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Myths of Things Seen in the Sky

Author: • Sep 24th, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, flying, paranormal, short stories, space relics, WWII

Ballardian: Haunted Airmen

    Ridgewell WWII Airfield: ‘Now little more than a collection of old huts, the area is haunted by the sounds of crashing WWII aeroplanes, shouting airmen, and other noises.’ (from paranormaldatabase.com).

Heuristic England is an interesting new blog exploring dreams, parapsychology, spectral presence, Freud, Jung … and Ballard. In a couple of recent posts, the blog’s convenor, Dr. Champagne, voiced something that has long intrigued me, too: paranormal symbolism in Ballard’s work.

According to the good doctor:

I am always struck by the fact the JG Ballard refutes the significance of the paranormal while his stories are replete with the spectral presence of dead airmen and military personnel (most explicitly perhaps in a piece like “One Afternoon at Utah Beach”).

The post then goes on to detail a ‘strange database of aviation ghosts which reads like a rather Ballardian catalogue of dead airmen’, found at paranormaldatabase.com, which includes these chilling apparitions:

Headless Airman Wanting Lift
Location: Hadstock – The B1052 leading into Hadstock
Type: Haunting Manifestation
Date / Time: Unknown

Further Comments: After losing his head in a flying accident, the apparition of an American pilot has been seen thumbing a lift on the roadside.

Location: Felixstowe – Crossroads controlled by lights
Type: Haunting Manifestation
Date / Time: Unknown

Further Comments: For several days, a car driver found himself giving a lift to a World War 2 pilot, who would suddenly appear in the back seat of his car when he reached a certain point of his journey. This stopped once the driver started taking a different route.

Dr. Champagne compares the database with a passage from “You and Me and the Continuum”, one of Ballard’s Atrocity chapters, stating that “my feeling is that this excerpt would fit seemlessly into the aviation ghosts database”.

Here’s the Atrocity excerpt:

Lieutenant 70. An isolated incident at the Strategic Air Command base at Omaha, Nebraska, December 25th, 197-,when a landing H-bomber was found to have an extra pilot on board. The subject carried no identification tags and was apparently suffering from severe retrograde amnesia. He subsequently disappeared while being X-rayed at the base hospital for any bio-implants or transmitters, leaving behind a set of plates of a human foetus evidently taken some thirty years previously. It was assumed that this was in the nature of a hoax and that the subject was a junior officer who had become fatigued while playing Santa Claus on an interbase visiting party.

Of course, there’s plenty more of the same in Ballard, along with a rich catalogue of dead, dying and ghostly astronauts, plus explicit communion with the dead in the short stories ‘The Terminal Beach’ and ‘The Dead Time’. Then there’s The Unlimited Dream Company, which on one level can be read as the dying-brain fantasy of the crashed airman, Blake, and on another level as his spiritual rebirth.

The doctor’s assertion that JGB ‘always refutes the significance of the paranormal’ also intrigues me. Is this strictly true? I can’t recall an interview in which either Ballard or the interviewer mentions such concerns, but if anyone knows of anything please do let me know. Having said that, I do recall that Ballard touched upon ‘the occult’ in the interview I conducted with him last year:

The earliest horror films I saw were Dracula movies — never liked those. The whole idea of horror, particularly wrapped up in touches of the occult — ugh. They’re saturated with the fear of death and displaced sexual anxieties. No, thank you. Not for me.

But back to Dr. Champagne: I really hope s/he goes on with this line of enquiry, as it is yielding intriguing cross-chatter, such as this latest post:

It’s interesting to note in Ballard’s condensed chapter “Lieutenant 70”, that the isolated incident at the strategic air command takes place on December 25th, 197-. Of course the allusion is that the mysterious figure is Christ, “with the set of plates of a human fetus evidently taken some thirty years previously”. But also are there not some neat correspondences with the Rendlesham incident, which took place on December 25th 1980… another example of JGBs precognitive powers. Further, the human fetus could also relate to the ufo abductee experience. Michael Persinger has suggested that the fetal like appearance of aliens in ufo encounters might be as a result of the neurophysiological phenomenon of self proprioception of memories of the womb. Further doesn’t LAM also exhibit fetal like qualities. Finally, JGB just misses the Qabalistic figure of LAM by 1, LAM being 71 and his lieutenant being 70, though no doubt with a little bit of creative qabalistic accounting we could make sense of that too…

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  1. I have been informed by a WWII paranormal investigator and author of English bomber airfields, that headless airmen are indeed just playing pranks.

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