Thursday, 24 December 2009

Four experiencer accounts…

The data in this article were gathered via correspondences with individuals claiming to have experienced alien contact or abduction first hand. The following analysis will endeavour to uncover patterns within these reports as a means to explore the phenomenology of the experience as well as the sociology and psychology of the experiencers themselves. It is not my purpose to ascertain the veracity of these experiential claims; rather I am interested primarily in the perceived features of the experience: how the percipient understands his/her experience.

David Yamane writes:

…when we study religious experience we cannot study “experiencing” – religious experience in real time and it’s physical, mental, and emotional constituents- and therefore must study retrospective accounts – linguistic representations of religious experience.” (Yamane, 2000, 173)

Similarly we cannot gain direct access to the “experience” of UFO witnesses, contactees and abductees. This presents a problem in trying to explore the phenomenology of anomalous experiences – it is simply not possible. The following investigation is, therefore, based upon retrospective narratives which may, or may not, have evolved with the telling over the weeks, months and years following the

ir experiences.

The approach of this exploration, then, might be termed an “as if” approach; one whereby narrative accounts of anomalous experiences are treated “as if” they were real, even in the event that they never occurred (Crabtree, 1988). I trust that the experiences relayed to me are from honest individuals interested only in sharing their stories with a wider audience. No material gain can be achieved through presenting these accounts, and all names have been made anonymous.

The four experiencers live in the United States. I found it particularly difficult to track down abductees willing to talk in the United Kingdom. Whether this is an indication that fewer abductions take place in the UK than in the US is not really answerable with such a small sample size. Each story presents its own peculiarities, and yet each also partakes of similar thematic and narrative characteristics.

1. Encounter on the Mountain

The first experience I will relate occurred on Mount Shasta, California, in 1985 and does not conform to the classic abduction stereotype, indeed it is not an abduction at all, but it does contain many fascinating features including, amongst other psi phenomena; pre-cognition and ESP.

Y’s experience started with a tarot reading given to her husband that suggested he make a journey to Mount Shasta accompanied by a significant female in his life. On the journey Y read a book about UFOs that a friend had given her. In the back of the book she found a telephone number written in pen and an invitation to call it. The number was for Sister Thedra, a resident of Shasta City, and a UFO contactee and channeler of higher intelligence. Despite being complete strangers the couple decided to call Sister Thedra, who invited them to her home. Sister Thedra turned out to be an avid archivist of UFO experiences on the mountain; her home was full of journals and written accounts. The couple told her that they were going to camp out on the mountain that night, to which Thedra responded positively; she had been hoping someone would be up there on that particular evening. She told them to report back to her in the morning, the couple consented, thanked Sister Thedra, and set off for the mountain.

I think you will agree that this sequence of events was a very peculiar prologue to their camping trip; the sheer frequency of meaningful coincidences and synchronicities is most strange, but not as strange as that which followed. Y relates:

We set up camp in the snow and my husband went to sleep. I was in my sleeping bag with my head outside the tent, watching the stars. A huge round disk appeared that had pastel lights of many colors rotating around a band in the middle. It was very close and hovered over the mountain just above us for over an hour. I tried in every way to wake my husband to no avail.After about an hour, the cone of the mountain began to glow with lights just like the ship and slowly the ship moved toward the cone and eventually went inside. I did not see it come back out and eventually went to sleep. In the morning, I awoke to a very different kind of energy all around us. I woke my husband and as I made breakfast, told him of the experience lastnight. As I was gesturing a bird came and landed in my hand. I told him to put out his hand and another bird did the same. We were both aware of the soft and very different energy. We kept interacting with the birds for an hour or so and the energy didn’t change. We broke camp and went down to see Sister Thedra and told her what I saw and about the energy. She wrote in her journals and thanked us very much. We left and went home.”

Key features of this contact experience include:

  • Synchronicities preceding the event
  • Multi-coloured luminous flying disc
  • Inability to rouse partner from sleep
  • Illumination and opening of the cone of the mountain
  • Distinct “change in energy”
  • Strange animal behaviour

Certain of these aspects are fairly regularly reported by abductees. Naturally, flying discs are the epitome of the UFO phenomenon; they are the most commonly, and historically consistent, reported phenomena. Y stated that the craft she witnessed was definitely a solid, physical, object.

Paralysis is a common feature. In many accounts paralysis is induced by the alien, often utilising a “wand-like” device (numerous references in Vallee, 1988 and Mack, 1994). The paralysis aspect of the abduction phenomenon has been one of the primary reasons for comparison with the sleep paralysis experience (see Hufford, 1982 for a discussion of this experience). In this instance, however, it is not the witness that is paralysed, but rather her husband.

The illumination and opening of the mountain cone is interesting, and fairly unique. Mount Shasta itself has a long mythological history, and in relatively recent years has had an association with the lost land of Lemuria, with stories of the mountain representing the gateway into an underground realm inhabited by displaced Lemurians.

The positive change in energy is also a recurrent theme in some manifestations of the abduction phenomenon. The psychiatrist John Mack (1994), for example, emphasized the transformative power of the abduction phenomenon in his writings on the subject.

The strange behaviour of the birds the morning after the experience may be likened to the animal “screen memories” reported by Budd Hopkins. Hopkins notes that the actual abduction experience is often obscured in the memory of abductees by vivid recollections of encounters with animals: owls and stags are regularly reported. John Mack similarly noticed that “the aliens themselves seem able to change or disguise their form, and…may appear initially to the abductees as various kinds of animals” (Mack, 1994, 396).

2. Visitors in the Home

The next account I will discuss is that of a 40 year old male from Florida, referred to here as X, and amazingly comes complete with a fascinating array of photographic evidence (a couple of which are included herein). There are photographs of purportedly semi-materialized “grey-type” entities, and even a video of a fully formed being peering around a door, as fantastic as that sounds. It is not only greys that are in contact with X; he has also encountered reptilian-type entities in his home, as well as orbs and mists. X claims to have had over 2,000 visits from these entities (2,555 to be exact).

Fig. 1. A still from one of X's videos depicting a small grey-like entity peering around the bedroom door

X also claims that there are “star gates” in his home leading to other worlds, and that he has been through them. On the other side of the “star gates”, X has witnessed numerous “fascinating places” such as subterranean tunnel networks, marine environments, deserts and unusual rooms filled with strange equipment. He has seen excavations being carried out in ancient, or lost, cities, perhaps indicating that the entities are looking for something; treasure or answers.

Fig. 2. A still from one of X’s videos portraying a semi-materialised “grey type” entity

X’s experience can, in the analysis of its primary features and the nature of the contact, be likened to Whitley Strieber’s account in the book Communion (1997 [1987]). In this instance numerous contacts were made within Strieber’s home; the aliens, in other words, would come to him while he slept. Again, such an experience bares striking similarities with the sleep paralysis phenomenon. Key elements of the sleep paralysis phenomenon include:

  • A sense of presence entering the room (often apparently with malevolent intent)
  • Bodily paralysis

The presence of photographic evidence in this case, however, differs from cases of sleep paralysis: sleep paralysis does not generally leave physical evidence, and I am unaware of any victims of sleep paralysis who claim to have taken photographs of the intruding entities they have sensed.

3. Visitors and Implants

The following account is from a 52 year old female, Z, from Arkansas:

I have never had much interest in UFOs, but I did have an experience. One night, I was asleep in bed lying on my back. I was awakened by something standing beside me. It was a small grey being with the typical alien shaped head with large black eyes. Standing behind it was a tall white being in a long cloak. The small grey being put its hand on my arm as if to comfort me. The tall white being turned and walked through the bedroom wall towards the outside yard. I distinctly remember the folds of its cloak swirling and the weight of the fabric. The little grey one mentally told me to turn my head away, which I did. It touched me with something behind my right ear. A sort of electrical feeling, not unpleasant, went through my body and I went back to sleep or lost awareness. The next day, I was pretty creeped out by the whole thing.” (Emphasis mine).

Again, this experience carries all of the hallmarks of the “classic” abduction account: The presence of grey-type entities, and the seemingly superior “tall white being”; telepathic communication between the entities and the experiencer; the surgical implantation of a device behind the ear. Z’s experience did not end here, however:

I also have experiences of hearing what I call “radio voices”. It is a sort of radio-like transmission that occurs inside my head behind my right ear. It is not the English language, but I understand on some level what is being said.”

Z is apparently being communicated with via the object implanted behind her right ear by the small grey being in her bedroom.

4. Life –long Abduction

W, a 60 year old female from Wichita, has been abducted frequently from around about the age of 4. Her story is long and complex, involving not only herself but also her children and parents. Her account contains many fantastical features, and is interwoven with other paranormal elements, namely telepathy, psychokinesis and pre-cognition. One of her earliest abduction memories reads as follows:

My abductions started in the early 50's. I was born in 49. … I found myself and my older sister hand in hand with these beings standing in front of a huge black shiney [sic] sphere that looked more like glass. I was very curious about it and was touching it rubbing my hand over it feeling its texture. It felt so smooth and polished and cool to the touch. I could see my refection in it clearly. I did this while these beings were comunicating telepathicly [sic] with each other and then they walked us home. I don't recall being afraid of them at that time as it felt like they were friends and didn't want to hurt us. I remember clearly that my sister and I were in our flannel night gowns my mother had made for us with no shoes on. So I assume this happened some time in the night. I began to miss them when they would leave us.”

W and her sister were placed in a “program of sorts” in which they were taught to communicate telepathically with one another and to manipulate objects with their minds:

“I often found myself placed in a big room that I can only describe as being sterile and lighted brightly by an unknown source. There were always other children my age there. We were given things to play with that didn't look like any known toys I'd ever seen. One I can remember looked like a sphere that was metallic. I can remember I wasn't sure what to do with it and the being in the room told me that I could make it work with my mind… The being had one of the children come over and teach me. All I had to do was to mentally think it to rise off the floor and make it go where I wanted it to go and it would do what I wanted it to. It took a long while and alot of mental energy but eventually I learned to play with those toys quite well to the point that I was asked to teach other children to do the same.”

As W matured, however, the abduction experience became progressively less enjoyable as her children were also being taken:

It seemed like a few years I struggled with our abductors. I began to fully realize no matter who they were or what they resembled they were in no way good even when they tried to convince me they were. Everything about the abductions were wrong. The God I knew didn’t hide behind the darkness nor was he into taking anyone against their will. So when I was with them I started demanding that they for once start answering some questions for me. That was great with them unless I asked them anything that had to do with God, or Jesus... They first tried to convince me that they were in someway as was I a god all rolled into one.... When I wouldn’t except that as a true answer they stopped answering me. They got pretty exashperated [sic] with me. Hymns would come to mind and I would start singing those. My visits would end pretty fast that way.”

W turned increasingly towards religion as a means to combat the alien intrusion on her family’s life. On one occasion a visiting minister asked to pray over her child, despite being unaware of his abduction experiences. The prayer called for the child to be watched over and protected by angels. Soon the boy was no longer complaining of unpleasant experiences with aliens, but was instead telling of the beautiful angels he was seeing at night.

Overall W’s experiences have been perceived negatively. Her interpretation of religion did not accord with the perspective of the entities she was in contact with.

More to come...


Crabtree, A. 1988. Multiple Man: Explorations in Possession and Multiple Personality Disorder. London: Grafton Books.

Mack, J. 1994. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd.

Strieber, W. 1997 [1987]. Communion: Encounters with the Unknown. London: Arrow Books Ltd.

Vallee, J. 1988. Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact. London: Souvenir Press Ltd.

Yamane, D. 2000. Narrative and Religious Experience. Sociology of Religion. Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 171-189.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Trance Mediumship....

I have recently come into possession of a new set of audio cassette recordings of spirit communications received through trance mediumship. They are fascinating.

This situation provides me with the perfect opportunity to compare two sets of spirit teachings received through separate mediums and recorded at different times and in different locations by groups unknown to each other.

It will be very interesting to see what sort of correlations and possible divergences show up between the two data sets.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Anthropology and Paranormal Videos...

I have started to compile a list of lectures, interviews, videos, documentaries and films that deal with issues of anthropology, philosophy, sociology, religion, religious experience, mysticism, the paranormal, altered states of consciousness, mediumship, psychedelics, entity encounters and so on. The list can be found here:

I am searching for video links that can serve to provide a line of enquiry for those who have an interest in such matters.

Naturally the list is not exhaustive, but I am hoping to keep adding to it as new videos come to my attention.

If you have any links that you think would be suitable please don't hesitate to get in touch via

Friday, 27 November 2009

Religious Experience and Paranormal Experience...


There are countless different terms used to describe anomalous experiences including but not limited to: paranormal experience, supernatural experience, psychic experience, mystical experience, transcendental experience, religious experience, spirtual experience, numinous experience and so on. Additionally we might also consider Near-Death Experiences (NDE), Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) and Psychedelic Experiences to be related phenomena, in that such experiences often possess similar characteristics and effects. In order to account for the conceptual biases associated with some of these terms, new un-loaded labels have been developed such as anomalous experience and non-ordinary experience. Such terms are generic and so may be applied to a wide variety of experiences, not all of which are necessarilly supernatural in nature.

Nevertheless there remains a distinction in the literature between the idea of a religious or mystical experience and a paranormal or supernatural experience, but where do we draw the line between them?


Definitions of the term "religious experience" often stress the importance of communion with either a divine being or a sense of oneness with nature and wider reality. Richard Swinburne, as an example of a definition of religious experience, has proposed a five point system of classification:

Type 1 - Experience of God or Ultimate reality mediated through a common, public, sensory object; e.g. feeling union with a divine power when observing a sunrise.
Type 2 - Experience of God or Ultimate reality mediated through an unusual, public, sensory object; e.g. seeing the Virgin Mary in an unusual cloud formation.
Type 3 - Experience of God or Ultimate reality mediated through private sensations that can be described in normal sensory language; e.g. seeing God in a dream.
Type 4 - Experience of God or Ultimate reality mediated through private sensations that cannot be described in normal sensory language; e.g. feeling a distinct sense of presence.
Type 5 - Experience of God or Ultimate reality that is not mediated by any sensations; e.g. direct communion (Swinburne in Peterson et al, 2002, 20-22)

It is clear from such taxonomies that religious experience is a multi-faceted phenomenon. There is a wide variety of forms that it might take in manifesting (not to mention a wide array of possible interpretations of these forms). The essential object
of experience in religious experiences, according to this system of classification, is referred to as God or Ultimate Reality; these are concepts widely used to express what it is that the religious experience is of. Other terms are also occasionally used including labels such as; divinity, oneness, the all mighty, love, light, nirvana, unity, the void, joy, bliss consciousness and so on (it is perhaps possible to see a distinction between personalised objects of religious experience, such as a sense of loving presence, and impersonal objects, such as oneness or love).

The objects of paranormal experiences are slightly different, and may be separated into two broad categores; Entity Encounters and Psi phenomena.

Interestingly the apprehension of the objects of paranormal e
xperience often occurs in much the same way as the objects of religious experience (God/Ultimate Reality) are experienced. The object of experience may be:

1. Mediated through a common public sensory object
2. Mediated through an unusual public sensory object

3. Mediated through private sensations that can be described in sensory terms
4. Mediated through extrasensory sensations that cannot be described in sensory terms
5. Non-Mediated direct communion

The only difference, therefore, is in the type of object experienced. Swinburne's 5 types, then, can be used to refer to paranormal experiences simply by repl
acing the notion of God/Ultimate Reality with, for instance, ghost, apparition, spirit, telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on. What makes it difficult, however, is that multiple objects can turn up during a single experience, this will be discussed later.


William James argued that a claim to religious experience could be considered valid if it was seen that the experience had brought about a moral chan
ge in the experient. - that is based upon the "fruits" of the experience (James, 2004, 211; Bridgers, 2005, 14-15). James considered the characteristics of "philosophical reasonableness and moral helpfulness" (2004, 28) to be the fruits that demonstrated the validity of religious experiences. This transformative factor was key to James' interpretation of the religious experience. Paranormal experiences of all types, for instance UFO sightings, alien abductions, ghost/apparitional experiences and so on, are also found to be associated with personality and world-view transformation. In an investigation into the effects of paranormal and spiritual experiences on people's lives Kennedy & Kanthamani (1995) reported that:

"...the experiences resulted in increased belief in life after death, belief that their lives are guided or watched over by a higher force or being, interest in spiritual or religious matters, sense of connection to others, happiness, well-being, confidence, optimism about the future, and meaning in life. They also indicated decreases in fear of death, depression or anxiety, isolation and loneliness, and worry and fears about the future" (1995, 249)

Such transformations are also often described by those who have had psychedelic experiences having consumed consciousness altering drugs (Leary, Metzner & Weil, 1993).


Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE) and Near-Death Experiences (NDE) seem to exist in a mid-way position between those experiences that are considered to be religious or mystical and those that are understood to be paranormal or psychic. This transition from the paranormal to the religious via OB and NDEs does not occur in discreet steps, but rather is apparently blurred and intermixed. Numerous reports of OBEs, for example, feature encounters with aliens or trips aboard flying saucers. This extract from an interview I conducted, via the internet, with an NDE experiencer called R.A. clearly demonstrates the merging of religious and UFO experiences during his NDE:

I did not know that heaven in scripture was squarish shaped before my NDE. I tend to think of it now as some type of spaceship"

On this "big rectangular boxy spaceship", R.A. encountered a "wonderful being" manifested as an "Inexpressable Light of Love". This particular case goes to show how easily the experiences more traditionally characterised as religious, i.e. "light of love", and experiences more common to UFO encounters, i.e. heaven as a "spaceship", can become intertwined.

Similarly, Thomas Bullard (1989) has noted, in his schema
for the abduction scenario, that many accounts of alien abduction also feature a form of theophany or encounter with a divine being (1989, 153). Bullard writes:

"...abduction reports sound like rewrites of older supernatural encounter traditions with aliens serving the functional roles of divine beings or nature spirits" (Bullard, 1989, 157-158)

For instance
Rojcewicz (1986) has noted that the Betty Andreasson abduction case of 1967 provides a fascinating perspective on the blurring of distinctions between religious and abduction experiences. Betty Andreasson interpreted her abduction experiences as visitations from angelic beings:

"We can clearly see here the fusion between experience and belief, description and interpretation. Betty's Christian beliefs color her interpretation of the appearance of her abductors, calling them "angels," despite her verbal and pictorial descriptions to the contrary" (1986, 138)

Rojcewicz sees this as the intersection of "two or more belief one experience" (ibid) (we might even consider the possibility that two or more belief traditions developed from a single experience).

Psychedelic experiences induced via the consumption of psychoactive plants and chemicals also seemingly represent a merging point between the religious and the paranormal. Numerous investigators have explored the relationship between psyc
hedelic drugs, paranormal experiences and psi abilities (Luke, 2008) - much of the work pointing out interesting correlations. Certain psychedelic drugs (e.g. DMT, Psilocybin, LSD) are associated entity communications, often akin to abduction scenarios, fairy encounters and so on (e.g. numerous narrative accounts in Strassman, 2001). Other psychoactive drugs (marijuana, ayahuasca) are traditionally considered to be conducive to the development of psi abilities and experiences.

The experiences listed in this diagram are not exhaustive. It is merely meant to demonstrate a possible spectrum of anomalous experiences. Those experiences highlighted in yellow represent experiences of impersonal union with the oneness of reality; those in blue are experiences involving personified entity encounters; those in purple represent impersonal psi experiences. Any of these experiences may occur independently or in tandem during an NDE, OBE or psychedelic experience.


Do these experiences, then, occur along a spectrum with one type of experience at one extreme and another at the other, changing only by subtle and varying degrees? Rojcewicz (1986) has suggested that so-called UFO phenomena be considered to exist within a continuum of extraordinary encounters, one which includes encounters with other creatures of folklore and myth; angels, fairies, monsters. Might this same continuum also include encounters with God?

Why is it that the experience of paranormal phenomena, including UFO abduction and contact experiences, are not considered religious in the sense implied by the term religious experience? Is there some form of cultural hierarchy of significance at play that judges the value of an experiene by the type of object experienced?


Bridgers, L. 2005. Contemporary Varieties of Religious Experience. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.

Bullard, T.E. 1989. UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 102, No. 404, pp. 147-170.

James, W. 2004 [1902]. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Kennedy, J.E. and Kanthamani, H. 1995. An Exploratory Study of the Effects of Paranormal and Spiritual Experiences on Peoples' Lives and Well-Being. The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 89, pp.249-265.

Leary, T. Metzner, R. & Weil, G.M. 1993 [1965]. The Subjective After-Effects of Psychedelic Experiences: A Summary of 4 Recent Questionnaire Studies. In T. Leary, R. Metzner & G.M Weil (eds) 1993. The Psychedelic Reader. New York: Citadel Press.

Luke, D.P. 2008. Psychedelic Substances and Paranormal Phenomena: A Review of The Research. Journal of Parapsychology
, Vol. 72, 77-107

Rojcewicz, Peter M. 1986. The Extraordinary Encounter Continuum Hypothesis and Its Implications for the Study of Belief Materials. Folklore Forum. 19:131-152.

Strassman, R. 2001. DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press.

Swinburne, R. In Peterson, M. Hasker, W. Reichenbach, B. & Basinger D. 2002. Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Talking With The Spirits - Interview...

Here is a short film that I edited together from an interview conducted a week or so ago with Christine Di Nucci, the founder of the Bristol Spirit Lodge; the venue at which I conducted my dissertation fieldwork.

Due to a change of circumstance interviews with mediums and sitters will now likely be in audio format.

More news to come...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Talking With the Spirits: Bristol Spirit Lodge Documentary Film...

I have just commenced work an an ethnographic/documentary style film about the Bristol Spirit Lodge, a centre for the development and promotion of trance and physical mediumship. The film will feature indepth interviews with members of the lodge, including sitters and mediums, in an attempt to expand upon the fieldwork I conducted there for my dissertation earlier in the year. It's primary focus will be on the way in which seance experiences are interpreted and lived with by those who are witness to them.

More news on the film will be made available as the project develops.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Ontology of Drug Facilitated Entity Encounters...

The very first time I ate Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata or Magic Mushrooms) from the moutains of mid-Wales a few years ago, I was amazed to catch a glimpse of a world that had, until that point, remained entirely hidden from me.

As the trip intensified I began to see, in the wood of a partially open drawer, a parade of peculiar looking beings visible in 2D. I was shocked and described them to my friends. For want of a better name I called them "fairies". I didn't interact with them, and they didn't give any indication of seeing me - it was as if they were just going about their business (whatever business that might be) and were suddenly, and unknowingly, made visible to me.

Fig. 1. Although this experience took place a few years ago I can still vividly recall it, but describing it with words proves to be quite difficult. I drew these pictures as a means to translate, to some extent, the essence of what I saw. As they moved I got the sense that they were in the process of "doing something", but I don't know what that was - merely a sense of purpose.

There seemed to be one that was slightly larger than the rest (although all were small) with female characteristics, and they were all moving forward (as if scrolling along the edge of the drawer from right to left), jostling over each other like waves crashing over rocks in slow motion. They seemed to be a part of the wood from which the chest of drawers was made. Their noses and chins were pointed and they were organic and beautiful.

Fig. 2. A more detailed picture of the face, as best as I can recall. At the time they definitely seemed 2-dimensional - almost like shadow puppets.

What were they? Hallucinations or ontologically distinct entities?

Of course many thousands of people have encountered strange entities while under the influence of varied multitudes of psychoactive substances. Some commentators have argued that the apparent inter-personal correlations between accounts of drug entity experients, provide a form of empirical evidence that points towards the existence of an objective phenomenon: encounters may occur independently of others, geographically and temporally, while still maintaining strikingly similar experiential features.

More on this to come...

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Photographic Anomaly...

I took this photograph at a small cave, known colloquially as "Merlin's Cave", near Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall in Powys, and was interested to see some peculiar "photographic anomalies" in and above the water in the cave when I looked back at the photo. There would seem to be streaks of light in the cave that do not appear in other photos taken of the cave.

Interesting features:

  • Site known colloquially as "Merlin's Cave" - connotations with magic
  • Site of natural beauty
  • Autumn a couple of days before Hallowe'en

These combined with the photographic anomaly begin to form a supernatural narrative with intimate links to place and folk beliefs.

This sort of photographic anomaly would generally be classified as evidence of "rods" or "skyfish", but might also be interpreted to demonstrate the existence of discarnate spirits, extraterrestrial/dimensional entities, nature energy, fairies, etc.

Of course it is entirely possible that these "anomalies" could in fact be insects, but they remain interesting nevertheless.

Photographic anomalies do occur and they provide ambiguous stimuli for interpretation by the observer. These streaks could be interpreted in any number of ways.

I do not know what they are, but through considering them insights into the structure of supernatural narratives can potentially be gleaned.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Experiencing Drug Induced Altered States of Consciousness...

The announcement of the sacking of Professor David Nutt from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has got me thinking about the motives of the government with regard to drugs policy.

Professor Nutt fell out of favour with the government for suggesting that the dangers posed by the ingestion of drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis were comparable to those associated with horse riding - coining the term"Equasy" - and arguing that this practice represents "an over-looked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms". Nutt observes that:

"This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use" (source)

If the government is not basing its policies on the risk factor involved in the ingestion of psychoactive chemicals, then what reason does it have?

Psychoactive plants and chemicals (psychedelic in particular), by definition, produce an alteration of consciousness when ingested. Naturally the huge varieties of psychoactive substances produce an equally large variety of alterations of consciousness, each one providing a different perspective on the world through subtlely, or severely, affecting the way in which we perceive and interact with it - even to the extent of entirely shifting our perspective away from this world altogether.

This is the most immediate consequence of ingesting a psychoactive chemical, and is potentially at the root of government concern over their use.

I have already posted this quote from William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, but will do so again oweing to its relevance to the issue at hand here:

"... our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded" (James, 2004, 335)

James' realisation of the vast plurality of world-perspectives occurred after an experience with nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as laughing gas and still popularly used recreationally for its consciousness altering effects. James' experience opened his eyes to a potential multiverse of subjective worlds. This potential is an inherent part of what it means to be human and consequently represents a fundamental property of the universe, of which we are a part. When these other worlds are ignored we are missing out on a substantial portion of our freedom to explore existence.

I wonder, therefore, whether the decisions made by the government to ignore evidence, provided by their expert advisers, have anything to do with the fact that they may indirectly result in human beings excersising their innate freedom to perceive the world in alternative ways.

Theorists such as David Icke would support this suggestion. Icke has argued that there has been an agenda in place over hundreds of years to increasingly narrow human access to understanding the true nature of reality:

The actions of the government with regards to the issue of drug consumption would appear to bolster Icke's hypothesis. Efforts are being made to impinge on the potential for human beings to experience reality in all it's beauty, intricasies and infinite permutations.

The issue is very real. These experiences are very real, and our ability to access them is being reduced. Of course the ingestion of psychactive compounds is not the only means to experience altered states of consciousness, but it is a means that we should not be denied.

I have a particular worry about the possible illegalisation of Salvia Divinorum, an incredible plant with the power to enable the experience of alternate realities and communication with their inhabitants. To have this doorway walled up would be a great loss.

It is worrying to note that government policy concerning consciousness altering substances (as well as on other issues) is followings its own agenda, regardless of expert opinion.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Friday, 16 October 2009

Depicting Discarnate Entities...

Human beings have been making depictions of "the supernatural realm" since at least as far back as the Palaeolithic (depicting, at least, in such a way as to withstand the ravages of time - we would not, for example, be able to detect drawings made with sticks and sand in the archaeological record). Some of the earliest known depictions of "non-ordinary beings" can be found in the caves of Algeria.

The paintings seem to depict anthropomorphic creatures with animal characteristics - horns, tails, etc. Creatures that are neither human nor animal, but something more than the sum of their parts. Beings such as this are referred to as therianthropes. The inspiration for these enigmatic images may well have come from encounters with beings during altered states of consciousness achieved through any number of techniques (I have spoken a little about rock art and psychedelics in an earlier post).

The spirits depicted in the above image were drawn by the Iglulik Eskimos. "They represent deities which through terrifying and frightening their natural state can be captured and tamed by shamans and thus transformed into benevolent 'helping spirits' or familiars" (Lewis, 1971).

Different cultures, from different time periods and geographic locations have depicted the spirit world for thousands of years.

The psychic photography of the Spiritualist movement represents a more recent attempt at embodying the disincarnate. Cultural Historian Marina Warner has discussed at length the evolution of the western depiction of the supernatural in her book Phatasmagoria (2008). Key elements she has highlighted include the use of metaphors and analogies concerned with light, air, mist, clouds, wings, etc. when describing the denizens of the invisible world. Spiritualist photographs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries clearly partake of a cultural tradition in western art - they are a culmination of motifs and iconography that have developed over centuries of attempts to picture the invisible. At the core of this tradition, however, is the experience of the supernatural - the inability to convey the precise nature of the experience and the necessity to draw analogies with bright, fluid and etherial aspects of the physical world.

I am not suggesting that all Spiritualist photographs are the product of "fraud" or "trickery" but am rather pointing towards a wider frame-work in which to understand and interpret such images. I would even consider the blatantly "fraudulent" (again, a term that I think may need re-evaluating) photographs, which clearly show that the spirit-form is nothing more than a doll, such as those taken of the medium Helen Duncan and the spirit-child Peggy (see below), to be objects worthy of investigation.

Belief in the ability to imbue objects with independent agency is both ancient and widespread. What we are seeing in these photographs is a vestigal practice - a pre-christian survival that shares commonalities with other cultural and beliefs systems, across the world, but shares nothing with the positivistic empirical world-view that evaluates their validity as proof of the existence of spirits and mediumistic ability.

In Ancient Egyptian tombs, archaeologists have uncovered thousands of small humanoid figurines called shabti figures. These figurines were essential companions to the deceased as they journeyed forth into the afterlife. Because it was believed that the afterlife was much the same as the world of the living, deceased individuals would be called up to work in the fields and on the land on their arrival there. The purpose of the shabti was to come to life and carry out the work in place of the deceased, their work was primarily agricultural (Spencer, 1991, 68). These little figurines possess agency - they are more than just models. They were believed to have the power to come to life and to serve (much as the Swedish Tomtar statuettes, discussed in an earlier post, are said to).

Ancient Egyptian belief in the power of representation provides fascinating insights to our understanding of the depictions of supernatural beings:

"The Ancient Egyptians believed that once a word was written down it was inherently magical and could make whatever was written true, especially when spoken aloud, an act which breathed life into the words. Thus the representations on the walls could come alive and make real what they depicted and had to be chosen with care lest some dangerous being came into existence in the tomb" (Dodson & Ikram, 2008, 15)

Representation gives life to abstract concepts - it enables a manifestation to occur - entities that can only be grasped in the mental realm are condensed into the material. Again, in the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians we find this power put into use. Tombs are adorned with depictions of the deceased and engraved with their names - the act of creating a likeness of the deceased allows for that individual to "live on" after death. Indeed the link between the effigy and the soul of the deceased was a strong one, and tombs often house small shrines at which offerings of food and drink would be deposited. These carvings became a point of merging between the world of the living and the invisible world of the dead - a false door to the other world.

It is possible, therefore, that we could be missing the point when we dismiss the photographs of Helen Duncan and her doll Peggy as evidence of fraudulence. Marina Warner writes of Peggy:

"...the photograph shows a ghastly crude mask, with huge white face and heavily daubed mouth wrapped in an old sheet, every inch a Hallowe'en bogey. That these ghosts could ever have persuaded anyone, that these makeshift clumsy apparitions could ever have been recognized as the lost loved child by the child's own mother, reveals the depth of people's need to reach some peace with the dead" (2008, 246)

To my mind it is not so difficult to believe. The doll may act as a conduit, a vessel or a focus point through which a spirit can be channelled. The idea is not a new one, and parallels to it are in evidence throughout the ethnosphere. If spirits are believed to be disincarnate, as they very often are, then there is no reason to assume that a spirit cannot incorporate itself into an inanimate object - like pouring water into a vase - in much the same way as the Egyptians believed the spirit of the deceased could inhabit its likeness carved in stone.

When viewed from the Ancient Egyptian perspective representation and reality are blurred - an image IS what it depicts in a very real sense. A photograph of a materialised spirit is a materialised spirit, a painting on a cave wall of a horned being from another world is just that, and a model of a deceased individual is what it appears to be.


Dodson, A & Ikram, S. 2008. The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Thames & Hudson.

Lewis, I.M. 1971. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Ltd.

Warner, M. 2008. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Spencer, A.J. 1991. Death in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Penguin Books Ltd.