The Earth Lights Debate: For the Defence

Paul Devereux
Magonia 12, 1983

Two things struck me about Magonia 11: the review of my Earthlights, naturally enough, I suppose, and the comments in the editorial bemoaning the state of British ufology. I hope I may be allowed to respond to John Harney’s review of Earthlights and use that to make a few comments on the editorial’s viewpoint. It is obvious that I’m biased in favour of my book, but even allowing for that it seems incredible that Mr Harney could produce such a negative, jaded and dismissive review of it.

In his first paragraph he talks of gaps: the gap is the UFO enigma itself. All books on the subject have been speculative. What is important is whether or not that speculation is constructive, leading to new avenues of research and to fresh perspectives on the problem, whether such speculation can be tested, and whether such speculation can generate creative debate, for it is that which stops ufology (or any field of enquiry) from becoming stagnant. Earthlights fulfils all those criteria, providing a stick to stir the stagnant pond of ufology when it is most needed.

But does Mr Harney appreciate that? Not a bit of it. He clearly was determined to remain bored. And it is the bored and dismissive Mr Harneys of ufology that I suggest are one of the elements contributing to its jaded state.

Earthlights does the following things:

(a) Provides the most comprehensive roundup and discussion of the main UFO theories. The analysis of what Jung actually said is the best in print. The damaging ETH is placed in perspective. I would have thought Mr Harney could have forced a bit of appreciation out of himself for this effort at least.

(b) The nature of UFO study is placed into two halves: the core phenomenon which is actually witnessed in the skies, and the mental ‘shadow’ UFO enigma (the visionary, psychological and sociological aspects) which is, at point of origin, a separate thing entirely. Randles and Warrington started that vital split (which is necessary if ufology is to progress any further – both areas of investigation are of interest but I suggest they are not the same thing: it’s at least worth arguing about and recording in a review). Earthlights clarified it.

(c) It is suggested, not without considerable evidence, that the core UFO phenomenon is somehow tectonically produced. The history of that idea was explored – French 60s research, some (poor) Spanish 60s research, Devereux/York in the early/mid 70s, Persinger in the late 70s and the recent Brady/Persinger material: Mr Harney accuses me of being ‘highly’ speculative. This is not so and is a misrepresentation of the work in the book. The theory is unfolded in several chapters, but primarily in chapter 7, almost line for line in step with case histories and eyewitness observation. It is clear that the theory best accommodates the facts. If Mr Harney is simply going to yawn away any eyewitness material linked with a dynamic paradigm which can be tested, then from whence does he expect any answer to the UFO enigma to emerge?

Figure 23 in Earthlights shows the most detailed and accurate UFO/tectonic correlation currently attempted anywhere in ufological research. The correlation is observably significant. How come a reviewer of the book was unable to pass comment on that when he found room to spend his longest paragraph discussing the relatively unimportant value of one photograph? It’s appalling reviewing if not sloppy ufology. And why no comment on the curious ‘coincidence’ that Warminster and Cradle Hill sit on the only two surface faults in the whole region – a region that is tectonically stable? Anyone reading Mr Harney’s review could be forgiven for thinking that Earthlights was a hotchpotch of pseudo-scientific waffling without any evidence, let alone damned good evidence, being presented. I consider these omissions to be due to Mr Harney either merely scanning the book or stooping to deliberate vandalism of a theory he does not approve of.

(d) The fourth contribution to current ufology made by Earth Lights, is that it presents two entirely fresh ideas: (i) that the energy pockets produced tectonically are in such a sensitive state that they may be responsive to human consciousness (which would explain much), and (ii) associated with (i), that UFO ‘entities’ may be formed out of the ‘UFO material’ itself, rather than being occupants of a spacecraft. Now these two ideas are speculative, far more so than the almost certain tectonic origin of the core phenomenon, but as they would explain so much of the UFO enigma, as well as, unexpectedly, providing a dynamic new area of psychic research, they should be considered.

In the first place, I’ve seen it happen, so I know it CAN take place, and I put myself ’on the line’ with regard to that experience with a certain honesty and courage that Mr Harney might have commented on; in the second place it may be a testable theory as I will explain shortly (any paradigm which handles the known data most effectively must be given serious consideration by any serious investigator in any field, after all, quantum theory postulates unknown mechanics – at present at any rate – and merely encodes certain effects); and in the third place Earthlights presents eyewitness accounts of this ‘geophysic process’ occurring. Models are important, even if they only exist to be superseded. Without a paradigm, Mr Harney, you are without a dime in the slums of ufology.

(e) Earthlights presents evidence which could be interpreted as indicating that prehistoric megalith builders in Britain and probably north-west Europe built certain of their sites in regions prone to UFO incidence. A modern example was given from Australia. It was shown there is a geological common denominator in the British material. If this interpretation is correct, then we may have anthropological or archaeological avenues of exploration in ufology which might lead us to fresh insights into the phenomenon.

In the course of discussing these possibilities in Earthlights I made a 10-page reference to the Dragon Project (not really ‘brief’ though admittedly passing). One day, in a few years, there may be a book on the Dragon Project, but now, in the middle of ongoing research (we’ve only been at it 5 years), would not be the time to publish fully about results we cannot fully interpret. Would Mr Harney not accuse us of being ‘pseudo-scientific’ if we did? Moreover, it may be that the Dragon Project will satisfy itself that there is no physical anomaly at stone circle sites within the limitations of its equipment – even though that seems far from the case at the moment.

So Earthlights has made a useful contribution to ufology. Many people feel it was the most important book on ufology published in Britain in 1982 – and some have been kinder than that. I would only go as far as to say that it was worth more attention by Magonia in general (so intent on bemoaning the poor state of British ufology that it isn’t able to sit up and take notice when something a bit positive does happen) and Mr Harney in particular.

In addition, I deeply resent Mr Harney ‘s implication that Earthlights was just another journalistic gee-whizz type of offering by some pseudo-scientific con-man: It is a clearly constructed, paradigm-generating book written by someone who has been an active UFO researcher for 15 years and who had a passing interest in the subject for up to 10 years before that. I have witnessed the phenomenon at first hand, have interviewed other witnesses (of all types), have studied the key literature (and much of the lesser variety), I have taken part in sky watches and the like. It is one aspect of my overall research which has kept me a part-time teacher and therefore my funds low: my life is literally dedicated to such work. I have been consciously working on Earthlights for eight to ten years, and the first, skeleton draft was written in 1975.

If I wanted just to dash off any old book on UFOs I assure Mr Harney that I wouldn’t have invested such time and research in it. Also, the ‘highly speculative’ and ‘pseudo’ references are a slur on my collaborator, Paul McCartney, who is a trained geologist and chemist. Indeed, I brought him in, and shared my royalties with him, precisely so that the science would be as accurate as possible when dealing with the subject of UFOs: Mr Harney says I went ‘beyond science’ in some of the book. Mr Harney, UFOs currently are beyond science, didn’t you know? That’s what makes their study so worth while… they have the potential to move our understanding on a few more rungs.

In his fourth paragraph Mr Harney says, in reference to the population-corrected UFO distribution for England and Wales presented in Earthlights, that it is ‘first necessary to make a selection from all available reports’ and that such a selection must be highly subjective. Then what is one ever to do, Mr Harney? In any case, it simply isn’t true. We presented a sample from 20 years’ UFO reports: The only ones rejected were those marked on the report sheets by the investigators as being suspicious or likely misidentification. A working filter. I had no control over the years selected – two years were selected by a BUFORA officer and the others were selected by lifting brown cardboard boxes off shelves at random as rapidly as could be done in the two days we had available.

The only conscious selection was that we avoided the years 1977 and 1978 as these had been already selected by Lawrence Dale of BUFORA. There was no subjective selection on my part, and the reports were being put to a use not suspected by anyone who had compiled the reports. It is therefore difficult to see how subjectivity came into it. We also included data from coherent reports of English or Welsh ‘wave zones’, ones that had a beginning and end, as it were, and in which all the known sightings had been recorded. Only two such reports came to our notice, and we had no control over where they would be. We omitted the Warminster material as it was somewhat ‘ragged’, and hadn’t had a defined end to the activity – or rather the reported activity – and we were well aware of the artefactual nature of much of the Warminster material.

Mr Harney carefully avoids saying anything about the Leicestershire material, in which ALL known reports were plotted on the landscape. At approximately 130 reported cases over approximately 800 square miles this remains the best event-to-area presentation of UFO incidence ever attempted. If Mr Harney is not satisfied, then Earthlights acts as a prod to him to get up out of his armchair, off his supercilious backside, and to get down to a bit of work himself. Another example of Earth Lights ‘s excellent effect.

In his fifth paragraph Mr Harney reveals, inadvertently, that he has just skipped through Earthlights. He says that many of the reports given in detail in Earthlights seem to be ‘somewhat similar to… ball lightning or St Elmo’s fire…’ Bravo, Mr Harney. Clap clap. Well done. What do you think Earthlights was about? But in Earthlights I go to some lengths to explain why I think UFOs are not kugelblitz, but why I think they belong to the same family as it and other phenomena such as earthquake lights, mountain peak discharges and the like.
Earthlights was written as the result of
thinking by someone who has deeply
studied the UFO enigma and one who was
deeply affected by witnessing it.

I attempt to show that there is a geophysical from which coherent light-phenomena an emerge, and I suggest that UFOs are one of these. I’ve never ever seen a reviewer miss the point of what he was reviewing with such determination.

Earthlights was written as the result of thinking by someone who has deeply studied the UFO enigma and one who was deeply affected by witnessing it. It was not written specifically to ‘attract the attention of scientists’ as Mr Harney puts it in his sixth paragraph. But there is much in Earth Lights which would make such a bridge-building more possible than hitherto. As for going ‘beyond science’; well, so was putting a man on the Moon once, so were pocket calculators, so was quantum physics, etc. One of the problems of British ufology is its lack of vision and courage, exemplified by Mr Harney. The unknown is not discovered by clinging solely to the known. (But Earth Lights even attempts to show that new views of the known can be created.) And creativity is another sadly lacking quality of British ufology. The turgid state of British ufology merely reflects the turgid state of many British endeavours: industry, politics and so on.

In his eighth paragraph Mr Harney seems to demonstrate that the most important matter in the book for him is the status of the photograph on page 98 of Earthlights, apparently showing ball lightning – it is his longest paragraph. Mr Harney thinks it is a fake. Actually, Bob Rickard also thought I was ‘sticking my neck out’ on this one. Firstly, I must exonerate my publishers in this respect – it is my caption. And I said what I did because of all the purported ball lightning photos we studied for the book, this one most convinced me. If it is a fake, it is definitely not created in the way that Mr Harney (or Bob Rickard) maintain.

I am a practising photographer so I know obvious fakery and this is not one of those. Just look at the picture. It is suggested by Mr Harney that the photographer simply moved his camera when photographing a street light to create the tracer effect. That is not possible in this case: the trace of light occupies about three-quarters of the width of the picture. Yet the edges of houses etc., and the lights from a telephone kiosk show quite clearly that the camera could not have been moved so wildly: the offsetting of their edges is minute compared to the span of the trace – there simply is no correlation. The blurred edges of the houses etc. are quite in keeping with a hand-held camera on a slow shutter speed used (presumably) in a hurry to catch a fleeting event.

Moreover, a study of the trace reveals a spatial effect that could not have been created by simply slashing the camera: the side view of the trace shows elongated lines, yet it is clear that the light source, whatever it was, turned in space and comes towards the camera in one case and away from it in another – the perspective on the trace is clear to see.

This could only have been created if the light source was moving freely in the air or if the photographer was on some mechanical device that could push and pull him rapidly towards and away from the light source. Further, if the street light is on, it is the only one on in the street. The light occurring at the top of the lamp-post illuminates the houses behind, there is no hint of other illumination in the street (the photographer maintained that there had been a power failure during the storm). And again, there is no doubt that a thunderstorm was taking place when the photograph was taken, as on the original print there are several lightning traces in the sky; one is visible on the reproduced photo in Earthlights – just above the lamp-post!

And there is nothing odd about ball lightning being attracted to a tall, vertical earthed object standing freely, surely?There are many cases of ball lightning earthing themselves against chimney pots and spikes on roofs. Finally, the picture in Earthlights is shown the same way round as the original print. The photo could have been faked, but would have required double exposure. Had the photographer gone to that trouble, I would have thought that he’d have avoided ‘earthing’ his light ball on the lamp-post just to prevent the sort of careless and ill-informed criticism as that put forward by Mr Harney.

In any case, the status of the photo does not affect the status of ball lightning. It seems a pity to me that this relatively unimportant feature of the book was singled out as the most important in Mr Harney’s review.

But in spite of Mr Harney’s jaundiced attitude, Earthlights has already generated interesting events. As a direct result of the book’s publication, the Gaia Programme has now been formed and will involve ufologists (those that bother to get up out of their armchairs), earth mysteries researchers (including trained geologists and archaeologists) and psychic researchers. A most exciting grouping of minds. Gaia is going to attempt to set up three experiments:

(a) To make a region-by-region analysis of the correlation (or otherwise) of the very best UFO reports and the local, detailed geology, to see if the tectonic connection continues to hold up.
(b) To carry out certain experiments to attempt to determine the incidence of unexplained aerial phenomena (Jenny Randles’ excellent and sane term) in the vicinity of certain prehistoric sites, and
(c) To attempt to set up an experiment to see if earth-lights produced by rock crushing experiments can have their behaviour in any way affected by human observers.

This last will be an enormously difficult operation, and the very best PK subjects will have to be involved. But even at this writing (January 1983) plans are well afoot.

So, Mr Harney and Magonia, that’s the state of British ufology, only you were all too busy carping to notice. The tone of the Editorial seems to be placing the blame elsewhere: I think the ufological malaise is much closer to home, Magonia. So what if the number of UFOs reported has dropped off? It may be due to disenchantment with UFOs by the general public (though attendance at certain films doesn’t seem to bear that out), it may be a sense of wasting one’s time on the part of researchers who have been told that the UFO is not an actual phenomenon but some sort of psychological or sociological phenomenon. In which case the buck stops at Magonia‘s door more rightfully than anywhere else. But it could be that there is really a phenomenon that occurs in cycles of which we are currently ignorant.

Ufology has been bedevilled by two things: (i) the dominance of the ETH which for too long rendered any other interpretation of the phenomenon to the shadows; (ii) the reaction against this when mental and sociological factors came to the fore. This reached a pitch a few years ago when almost all leading UFO researchers were intimating if not stating that there was no real UFO event, only a mental/sociological one. The corrective swing went too far.

It seems to me that we really do have to make the distinction that I mentioned earlier: there is a geophysical UFO event – one with extraordinary and far-reaching characteristics – and there is this ‘shadow phenomenon’, which is the effect of the phenomenon on people, and the generation of apparently similar archetypal material in visionary and psychopathic ways – plus the hoaxes and misperceptions (and missed perceptions). To treat them all as a job lot, as the same thing, must lead to research errors. One aspect or the other will be denied by any given researcher.

In reality, I feel there are two strands of ufological research: the sociological/psychological epiphenomena, and the actual, time-space atmospheric event. They are not the same phenomena. Unless this distinction is made, I fear progress in the subject will not be possible.

And the sort of patronising, dismissive attitudes shown by Mr Harney will help neither field of ufological endeavour. Ultimately, it may be that ufologists as a whole have painted themselves into various corners which prevents any sane across-the-board understanding of what it is they are studying, their cornered perspectives being unable to encompass the view required. I am beginning to suspect that ufologists may not be the people to study ufology, if you see what I mean. Thank God – or evolution or whatever – for earth mysteries research, then.

Researchers in that area stand head and shoulders above their ufological and psychic researcher counterparts at the present time in commitment, perception and healthy debate. I think it’s a question of having your feet on the ground, rolling up your sleeves and getting down to a bit of work.

Finally, with regard to Earthlights, I want to make it clear that I am quite aware all the various theories stated within it, or some of them, may be wrong. If they are so proved, well, fine. I’m not after patenting the UFO discovery, merely establishing further understanding of the whole enigma. That I have written a book that can be tested is surely a step in the right direction. All I can say is that in the light of what is presently known about UFOs, and in the light of my own experience and research, the earth lights theory holds up the best to the evidence. Not perfectly but the best to date.

Earth Lights is not merely ‘a book’ – it is the result of sane and sober enquiry. And let’s be a bit more generous, eh, Mr Harney? When was the last time that a single book produced two entirely new concepts in ufology developed a sleeping theory so fully and generated a multidisciplinary research programme? Hmmm?

Paul Devereux. Earthlights: Towards an Explanation of the UFO Enigma. Turnstone Press, 1982.