Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld

Published in the UK and the US by Penguin Viking, 1995; re-issued in the US by Pine Winds Press (Idyll Arbor) 2003.
It was, I think, Sir Ernest Shackleton who recruited men for a polar expedition with an advertisement which ran "Strong men wanted for dangerous work. Low pay but much adventure." I see now that it is rather like that, reviewing for Resurgence. But the danger, and the real adventure, only came home to me with Patrick Harpur's wonderful, provocative, roller-coaster of a book.
      Why dangerous? What could be safer than sitting at home reviewing a book? Well, two reasons will do. First, the book revels in the phenomena and manifestations which fascinate children, mystics, dreamers and anoraked eccentrics, but which proper science and serious inquiry will not touch. We are invited to take seriously and think deeply about alien visitations and abductions, lake monsters, Bigfoot (or is it bigfeet?), grey ladies, faerie folk, lights in the sky, little people and a glorious cast of absolute weirdoes from out there or in here. Second, Harpur finds in all of this a profound insight into the nature of reality, and what it is to be human. That insight is unsettling and disturbing.

      Patrick Harpur's book is distinguished by the unusual nature of its subject, by the profundity of thought he brings to it, and by the fact that it is the most enormous fun. Fun is sometimes hard to find in the books sent to reviewers for Resurgence, and thus it makes all the danger worthwhile....
     Harpur's starting-point is that vast numbers of ordinary, reliable people, with no track record of involvement in Otherworldly phenomena, who would be regarded as reliable witnesses in all other circumstances, persist in reporting vivid encounters with the denizens of the otherworld. Those encounters in our age are likely to be with alleged aliens, large or small, but bear uncanny resemblances to the age-old encounters with faerie folk, spirits, and other manifestations of different places and other times.... The standard response to all this is to argue either that it is all in us, in the form of persistent patterns of hallucination or madness; or the projection of archetypal patterns onto reality. Alternatively, the phenomena are taken seriously as being evidence of something really out there in the physical world, as aliens visiting the Earth, or prehistoric creatures living in deep cold lakes etc. Harpur pursues a different, and more challenging line. What is at stake, he suggests, is the nature of reality itself.
     With Jung, Harpur argues that these are phenomena of the psyche, but that psyche is of the world, not
just of us as individuals. Indeed, our much cherished individual selves and psyches may be no more than embodiments of that world-soul (rediscovered in our age as the goddess Gaia). The phenomena in which the book rejoices may be appearances to us of its ancient inhabitants. They appear in different forms to match changing cultural expectations and concerns. An appearance of the Goddess becomes an appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, becomes a woman with golden hair emerging from her spacecraft. The mistake, he suggests, is to deny and repress these manifestations, since the repressed returns, pathologically and dangerously, if separated from a context of meaning and belief. Harpur suggests that a function of these daimonic forces may now be to undermine a deadening and narrow scientific orthodoxy and world-view - the 'single vision' which Blake so deplored. This sounds very radical but Harpur is the first to point out that it is not very new. By drawing on a philosophical tradition that flows down the centuries from the Neoplatonists, through the Romantics, and crucially in Bake, Yeats and Jung, he shows that there is an ancient history of understanding of this daimonic, Otherworld reality. Indeed, he goes back further still by embracing the folklore and tales of the Otherworld from across the Western tradition, and acknowledges that every culture, except perhaps our own, has seen its world as interpenetrated with another, shadowy, yet powerful reality, full of wonder, beauty and terror. The key to being alert to it lies in what Blake called the Imagination, and in not allowing the rational mind to shut out what it cannot readily comprehend or control.
   But the book does not labour these profound arguments. They come tied with ribbons to the wonderful illustrative accounts of Otherworld life, which make the book so entertaining and stand as a reminder that things were more exciting when we did not feel ourselves bound by rational necessity.  
    A final word of warning. Dabbling with this stuff could cost you your reputation, or at least make you an object of suspicion at the golf club. You might not be asked to review books any more. Worse still, we should bear in mind the ancient warnings about voyages to the Otherworld - that once there it was never easy to return. Virgil tells us of the Sybil's warning to Aeneas:
"... But to return and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labour lies."
    Perhaps Mr Harpur should not have made it all sound just so much fun after all. But like the Otherworld which he describes, this is a wonderful book, full of richness and marvels, and not to be missed at any price.
Witty... disturbing... beautifully and intelligently observed. The Sunday Times  
 A brave, thought-provoking book... Hats off to Harpur... Thank heaven there are people like him to rejuvenate our vanishing sense of wonder. The Daily Mail  

In the Western world view there exists [the] so-called objective (or 'outside') world and the subjective (or 'inner') world. There have been various attempts to show that these two worlds are not all that exists. Patrick Harpur's Daimonic Reality is one of the most eloquent expressions of that effort. Harpur defines another reality that he calls 'daimonic reality', a world of unseen agency that is always present and cuts across the objective/subjective divide. The ways of studying this world are different from the way we study either of the other two worlds, and Harpur invites us to develop a methodology for exploring this third realm. John E. Mack, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School.
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