Well, whilst realist literature attempted to provide an objective and impartial account of the world and its social ills and wrongs, the works of authors such as Blackwood and Dunsany, as well as M.R. James, William Hope Hodgson, Oliver Onions (a brilliant name) and others reflect a continued and growing preoccupation with the paranormal and the occult, as well as being the medium for more quotidian, if no less strange, psychological speculations. Were they ghosts that turned the screw? Wo0O0ooo0Ooo…
Indeed, the start of the C20th was a heyday for bodies such as the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and other attempts to bring the methods of scientific investigation to the world of the paranormal. And on the flip side of this eerie coin we find the many faux-mystical associations of the time, such as the Ghost Club and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. And wouldn’t you know it, Algy Blackwood was a member of both, and in the Hermetic &c. Order he would find himself rubbing shoulders with the self-styled mystic and infamous libertine enfant terrible of the age, Aleister Crowley (who also bore the moniker … ‘The Great Beast.’ Yaaarghh the scandalous horror).
An interesting episode that knits these links together (and, thrillingly, will lead us towards a conclusion in part 4 of this blogseries) is the folkloric tale of the Angels of Mons, a popular (ca. 1915) legend which would have us believe that angelic beings came to the aid of the British army in their first encounter of Great War. The myth finds its origin in “The Bowmen,” a story written by Welsh weird fiction author Arthur Machen, also briefly a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Yawn and another singled out for praise by ol’ H.P. Sauce himself. The tale takes as it’s base the real David/Goliath achievement of the British in the Battle of Mons and then adds some etherial Agincourt bowmen to the fictional mix. Although presented as fiction, the story would mutate and reappear passing itself off as fact and would be investigated by the SPR. Though they’d conclude that the proffered accounts were *shock!* bunkem, the salient point as far as this post is concerned is that there was an environment which could support a straight-faced investigation of this sort of thing at all. Was the strange staining the straight-laced…?
Coming up next time: A conclusion is reached!
*Incidentally, there’re 5 Cambridge clues in there for all you budding Dan Browns or (depending your flavour) Iain Sinclairs out there, should you wish to join the dots to make a pentagram. Some are admittedly tenuous, but, hey, come on…*