1 The Abominable Snowman
The Abominable Snowman -- or Yeti to give him his proper Tibetan, if less evocative, name -- is a huge, hairy ape-man hybrid beast who lives above the snowline in the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Tibet. I do not lace my words with "allegedly," "perhaps" or "maybe," and that is because of the veritable Himalayan mountain of evidence that we have of his existence.
Perhaps you can deny pictures of the Yeti in ancient Bhutanese murals, reports of sightings by yak herders, pictures of giant footprints, a patch of human-like skin and mummified finger at 18,000ft found in 1950 and the testimony of the snowblind and hypothermic Captain d'Auvergne that he was saved from certain death by two 8ft-tall creatures somewhere between Bhutan and Sikkim. I, however, cannot. And they found a frozen hairy foot in Siberia three years ago. So there.
2 The Loch Ness Monster
The days of people being snatched up by alien spaceships may be over, but belief in the Loch Ness monster persists. The reason is simple: there's a famous picture showing the creature's long neck and little head poking out of the water.
Who cares that it has subsequently been revealed to be a hoax; people think it's real. The preferred explanation, these days, is that Nessie is a plesiosaur, a remnant of the Mesozoic era who has cleverly circumvented the need for a breeding colony -- which one might expect to have been discovered during the 80 years of exploratory expeditions -- and done away with the original plesiosaur's need to break the surface to breathe, which would have made Nessie sightings as common as Paris Hilton's.
Does Nessie speak to our psychic depths, to a collective hankering to be wild, mysterious and free, to a submerged longing for a connection to the primordial waters in which we all once swam? Or would we just all love to see a really, really, really big fish?
3 Hollow Earth
In 1692, Edmund Halley -- not yet of comet fame -- posited that inside the earth nested a series of spherical shells, like tubby Russian dolls, each with their own atmosphere, magnetic poles and rate of rotation. He did this in order to try to explain anomalous compass readings in the absence of alternative evidence, and he and later scientific followers gladly let it give way as evidence to the contrary became available.
Others, however, continue to prefer the notion that if you tap the home counties, you will hear a deep, reverberating echo and the squeals of rudely awoken interior inhabitants. In the 19th century, John Symmes popularized the belief in a hollow earth and other proponents' efforts resulted in the Great US Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, which did a lot in the way of mapping Oregon and furnishing the Smithsonian but failed to provide proof of a hollow world. Still, the belief has survived to the present day -- the Hollow Earth Society now claims 400 members in more than 30 countries -- and received a particular boost in the early 1980s from the masterful Jim Henson series Fraggle Rock, now available on DVD.
To detail the health and spiritual benefits claimed for various crystals would take more time and mental space than anyone should have to give the concept that lumps of translucent rock can affect the human mind or body in any way other than if they are thrown fast and hard at the latter, a procedure I heartily recommend if anyone ever starts trying to convince you otherwise.
This belief will persist for as long as rocks can be dug up for free. I know this because I have shone a light through my pink imbecilia quartz and it refracted into whole industries stringing stones on to leather thongs and laughing all the way to the bank.
There is a lesser known version of the philosophical conundrum, which goes: "If the world's first and greatest pop icon dies on the toilet and there is nobody around to independently verify the fact, did he really make a gently expiring sound, or did he fake it in order to live out the rest of his life in solitude, save for the occasional excursion to Neoprene, Ohio, to allow sufficient sightings to keep the flame of remembrance alive?" And the answer is no.
But that doesn't stop collective international grief morphing into years of delusional sightings of the King, a testament to the power of human resistance to the appalling notion that death is the end not just of life but of celebrity. Expect the first Princess Diana sighting at a discount store near you any day now.
6 Electronic smog
This, like crystals, is a favorite of holistic health practitioners, homeopaths and the kind of hippies who advertise pet aromatherapy. But it received the beginnings of mainstream acceptance at the weekend, when the Department of Health announced that it was to make two reports on the phenomenon to the government next month.
Electronic smog is meant to refer to the electrical and magnetic fields thrown out by the electrical appliances in our homes, and the radio frequency fields emitted by masts, transmitters, mobile phones and so on. It is believed, in certain quarters, that these can interfere with the natural electrical activity of the body -- particularly in the heart and between nerve cells -- and cause anything from leukemia to cancer to depression.
Ever since the first electrical pylon was raised, there have been studies both supporting and contradicting the idea that strong electrical fields can cause cancer. Clusters of patients found at such sites by research teams are generally dismissed as truly random occurrences. But the fear of invisible rays is a hard one to allay.
Fighting the belief in electronic smog will literally be like fighting mist.
There seemed to be a great many television programs in my youth that centred round people staring at white cards with black symbols on them while other people sat behind a screen and tried to say what they were seeing. It wasn't great TV, but remote controls hadn't been invented so whatever channel was on at teatime stayed on until the end of transmission.
Whatever these and other experiments in telepathy various idiots have carried out over the centuries, they have yet to produce a shred of verifiable or duplicable evidence that the mind can transmit messages. And yet we continue, as a species, to have a deep- seated belief in the idea that telepathy is not only possible, but actually happens.
Fairy lore has survived for centuries, partly because it arose among Celtic people who historically would rather lose a limb than a good story, partly because it is infinitely adaptable to all times and ages, and partly, and most sickeningly, because fairies have an eternal appeal to the vast swathes of every female generation who love their itty-bitty dresses and their iridescent wings and their flowery bowers. Rational argument becomes sodden and useless upon contact with minds so wet, alas.
9 Big cats in Britain
There are parakeets in the south east of England. I've seen 'em. Why not beasts on Bodmin Moor in the south west? A travelling circus, a faulty lock, an ocelot with initiative -- it's not hard to imagine and it really could be true. Cue, every month or so, yet another newspaper picture of what may or not be a large, out-of-focus domestic cat.
Originally members of the lowest division of the celestial hierarchy, lumbered with sorting out human affairs rather than singing the music of the spheres or guarding Eden like the Seraphim and Cherubim, angels have long since been co-opted by new agers and pressed into service in ever more demeaning ways.
Instead of divine servants, they are now usually conceptualized as floaty-robed guardians of man whose benevolent energies can be channelled through crystals, or used as a way of personifying self-help beliefs, resulting in a plethora of books with titles like How My Angel Told Me to Tell You to Love Yourself. Like crystals and fairies, they will exist for as long as they make money and there are enough drippy women out there with sufficient disposable income to make it so.