(Note: For anybody looking to read more on Abraham Cowley, I haven't stopped investingating his works yet. I will return with more information on Cowley very soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the post below.
Also, a free, downloadable copy of Charles Fort's Book of the Damned is available at Project Gutenberg. Below is a link to the HTML version of the text.
Book of the Damned)
I first became interested in Charles Fort's Book of the Damned after re-reading Stephen King's book Firestarter a few years back. Stephen King mentioned that he was inspired to write about the paranormal ability of psychically creating fire after reading one of Charles Fort's books. It may not have been Book of the Damned, but Wild Talents.
I'd already been reading paranormal literature somewhat seriously for a little over a year by that time. My really serious reading of psi literature began with the works of Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, notably their book Mind-Reach. From there I'd gone on to the works of J.B. and Louisa Rhine, Upton Sinclair, and all the members of the Society for Psychical Research.
But the works of Charles Fort, based on what Stephen King had said about them, sounded really interesting to me. They seemed to have a Lovecraftian element of darkness and dirtiness that some of the other paranormal writings didn't seem to have.
I tried to read Book of the Damned a few times. But, for some reason or another, I hadn't really managed to make it through. The examples throughout the book always seemed really interesting -- very different from the usual stories in psychical research books, in that, instead of revolving around a human drama, were just like a phantasmagoria of slimy objects falling to earth.
But I was never able to latch onto a through-line for the examples, and, absent the human drama of the overall story, without some other kind of through-line, I just wasn't able to keep my mind on everything that was going on.
The thing is, with Book of the Damned, I think Fort has three or four separate arguments, all going on at once. He develops them a bit at a time, weaving them all in and out of each other. So this time I've decided to take the book slowly and carefully, trying to pick out the different arguments, and giving each of them a through-line. We'll see if I actually end up doing that.
I believe that I've gotten about a third of the way through the book -- while I'm reading other things. I am still currently working my way through Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets, and I'm working on getting some more stuff on Cowley together.
So -- I have a lot of through-lines I'm working with, too. Ugh...
I guess one thing that interested me about Charles Fort after I learned more about him was that he spent hours and hours at the New York Public Library (The Schwarzman Library, the big one, with the lions in front of it), poring through scientific and other kinds of journals, searching out examples of anomalous occurrences. The idea that Charles Fort studied for hours and hours at the NYPL was always endearing to me, since, when I first got to New York, that was what I did.
But there are two other great intellectual figures who did the same thing: Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw. George Bernard Shaw is my favorite writer of all time. But Karl Marx is, I think, the one with most in common with Charles Fort. Karl Marx, like George Bernard Shaw, spent a lot of hours studying in the British Museum reading room in London.
This isn't unique -- in fact, one of my favorite episodes in Virginia Woolf's book Jacob's Room is Jacob's observations of all the people who are studying in the British Museum. One girl Jacob notes is particularly hilarious: a girl who is trying to find the mystical relation between color and sound, or color and music, or something. I didn't get it when I first read it, but I think that's actually a reference to Annie Besant.
Annie Besant is one of the Theosophists -- a group of mystics who started up in the late 19th century under the tutelage of Madame H.P. Blavatsky. Besant had herself been an activist in the cause of Socialism in the 1880s. She then became a Theosophist, and, with another Theosophist, Charles W. Leadbeater, wrote a number of very interesting books on Theosophy, including books on Clairvoyance, Astral Projection, and Thought-Forms.
The book on Thought-Forms is basically a book describing auras. Auras are seen, according to Besant and Leadbeater, by the astral eye, a kind of psychic vision. The visions of the astral eye can then be translated into a physical drawing of a certain form and color.
There are plenty of illustrations of various auras. Different emotional states are related to different aura shapes and aura colors. The book ends with a discussion of the emotional states producing and produced by music, and how those emotional states show up when the music is actually played.
I personally accept the tenets of Theosophy as approaching something like a sympathy with my own feelings regarding mysticism and spirituality. I also believe that Theosophy has a thing or two in common with String Theory, even though I don't know enough about either Theosophy or String Theory to really talk about it.
But, seeing the drawings of the "auras" of a symphony, I can't help but feel that some people would be justified in smirking at them. And I think Virginia Woolf's portrait of the girl trying to find the relation between color and music, or color and sound, or whatever, was kind of making fun of Annie Besant -- even though Annie Besant wasn't a girl at that time.
But the main point is that a lot of people studied at the British Museum, and a lot of people study at the NYPL. Well, what connected Karl Marx and Charles Fort? Well, Karl Marx, who was already rather pumped up intellectually on Hegelianism and Economics, was going to the libraries, day after day, and looking through history books and journals to find more and more examples of the exploitation of, and the effects of the exploitation of, Labor in the production of surplus value.
Karl Marx gathered tons and tons of real-life, historical data, both from established history texts, and from newspapers, periodicals, and journals, to make his point. And what was he really trying to do? He was trying to show, as far as I can tell (and I do not know a lot about Marx -- or anything -- at all), that the sole element of importance in value creation was Labor. But the system of Capitalism doesn't give Labor the compensation due to it.
The persistence in not putting as much value into Labor as comes out of Labor leads to an imbalance in the system. This leads to economic crises. The persistences and the crises can be illustrated. And the living conditions of the people involved in Labor can be illustrated. A mass of phenomena -- of evidence is gathered, and it should be able to speak for itself. However, it may also be arranged so that arguments may be developed through the illustrations.
This is my understanding of Marx. And I have to be honest with you: it's been twelve years since I've read Marx. I only got through the first volume of Capital. I've tried to get through the second volume a couple of times and failed miserably each time.
But if my understanding of Marx is correct, then the similarity between Marx and Charles Fort is very obviously. At the same time as Marx was "turning Hegel on his head," Charles Fort was perhaps drawing out some of Hegel's monistic arguments and amplifying them with arguments which, to me, seem interestingly like those of Bertrand Russell and Sigmund Freud.
But both Marx and Fort were using newspapers, periodicals, journals, and history books to gather huge masses of evidence, which they felt would be arguments simply by their own weight.
Now -- one thing I like about Charles Fort which I think Fort has but Marx doesn't, is Fort's quality as what's lately been called an outsider artist. The supreme outsider artist, in my opinion, is Lee Brodie, who painted incredible works and sold her works on the steps of the Chicago Museum of Art.
But the supreme figure of outsider art is Henry Darger, who painted magical pictures of little girls and transsexual, or hermaphroditic girl-boys and wrote a gigantic, still-unpublished novel about these children, called In the Realms of the Unreal. Darger actually created a "bound" novel by writing on papers, then pasting the papers to the pages of phone books. He put together a few books this way -- by pasting his book into phone books!
Henry Darger and Charles Fort have a lot in common. Charles Fort and Karl Marx also have a lot in common. I'd like to see an exploration of those two relations.
But the basis of Charles Fort's studies does seem to have come, first, from a Hegelian belief in monism (if that is what Hegel believes in -- I'll admit that, for all the times I've tried to read Hegel, the best I've ended up with is a couple small glimmers of ideas). But Fort and Marx also seem to owe their spirit of going out and looking for data, not to Darwin, as might be expected, but, again, to Hegel.
The philosophical basis for Fort's work begins with the idea that the only Absolute existence in the Universe is an underlying oneness -- a Monism. Everything arises from this underlying oneness, and nothing ever completely separates itself from it.
Fort argues that if anything actually were to separate itself completely from the underlying oneness, it would become an Absolute in itself. Though this end result seems to be an impossibility for Fort, it is also what every form of existence is aiming at.
A particular existence, which, considered apart from the Absolute, is really only a quasi-existence, first attempts to free itself completely from the Absolute by creating a dividing line between itself and the Absolute. This could be considered something like a body, or a form, in physical entities.
But the perception also attempts to free either itself or an object of perception from the Absolute in the same way: by drawing lines around it, by creating a dividing line between one object and all other objects, thus allowing that one thing to be a particular.
The perception may attempt to free itself by freeing its entire sphere of objects of perception from all other objects of perception. In so doing, the perception creates the conception of something like a world, or a material universe. The better attempts at doing this will allow for all cause and effect to take place within the sphere of the world -- the line drawn between this world and the Absolute will be so sharp that nothing else will be able to get in from the Absolute.
In order for the particular thing, be it a world of objects perceived, or a single physical form or entity, to be as free from any cause and effect system as possible, it would need to have a highly complex system of cause and effect within itself, thus being as self-sufficient as possible. The higher a thing has evolved, the more complex are its internal systems of cause and effect.
But no system can ever be separate from the Absolute. Every physical entity is acted on by external forces, every world is acted on by forces from another world, and so forth. And every physical entity is defined, not only by its form, or the lines it seems to draw around itself, but by its relations to other objects. So while entities develop themselves and become able to achieve more of a complex stability, they never cut themselves off from external relations.
In fact, according to Fort, all motion comes from an entity receiving external forces and bringing its system back, as close as it can, to a state of equilibrium. So without external relations, no entities would be put into states of imbalance, move, and achieve states of equilibrium, which are sometimes complex, more highly developed states.
A state of being totally separate from the Absolute would be called a state of Positivity. And, just as entities attempt to be totally Positive, through excluding the rest of the Absolute from themselves, knowledge does the same thing.
Fort argues that Science is no different from the growth of a plant, or the set-up of a department store, or the development of a nation. All of these things are forms of organization, including some parts of the Absolute and excluding other parts of the Absolute. But, since all these organizations are still a part of the Absolute, and still related to the Absolute, they will still be affected by external relations, external forces.
Thought itself is a process of including and excluding: figuring out what things to include and what things to exclude. Fort defines intelligence as the state of disequilibrium in a mind, when it is re-configuring its system of inclusion and exclusion and re-attaining a state as close to equilibrium as it can.
Once a mind has re-attained a working system of equilibrium, it generally works by the use of mechanical reflex, which, despite what conventional wisdom calls it, is not, according to Fort, intelligence.
Science is a system of functional equilibrium. But it's not really a system of thought, as it stands in between periods of great discoveries or difficulties: it's a system of equilibrium, relatively self-contained, operating according to sufficiently predictable theories of cause and effect.
Just like other systems of organization, however, Science can attain higher and higher levels of organization, or evolution. But it can only attain these higher levels of organization if it accepts its relations to external forces. In this sense, Fort says that belief hinders development, while acceptance aids it.
Belief is a kind of intertia, working only on the internal principles of a system, while acceptance works with the internal principles of a system, always allowing in new principles, and, when it cannot process them with the present internal principles, works to create new principles.
However, the scientific system is, for human culture, anyway, stuck in a kind of intertia, where the mechanized reflexes by which we determine and predict cause and effect within the system are so embedded in our behavior that we almost act as if we are hypnotized into not seeing that anything might not actually fit with the internal principles of our current organized system.
Thus, when an external force or external influence occurs, Science, according to Fort, either acts as if it hasn't happened, or acts as if it can be explained away, through the internal principles of the current organized system. Charles Fort says that all investigation presumes an outcome from the outset, despite attempts at objectivity. This is due to the hypnosis which is a consequence of living in the inertia of such an established system as Science.
However, all things are related, and, in the Absolute, no thing (no thing really exists at all, apart from the Absolute) is different from any other thing. So the appearance of one thing from the gradual chain of cause and effect, while acceptable according to the provisional, internal principles of a system, is not the only way a thing can come into existence.
In fact, Fort explains, a system attempting to achieve greater independence from the Absolute will do so through abrupt transitions. These abrupt transitions could be within the overall system of objects. But often, there may be a part of the system attempting its own independence from the Absolute, which would, then, include independence from the system of which it is a part.
If this part were to draw on the Absolute to create an "abrupt transition," it could, conceivably draw on any part of it, thus creating or bringing into local existence, any manner of matter, familiar or unfamiliar to the overall system, or to the coordinate of that system in which the particular within that system is located.
So the paranormal phenomena that Fort presents to us, at least in the first part of his book, are based on a couple of facets of this "abrupt transition" idea.
The first facet of this "abrupt transition" idea is simply that earthlings aren't alone in the universe. So the "abrupt transition" would be a kind of upset to our expectations (or the expectations some of us earthlings have) of being alive on the only planet in the Universe which can support intelligent life.
Fort actually argues that spaceships, which he calls "aerial super-constructions," have, for centuries or millennia, or what have you, been travelling out among the stars, doing such things as propelling themselves, burning fuel, conducting commerce, transporting goods, and committing acts of warfare. All the accidents of these activities have ended up in materials, even body parts, being thrown into space.
After years and years, or after a not very long time at all, some of the refuse from these exploits have worked their way down to earth. This usually occurs in the form of rains -- material actually falling from the sky.
However, these materials falling from the sky are often accompanied by two other phenomena: a storm, and gelatinous material.
The gelatinous material is particularly puzzling, though it occurs in a lot of the examples that Fort gives in his book. So Fort has created a theory for this gelatinous material. He says that there are patches in the earth's atmosphere where gravity has no effect: these areas are basically gravity-inert.
Fort argues that this could be possible, as there are fields of magnetic neutrality a certain distance from magnetic sources. However, Fort seems to think of gravity-inert areas in the earths atmosphere as horizontal, like land masses, rather than vertical, or altitude-derived. Fort also seems to believe that these patches in the earth's atmosphere can move around.
And in these patches of the earth's atmosphere that are gravity-inert, there are also patches of a kind of clear, gelatinous material. These gravity-inert, gelatinous patches in the earth's atmosphere can, on occasion, gather on material from spaceships as the material falls to the earth. But sometimes the gelatinous patches can hold onto the material for a long time, long enough, even, for the material to decay. Then a storm or some other kind of atmospheric disturbance can shake the suspended matter down to the earth.
Fort dwells on this idea for a while before moving on the second facet of his theory, which I think is more plausible -- even though it is hard for me to agree with his idea of gelatinous patches floating around in gravity-inert portions of the atmosphere.
In the second facet of this "abrupt transition" idea, there is something like a parallel Universe, a neighboring dimension, which Fort calls the Super-Sargasso Sea. Within the Super-Sargasso Sea, there is some other place, which could be a planet like ours, or just a vast void, to which Fort gives the name Genesistrine.
Fort proposes that all life on Earth has come from the Genesistrine -- that, as Earth has made more and more attempts at becoming a more "real," more independently organized system, the increasing elements of organization have been brought into it through an "abrupt transition" from the Genesistrine.
In other words, things fall out of that dimension and into our dimension. And the portals for the dimension slip are these clear, gelatinous patches in the gravity-inert sections of our atmosphere.
So things can make a transition, and one would assume that if animals were to contribute to the increasing complexity of our Earthly system, they'd need to be alive. So there are rains from the sky of living things, such as frogs and fish. However, there are also, often, rains from the sky of dead and rotting fish, as well as torn up pieces of flesh, and blood.
Fort seems to believe that sometimes things come from the Genesistrine as if they were transported out of a lake, with water or mud, on Genesistrine, as if it were a planet. He also seems to believe that sometimes things come from the Genesistrine as if this area produced nothing but, say, a certain species of snail and then slipped them through the dimensional portal.
Fort also seems to believe that, even if things come from the Genesistrine to the gelatinous area, they could stay there a long time. In fact, Fort implicitly states that the only way anything can be shaken out of these gelatinous patches in the sky is if there is an atmospheric disturbance, which is why, he says, almost all the phenomena he records are accompanied by rain storms, hail storms, or lightning.
At one point, however, Fort seems to state that there is a kind of blank-space between the Genesistrine and the gelatinous area. It seems that this would be the place where things remain, and that an atmospheric disturbance shakes open the gelatinous area, allowing the things trapped in this sort of purgatory finally to fall to earth. This could happen with no lapse of time for the transition from Genesistrine -- and so living things would fall to earth alive. Or it could happen after a long time-lapse, in which case things would fall to earth dead, and in a state of decomposition.
Fort seems to believe that in the early days of the Earth, Earth was constantly receiving an influx of new life and new objects from the Genesistrine. But now appearances from the Genesistrine are what he calls "atavistic," or "vesitigial." The Earth no longer needs this constant influx of life to achieve its increasing complexity. So it uses the Genesistrine dimensional portals less and less.
One point Fort constantly brings up is that skeptics always have two arguments regarding these rains of odd objects from the sky: either they didn't really fall and were already there in the first place, or else that they were swept up in a whirlwind in one place and dropped back down in another place.
Fort refutes these arguments, largely with the evidence that built up the elements of the theory for what he calls his Principles of Geography.
First, things have stayed up in the air longer than usual (i.e., if a whirlwind could be found that could possibly have carried all the stuff into the air, it's generally on record a number of days or weeks before the event). Second, that there is a very narrow distribution of land on which the stuff falls -- a certain small band, a square of land, etc., unlike the randomness and path of a whirlwind. Third, that these things can fall for a long period of time, and day after day.
Fort also argues against the whirlwind theory by pointing out that in many of these reported falls of odd objects, there is nothing else -- other than gelatinous material. A fall of fish may be accompanied by water, or a fall of fish eggs by mud. But a fall of fish, fish eggs, snails, worms, what have you, is never accompanied by other things. It's a complete segregation of objects -- with no bands of segregation, or any indication that anything else within the environment of these fish, snails, etc., may also have been swept up by a whirlwind.
However, Fort does use the whirlwind theory to his advantage, at least in the part of the book I've read so far. He says that whirlwinds can, in fact, have swept things up into the air. These things can have been caught inside some of the gelatinous areas, where they, like the fish and so forth, decomposed. In fact, some of these materials caught by whirlwinds and swept up into the gelatinous areas can have decomposed to such a degree that they'd actually become soil, mud, which falls back to the earth.
This is about as far as I've gotten in the book. So this is about as well as I've been able to develop and delineate my understanding of his theory. I'm sorry that this discussion has been so light on quotes, as well. I may try to come back later on and pop some quotes in on a second run.
I find Fort's theory hard to stomach on a purely literal level. But I do feel comfortable with his ideas in a lot of points.
I'm not an Absolutist, but I do believe that one type matter can be translated into another type of matter via an abrupt transition. I just don't think we know how to do it. However, scientists are currently working on ways to "reverse engineer" matter and create building blocks from which any type of matter could conceivably be created. I simply go a few irrational steps further and say that the mind could make that happen, if it understood the correct way to do it. It would be a modified form of psychokinesis.
So I do believe in the idea of the abrupt transition. I also believe in the idea of matter being translated from one dimension to another. However, I don't think it's necessary to think of a holding station in the sky made out of gelatinous matter. It seems possible to me that when the falls Fort mentions are accompanied by gelatinous matter, the gelatinous matter could be something like ectoplasm, the matter which accompanies or signals spirit manifestations.
As things move from one dimension to another, I would assume that they manifest materially from some world that I personally would think of as spiritual, astral, or etheric, and that, in this manifestation, the things are accompanied by ectoplasm. But things in the other dimension are not things as we see them here. They do not become snails, eggs, etc., until they are fully manifested.
I do believe that the areas from which these things fall are akin to dimensional portals. But I don't think they necessarily need to be up in the sky, in the sky, or in the air at all. I think the fact that Fort has found so many aerial phenomena probably points to the fact that, because of our religions, we expect strange, mystical events to occur in the sky. So if we were going to have a sudden appearance of frogs, we'd have them from the sky -- or we would have had them that way. Our ideas might be more flexible now.
Why are there falls of such strange objects -- mineral, vegetable, and animal, or crudely artificial? I would guess that the falls are manifested due to some collective event in the minds of people in the environment. Jung claims that some UFO sightings are the result of collective hallucination. I would argue that physical manifestations producing visual phenomena that would appear to be UFOs would result in UFO sightings.
In other words, a collective will creates the visual phenomena of UFO sightings. In the same sense, a collective will would create the physical phenomena which would be translated out of these spiritual, astral, or etheric planes -- these other dimensions. But the collective will is an archetypal will. And the archetypal will would create physical phenomena more in line with symbols familiar to it. These would be more natural symbols or rudimentarily artifical symbols. Or they *would have been*. Times are changing, and this may be less and less the case.
Anyhow, I like Fort's theory, as I see it so far, because it seems, on a lower level, to concur with some of the ideas of Theosophy, which I don't know very well, but with which I do sympathize. And, seeing how there is an idea of a "connecting point" between dimensions, it may also, in some strange way I don't understand, concur with some of the broader ideas generally related to String Theory.
I'll try to wrap up the Book of the Damned and come back in another post with my reactions to the rest of the book. But to conclude this post, I thought it might be fun to include the broad "headings" (Fort doesn't really put anything into headings) of matter which Fort relates has being reported to have fallen from the sky.
The list is in order of appearance in the book. And it's just the broad elements, as "headings," not each specific instance. Also this list goes as far as I've gone in the book. So it's not a complete list. But I hope you enjoy it.
The book's phenomena actually begins with "blue moons," which, thankfully, don't fall from the sky.
Hailstones the size of an elephant
Snowflakes the size of saucers
Colored (and orange-water-flavored) hailstones
Stone, with an inscription on it
Golden objects, minute, shaped like arrows, coffee beans, horns, and disks
Red-violet substance containing muriate of cobalt
Buff-colored, pulpy substance covered in a nap like a milled cloth
Fish (or fish-shaped objects, as Fort says in one case)
Eggs that would develop into a chrysalis
Vegetable or edible substance (which people would often grind up and turn into bread)
Possible decomposed remnants of packaging
Olive-grey powder (edible)
Butter or grease
Orange water (nitric acid)
Ashes/carbonate of soda
Red meal mixed with fine sand
Wheat enclosed in hailstones
Slag, Cinder, Ashes, Coal, Coke
Small frogs and toads
Fish (sometimes minnows and sticklebacks)
An alabaster block and, eight miles away, a turtle
Immature and larval forms of life
Snails (small land-snails)
Winged and unwinged insects (ants) at the same time
Wingless, larval forms of life
Larvae of beetles
Larvae and developed insects at the same time
"Ball of fire and light"
"Huge ball of green fire"
Triangular "comet" with a "red nucleus" (didn't fall to earth -- kind of hovered, then the red nucleus exploded after 13 minutes of being visible in the sky)
Manufactured objects of iron and stone
(Note: most of the objects below fell alone, not in a rain of objects -- thank goodness!)
"Thunderstones" (wedge-shaped stone objects, possibly rudimentarily artificial)
Pear-shaped "thunderstones" (possibly, Fort guesses, once molten "drops" from a larger source)
Wedges, spheres, and disks of stone or iron (implying that they are artificial)
Clinkers from a furnace (which Fort assumes is a huge furnace powering a spaceship)
Roundish object of iron -- oblate spheroid
Iron cannon ball