Category Archives: Psychical research

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.

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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.

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?
http://www.magicofthemind.co.uk/

The ABC of ESP

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…

Do you believe in ghosts?

If the question means “Do you believe that dead people sometimes walk the earth in their other-world bodies?”, the answer is probably no. G.N.M Tyrrell, in his classic book Apparitions, suggested many years ago that a better way to put the question is ‘Do people sometimes experience apparitions?’ – the answer to that one is definitely yes.

Apparitions may be seen, heard or felt. When they are seen, they often look so like a normal human being as to be mistaken for one, at least at first. In The Reality of the Paranormal, which I have mentioned before, Prof. Arthur Ellison lists five types of apparition, each of which is well documented:

  • hauntings – regularly perceived in a particular place
  • crisis cases – seen, heard or felt when the person perceived is undergoing a crisis (often near death)
  • post-mortem cases – perceived long after a person has died
  • experimental cases – where a living person is deliberately trying to make his apparition visible to another
  • suggestion cases – “tricks of the mind” in places believed to be haunted.

The first three of these types may be regarded as ‘ghosts’ but it’s debatable as to whether or not they have an independent existence; they are probably ‘hallucinations’ generated by the unconscious mind, existing only in the minds of those perceiving them (sometimes several people at once). This doesn’t make them any less “real”, but it’s important to distinguish these cases from apparent communications with departed spirits. Generally speaking, apparitions don’t communicate with the living, although spirits may, as I discussed in my previous blog.

It’s generally considered that most hauntings are something like a video recording – stored in the fabric of a building, perhaps, by a strongly emotional event. The classic TV ghost story The Stone Tape was based on this idea. Crisis apparitions are best explained by telepathy from the living (even if at the point of death). Post-mortem cases could be evidence of telepathic communication from the dead in some cases, or possibly just hallucinations created by the unconscious mind in the bereaved.

So while apparitions may be classed as “paranormal” they are not really evidence for life after death in themselves. How and why some people (and not others) experience apparitions are questions which are still to be answered; there’s no simple explanation. For a comprehensive analysis of the subject, I recommend the 1975 book Apparitions by Celia Green and Charles McCreery. They suggest that, when someone sees an apparition, it’s not just the apparition that’s hallucinatory, but the whole environment. This leads into a discussion of lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences – but that’s another blog…or two…

Is there anybody there?

Apart from the reincarnation evidence which I discussed in my last blog, the main area of research into life after death (“survival”) has been the study of mediumship. The Society for Psychical Research (“SPR”) was founded in 1882, shortly after the “birth” of Spiritualism. The work of the SPR initially focused mainly on mediumship, although they also investigated thought-transference, mesmerism and other paranormal phenomena. The investigation of mediumship declined, as the study of parapsychology became more experimental, but the popularity of recent television series such as Living TV’s Most Haunted makes it clear that both mental and physical mediumship are very much in the public consciousness.

To define these terms I’m going to give two quotes from the excellent book The Reality of the Paranormal by Prof. Arthur Ellison (a past president of the SPR).

“The psychic is called by Spiritualists a medium because he or she is assumed to act as a medium between this world and the next. According to the Spiritualist theory, when mediums’ minds are used in this way, they are called mental mediums. In other words, a mental medium is a person receiving data ostensibly communicated from the dead via the mind and body of the medium.”

“When the production of ostensibly paranormal physical effects take place during a séance then the medium is called by Spiritualists a physical medium and the phenomena, which are assumed to be produced by entities in the ‘next world’, are referred to as physical phenomena.” These phenomena include such things as cold breezes, whispered voices, table rapping and levitation and faint lights – the “orbs” familiar to viewers of Most Haunted.

The history of Spiritualism, and by extension that of psychical research, has been plagued by fraud; generally speaking, magicians are more competent investigators than scientists. Physical mediumship has always been particularly suspect, and in my view is largely irrelevant to the question of survival, but mental mediumship has provided some strong evidence.

In fact, there’s a huge amount of evidence, and I only have room here to give a very brief outline of two historical, related cases which appeal personally to me. The first is the Cross-Correspondences, apparently an experiment which originated from “the other side”. Communications ostensibly came from deceased leading members of the SPR, classical scholars who wove obscure literary references into automatic writing scripts received by several mediums living well apart, some even on different continents. This is such a vast subject in itself that the best I can do is refer you to online introductory articles at http://www.montaguekeen.com/page42.html One of the mediums involved, Mrs Piper, was studied in great detail (not only in connection with the Cross-Correspondences) and is particularly highly regarded among psychical researchers.

Another of the mediums involved in the Cross-Correspondences was “Mrs Willett” (in fact Mrs Winifred Coombe Tennant, the first British woman appointed as a delegate to the League of Nations), who, after her death, apparently started communicating with another medium, Geraldine Cummins. The Cummins-Willett scripts have been published in edited book form under the title Swan on a Black Sea, and I can recommend it as strongly convincing evidence suggesting that Mrs Coombe Tennant’s consciousness lived on after her death.

As with other paranormal phenomena, I don’t think that there will ever be definitive unarguable proof that the living can communicate with the dead; the sceptic can always fall back on the “Super-ESP” argument referred to in my last blog. Any verifiable information received by a medium must exist somewhere in the world, either in writing or a living person’s mind, for it to be checked. But if you read communications such as those in Swan on a Black Sea, where Mrs Coombe Tennant’s personality clearly comes through, you would be justified in wondering whether Super-ESP is the simplest explanation.

Past Lives – the Evidence

The scientific evidence for past lives or reincarnation – from formal research rather than just anecdotal evidence – comes from two main directions.

The first is hypnotic regression, but this is not generally considered to have produced anything conclusive. The principal reason for this is that it’s relatively easy for sceptics to come up with alternative explanations, such as suppressed memories (from books, newspapers, TV programmes and films), false memories implanted by the hypnotist, or simply fantasy.* Having said this, past life experiences under hypnosis are usually very convincing to the person having them, and there is some useful research in this area. I can recommend the book Reliving Past Lives: The evidence under hypnosis by Dr Helen Wambach for a comprehensive description of her own research.

The second line of research, which is rather harder for sceptics to explain away, comes from studies with young, sometimes very young, children, particularly those conducted by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, who published a number of books on his research. There are two reasons why these studies are more convincing than those involving hypnosis: firstly, the suppressed memories argument is not plausible when the subjects are two to three years old and secondly Stevenson’s subjects mainly lived in semi-literate cultures where access to other sources of information was extremely limited.

To give you an idea of this research I’d like to give a very brief summary of one of Stevenson’s classic cases – that of Imad Elawar.** Imad was born in in a village in Lebanon in 1958, and the first word that he spoke was “Jamileh”, the name of the mistress of Ibrahim Boumhazy, who had lived in a village 20 miles away and died in 1949 at the age of twenty-five. As soon as Imad learnt to speak in sentences he began to talk about his past life, and at the age of two recognised a neighbour of Boumhazy’s in the street. He also gave many details about Boumhazy’s house, relatives and his life. At that time the people of the region tended to do little travelling, and the members of the Elawar and Boumhazy families insisted that they had never met. After collecting as much information as possible from both villages, Stevenson took Imad (then aged five) to Boumhazy’s village, where he recognised many of Ibrahim Boumhazy’s relatives and addressed them correctly. They were amazed at Imad’s behaviour, which was just like Ibrahim’s.

Stevenson collated 57 factual statements made by Imad; of these, 51 were verified as correct. This case, and others like it, is very difficult to explain if it is not a genuine example of reincarnation. Communication between communities in the region was extremely limited at the time. Imad had never visited the other village and the two families were adamant that they had never met. Fraud was also most unlikely, as Imad’s comments were more of an embarrassment to his family than giving any benefit.

“Super-ESP”, i.e. telepathy from Boumhazy’s family, is of course a possible explanation for the information given by Imad; it’s the sceptic’s “Get out of jail free” card, as it can explain almost anything – except perhaps Imad’s behaviour. In cases like this, reincarnation is the most straightforward explanation, and these cases do give very strong evidence – but not, of course, conclusive proof.

*None of these arguments affect the effectiveness of past life regression for therapeutic purposes, for reasons that I have explained in other blogs and articles.

** A detailed discussion of this case can be found at http://www.criticandokardec.com.br/imad_elawar_revisited.html#review