Category Archives: Book reviews

Houdini among the Spirits

Harry Houdini died on 31 October 1926, and he is still a ‘household name’ almost one hundred years after his death. In the minds of today’s public, his name is synonymous with escapes, but Walter Gibson, in Houdini on Magic (1953, p.xiv) comments that “… in the final analysis, Houdini’s great claim to permanent fame lay in his crusade against fraudulent mediums and other charlatans who preyed on the public.”

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How many bodies do we have?

I first became a practitioner of Emotional Freedom Techniques (“EFT”) in 2003. I later became a practitioner of a related energy therapy, EmoTrance (“ET”, but now renamed by its originator Silvia Hartmann as EMO). Both of these therapies, and several related ones, are based on the theory that each of us has an energy body, whose ‘circulatory system’ comprises the meridians also used in acupuncture. Energy therapies are designed to clear blockages in the energy body, or the body’s energy system, caused by a wide range of emotional (and physical) conditions.

Because of my scientific background I had some difficulty in accepting the existence of an energy body, but nevertheless I proved many times – with clients and on myself (to the astonishment of a certain medical consultant) – that EFT and ET are very effective indeed. On the whole, I don’t trouble myself too much with how they work, only that they do.

The concept of an energy body has other applications besides therapeutic ones. As I’m also interested in out-of-body experiences (“OBEs”), I recently read Demystifying the Out-of-Body Experience by Luis Minero. Mr Minero is the Education Director of the Brazil-based “International Academy of Consciousness” (“IAC”), which runs training courses for controlled OBEs.

The founder of the IAC, Waldo Vieira, developed the new study of ‘Conscientology’. He wanted to avoid occult connotations, such as use of the old term ‘astral projection’ for an OBE, so he invented his own terms. This has had the unfortunate side-effect of making IAC books very difficult to read (although Mr Minero’s book is clearer than some); IAC writers never seem to be able to use a short word when a long one will do.

The first chapter of the book, ‘Fundamental Concepts’, defines the four bodies that make up the whole body (the holosoma):

  • Soma (physical body)

  • Energosoma (energetic body)

  • Psychosoma (emotional body)

  • Mentalsoma (intellectual body).

The energosoma, also be referred to as the holochakra, is the etheric body of classical literature. It has two main functions. Firstly, it links the physical body (soma) with the astral body (psychosoma). Secondly, it vitalises the physical body. A healthy energosoma promotes general well-being, while numerous issues result from blockages and imbalances. It’s these that we can clear with energy therapies.

The psychosoma is the body in which we can travel during an OBE. Unlike the energosoma, it carries the consciousness. It’s very light and has no bodily organs. It can support itself without a soma, so if we meet a deceased person during an OBE it’s their psychosoma that we’re seeing.

The mentalsoma is “the most sophisticated and complex body of the consciousness”. It has no shape. A rare OBE in the mentalsoma enables us to reach the highest level of awareness.

The next chapter, ‘Bioenergy’, is lengthy and complex, and it defines many new terms that I’m not going to attempt to explain here. It’s worth reading in full if you are interested in the subject. In this chapter, Mr Minero refers to the energosoma as comprising all the body’s chakras and their energies. A chakra is a vortex, a processing centre or gateway for sending and receiving energy. Although most writers concentrate on the seven main chakras, there are apparently about 88,000 of them in all. Chakras feature prominently in some energy therapies, but not in EFT, which concentrates on meridians, or ET, in which energy simply flows freely.

The chapter includes exercises which will be useful to energy practitioners. I personally find the most important one, ‘VELO’, fairly easy, but that may be because I’m used to stimulating energy flows in my body. It involves rapid movement of energy flows up and down the body. VELO stands for ‘Voluntary Energetic Longitudinal Oscillation, and it has a number of benefits including:

  • unblocking and balancing the energosoma

  • identifying and diagnosing energy blocks

  • preventing the onset of energetic blockages or problems

  • making us physically healthier.

In other words, the benefits of VELO are similar to those of EFT and ET.

The next chapter, ‘Out and About’, is a detailed analysis of the OBE and its phenomena, including characteristics of the psychosoma and mentalsoma. Several cases are reported.

We then come to Chapter 4, ‘How-To’, forty pages of techniques for experiencing an OBE. There are over a dozen of them, including ones involving relaxation and concentration, imagination and creativity, physical control and breathing, energy and imagination, and ‘mental saturation’ (similar to a lucid dreaming techinque).

The next chapter, ‘Extraphysical Consciousnesses’, aims to “clarify the mechanisms of how multidimensional contacts are established and maintained”. After discussing ways of communicating outside the body, the author describes the three stages of deactivation (desoma) of the first three bodies – the mechanisms of death. We are then introduced to other consciousnesses that we may meet during an OBE: ‘helpers’, ‘blind guides’ and ‘intruders’.

Chapter 6 is titled ‘Consciental Maturity’. Holomaturity is given as a synonym, and defined as “Condition of integral maturity within the consciousness – biological, psychological, intellectual, holosomatic, intraconsciental and multidimensional”. Maturity of each of the four bodies is discussed in turn, followed by such topics as altruism, cosmoethics and universalism.

The final chapter, ‘Planning a Life’, gives techniques “to get information about our individual life task”, which may have been preplanned before birth. Along the way, karma or (holokarma) is divided into egokarma, groupkarma and polykarma.

The book is exceptionally well produced. It’s a large format paperback, about 23cm x19cm, roughly 400 pages, printed in a clear font, with subheadings, diagrams, tables and text boxes. Each chapter begins with a detailed contents page and ends with a summary of key points and notes. Appendices include a glossary, bibliography and a comprehensive index.

Although the book is difficult to digest, the ideas put forward do mostly seem quite sensible. I can recommend it if you can live with the obscure terminology and are interested in the phenomena and practice of the OBE.

Leslie Kean’s ‘Surviving Death’

I was introduced to this 2017 book through a WizIQ talk by Ms Kean which was hosted by Dr Nancy Zingrone, organiser of PARAMOOC. I was struck by the strength of the unfamiliar cases she was describing – not just the standard classic ones – and decided it was worth a read. I am not disappointed.

The book is unusual for two reasons. Firstly, it is written by an “independent investigative journalist”, applying “strict journalistic protocols”. Secondly, several of the chapters are contributed by other writers – researchers, witnesses and a medium. The author also describes her own experiences and research.

There are just over 400 pages, including notes and a detailed index, plus two sections of photographs, many in colour.

The book begins with a thirteen-page Introduction, describing Kean’s motivations and how she undertook her research. She discusses the meaning of “survival” and explains the “living-agent psi” (“LAP”) hypothesis, which will be relevant several times later in the book. This is what has previously been called “super-ESP”, and I’ve described it in my blog as the sceptic’s Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free-Card; any evidence for survival can also be explained by assuming unlimited ESP or PK (psychokinesis) on the part of mediums or others experiencing phenomena. For this reason, however strong the evidence, it can never be “proof”.

The rest of the book is divided into four parts.

Part One, Is There “Life” Before Birth? deals with past-life memories in young children. Although the most familiar cases of this involve Asian children, Chapter 1, “Airplane Crash on Fire”, is a detailed account of an American case, that of James Leininger, who kept reliving his death as a WW2 pilot. It’s very convincing, and Chapter 2, The Case of James 3, strengthens it by describing Kean’s investigation of the case in collaboration with researcher Jim Tucker, who himself contributes Chapter 3, Investigating Cases of Children with Past-Life Memories. Tucker worked with the leading researcher in this field, Ian Stevenson, and here he covers some of Stevenson’s and his own cases, both Asian and American.

One of these cases is that of Ryan Hammons, and Chapter 4, “The Old Me”, is a personal account by Cyndi Hammons, Ryan’s mother. Kean ends this Part with Chapter 5, Fifty-five Verified Memories, in which she examines in depth the evidence provided by Ryan’s case. She concludes that the hundreds of recorded cases of this type suggest that consciousness can survive bodily death and may therefore be independent of the human brain, a concept reinforced in the next section of the book.

Part Two has the title To Death and Back Again. It begins with Chapter 6, The Shoe on the Ledge, contributed by Kimberley Clark Sharp, founder and president of the Seattle International Association for Near-Death Studies. She describes, from her own perspective as a medical social worker, the near-death experience (“NDE”) case of Maria, a heart-attack patient at a Seattle hospital. Part of Maria’s description of her NDE involves seeing a single shoe on one of the hospital’s window ledges; Clark duly found the shoe, in such a position that it would have been impossible for Maria or anyone else to see it from the angle as described (mid-air, three storeys above ground level). There is a photograph of the hospital; it’s huge, with many windows.

Chapter 7, Journeys out of Body, discusses Maria’s and other cases of veridical out-of-body experiences “OBEs” and their relationship to NDEs. Chapter 8, “Actual-Death” Experiences, takes this further, discussing cases of a return from clinical death, particularly the well-known one of Pam Reynolds. This discussion leads into Chapter 9, The NDE and Nonlocal Consciousness, written by Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel, who describes his own study of NDEs in cardiac patients. He concludes: “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that our essential consciousnesses existed before our birth and will exist after we die.” This notion is taken further by Kean in Chapter 10, Intermission Memories: Life Between Lives, in which she discusses cases examined by Tucker and his colleagues where children reporting past lives have also described their existence between the death of the previous person and their birth in their current life. I found this particularly interesting as an alternative to the more familiar ‘Life Between Lives’ work of Michael Newton, whom Kean disappointingly does not mention. This Part ends with Chapter 11, End-of-Life Experiences, by British neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick, who has conducted extensive research in this area (and also co-authored a book, with his wife, on NDEs). He discusses the process of dying, with particular reference to deathbed visions of patients – and sometimes those sitting with them. “People often ask me if I believe in life after death. I always say that it is no longer a question of belief. This question must be removed from the field of belief into the field of data.”

Part Three is Communications from Nonlocal Minds. In Chapter 12, My First Personal “Experiment”, and Chapter 13, An Almost Perfect Reading, Kean explains mental mediumship and describes the results of her sittings with three mediums. I didn’t personally find these terribly convincing, but she did, and she had the advantage of being there. Chapter 14, Research into Mental Mediumship, is by Julie Beischel, research director of the Windbridge Institute which specialises in testing mediums. Here she explains the testing procedures. In Chapter 15, How Do They Do It?, Kean interviews two of the mediums who gave her readings. Chapter 16, Finding George, is a detailed investigation of Mark Lewis’s search for the war grave of his grandfather’s younger brother.

Chapter 17, Trance Mediumship and Drop-in communicators, is by Alan Gauld, whose name will be well-known to many reading this review. The chapter was “culled” from his excellent and highly-recommended book Mediumship and Survival1 (1982), which is the definitive study of classic cases. In this chapter you will find Mrs Piper, Mrs Leonard, proxy sitters and drop-in communicators – “communicators who arrive unexpectedly and uninvited, and are ostensibly unknown to medium and sitters.”

These are particularly difficult for the LAP/Super-ESP theories to explain, as discussed by Kean in Chapter 18, Seeking the White Crow (“it only takes one white crow to prove that not all crows are black”).

Chapter 19 covers After-Death Communications (“ADCs”) – “spontaneous, personal signals perceived as coming from a departed loved one”. Kean talks here about cases which she has experienced herself, those of others known to her, and surveys by Erlendur Haraldsson in Iceland (we’ll meet him again later). The final chapter in this Part, Chapter 20, Interactive Apparitions, is by parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach. He briefly discusses the history of “ghost” research, distinguishing between apparitions (conscious) and hauntings (not conscious, akin to video recordings). The rest of the chapter concerns cases of apparitions which he has personally investigated.

The final Part of the book, The Impossible Made Real, covers physical phenomena, and Kean herself admits that some of the cases included here will break the Boggle Threshold. I was certainly concerned in places, as a moderately well-read amateur magician with a particular interest in pseudo-psychic effects. However, it does seem that the cases included in this Part have been thoroughly investigated and well-documented. (I should mention here that until reading a modern book on mediumship, Is There an Afterlife? (2005) by David Fontana, I had assumed that physical mediumship had completely died out – no pun intended – many years ago. It hasn’t; there may be fewer physical mediums around now but they certainly still exist. Fontana’s book, incidentally, is mentioned several times by Kean.)

Chapter 21 has the title Human-Generated Phenomena and discusses poltergeists and other phenomena apparently generated without the assistance of discarnate spirits. After mentioning the well-known work of K J Batcheldor and the “Philip” experiment, she discusses her own 2015 sittings with the German physical medium Kai Muegge (who was also prominently featured that year in the SPR’s Paranormal Review). Chapter 22, From Object Movements to Materialized Hands, introduces “more exceptional manifestations within physical mediumship” – levitation of objects, moving lights, playing of instruments, voices and materialisations of hands and even full bodies. Kean discusses the historical cases of Willi Schneider, Eusapia Palladino and D.D. Home.

Chapter 23, Possible Evidence of Survival, is by Erlendur Haraldsson, who has conducted detailed research into the Icelandic physical medium Indridi Indridason (1883-1912). Indridason produced a wide range of phenomena, including “direct singing of many voices simultaneously” and full-body materialisations. This leads us to Chapter 24, The Enigma of Full-Form Materializations, which discusses the wax gloves produced from hands materialised by Franek Kluski (1873-1943) and the ectoplasm and materialisations of several other mediums. These are mostly historical cases, but Chapter 25, My Astonishing Second “Personal Experiment”, deals with Kean’s own sittings with contemporary British medium Stewart Alexander, who produces remarkable phenomena. Alexander himself contributes Chapter 26, a Life in Two Worlds, describing how he first became a medium and giving various personal insights.

In the final chapter, Conclusion, Kean summarises the evidence in the book, pointing out that LAP can never be discounted, and ending with the hope that readers may “take some solace in the fact that there us abundant mystery all around us, and that death may very well not be the end.”

The book is well-written, easy to read and is logically structured. Each Part and Chapter naturally leads to the next, and there are frequent references back to earlier chapters, even in those written by guest contributors. It also has the advantages of being wide-ranging and up-to-date, having been published in early 2017.

I don’t think I’ve ever read an entirely objective book on the paranormal – they are all written by sceptics or believers – but this one is probably better than most; the author makes the point in her introduction that her approach was through experience and first-hand examination, while “remaining as analytical and discriminating as I was with everything else.”

Highly recommended.