfe has re-opened the Saltwood case. He has declared the headless bat type creature to have been a crow illuminated by a passing train….

Some of these zoological debunkings end up in places less prosaic than what was started with.  Some saw fit to account for the Nameless Thing of 50 Berkeley Square as having been a mutated freshwater cephalopod – octopus to you and me. This had somehow ended up in the sewers from the Thames and so into the plumbing of that building. The thing had graduated from eating rats to people. (Now that is my kind of debunking exercise!)

Then there are the tricks of the mind brought about by aberrant psychology. A must read for all paranormal enthusiasts is Oliver Sacks’ book Hallucinations (2011). This is chockfull of instances of detailed images that our ever creative brains can throw up in the right circumstances (and, yes, little people are a feature of this.) Indeed, one sceptic has reviewed the Pascagoula abduction in the light of hypnopompic hallucinations (see

As for me.

I find the owl interpretation of the Hopkins goblin case quite convincing. This is because what they described does tally well with both the behaviour and appearance of some owls. When, however, people extrapolate from this and apply the same thinking to the Flatwoods monster I am far less sure. What they saw was much larger, less owl like and was seen by separate witnesses.

Nor does it seem probable to me that four boys in Saltwood would mistake a common bird for the high strangeness entity which they spoke of.

That there was a mutant killer octopus creeping through the sewers of London is a lovely Gothic notion. The whole legend, however, has more than a whiff of London town blarney about it. There have been no further incidents associated with it, and the matter seems to be lost in time.

As for hallucinations: no doubt some of the more idiosyncratic solo experiences can be dropped from our enquiries by the hallucination theory. What comes across from Sacks’ study of these, however, is that they are more often than not the result of an illness or prolonged sensory deprivation (rather than excitement.) The visions may be exotic but they are almost always of things known to the observer. Furthermore, the observer almost always knows that they are hallucinating. (A typical example given is that of an elderly woman who, on losing her sight, began to hallucinate detailed pictures of people clad in elaborate Eastern clothing going about their daily tasks.) Nor is it clear that hallucinations can be shared: Sacks himself does not provide any examples of this.

The case for exotic arial phenomena does seem much better to me than for any entity of any description, no matter how common are the claims made for it. I think it possible – as suggested by Allen Danelek in UFOs: the Great Debate –that some non-terrestrial intelligence is manipulating our consciousness. This intelligence could be doing so to monitor our reactions to varied stimuli. This could be being done as a preliminary precaution before first contact is made for real.

If this hypothesis is correct then we have no idea what ET looks like until we finally meet up with it for real!


Edward Crabtree


Ackroyd, Peter  The English Ghost: Spectres through Time (London: Vintage Books, 2011)

Bord, Janet and Colin Modern Mysteries of the World: Strange Events of the Twentieth Century (London: guild Publishing, 1989)

Bowen, Charles (Ed.) Encounter Cases from the Flying Saucer Review (USA: signet, 1977)

Danelek, J. Allen UFOs: The Great Debate: An Objective Look at Extraterrestrials, Government cover Ups and the Prospect of First Contact (Minessota: Llellewyn  Publications, 2010.)

Dennet, Preston Extraterrestrial Visitations: True Accounts of Contact (Minessota: Llellewyn worldwide, 2001)

Sacks, Oliver Hallucinations (United Kingdom: Picador, 2011)


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