The Unexplained Revisited: Spontaneous Human Combustion

Dk91Vc0W0AAnfRhIf, like me, you spent a significant portion of your formative years poring over dubiously-sourced books about paranormal phenomena, then certain images will be permanently burned into your memory: stills from the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film, the Surgeon’s Photograph of Nessie, a few Adamski flying saucers… and, perhaps, a severed limb with its charred stump lying in a heap of ashy human remains. Ah, yes. Spontaneous human combustion.

SHC is another topic introduced in the second issue of The Unexplained, the beloved 1980s paranormal partwork, with Fortean Times founder Bob Rickard showing us through the smouldering remains of his subject matter. The first instalment of Rickard’s three-part series, “Ashes to Ashes”, begins by pointing out that the basic idea of spontaneous human combustion stretches back into antiquity, even mentioned in the Bible: “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.” Rickard goes on to mention Dickens’ depiction of SHC in Bleak House, and suggests that this scene was inspired by the fates of Countess Bandi and Grace Pett, who suffered mysterious fiery deaths in the eighteenth century.

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The Unexplained Revisited: Hypnosis

Dk91Vc0W0AAnfRhIt’s been a while since I blogged about the legendary 1980s partwork magazine The Unexplained, but dipping back into it seems a good way to spend my quarantining period. I’ve already covered the first issue, so let’s crack open the second…

As well as continuing the series on extra-sensory perception and mysterious man-beasts that started in the first issue, The Unexplained #2 introduces a few new topics. One of these is hypnosis, which is covered in “The Power of Suggestion” by former Spectator editor Brian Inglis.

“Most people still think of hypnotists as slightly shady characters practising a highly dubious craft”, begins Inglis. “We see in our mind’s eye the evil Svengali, the character in George du Maurier’s novel… Today’s stage hypnotist, however, is no longer the seedy villain of the story. He is a well-dressed and well-heeled smoothie with the patter of a conjurer, who exercised his talent before audiences in clubs.”

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The Unexplained Revisited: Mysterious Man-Beasts

Unexplained 1It’s time for a trip back to that venerable publication that did so much to enliven 1980s Britain: The Unexplained!

We all know that you can’t go wrong with a yeti, and this fact is recognised by the first issue of The Unexplained: having covered UFOs and ESP, the magazine closes with Janet and Colin Bord’s essay “Man, Myth or Monster?”

The feature has an international focus, namechecking the woodwoses of English church carvings, the Sasquatch of Canada, the Yeti of the Himalayas and the wild man of China. The last of these receives a first-hand description from Pang Gensheng, who reportedly had an encounter in 1977:

The ‘man’ was about 7 feet (2.1 metres) tall, with a sloping forehead and deep-set black eyes. His jaw jutted out, and he had broad front teeth. Dark brown hair hung long and loose over his shoulders, and his body and face were covered with short hair. His long arms reached below his knees, and he walked upright with his legs wide apart.

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The Unexplained Revisited: Extra-Sensory Perception

Unexplained 1Welcome back for another return trip to the legendary 1980s partwork magazine The Unexplained. Having witnessed UFOs, let’s take a look at the second article of the first issue…

“[E]xtra-sensory perception is a fact – but one still shrouded in mystery” is the confident declaration that precedes Roy Stemman article on ESP. The piece opens by introducing us to psychic researcher Stanley Krippner, who claims that when he was fourteen years old he had a sudden conviction that his uncle was dead; moments afterwards, his mother received a telephone call announcing that the uncle in question had passed away. Stemman uses this account to explore three hypothetical varieties of ESP: was it a case of telepathy, Krippner having somehow read the mind of the individual making the telephone call? Was it clairvoyance, the boy having sensed the death without directly communicating with anyone’s mind? Or was it precognition, Krippner having seen into the future and picked up his subsequent conversation with his mother? Stemman also floats a fourth possibility – that the dead uncle’s spirit communicated with Krippner – that belongs more to the study of mediumship and life-after-death than to ESP.

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The Unexplained Revisited: Where it Started

Unexplained 1British readers of a certain generation might recall a partwork series about paranormal phenomena called The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time, which ran from 1980 to 1983. And even if — like me — you weren’t around to catch the original magazine during its 156-issue run, you might have come across the various books reprinting its articles, which continue to turn up regularly in “esoteric” sections of second-hand bookshops.

The Unexplained wasn’t overly credulous: its writers were unafraid to bring up mundane explanations for the various phenomena they covered. Granted, the magazine worked on the understanding that mundane explanations were generally less interesting than the ones involving ghosts, aliens or psychic powers – but if we approach the magazine as an exercise in cataloguing modern folklore, this standpoint is no bad thing.

I myself have fond memories of devouring Unexplained reprints as a teenager, and more recently I’ve managed to get my hands on a complete run of the original magazine. So, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look through it right from the beginning…

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