Saturday, 24 April 2010

Too Many Questions and Too Many Answers: The Paranormal Scene

The global paranormal scene is a fascinating social phenomenon rife with opposing groups and theoretical standpoints. At the very basic level we see the long standing rift between those that would be classed as “believers” and those that are called “sceptics”, but this is just the simplest distinction. These two categories can be further subdivided revealing an ever bifurcating conceptual root system of different interpretations and conclusions drawn from a variety of ostensibly paranormal phenomena and experiences.

There are investigators who apply scientific, laboratory based, methodologies to the study of so-called psi phenomena (telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis and so on), and those who employ a more direct experiential approach in attempting to develop these abilities for themselves. Some researchers have positive results, others inconclusive results and negative results There are researchers looking into the neurochemistry of paranormal experiences: those who suggest that paranormal experiences can be explained through a detailed study of the functioning, or malfunctioning, of the human brain, and those who argue that this endeavour is futile and overly reductive. Some psychologists consider claims to paranormal experience as evidence of a plethora of pathological disorders, while others see such experiences as entirely natural transformative episodes that benefit the psyche. There are anthropologists studying witchcraft beliefs, spirit possession, mediumship and shamanism in exotic locations around the world. Amongst these are those who essentially “go native” and adopt the beliefs of the peoples they are studying for themselves, and those who go out of their way to explain away any apparently paranormal experiences in rational and reductive terms. There are sociologists who study paranormal belief without commenting on whether these beliefs are valid, and phenomenologists who are interested in the way that the paranormal is experienced.

Within ufology we find those who believe in the existence of UFOs in a purely physical sense (referred to as “nuts and bolts” advocates), and within this subgroup there are those who believe that the UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin and those who believe they have a terrestrial origin (whether human or otherwise). Then there are the proponents of much more transcendent interpretations that see UFOs as non-mechanical inter-dimensional vehicles working on the level of consciousness. There are those who understand the UFO and abduction phenomenon to be a continuation of the historical folkloric traditions of fairy encounters. There are religious interpretations that see these unidentified objects as somehow linked to biblical descriptions of strange angelic vehicles. Certain theorists have proposed that the abduction phenomenon is in someway related to the action of psychoactive chemicals on the human brain, or of the interaction of electromagnetic energies, potentially opening portals of perception to other worlds. There is the time travelling hypothesis, which suggests that the occupants of the UFOs are human beings from the future on a mission to prevent a course of planetary destruction that we are currently in the process of laying out for ourselves. Are crop circles messages from UFOs, inter-dimensional beings, humans from the future with potent messages for mankind or elaborate hoaxes? Who are the men in black? Is there an international conspiracy?

Ghosts provide yet another moot point around which we construct diverse theories and opinions. Some believe that ghosts are the spirits of the dead trapped in the world of the living because they have “unfinished business”. Certain researchers have vouched for the so-called “stone tape theory” which suggests that ghosts are recordings of emotional events captured in the structural material of buildings. Photographic anomalies are interpreted by some as evidence of ghostly intervention and others as nothing more than technological faults. Some mediums believe that they are receiving information from entities claiming to have existed on the earth at some point in history; others believe that their communicators have never been incarnated. Channellers claim to receive communications from a variety of different sources, from distant planets and other dimensions, heavenly beings, ascended masters and higher selves. Spiritualists believe that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, but certain groups prefer mental mediumship (that is receiving telepathic messages from the deceased in a symbolic form) while others prefer to communicate with the dead via trance or physical mediumship. Are the successes of mediums down to the survival of human consciousness after death or the super-psi hypothesis (that is information received telepathically from people still alive on the earth or from galactic stores of information – the akashic records)? Some spiritualists believe that these are dangerous practices, as do many fundamentalist Christian groups, while sceptics see nothing but fraud. Are these communicators really who they say they are, or is there something more sinister going on? Are they demons? Is it evil? Some say yes, others say no. What exactly is glossolalia, or talking in tongues, if not another form of channelling? Or is it a related phenomenon at all?

Cryptozoologists argue about whether Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster are actual animals, perhaps as yet unrecorded species or survivals from prehistory, or much more transcendent supernatural entities. Is the chupacabra an alien or some sort of wild animal? What are hallucinations, and do they have any form of reality beyond the subjective? Is there a secret entrance into the hollow earth at the North Pole? Could there possibly be bases on the moon? If so, are they made by humans or aliens? What is their purpose? There are hundreds of theories. Who were the Atlanteans and Lemurians, if they ever existed at all? Were they simply ancient civilizations, a highly technologically advanced race or supernaturally powerful beings?

What are the mystics experiencing? Can these divine mysteries be described or explained in our limited linguistic vocabulary? Are they reconcilable with a rational, scientific, appreciation of nature?

There are practicing witches who swear by the efficacy of their ritual actions, charms and spells, and those who utterly denounce any such practices as irrational, illogical and ineffective. Some people are very superstitious, some believe in luck, others in synchronicity and astrology, while there are those who claim all such beliefs are outmoded primitive hangovers from a bygone age of ignorance. Some call telephone psychics and tarot readers to tell their fortunes, others wouldn’t dare but would instead be happy to attend a reading in the flesh. Spiritual healers continue to work with mixed results: some claim amazing and immediate cures, others are left disappointed. Mainstream medical science continues to condemn these practitioners, along with other forms of alternative healing, and yet the practices persist, indeed they flourish.

Does God exist? Thousands of people claim to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary, and yet there are those who would suggest that mass sightings like those at Fatima and Lourdes were nothing but illusions. What is enlightenment, and how can it be achieved? Which religion should we follow, if any? Is Richard Dawkins right, is it all delusion and illusion?

There is hardly a more confusing and controversial area of investigation. Just what is going on here? It seems as though there is no way that we can ever come even close to a consensus agreement on any of these issues, there are too many questions and too many answers. Perhaps this is the way it has to be, by the very nature of the beast in question: a trickster of massive proportions.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Paranormal Cultures: An interdisciplinary conference hosted by the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex - Friday 4 June 2010

Registration is now open for The Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies one-day interdisciplinary conference on Paranormal Cultures, Friday 4 June 2010 at The University of Sussex.

The paranormal has always exerted a particular 'pull', triggering in some an urge to explore and explain and in others a more emotional or even spiritual reaction. Discussions about and enjoyment of a rich mixture of topics and experiences grouped under the umbrella term 'paranormal cultures' are becoming increasingly popular and mainstream. An abundance of media coverage, television and cinema entertainment and an ever growing interest in supernatural phenomena, ghosts, UFOs, psychic powers, astrology and other forms of alternative knowledges on the Internet testifies to a willingness to explore the 'paranormal' and the extraordinary in our everyday lives.

This conference seeks to open up discussions about the anxieties, desires and engagements with the paranormal discourse, in popular culture, literature and visual culture as well as in everyday life, and across historical periods. The recent increase in popularity of all things paranormal across literature, art and popular culture suggests not only a reinvigorated interest in notions of the paranormal but possibly also new functions and pleasures of these fascinations, pursuits that scholars need to engage with, and we hope the conference will be a stimulating starting point for such engagements. Conversations across disciplines, from Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Media Studies, History, to Art History will be addressing questions such as: What is the influence of the paranormal on our personal and social lives? What can researching a society's engagements with the paranormal and alternative knowledges tell us about a culture? How should the recent increase in popularisation of the paranormal be interpreted?

All of these conversations and more will spill over into lunch and coffee breaks and no doubt into the wine reception at the end of the programme. And for the curious and courageous we have also arranged for a Ghost Walk in the Lanes, central Brighton in the evening [limited spaces available].

Keynote Speakers:
Prof John Harvey (Aberystwyth)
Dr Anita Biressi and Prof Heather Nunn (Roehampton)

Speakers from Sussex include: Prof Sally R Munt (Director of the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies) Dr Alie Bird (Anthropology) Dr Olu Jenzen (English and Cultural Studies) Dr Tatiana Kontou (English) Dr Jon Mitchell (Anthropology) Dr Pam Thurschwell (English)

Conference fee: £40 (£15 unwaged and students)includes lunch and refreshments. Organisers: Prof Sally R. Munt and Dr Olu Jenzen To register please contact: Closing date for registrations: 24 May 2010 For programme and further information visit our website:

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

First Afterlife Research Centre (ARC) Workshop

The first meeting of the Afterlife Research Centre (ARC) in the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology at the University of Bristol went really well yesterday. We had wide ranging discussions; from spiritualism and physical mediumship, through neo-platonism and creativity to Tibetan healing and the new religious movement Tenrikyo. All fascinating stuff. The first steps were also made in establishing a new peer-reviewed journal for presenting the research interests of members of the ARC, although this is still some way off.

On the whole the workshop was highly constructive and very informative. I look forward immesely to the development of the ARC.

(Left-Right, Yueh-po Huang, Fiona Bowie, Geoffrey Samuel, Angela Voss, Jack Hunter, Alexis Karkotis).

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Clinically Dead Boy 'Saw Granny In Heaven'

Another Near-Death Experience related news-piece has just come to my attention:

It tells the story of a German boy who, while clinically dead, claimed to have been with his grandmother in heaven.

Click here to read the full article: SOURCE

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Carbon Dioxide & Near-Death Experiences...

I just found this news item, from Sky News, detailing new research into the link between CO2 levels in the body and near-death experiences (NDE):

"CO2 May be Cause of 'Near-Death Experiences'"

It is interesting to note that while the headline of the article reads: "Near death experiences could come about by something as mundane as raised levels of carbon dioxide, scientists suggest", clearly an attempt at suggesting a purely physical, and hence reductionist, explanation for the phenomenon, Zalika Klemenc-Ketis, the research leader, when asked if the study would rule out a paranormal component said: "I don't think that, based on our study, we can say that paranormal believers are wrong. We have simply found out that one of the factors that could play a role in provoking the NDE, is carbon dioxide. But a lot still has to be done to totally explain this phenomena."

I wonder why the media is so keen to present such stories as though they were evidence against a supernatural reality?

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Pre-Cognitive Dream of Unfortunate Lotto Winner

I just stumbled across this story about a former Baker who won £9million on the Lottery in 2005. The money he won negatively affected his life, ultimately leading to his death 5 years later. What interested me most about the article was the following passage:

"At the time the couple scooped the jackpot, Mrs Gough, a secretary, said her husband had a dream their numbers would come up. She said: "A few nights ago Keith told me he had dreamt we had won the lottery. I dismissed it and told him that 'everyone has those kind of dreams' and to forget about it. I never believed it would come true."

Looks like a case of pre-cognitive dreaming.

I wonder how many pre-cognitive dreams are simply dismissed? It is a shame as they do appear to perform the function of an early warning system of sorts; signs that, naturally, ought to be heeded.

To read the whole article click here: SOURCE

Friday, 2 April 2010

Rhine Online Magazine

In addition to numerous other interesting features, there is a great article by Hannah Gilbert on "A Sociological Perspective on Becoming a Spirit Medium in Britain" in the latest issue of the Rhine Online Magazine, an web-based newsletter published by the Rhine Research Centre.