If you read The Gasp Menagerie with any regularity, you’ve likely seem me name drop one Mr. Fort or mention the word Fortean. “Now look, Dark,” I hear you say. “We love you, we’re thrilled by your work, we hang on your every word, and we understand you have enormous genitalia, but what the hell is this Fortean thing you keep going on about?”
Fine, fine, my faithful readers; I’ll give you a quick lesson that also provides an excellent overview of just what it is we’re trying to do here with the Menagerie.
Charles Fort lived around the turn of the 20th century (1874-1932) primarily in New York. He was a writer, but he was also a visionary.
See, Charles didn’t have much respect for authority, and that was combined with a love of the unknown and the unexplained. As such, there was little he enjoyed more than generally taking the piss out of folks who tended to put a little too much faith in science, even at the expense of their own ability to examine evidence and think critically and skeptically.
As such, he spent much of his career documenting and writing about things, events, and people that fell outside of understood science and nature. Topics such as UFOs, poltergeists, mysterious disappearances, strange “rains” of objects, levitation, etc. If it was weird and there was some kind of evidence supporting it, Charles covered it. He’s even credited with coining the term “teleportation,” which gives him a bit of street cred.
Most of Fort’s writing seemed targeted at the scientific and academic establishment, always oh so quick to dismiss anything outside of their understanding. Frogs can’t rain out of the sky, scientists would say, so Charles would collect dozens of accounts of it happening and publish it for public consumption.
As such, following his passing, he became the basis for a couple of terms. If something is the kind of thing he’d cover, it’s “Forteana.” If someone follows his basic ethos, they are “Fortean.”
I, my friends, am a Fortean.
The key element, to me, about Fort is that he was not a “true believer.” In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written.” This is critical. Unlike most scientists since the early 20th century, Fort focused on presenting evidence. He didn’t need to present a conclusion. Good, true science needs no conclusion. It should be about evidence alone, standing on its own, for examination by men to form their own conclusions. If you only perform scientific study with a conclusion in mind, all too often the human will gives in to temptation and, even subconsciously, perverts the evidence to reach that conclusion.
Forteans fall prey to no such weaknesses. We believe in presenting what we find. If there’s enough to warrant question, we’ll throw it out to the public to decide, providing as many details as we can. We believe in the ability of the free man to come to their own conclusions, unclouded by the superstitions and faiths of others. Science often cannot rest without a conclusion. Forteans are completely satisfied deeming something unknown, or unexplained, and leaving it at that.
There IS such a thing as “science worship,” and it’s a massive “religion” in the world today. Science says it; it must be true. When science is proven wrong, they simply made a brief error; they correct it and are once again infallible. Until they fail again, then rinse, repeat. We see this every day as scientists and academics pursue acclaim, tenure, and yes, money. This causes them to be very reluctant to abandon theories that are no longer substantiated by their research, as doing so would cause them to lose face. A little tinkering here or there, and voila! The results match the narrative. Shameful and the cause of great chaos in the world. (Look up DDT sometime or saccharine.)
I had a reader comment the other day, “Science recently proved there are no such things as ghosts.” That kind of thing is music to the ears of Forteans. Such proof is physically impossible and proves the commenter is a devout science worshiper. We do so enjoy giving those folks a hard time by repeatedly shoving evidence of their hubris in their face.
The life of a Fortean is inherently one of endless skepticism. The refusal to be easily convinced of the truth of evidence is key to the basic tenets of Fortean thought and journalism. A true Fortean never publishes a story with the intent to convince, only the intent to inform. Those are two different things. Once can write about the fantastic without promoting belief in the fantastic.
That being said, yes, I am a man of faith. I’m a Christian and have a deep-seated belief and knowledge of things that definitely fall under the term “supernatural.” Just as I attempt to set aside personal taste when reviewing a film, game, or book, I also attempt to set aside those beliefs when presenting subjects in the Menagerie. I believe you, dear readers, are smart enough to smell a sermon like a fart in a car so I refuse to turn this into a bully pulpit for my personal beliefs. That, too, is an important facet of Fortean reporting: Your personal feelings are irrelevant. Only evidence and testimony count.
By the nature of Forteana, we run into a great deal of hoaxery, fanaticism, and misguided believers putting their faith in things not sturdy enough to support it upon examination. Many read what I write about here in the Menagerie and scoff instantly, but I don’t write about many stories I find. At least as many as I wind up writing, if not more. I do my best, with the “hands off” remote nature of the Internet, to vet the stories and thus curate the residents of the Menagerie. If I sometimes write about a particularly goofy story, it is for the sake of entertainment, and hopefully the tone of my writing gives that away. (Pro tip: If a story includes the phrase “ghost boner” or “evil sex wizard,” chances are I don’t think there’s much chance of it being authentic.)
So as you walk the virtual halls of our Menagerie, keep the work and thoughts of Charles Fort in mind. I strongly suggest reading his published work. A wonderful collection of his primary four books is available (order below) that provides an amazing, if lengthy, set of science-skewering events and people as well as an examination of Fortean thinking from the source.
It is always our goal here at Dread Central to entertain you as fans of all things creepy and horrific. However, in the Gasp Menagerie, we also want to provide you with a curated set of interesting events, things, and people that would best be described as “Forteana.” Like the good Carl Kolchak, we’re looking for good stories that have some evidence of the POSSIBILITY of proof. Beyond that, it’s up to you to decide what you believe.