Anchored in philology: an addendum to “When a sighting report is not”

The latest example of Rich Reynolds’ irrational tenacity sent me to Aubeck’s and Vallée’s Wonders in the Sky. For all its failings, catalogued at length by at least two tenacious critics and admitted by no less than Vallée himself, the book is not without its saving graces.

I was recently moved by being shown John Carey’s study of sky ship tales from medieval Ireland to use his scholarship to make an argument about the interpretive dangers of reading narratives from distant times and cultures. At the time, I went to Wonders in the Sky and was surprised I could find no mention of these sky ships. It turns out Aubeck and Vallée were one step ahead of me in this regard, however.

I was unable to find such stories among the 500 they present in their “Chronology of Wonders”, because they include them in the second section of illustratively questionable tales, “Myths, Legends, and Chariots of the Gods”. The authors base their own analysis (pp. 405-11) on Carey’s, noting both the scant references to the sky ships in the annals and the increasing embellishment of the basic story line over time.

Most impressively (to me) they resolve the mystery of how the most famous (and fabulous) version of the story, wherein the sky ship’s anchor is caught in the church’s door arch, is repeated during the Phantom Airship flap of 1896/7:  according to Aubeck and Vallée, the Boston Post published an article “A Sea Above the Clouds:  Extraordinary Superstition Once Prevalent in England” that recounted two British folktales, one a version of the more famous Irish one. Two weeks later, the story was updated to the present and relocated to Merkel, Texas as reported the Houston Daily Post 28 April 1897, two days after the incident was said to have occurred (p. 409).

A (very) little more digging turns up that the article Aubeck and Vallée refer to also appeared (seemingly for the first time) in the 7 March 1897 edition of Utah’s Salt Lake Tribune and the next day in the Nebraska State Journal. It remains nevertheless no less astounding, however, that so recherché a philological tidbit should make the rounds as a syndicated article of all things in America’s newspapers at the time!

To paraphrase Chaucer:  The life so short, the bookshelf so long to read!

Rime & Confirmation: two excerpts from Orthoteny (w.i.p.)

The motivation behind all the work here in these Skunkworks is the composition of a version of that “modern myth of things seen in the sky”, whose working title is Orthoteny. That title is taken from the ufological writings of Aimé Michel, specifically his Flying Saucers and the Straight-line Mystery (1958).

Within the texture of the poetic work, such straight lines are the rimes or repetitions between parts of the myth or that connect the myth to the wider field of human culture. Within the phenomenon itself, such repetitions of shape, behaviour, and other features are taken as confirmation of the objective reality of UFOs and the entities associated with them. Such echoes are also often adduced as evidence the phenomenon has been a constant in human history. Ufologically, I am vigilantly critical of such ahistorical thinking, but in the context of the mythopoetic work they lend the theme vista.

As an example, I post two excerpts from the work-in-progress. The first is the fourth section of the poetic sequence, Magonian Latitudes, from my 1996 trade edition Ladonian Magnitudes, concerning the Thirteenth century story of a cloud ship whose anchor got caught in the door arch of Saint Kinarus’ Church, Cloera County, Ireland. (Irish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Seamus Heaney treats the same theme in the eighth section of his poem “Lightenings” from his 1991 collection Seeing Things). The second is from a section of my chapbook On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery (1995), “The Phantom Air Ship” that concerns an analogous story, this time from Merkel, Texas, in 1897.

 

[from Magonian Latitudes]

 

A marvel in Cloera County

            interrupted Sunday Mass

It befell an anchor on a rope

            caught in Saint Kinarus’ door-arch

Where the line ended in clouds

            the congregation saw some kind of ship

One crewman dove and swam down

            as if to free the flukes from the keystone

But they seized and would hold him

            but that the Bishop

On grounds terrestrial air

            may well drown one celestial

Forbade it

            and freed

Quick as limbs can swim he rose

            to hands on ropes and ladders

The anchor rang and cut

            the line coiled down about them

 

[from On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery] 26 April [1897]

 

Sunday in Merkel church-goers returning from evening service saw a dragging along the ground

Followed it bounce onto the tracks and catch a rail

A light ship’s anchor roped high up to a lamp brighter than a locomotive’s

And lit gondola-windows of an air ship

After nine minutes a small man in a cobalt blue jumpsuit

Came down the line to look things over and cut it