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daimonic realityFairies, flying saucers, angels, visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ghosts, crop circles and other assorted Forteana; it’s all fascinating stuff, even if you don’t believe in any of it, but as Patrick Harpur tells us in the opening of this book, these are not topics for respectable discussion. Intellectually they’re shunned, relegated to the idle conversations and the popular beliefs of “ordinary people”. Yet here too, we find certain of these things to be ‘in vogue’ while others are ‘out’.

Talk of the Faerie, for example, at least outside of the West of Ireland, might get you laughed at, while it’s odds on we all have a compelling ghost story or two to tell and will solicit from our listener a rapt attention, even if neither of us believes in ghosts. Strange that, don’t you think?

Me? I still have a fondness for the nostalgia of the Faerie, but I put that down to my Celtic ancestry. Then again belief in the objective reality of angels is widespread in the United States, but far less so in Europe. As for those poor old fairies, they seem antiquated now, replaced by talk of flying saucers and aliens which in turn seem suspiciously contemporaneous with our own development of space technology and powerful weaponry.

What this suggests is there’s a cultural dimension to anomalous phenomena, and it is to this that Patrick Harpur draws our attention. But rather than seeking to prove or disprove the existence of such things, he tells us such an obsession is to miss the point, that indeed to become embroiled with the ins and outs, say of flying saucers, or crop circles, is to follow a path of ever decreasing circles, one in which the daemonic will have a field day with your emotions, and even your sanity. Instead, he says, the importance lies at a deeper level, in the realms of  the collective psyche, and it’s only when we attain such a transcendent perspective do we see patterns emerging, that the bewildering multiplicity of the Forteana themselves are all expressions of the same thing, indicative of a breaking through of the ‘Daemonic’ into waking reality.

Harpur uses the term Daemonic here in the purely psychological sense, meaning a constellation of apparently autonomous psychical or ‘imaginative’ energy, and not to be confused with ‘Demonic’ in the more religious sense, meaning something entirely malevolent. In other words the Daemons and their associated Fortean manifestations are figments of the imagination, but this is not to dismiss them as unreal, because people are always reporting things they cannot explain. The problem, says Harpur, is our understanding of and our respect for the power of the human imagination.

We all possess an imagination, but this is built upon a foundation of the collective imagination of our culture, which is bounded and shaped by its traditions and by its myths. But, says Harpur, the myths themselves arise from a deeper layer still, one that has its own reality, independent of whether we can ‘imagine’ it or not, or believe in it or not, and it’s from this place the Forteana – the Daemons – arise to beguile and at times frighten us.

The idea of a ‘non-literal’, purely imaginary reality is a difficult one to grasp. The ego must reject it, for even if it were to exist, it would seem, from its reported manifestations, to be a very chaotic place, totally unhelpful to our rational and scientific enterprise, so we had better shun it, demonise it, or society will surely fall apart. But in the same way as when we suppress troublesome thoughts they come back at us as neuroses, so too shunning the Daemonic causes it to break through and disturb the smooth running of our rational lives. In this way the Daemons, manifesting as Forteana, can be viewed as a kind of collective neurosis.

In order to understand this better, Harpur takes us back to the lessons of Greek myth, which, in a nut-shell comes down to having a respect for the independent reality of an imaginary realm as described in stories of the interrelations between a pantheon of Daemonic deities and their various goings on, also of an ‘otherworld’, the place the soul journeys to after death, or nightly in dreams.

These realms exist, says Harpur, but not literally so, not objectively, yet if we deny them in ourselves, or collectively as a society, the Daemonic will find ways of challenging the smugness of our preconceptions regarding the true nature of that reality. Things will go bump in the night, we will see flying saucers, and the most extraordinary crop circles will come pepper our growing crops every summer, and we will fall out endlessly over whether it’s men with rollers doing it, or some other mysterious agency.

Contrary to popular belief, those most inclined to flights of imaginative fancy are least likely to be doorstepped by the supernatural. To exercise the imagination, for example in the pursuit of the creative arts, say writing or painting, seems sufficient to propitiate the Daemons and keep them on our side. On the other hand, it is the hard headed refuseniks with blunted imaginations the Daemons are more likely to tease by revealing themselves in whatever forms they can borrow from the collective psyche. A healthier approach then is for us to give such things some headroom, grant them the courtesy of a little respect, even if we do not entirely believe in them.

As with all Harpur’s books, I found this one a hugely enlightening read. It is a deeply thought, seminal thesis and lays the ground for his later and similarly themed “Philosopher’s Secret Fire – A History of the Imagination”. It has a foundation in Jungian psychology, Romanticism and Myth, all of which makes for fascinating reading, and for further reading if you’re so inclined. But if you’re hung up on any one topic of the supernatural in particular, seeking to winkle out concrete proof of its objective reality, the book is unlikely to satisfy you.

Indeed by telling you supernatural events are essentially imaginary, you may be so indignant you’ll miss the more profound message regarding the subtle reality of the imaginal realm itself. You’ll miss the core insight that the difference between the literal and the non-literal is at times not so easily discerned, that the one sometimes bleeds through into the other, and the proper place for a human being, psychologically speaking, is with our head in both camps, then we can tell the difference, discern perhaps a glimmer of meaning in it, and hopefully live as we should.

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