Crash: Radical Misperception and the Power of Myths

Peter Rogerson
Magonia 16, July 1984
In his excellent and perceptive article in Magonia 15, Jacques Scornaux raises some vital points, among which are the process of radical misperception, and the failure of rationalist analysis of human society. I would like to couple these perceptions with an analysis of some of the neo-romanticist attitudes which have arisen in recent ufology.
In trying to come to terms with works such as The Green Stone, it is dishonest not to acknowledge real difficulty. The gut-reaction is to wax indignant about the betrayal of integrity by the participants, who confuse reality with ‘dragon and dungeon’ fantasy. Given the recent press coverage of clerical condemnation of such fantasy games, it is perhaps wise to take the ‘new ufology’ route of trying to see the motivation behind such fantasies, without impressing ones own value judgements.

It is clear that, for example, the storyline of The Green Stone represents a process by which evil is defeated and cultural boundaries re-established by a series of ritual acts. Whether or not these events occurred in ‘real life’, they may well be the process whereby certain individuals are able to redefine their own psycho-social boundaries.

Furthermore, it seems that it is an excellent example of the main theme of the neo-romanticist revolt: the rejection of the intellect, the cult of immediate experience. For some ufologists the UFO experience becomes an access to an alternative reality, a twilight zone beyond the world of daylight reason. For example, Paul Devereux’s own UFO sighting takes on this aspect.

Devereux’s account of his peak experience is a prime example – ditching his own ‘naive realism’, recognising that the perceived image is not the same as the object watched, then it becomes clear that the ‘Earthlight’ or whatever is a sign of transcendence, a radical break with ‘daylight’ reason. The misperception, in effect the marginalisation of the perception, opens the door to the numinous. The radical misperception is, in a very real sense, a seeing for the first time, parallel with the sense of perceptual shock produced by such drugs as LSD. Here enters the idea of Magonia in disguise – the secret of the cosmos in a leaf blowing in the wind – going right back to the initial study of fairy-lore. We can thus equate radical misperception (or re-perception) with enlightenment.

Now let us try to work out why ordinary events should reveal their numinousness by masquerading as alien spaceships. Alien spaceships are contemporary cultural symbols of the ‘wholly other’, seen in other cultures as spirits, gods, etc. When the moon is seen as a phantom spaceship it reveals a sense of its radically alien nature.
This ‘misperception’, the enchanted glimpse
into the mysterious heart of the ordinary,
transforms the life of the percipient

This ‘misperception’, the enchanted glimpse into the mysterious heart of the ordinary, transforms the life of the percipient. It lifts them from the world of daylight reason and commonsense by reintroducing drama into the world. “Something out of the ordinary”, quite different from the dull, normal round, has taken place – at the very least the percipient has a good after-dinner story. To admit that it was ‘only’ a misperception thus deflates the percipient, it reduces them from being a ‘witness’ of the magical and ‘wholly other’, to being a ‘victim’ of a trick of light and mind.

It would seem that much of the neo-romantic, fantasy enterprise is a way of holding onto that drama and retaining the perception of the numinous. The ‘investigators’ now become figures in a drama of their own construction, enacted in its own world of meaning which is in stark contrast to the banal world of bureaucratic routine.

Ultimately the neo-romantic UFO quest becomes a protest against the hollowness of the world of ‘reason’, of senseless trivial conversation which obfuscates all real meaning. Given this glimpse of magical escape, few would willingly subside back into such a world. Where the neo-romantics fail is in their attempt to draw this encounter with Magonia into the daylight world by insisting that ‘these things can be’. Untempered by reason and commonsense, Magonia can soon ‘abduct’ us.

What is this ‘Magonia’ which is encountered in the shades of twilight? It seems to me to represent the ‘Wilderness’, all those aspects of reality and the world which are beyond rational control. It stands against the world of human reason, culture and ingenuity, which I shall call ‘Habitat’ (I apologise to anthropologists and others who may take exception to the term, I am simply looking for verbal symbols at present).

One writer on psychical research has used an excellent term to describe our encounters with Magonia – ‘crashing’. Magonia descends on us like a ten-ton weight – suddenly the ghost is in the house; the light on the road is a spacecraft; the polt throws the pots at us; Nessie surfaces onto the placid surface from unplumbed depths. Wilderness is upon us.

It is hardly surprising that those with an extremely strong commitment to some metaphysical ‘Habitat’ system should be extremely disturbed by this. Rationalists and Christian fundamentalists, deeply commited to strict rules and tight repression, when confronted with the crashing in of Wilderness, without so much as a knock on the door, not surprisingly are tempted to see it as a manifestation of evil, or at least cosmic bad form!

In the opening chapter of Book of the Damned, Fort compares the ‘damned data’ to the lumpenproletariat of society, unacceptable in the bourgeois drawing room. This is a profound insight, indeed. Part of the central force, the dynamic potential of the ‘crash’ of Magonia, is its equation with the untamed aspect of the personality, society and cosmos. Fortean phenomena are damned because ultimately they are signs of pure ‘Wilderness’. It is obvious that on a macro scale this ‘crashing’ can lead to disaster. Iran is a prime example of the sudden explosion of dramatic mythic power into a society, and the chaos which results when that power is unchecked.

It seems to me that Scornaux is correct in his estimate of the power of myths on our society, for good or ill. The Falklands or Greenham Common are excellent testimony to the power of a-rational appeals on human history; and it is not at all clear what myths may drive a world that is coming up to a close encounter with annihilation. There is just no way of telling what would happen in the last hours of countdown to nuclear war, but perhaps one could hope against all reason that there would emerge from Magonia an elemental, global, lust for life which would sweep all before it. Perhaps in this crisis of final despair all existing social ties would be broken, and all government, power and authority would be smashed apart.It would no doubt be the second greatest human tragedy possible, yet for all its pain and grief, might it not be an infinitely better outcome than that Last Winter?

A time must come when all the polite little articles and not so polite book reviews become just idle chatter. If we are to take our role seriously we must speak out at some point. For more and more people the shock that lies at the heart of Magonia is the realisation of a world order founded on cynicism, tyranny and mendacity, and defended ultimately by the threat of the immeasurably evil crime of mondocide – the murder of a world and all life, hope, love, joy; yes, even hate and sorrow! It is hardly surprising then that there is “crime, banditry and the distress of nations”. Indeed, the greatest imaginable sign of hope, and the greatest testimony of support for wise old Pelagius, is that there is so little, and that they overwhelming majority of people demonstrate, for the overwhelming majority of the time, so much love, tenderness, kindness and compassion.

It signals that human beings are not politico-economic puppets, miserable sinners requiring supernatural grace or extra-terrestrial nannying. Nor are they lumps of jelly whose sole purpose is carrying ‘selfish genes’, or spirits trapped in alien matter, ‘strangers in a strange land’. Rather we are the Children of Olduvai, the One People, the inheritors of the multiform cultures of our planet, bound for the stars. What dreams the dust of the universe dreams, and what greater hope could one have than this.

After the first on-line publication of this article in 2009, Peter Rogerson added the following comments:

Another visit to the that foreign country the past again. There are references to books which will mean little to modern audiences. The “Green Stone” was the first of a series of books which one might call literary dungeons and dragons games, with ufologists and ex ufologists running around the country as a result of “psychic messages” relayed by a teenager.The idea of radical misperception as revelation and/or deconstruction was to be the feature of a number of later, more measured articles, by myself, Hilary Evans and Patrick Harpur.

I can’t for the life of me remember who it was who coined the term “crashing”, the idea of a shattering revelation. A term I tend to use now is “collapse of the given world”. The “given world” is the set of basic assumptions we all make about ourselves, our identities, our societies and the world in which we live. Anomalous personal experiences are among the things which can call that into question. Dramatic events can rip holes in the given world, and lead to the feeling “if that can happen anything can happen”.

With collapse of the given world, new worlds and new identities have to be forged, which may be for good or ill worlds with much changed boundaries. We can think of the relatives of murder victims who go one to be public personalities, the person given a diagnosis of terminal cancer may construct a new identity as a “cancer sufferer” or “cancer survivor”. This explains why sometimes when someone who was given a fatal diagnosis, and has that rescinded, while their family and friends are ecstatic, they themselves may feel bereft. Having already lost their given world and identity, they now find themselves losing their newly forged world, identity and social networks.

People who have anomalous personal experiences can forge new worlds in which they are percipients, psychics, abductees, satanic abuse survivors, past life experients etc. and forge new worlds and social networks around this identity. Having had their given world blown apart they may become open to other anomalous experiences, if X could happen, then so can Y and Z. Sceptics tend to interpret this in terms of giving more anomalous explanations to ambiguous events, while believers will tend to interpret this as being more open to a paranormal realm. In best agnostic tradition I sit on the fence.

For many people 9/11 was the fall of their given world, but as the overwrought last section, shows this was a very recent and very brittle given world indeed, barely more than a decade old, whose sense of security was founded on a grateful amnesia. The period in which this article was written was the in the depth of the second cold war which had begun in 1979 and was steadily deteriorating. This was the world of Reagan and Andropov, of “evil empires”. The world seemed, and indeed was, on the eve of destruction, and at least twice in a matter of weeks in the Autumn of 1983 nearly fell over the edge:

There were anti nuclear protests everywhere, films with titles such as Threads, Warday, The Day After and such presented images of imminent nuclear annihilation, there were protests at Greenham Common and elsewhere.

It should be recalled that it was in this atmosphere that the Rendlesham story developed.