Category Archives: Psychical research

Spiritual Science by Steve Taylor

I was led to this book after reading an article by Steve Taylor, effectively a cut-down version of the book, in Paradigm Explorer, the Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network (https://scientificandmedical.net/ ). The book aims to show that ‘materialism’ doesn’t work, and that science and spirituality can co-exist in a new worldview proposed by the author – ‘panspiritism’.

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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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Goats and Sheep

In a classic study, Dr Gertrude Schmeidler (Schmeidler & McConnell, 1958) found that, on average, subjects who believed in the possibility of ESP (the “sheep”) scored better in ESP tests than those who did not (the “goats”). Magicians who have investigated the paranormal fall into both categories, although, unsurprisingly, the goats tend to be more vociferous and therefore their conclusions more prominent. This is probably the reason for George P Hansen’s (1990) comment that many are under the impression that magicians are total sceptics; he demonstrates, however, that this is not the case.

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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. Continue reading

How a Ouija Board Really Works

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but spirits don’t move the pointer on a Ouija board – well, not directly, anyway. We’ll get to that shortly.

Ouija boards come in a wide variety of styles, classic and modern. They all have letters, probably numbers, and maybe words and symbols too. Here’s mine, based on the familiar William Fuld design:

Ouija 002

You’ll see that this one was marketed by the games manufacturers Waddingtons. It was sold in high street shops as a toy, in the late Sixties, and got them into a great deal of trouble, mainly from religious groups. It was quickly withdrawn from sale. I’ve blanked out the central window of the pointer (it originally had a nail in the hole in the middle) because the design is otherwise ambiguous; do you look through the window or at the tip of the pointer?

The pointer is referred to in the instructions as a “mysterious message indicator”. Sometimes the term planchette is used, but strictly that refers to an earlier device of a similar shape, with a pencil at the tip and castors at the rear corners.

Spiritualism began with the Fox sisters, whose spirits communicated by raps. This was a slow process, so later Spiritualists used automatic writing, either by directly holding a pencil or with a planchette. Unless a medium is particularly gifted, automatic writing is likely to produce illegible gibberish, so mediums moved on to using an upturned wine glass with paper letters on a smooth table and eventually marketed Ouija boards especially designed for the purpose.

As I said at the beginning, spirits do not directly move the pointer, wine glass or planchette. All the above techniques are automatisms; they work through what is now known as ideomotor responses – automatic, involuntary muscular movements which are controlled by the unconscious mind (“UCM”). Dowsing instruments such as pendulums are also automatisms and work in a similar way.

This is not, however, a full explanation. Automatisms certainly reveal information from the UCM, but this leaves open the question of how that information entered the UCM. There are several possibilities, which I’ll discuss with specific reference to the Ouija board.

Metaphor

This is the conventional explanation – the UCM is communicating symbolically, either by making up a story from its contents, or by regurgitating or modifying one previously read or heard but forgotten – cryptomnesia. Jung’s idea of the Collective Unconscious could be brought in too. This type of explanation certainly accounts for many cases – but not all of them.

Telepathy

A more promising explanation is that information enters the UCM through telepathy – direct mind-to-mind communication without the use of the known senses. This could be from other sitters at the table working the pointer, from onlookers – or it could be from spirits.

Past Life

The board could conceivably be communicating details of the past life of one of the sitters, or one of the onlookers through telepathy. I don’t want to go into past life theories in any depth here, but the main explanations for a genuine past life would have to be either reincarnation or genetic memory.

Super-ESP

This is the sceptic’s get-out-of-jail-free card. When faced with communications giving information which can’t be explained away by cryptomnesia or through other “normal” (i.e. non-paranormal) channels, a sceptic who rejects the idea that human consciousness can survive bodily death will resort to the “Super-ESP” hypothesis. He will argue that the information has entered the UCM through Extrasensory Perception – not just telepathy from someone in the room, but from a living person anywhere in the world, or from a book or other object (clairvoyance) – also anywhere in the world. He could also argue that this information could come from the future (precognition), the past (retrocognition) or from some universal memory bank. Many modern psychical researchers feel that this sort of explanation is more far-fetched than the simpler one of belief in spirit communication, and in any case there is no evidence that ESP is this powerful.

Safety First

Whether or not a Ouija board is communicating with spirits – evil or otherwise – or simply with the contents with our unconscious minds, great care should be taken when using one. Our UCMs contain some pretty unpleasant material. Sessions should always begin with a prayer to an appropriate deity or by setting up another form of psychic protection, and any entities summoned need to be properly dismissed at the end – treat them as “real” even if they may not be. Also take any information or advice received with a very large pinch of salt – you don’t know where it’s coming from.

Conclusion

So, how does a Ouija board work? Well, the pointer is certainly moved by ideomotor responses from the sitters – but does it spell out messages from spirits? The answer is clearly “no” in some cases – but in others it may be “perhaps”. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to “prove” that spirit communication exists, because the sceptic can always fall back on the Super-ESP hypothesis (however unlikely) – but there’s strong evidence in some published cases of automatic writing. In the end it’s going to be subjective – is the evidence strong enough to satisfy you?

Back from the Dead?

Have you ever had a close brush with death, or been brought back to life after having been declared “clinically dead”? If so, you may have had a near death experience (“NDE”). The term was coined in 1975 by Dr Raymond Moody in his book Life After Life, in which he sets out the following elements of a composite “model” NDE:

  1. Hearing sounds such as buzzing
  2. A feeling of peace and painlessness
  3. Having an out-of-body experience
  4. A feeling of travelling through a tunnel
  5. A feeling of rising into the heavens
  6. Seeing people, often dead relatives
  7. Meeting a spiritual being such as God
  8. Seeing a review of one’s life
  9. Feeling a reluctance to return to life

Dr Moody based his book on about 150 case histories. Many more cases have been reported since the book was published, and there have been no doubt innumerable unreported cases since the dawn of history. In fact, the earliest report of an NDE can be found in The Republic, written by Plato in around 380 BC.

My copy of Dr Moody’s book has the following tag line on the front cover:

“Actual case histories reveal that there is life after death.”

Is this true? Is that what these (and other) case histories reveal?

Well, as with any other paranormal research, the answer is – maybe! Certainly it seems that anyone who has been through an NDE believes that he has had a glimpse of an afterlife. On the other hand, super-sceptics such as Dr Susan Blackmore, whom I have mentioned before, will tell you that:

  1. By definition no-one who has had an NDE has actually died; and
  2. NDE phenomena are hallucinations caused by medicinal drugs and the malfunctions of a dying brain.

Perhaps the most convincing – to non-sceptics – published case is that of Pam Reynolds, who featured prominently in a BBC documentary (you can currently find the segment on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNbdUEqDB-k ) and in the 1998 book Light and Death by Dr Michael Sabom. Pam was rendered “dead” for a difficult brain operation – her body was chilled and her brain completely shut down – before being successfully resuscitated. During the operation she experienced an NDE and was later able to give a detailed description of the surgical procedures. Sceptics have argued that the NDE took place before Pam’s brain was flatlined, and this may well have been the case for at least part of it. She did however describe one event which took place while her brain was inactive and in any case the rest of her experience is extremely difficult to explain away (especially as her eyes were taped shut and her ears blocked). Both Pam and her neurosurgeon were interviewed for the BBC documentary; Pam describes her experience and the surgeon comments that he is unable to explain her description of the surgical procedures. So far it’s the closest that we have come to an experimentally induced and controlled NDE and I recommend the YouTube clip if you haven’t seen it before.

Like the other paranormal phenomena which I have discussed in my earlier blogs, NDEs may not be conclusive proof of an afterlife – but taken together with reincarnation studies, mediumship and out-of-the body experiences – not to mention ESP, which I haven’t covered yet – one gets the strong impression that it can’t all be explained away…

Have you ever been out of your body?

Have you ever seemed to see the physical world from a location outside your body? If so, you’re among the 10% or so of people who have had an out of the body experience (“OBE”). Many of those have also apparently seen their own body from another point in space. This can be frightening when it happens for the first time, but generally speaking these experiences are not only harmless but also make you feel good afterwards; you don’t need to wonder whether part of you can live on when your body eventually dies – you know that it can. This is especially so in the special case of the Near Death Experience (which may be the subject of my next blog…).

Terminology has changed over the years. The early writers, such as Sylvan Muldoon, Oliver Fox, “Ophiel” and “Yram” called the phenomenon astral projection, on the assumption that we all have an “astral body” as well as a physical one, and that this second body can be projected spontaneously or deliberately. Later, parapsychologists referred to travelling clairvoyance or ESP Projection. Currently the neutral term OBE (or occasionally OOBE) is preferred as it doesn’t imply any particular explanation.

The first experience of an OBE is usually spontaneous – it’s accidental and unexpected. There are cases, for example, of road accident victims finding themselves floating above the scene looking down at their own injured bodies, and of patients who are able to describe everything which went on in the operating theatre while they were under general anaesthetic. Oliver Fox began with lucid dreams and false awakenings (discussed in my earlier blogs); Sylvan Muldoon and Robert Monroe, a more recent writer, began their experiences while lying awake in bed. The experience may take place (apparently) in the physical world, a close copy of it with differences from “reality”, or in another completely different “plane” or “dimension”.

One thing which is immediately clear from reading accounts of OBEs is that there is a wide variety of experience. Writers such as Fox, Muldoon and Monroe learnt to induce OBEs deliberately; they all give detailed descriptions of their own experiences, and detailed instructions based on them – but their experiences, and therefore their techniques, are all different.

What is an OBE?

Well, it’s unlikely that a second body is physically projected, firstly because it wouldn’t have sense organs such as eyes and secondly because it usually seems to “travel” in a pseudo-physical world, a reconstruction, rather than the real one. It’s more likely to be a product of the “mind” (whatever that is), possibly involving an element of ESP.

How do you deliberately induce an OBE?

The most comprehensive examination of the subject that I’ve come across, summarising the experiences of all the above writers, is Beyond the Body (1982), the first book by Dr Susan Blackmore. (I mention that this is her first book because I can’t recommend her later ones; she is now one of the “super-sceptics” and her opinions have become extremely biased.) She suggests the following techniques, most of which assume that the body is extremely relaxed and therefore immobilised:

  • Imagery – imagine yourself floating, or visualise a duplicate of yourself and “transfer your consciousness” into it;
  • Inducing a special motivation to leave your body – Muldoon suggested extreme thirst;
  • Ophiel’s “little system” – memorise a familiar route and try to project yourself along it;
  • The Christos technique – described in detail in one of my earlier blogs;
  • Monroe’s fairly complicated techniques, beginning with “vibrations”;
  • Ritual magic methods – advanced visualisation techniques such as the use of “astral doorways”;
  • Hypnosis – requires a skilled hypnotist and a fairly deep trance (and doesn’t work for everyone); and
  • Dream development, starting with a lucid dream.

For more details you should of course refer to the original sources; I particularly recommend the classic The Projection of the Astral Body, by Sylvan Muldoon and Hereward Carrington, and Journeys Out of the Body by Robert Monroe.

My own OBEs…

…have started either from lucid dreams or from the hypnopompic state, the half-awake state when you’re just waking up from sleep. For me this usually starts with the feeling that I can see the room even though I know my eyes are closed, and I can occasionally move my non-physical arms and apparently roll out of bed, leaving my body behind. Once I “walked” around what seemed to be my bedroom – finding objects that I knew shouldn’t be there – then onto the landing and downstairs. On other occasions I have passed through the closed window into the garden. These examples can be regarded as lucid dreams, but they qualify as OBEs if, as Dr Blackmore does, you define an OBE as the experience of being outside your body.

Control your dreams

Have you ever had a dream in which you have realised that you’re dreaming? This kind of dream is known as “lucid” and it has some remarkable properties.

A lucid dream is generally far more realistic than a “normal” one, often brighter and vividly coloured. The senses of hearing, touch and taste may also be experienced (although pain is rare). Although you’re asleep, your conscious mind is also functioning, so that you can explore your dream world and reflect on what you find there. Also, perhaps because of the realism, lucid dreams are more likely to be remembered after waking than ordinary ones, which often fade very quickly. Speaking personally, I hardly ever remember my non-lucid dreams, but memories of a few of the lucid ones that I’ve had have stayed with me for years.

Perhaps the most important point about lucid dreams is that you can control them – to some extent, anyway. If you’ve been having an unpleasant dream, for example, you can take action to deal with whatever’s been bothering you. To give one example of my own: I dreamed I was being menaced by a tiger. I concentrated on it, made it shrink, and it turned into a cat! There are also possibilities for creativity and problem solving, and even healing, both psychological and physical, although research into healing in this way is in its infancy.

Lucid dreams can be either spontaneous or induced deliberately. The basic trick is to notice something “wrong” or impossible in your dream – a tiger in your bedroom, for example. Speaking of bedrooms, there is the related experience of the “false awakening”; you seemingly wake up, get out of bed, get dressed, perhaps – then suddenly find yourself back in bed. I have often had “chains” of these, where I’ve apparently woken up several times in a row. Again, finding something “wrong” can turn a false awakening into a lucid dream.

There are a number of techniques for training yourself to dream lucidly, mostly along the lines of conditioning yourself while awake or immediately before going to sleep. You can also buy expensive (and probably uncomfortable) electronic gadgets designed to turn ordinary dreams into lucid ones.

The techniques for healing, creativity and problem solving are similar to guided imagery, which is a helpful procedure in hypnotherapy. In fact, the very detailed imagery reported by clients undergoing past life regression is a very similar experience to lucid dreaming.

As I write this, I have in front of me two books, both titled Lucid Dreaming. One, by Stephen LaBerge (2004), is a short book concentrating on the practical aspects of inducing and using lucid dreams; the other, by Celia Green and Charles McCreery (1994), whom I mentioned in my blog on apparitions, is a detailed study with an academic slant. This book emphasises the close link between apparitions, lucid dreams, false awakenings – and then on to out of the body and near death experiences, which is probably where I’ll be going next…