The Earthlights Controversy - Johm Harney replies

John Harney
Magonia 13, 1983

In the previous issue of Magonia (No. 12) appeared a long letter from Paul Devereux which was devoted to attacking my review of his book Earthlights (EL) which was published in Magonia 11. He seems annoyed that his work did not inspire me to write pages of gushing prose in fulsome praise of it. However, he more than makes up for my ‘bored and dismissive’ review in his letter. Its bludgeoning, rhetorical style may make it a good read but I hardly think that it will convince many of our readers.

Let me examine a few of the points he raises.

He says that the UFO study can be divided into two halves: ‘the core phenomenon which is actually witnessed in the skies’ and the ‘visionary, psychological and sociological aspects’. The phenomena which are seen in the skies have various causes (see, for example The UFO Handbook (1)), but Devereux insists that they are ‘somehow tectonically produced’. No doubt some of them are. Those mysterious phenomena known as ‘earthquake lights’ are at present being subjected to scientific investigation with the object of discovering how they are generated.

However, in a recent paper it is stated that such lights are seen only in association with strong earthquakes and the authors cite a study by Chinese researchers who have found that most occurrences are associated with earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater and none with earthquakes of magnitude less than 5.(2) Devereux, though, claims that somewhat similar phenomena occur on a smaller scale even in the British Isles and generally not associated with any noticeable seismic activity. It seems that the kinds of UFOs he discusses occur near geological faults – any faults, not just active faults. He tells us that his theory is unfolded primarily in Chapter 7, so let me examine that chapter for accuracy of statement and cogency of argument.

It begins with an account of a study of Leicestershire with the purpose of seeing if there were any correlations between ‘the distribution of old stones, meteorological and seismic phenomena, the incidence of UFOs, alleged paranormal events and geological features of the landscape’. (EL, p.169) Accounts of these phenomena, going back as far as 1580, were extracted from ‘the records’, these records not being specified. From his comments it is obvious that he takes these accounts literally, without any thought of who originally wrote them, for what purposes or under what circumstances. Devereux accuses me of ‘sloppy ufology’ but he is obviously guilty here of sloppy history. Let us look at an example.

He quotes from an account of a violent thunderstorm with hail, which occurred at Markfield on 7 September 1659, and which he attributes to Sir George Booth [left]. This account is written in a rather extravagant style which describes the hail as being of the form of ‘halberts, swords and daggers’ and the thunder as the sound of muskets being discharged. Devereux concludes the description of this incident by remarking: ‘Somehow or other, while in formation, some of the hailstones were obliged to follow a blueprint that must have come from the human mind.’

When I read this account three related questions occurred to me: Why were military metaphors employed? What other events were happening in England at that time? Was Sir George Booth involved in them? After intensive research in my local library, lasting all of ten minutes, I had the relevant facts (3). Sir George Booth (1622-84) was involved in a plot for the restoration of Charles II and the rising which he organized took place in August 1659. His forces were defeated and he attempted to escape but was captured, dressed as a woman, at Newport Pagnell and taken to the Tower. Although the rising was an apparent failure it did hasten the restoration of the monarchy (1660) and Booth, instead of losing his head, was made a baron, taking the title of Lord Delamere.

What has all this got to do with a storm at Markfield? Well, the incident of Booth’s capture was the subject of some scurrilous verses entitled ‘The Last Observations of Sir George Booth’ appended to an account of ‘The Dreadful and Most Prodigious Tempest at Markfield in Leicestershire’. So the account of the storm was not written by Sir George Booth but was written about him and the events he was involved in, which explains the military metaphors which Devereux would apparently have us take literally.

Why does Devereux remark that the hailstones in the Markfield storm must have been shaped by the influence of human minds? Well, this obviously refers to the crankiest of the various themes which are developed in EL. This idea – that the substance which forms the UFO phenomenon is directly manipulated by the human mind – is developed in Chapter 8. It seems that UFO material is ‘a very sensitive energy form’ and that information is transmitted to it by the observer ‘by the process we call “psychekinesis” (PK) – the action of the mind-brain’ on external matter’.

PK, of course, is that mysterious power which bends spoons, etc., but many people have other words for it, such as ‘fraud’ or ‘sleight-of-hand’. Devereux asserts that: ‘Practical magicians develop their PK expertise by concentrating on a candle flame, as this is matter in a particularly tenuous state susceptible to subtle influences’. This is rubbish. Practical magicians do not achieve their results by using PK, but by spending many hours practising each trick until they can perform it so smoothly and skilfully as to deceive even the most observant members of their audiences. Chapter 8 goes on to develop the PK and related ideas in a somewhat incoherent fashion, with a lot of guff about electromagnetic fields, levels of consciousness, the musings of C. G. Jung, and so on.

It seems that Devereux’s thesis about the human mind’s interaction with the UFO ‘material’ is the central idea of his book, for without it there would be nothing special about seismically generated phenomena as a principal cause of unexplained UFO reports.

To return to Chapter 7 – on his map of Leicestershire, Devereux plotted ‘exceptional’ or ‘abnormal’ meteorological events. As he does not define precisely what he means by an abnormal meteorological event, he is thus free to plot them anywhere he likes and he finds that these events are related to faulting. He speculates that ‘fault areas somehow interfere with the normal cycles of the atmosphere’ and that ‘it could be the unusual electromagnetic fields and anomalies surrounding areas of tectonic disturbance and mineral deposits that affect the atmospheric processes, perhaps through the catalyzing effects of solar and lunar influence’. How’s that for pseudo-scientific gobbledygook!

I would speculate that it could be that Devereux doesn’t know anything about meteorology and is too busy plotting various unrelated and unquantified observations on his maps to have time to find out from one of the many excellent basic texts on the subject, so he just makes it up as he goes along. It isn’t geology which affects the local weather, but topography. This will have some effect on the distribution of thunderstorms and their apparent distribution will also be related to the distribution of population and the distribution of weather observing stations. Violent storms are often highly localized, so some of these may not be recorded if they occur in sparsely populated areas.

I had intended to write a longer article about EL but many of the points I would have raised have already been discussed at some length between Devereux and reviewers of his book in various other British UFO journals. The question of the ‘ball lightning’ photograph is very ably dealt with by Colin Bord elsewhere in this issue, so I need make no further comments on it. As for the possibility that some UFO events are caused by geophysical activity, this seems to me to be worth further investigation and Devereux assures us that such work is actually being carried out by the Dragon Project and the Gaia Programme. I hope that their findings, as they are published, will show a more restrained and rigorous approach to the evidence, and will eschew such nonsense as ‘PK’ and other pseudo-scientific notions.

  1. HENDRY, Allan. The UFO Handbook. London, Sphere Books, 1980.
  2. LOCKNER, D.A., JOHNSTON, M.J.S. and BYERLEE, J.D. A mechanism to explain the generation of earthquake lights. Nature, Vol. 302, 1983, pp 28-33
  3. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. II. Oxford University Press.