Para What?

Is there such a thing as ‘parazoology’? We have cryptozoology, of course, but the subject of anomalous animals seems so much bigger than those that are merely ‘hidden’. I was inspired to develop this themed issue after working on my book The Impossible Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Fabulous Beasts and Mythical Monsters, released in September this year. There are many books on this subject, but I found that few of them went back to the sources, as any good historian should, to discover the origins of these ideas.
What could have been another piece of popular light reading turned into a history of science project. The old familiar monsters – dragons, unicorns and so on – all led back to humanity’s emerging attempts to describe the natural world. The names that peppered my bibliography were not those of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, but Carolus Linnaeus and Pliny the Elder.
I knew many other people were working in this field and taking a multitude of paths through it. The Society’s Website Manager, Dr Deborah Erickson, presented her research into possibly psychic animal–human communication at last year’s joint SPR/PA conference in Greenwich. Dr Rupert Sheldrake is already well known for his work in this area. I invited them to contribute and put out a call for papers.
The results can be found in this issue. Drs Sheldrake and Erickson both summarize their researches into the possible psychic abilities of animals. Dr Zofia Weaver takes us on another journey, looking at the animal materializations that allegedly occurred during séances held by Franek Kluski. Dr Melvyn Willin considers other materializations: those allegedly caught on film. Dr Alexander Hay examines a typical cryptozoological theme – the so-called ‘Alien Big Cats’ – and unravels the social complexities at play. Dr Edina Eszenyi takes us further back into the past with an examination of the textual life of the little-known onocentaur in the sixteenth century. Finally, I bring the subject to a close with a few odd occurrences of the sort that used to be routinely reported in the publications of the SPR.
We see that ‘parazoology’, like the terms ‘paranormal’ and ‘parapsychology’, is not about what lies beyond zoology, physical reality, or psychology, but what lies beyond what is accepted or acceptable. It takes us back to the founding statement of our Society to examine the evidence without prejudice in the true spirit of scientific enquiry. ψ

Dr Leo Ruickbie’s editorial from Paranormal Review, 80 (Autumn 2016). The Paranormal Review is sent free to members of the Society for Psychical Research as part of their membership package and is also available for sale from Treadwell’s Books, 33 Store Street, London.

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