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Is this book dire or dazzling? Read my review and get the inside dope

Extra-sensory Perception, Witchcraft, Spiritualism and Insanity

An Elementary Explanation
Alastair W. MacLellan
The C. W. Daniel Company Limited
Edition / Year
In the section labelled

Alastair MacLellan's fascinating and troubling little book is one of a small number of works about intrusive thoughts and voices in the head written by those who actually suffer from these symptoms. As such it forms a companion piece to The Leftist ESP Conspiracy and Subjective Concepts of Humans.

In each of these books the author offers his own explanation of these mental phenomena. In the absence of a true understanding of how they might arise, a supernatural cause is suspected. Nino Volpe reckons that "Leftist females" are using ESP to project thoughts into his brain, whereas John J Donnelly blames "subjective concepts", spirit entities that cluster around all of us but that only an unlucky few are bothered by during waking hours. 

MacLellan takes a view similar to that of Volpe, in that he thinks that malicious people with powers of witchcraft are responsible. Unlike Volpe he is initially rather coy about saying that it is his own experience he is describing. He quotes the testimony of a "Mr. X" and only at the end of his book reveals what an alert reader will already have guessed, that he and Mr. X are one and the same. Here's an early passage, in which Mr X, who has been confined to a lunatic asylum, recounts some of the manifestations he is subjected to:

“I received no sound in this way except that of the human voice, and on one occasion only I had the experience of hearing one of the ‘voices’ address me, closely followed by its echo. It discussed a girl of whom I happened to be thinking. She was a member of the asylum staff, and sometimes I felt myself passionately attracted by her and at other times not at all. It seemed to me probable that those who were sending ‘voices’ to me were a]so influencing me with regard to the opposite sex, and I used to imagine with what ease the ‘wise folk’ in the world outside must influence people to fall in love with one another. Would they not, I thought, be able to arrange suitable marriages for their younger relatives in this way?

“One day a patient with whom I was acquainted spoke to me in his Yorkshire brogue. I replied somewhat tartly and retired to my room. I sat down and, although no one else was present, I was upbraided clearly and softly on account of alleged rudeness by one of the ‘voices’. The ‘voice’ on this occasion was unmistakably that of the Yorkshire patient who had spoken to me a few minutes before. It appeared to come from the wall of my room and from the direction of the place where I had left him on the other side of the building.

“I gradually came to recognize the fact that the ‘voices’ were being sent to me by certain members of the asylum staff, by a few of the most intelligent patients and by certain unknown persons, devils I used to call them, whose ‘voices’ came from far away outside the asylum. The owners of the distant “voices” seemed to have power over all the inmates of the asylum who were the agents of my clairaudience, and they appeared to have complete control over the situation in so far as psychic attacks on me by living agents were concerned."

Although MacLellan believes the voices to be telepathically transmitted, it is perhaps unfair to call this a supernatural explanation. Following the work of Cazzamalli, MacLellan thinks that telepathy is simply a sort of radio-wave transmission between human brains, and that other supposedly paranormal powers such as mediumship utilise the same mechanism. The living. not the dead, are at work:

On witnessing a case of possession such as Dr. Phinuit’s personality manifesting itself during Mrs. Piper’s deep trance, or one of the spirits play-acting through the entranced Mrs. Wickland, he [an observer having knowledge of magic and witchcraft] will know at once that he is in the presence of a spirit emanating not from the grave but from a living agent who is possessing the medium concerned from a distance.

If he has obtained his occult knowledge as a member of the Witch Cult or an esoteric society his vow not to divulge the mysteries will prevent him from passing on his knowledge to the uninitiated sitters who are present.

So it would seem that there are always telepaths standing by, ready to take the calls of any mediums who require their assistance. MacLellan refers to these as "Controls".

Let us consider how a Control can possess an entranced medium in such a way as to use the medium’s eyes, ears, nose, brain, and vocal organs as if they were his own.

It is essential that a strong electrical disturbance is active at the base of the medium’s brain, and that the medium’s radiation is being picked up by the Control’s brain.

The Control will enter a light trance and on receipt of psychic assistance he will find it possible to effectively transmit will-power modulations to the medium’s brain. In this way he can cause an abnormally strong upthrust of E.M.F. [electro-magnetic field] to be propagated from the basal co-ordinating centre to the cortex of the medium’s brain.

When he decides to use the entranced medium’s eyes the Control will close his eyes, he will influence the medium to open her eyes, and he will transmit willpower modulations to her which will cause her to see for him. This will propagate the oscillatory upthrust which will set up a strong E.M.F. in the psychovisual region of the medium’s cortex, the E.M.F. will spread and contact the cortical end of the visual pathways, and alternating currents will be propagated along the visual pathways as far as the retina of each eye where it will be modulated by the Electroretinogram.

[and so on]

Such powers are not limited to dominion over the living. You should always cremate your deceased loved ones, lest a terrible fate befall them:

... in some cases the Witch Cult, who practise black magic ceremonies in graveyards, succeed in animating a newly dead corpse and cause it to suffer the agonies of Hell. This will arouse the electrical disturbance at the base of the corpse's brain resulting in the generation of brain radiation which the cult will use for their own ends. The power of witches past and present lay and lies in their skilful use of the brain radiation!

A similar weird trick is employed when creating a zombie. MacLellan says.

As well as unwanted voices, telepathy can also explain other symptoms of insanity: a Control can transmit hallucinations and even delusions to an unwitting subject. A form of exorcism, in which "white witches" expel bad Controls from a patient through their own combined power, has been demonstrated by Dr Wickland, though as yet:

The psychiatrists of Great Britain have not introduced this form of treatment into our mental hospitals.

MacLellan's motivation in all this is plain enough. If his voices could be attributed to physical causes then his sanity need not be doubted. He never explains why these numerous tirelessly malevolent telepaths chose to single him out for their persecution. Unlike Volpe he is not paranoid enough to believe that he has special qualities that make witches want to destroy him (a fervent allegiance to right-wing politics, in Volpe's case).

The mental distress that MacLellan must have suffered makes his convoluted attempts at explaining its causes sad rather than amusing. He comes across as a decent, if misguided, person. There is no anger apparent when he mentions those of the psychiatric profession who have failed to understand his case: it is not their fault, it seems, that they are ignorant of the true nature of insanity. One day they'll see differently and then it'll be "we're taking you off the antipsychotics and starting you on exorcism", perhaps. That's progress!

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Submitted by James (not verified) on 23 Jun 2014 - 15:19 Permalink

Nice to see MacLellan's book here. I believe it was a pseudonym - I did some research into this title myself many years ago that never came to fruition. More recently, another author wrote a good little precis of 'Extra-sensory Perception...' in issue 305 of Fortean Times, where it's discussed in relation to a very similar odd book (perhaps the ultimate odd book?) called Crook Frightfulness - an autobiography of a paranoid estate agent chased around the world by radio-operating ventriloquists.

Submitted by Alfred Armstrong on 23 Jun 2014 - 15:35 Permalink

Thanks James. Yes, I know Crook Frightfulness from the 1st edition of Bizarre Books. I've never been able to afford a copy sadly, as it's much sought after.

Submitted by Cuyler (not verified) on 08 Jun 2014 - 22:57 Permalink

Hearing a voice when there's no one around and the radio is not on must be disconcerting, so it's not surprising there would be attempts to explain it. I have occasionally heard a voice call my name - but always on the edge of sleep, and I am quite sure it is an artifact of my own brain. I suspect Mr Armstrong has read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (ills.divers) by Julian Jaynes (Houghton Mifflin 1976) where Jaynes explains his theory that early civilized man did hear from his subconscious as a "voice" and took it for the voice of a spirit.