Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Until It Happened to Me."

Recent news stories on near-death experiences crossed my path this week, for very different reasons. They were very different stories concerning very different people and leading to very different interpretations, but in the end they both led me to my conclusion: the paranormal is personal.*

Many in the Establishment have declared war on near death experience, primarily because the newly-disempowered Evangelicals have latched onto NDEs as proof of their interpretation of scripture. The elitist British newspaper The Independent recently ran a story of a man who died (twice!) and didn't experience anything at all. 

This is hardly news. NDEs are the exception, not the rule and the article deliberately avoids any discussion of the man's hospital treatment (if he was anesthetized it would explain his lack of any memory before being awoken). 

(Let me just say up front that the NDEs that most interest me are the ones that are accompanied by anomalous evidence or extraordinary circumstance. Otherwise the topic can become overly subjective).

What actually happened is that the man does not remember an NDE, which may well be a result of drugs or brain injury. But unfortunately we may never know for sure even if he did experience anything since the man in question is a doctrinaire radical atheist. 

The covert political agenda of the article is made clear by his own testimony, though he's surely only preaching to the converted in The Independent: 
"I have always been an atheist, but I have always had a part of me that hoped there was a God or Heaven or something greater than us. I mean, who wouldn't want there to be a Heaven? 
"I am still an atheist, and now I know that there is no such thing as God or Heaven. At least not for me. My reasoning behind that is no God would ever put a person and family through such a experience. 
"I am an Atheist, and always will be. But I believe that your belief is your belief. The only thing we can share is our own experiences and let people make up their own mind. People need to stop forcing their own beliefs onto others."
That last statement is curious, given the general live and let live attitude of near-death experiencers. It would seem the fellow is one of those types who thinks anyone disagreeing with him is an intolerable threat, something we see all too often these days. 

But the point is; If you distrust the "Jesus led me to the Elysian Fields" stories of a devout Evangelical, why would you trust the "I spent all my time in a void" stories of the devout atheist (especially given the fact that there's little reason for such a story in the first place)? Both are seeking to further a partisan agenda and reassure their fellow travelers.

One wonders what would have happened had he gone through the classic NDE. Certainly we've heard of these Road to Damascus events, where onetime unbelievers are so shaken by an experience that it changes the entire conduct of their lives. Near death experiences are well known for having this kind of effect.

Which brings me to my point here: there are people who are interested in paranormal topics but I think people only come to actually believe in the paranormal once they experience it for themselves.

Archskeptic Michael Shermer is the probable inheritor of the Skeptic King crown once that pedantic pedagogue James Randi shuffles off this mortal coil. But aside from the sex abuse scandals that seem to be emblematic of these types, Shermer made headlines recently when he briefly wandered off the reservation in response to the kind of paranormal event that many people have experienced and were once taken for granted*. In this case it had to do with a grandfather's old radio suddenly working after extensive efforts to repair had been in vain:
Anomalous Events That Can Shake One’s Skepticism to the Core 
What does this mean? Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation—with billions of people having billions of experiences every day, there's bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.
Jennifer is as skeptical as I am when it comes to paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.
To which I'd say Shermer is very easily impressed and really, really not qualified to pass judgements on the paranormal. But the point is that it happened to him and so it meant something (if it happened to you he'd be first in line to attack).

It was worth writing about, worth confessing to his fellow consensus/corporate reality-worshippers. Otherwise he would have shredded anyone else who made such a claim.

So you you really do have to wonder how many skeptics out there are simply sour grapes cases, bitter that the paranormal train never stopped at their station. 

And I wonder how many of these are actually incapable of experiencing or even truly understanding the paranormal because of their brain chemistry or some other kind of physiological issue. 

Listen, there's a lot of things I can't do that normal people don't seem to have any trouble with. And it's pretty well documented that a lot of people who can and do experience the paranormal don't exactly lead splendrous lives and usually had horrific childhoods.

Colin Wilson is an interesting case- he had his elite credentials in order, could write his own ticket on the British Sterility Express, but after delving into the paranormal for his must-read, foundational text The Occult in 1971, Wilson confessed what is utter heresy to the system that reared him:
"It was not until two years ago, when I began the systematic research for this book, that I realized the remarkable consistency of the evidence for such matters as life after death, out-of-the-body experiences (astral projection), reincarnation.

In a basic sense, my attitude remains unchanged; I still regard philosophy - the pursuit of reality through intuition aided by intellect - as being more relevant, more important, than questions of "the occult."

But the weighing of the evidence, in this unsympathetic frame of mind, has convinced me that the basic claims of "occultism" are true. It seems to me that the reality of life after death has been established beyond all reasonable doubt.
I sympathize with the philosophers and scientists who regard it as emotional nonsense, because I am temperamentally on their side; but I think they are closing their eyes to evidence that would convince them if it concerned the mating habits of albino rats or the behavior of alpha particles."
I had such trouble with the paranormal as a concept (thanks in large part to all that reality garbage on SyFy) that it took me a very long time to define my own experiences as paranormal and even to realize that experiences I saw as mundane were in fact anything but. But I believe true skepticism isn't saying "no" no matter what, it's only saying "yes" once you've satisfied the need for evidence. 

I actually think all the sloppy, evidence-free paranormal stuff you see out there is just boring. It's just flat soda and stale bread.

But here's an important point: I wasn't able to understand the context of my own experiences until I studied the experiences of other people. So I do think there's a major shortcoming in the solipsistic approach to evidence vis a vis the paranormal. Hoaxes and bullshit are pretty easy to sniff out after a while and it's important to trust other people and not see everything through the prism of your own experience. 

The Internet has certainly been a mixed blessing; it's given voice to the worst possible elements (I mentally file 'hoaxers' with 'child molesters' and 'politicians') but at the same time it offers tools that have never been available before. My 2010 experience may have been forgotten or hopelessly distorted by memory had I not been able to essentially liveblog it as soon as it happened. And that drew other people into the experience as well.

But I often wonder; would I have believed that experience if I read about happening to somebody else? The annals of the paranormal are filled with the testimony, "you know, I don't usually believe in that sort of thing, but..."

The paranormal can be a contagion. If you know a bunch of people who have had weird experiences but don't feel you have yourself, just think about this; the fact that you are attracting these people into your life is a paranormal experience in itself. You are what they call a strange attractor. 

The same goes if someone close to you confides about a profoundly weird experience. You have become part of the circuit now. I certainly feel a weird connection- a sense of being there- when reading about some of the old contact stories (I also very strongly feel that we're dealing with an occult phenomenon here and not an qoute-unquote extraterrestrial one, though someone like Kenneth Grant would chuckle at the distinction).

I'll leave you with this quote from Paracelsus:
Thus these beings appear to us, not in order to stay among us or become allied to us, but in order for us to become able to understand them. These apparitions are scarce, to tell the truth. But why should it be otherwise?  
Is it not enough for one of us to see an Angel, in order for all of us to believe in the other Angels? 

*UPDATE: This piece originally included a story - which has been widely circulated on social media- which a reader pointed out may be a hoax. It wasn't really important to the overall piece and it took up a lot of real estate so I deleted it and stuck with the Independent story. And a good thing too; the piece definitely reads better without it. 

But now I wonder if the Independent story isn't a hoax as well.

* I know of two events in my own extended family where grandfather clocks stopped working when their owners died and despite the best efforts of repairmen, never worked again.


  1. Hey Chris,

    This post is siiick, as we say in London (meaning excellent!). Near Death Experiences have fascinated me for a long time, so much so that I adopted NDE as my handle whn I was doing amateur hip-hop back in the day. My brothers still often refer to me as NDE. I almost died when I was being born, strangled by my umbilical cord. The doctors had to do a C-section. My heart didn't stop so I didn't technically die, but I did stop breathing. But the notion that I almost did die at birth has obviously stayed with me, and probably accounts at least partially for my interest in NDE cases.

    When you write of the paranormal being deeply personal, I know exactly what you mean. This shit changes you on a profound level. In a way, if I'm truly honest, it has kind of crippled me as much as it's set me free. I mean to say, my experiences with the paranormal have led to stygian bouts of depression and despair as much as they've led me to joy and wonder and new vistas of possibility. In many ways I'm a barely functional adult male, living way below my potential, and yet in other ways I'm a rarity - tuned in to things and patterns that most people are unaware of. This grants me certain gifts as well as curses.

    I don't mean to be self-aggrandizing, or conversely self-hating. I'm just trying to be honest in how I discuss these things, especially among company I admire. Honesty, that's the key. The paranormal is so nuanced, so shaded with meaning - and much of that meaning is spoken to us in our own secret language - that constellation of personal signs, symbols and metaphors that not even our closest loved ones are fully aware of. The paranormal is often searingly, terrifyingly, wonderfully intimate. It trades in intimacy, but of the most bizarre or mysterious kind.

    I always say that every person is a conspiracy, and every friendship or love affair, and every family. Every person and family has secrets that we hide or obfuscate for various good reasons, often too protect ourselves and those closest to us. I think it's in this way that the paranormal is most profound and most real. Not just because it's happening to YOU, but that it's happening to you in a secret language that only you could ever hope to understand. You know?

    Synchronicity is often like this, hence the utility of sych-journals and dream-journals. The paranormal can indeed be a contagion. Sometimes it seems benevolent and sometimes malign, depending on a whole host of subtleties and contexts. We feature in each others dreams, synchs, mysteries and magicks in ways we can barely fathom. The paranormal - whatever the fuck it is - gave birth to human sentience, culture language and perception, and quite possibly (definitely) birthed material/immaterial reality itself. Which is my long-winded way of saying "Awesome post, bro!"

    Thank you for everything you do, Magus Sun. :-)


    1. This is very heavy and well-spoken, Raj. Thank you for this. I think maybe you should repost on ANS.

    2. I should add that you have nothing to feel bad about. I think the fault is most definitely that of society at large and there are any number of indicators that can quantify that. This culture fails at its own yardstick- where are the jetpacks and Moonbases already?

    3. "In many ways I'm a barely functional adult male, living way below my potential, and yet in other ways I'm a rarity - tuned in to things and patterns that most people are unaware of. This grants me certain gifts as well as curses."

      Excellent words that sum up so much. Seeing through and around the veil definitely comes at a high price, especially in a society that has no use for any of it. So it has always been to some degree or another, it would seem. In reading The Trickster and The Paranormal, it endlessly illustrated the "liminal" and marginal features of us that can see what others cannot or will not.

      Curses indeed, but the gifts are so interesting. I know when previous customers will call on me again a day or two ahead of time. How? I see them in minds eye. I dream of Jupiter going backwards in the sky and on waking, look it up to see that it will actually start retrograde motion in two days. A lot of this sort of thing, often. But just try and direct such a talent? to practical, purposeful uses and see how far you get. Hopefully further than I. Maybe I have not tried enough for a long enough time.

      Anyway, I would bet cash money that at least two of us were born to such a way of perceiving the world =) It sounds like you are quite aware of your qualities and strengths and weaknesses, and still quite comfortable in your skin for having that awareness, I don't think many would be.

      Raj, your words were quite good to read in a lot of ways.

  2. Turns out the priest story is fake:

  3. It seems the priest's story was a hoax.

    Either way, still interesting.

  4. Replies
    1. I took it out. It wasn't really central to the piece anyway. Ironic that the Blaze is citing hoaxes, given their track record.

  5. World News whatever not a "satire" site- it's a straight-up disinformation site. They're proliferating like mushrooms on shit these days.

  6. To discover a blue dot near your mind's eye is key. Blue of a radiant nature. When you dream always run the previous days events to make sense of your dreams. In all ways follow your blue radiance to what is real and important to ones growth. Shine forth brave souls. Dennis. (you need not die to find the essence)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Oh. I've just been reading about Kundalini and it all made perfect sense. I thought maybe it was a stargate or a spy hole from God. How funny. I knew it wasn't medical because of when it started, when it happens and because of the personal eureka moments associated.

  7. You weren't the only one taken in by that priest article Chris, guilty as charged here too! I agree those sites are doing something other than satire.

    However I see their disinformation as more than mere creative lying. It's also a kind of "working" using the communications medium and the memetic concept to plant various ideas in the online discussion space. Maybe there are now more people out there willing to entertain the idea of a female God as the result of that article? And how might the concept have knock-on effects further down the line.

    You said something rather important about the priest's experience: if he had he been in a position of power in a different society, he might well have gone off to found a new sect or religion, with real-world consequences. The NDE experience, even if brought on by ritual rebirth rites of the mystery religions, is likely to be a powerful driver for new religious beliefs. Of course John Keel looked at the slightly different phenomenon of the sudden illumination or revelation as a product of outside forces acting on the human mind.

    1. Well, maybe I should have kept it up because A., my attitude to the story was somewhat dismissive and B., you can only report that a story is circulating. Look at all the recent revelations with these media figures caught lying and these media outlets taken in by hoaxes. The Independent is actually reporting on that ludicrous theory about Putin and the Malaysian airliner so who's to say their story isn't a hoax as well? I can only comment that such and such story is making the rounds since I was using it as a basis for commentary rather than reportage. But I have to say the piece reads a lot better without it now.

  8. "there are people who are interested in paranormal topics but I think people only come to actually believe in the paranormal once they experience it for themselves."

    Indeed. I can testify to this. I won't bore you with details.

    Raj's entire comment is superb, too.

    Thanks to both of you for insightful thoughts.

  9. The word 'paranormal' generally encompasses anything that cant be explained or understood by everyone; it's anything which is not really believable. I'm going to tell you something I haven't knowing told a soul.
    I had been doing a bit of research into ley lines and Earths energies and how that tided in with Templar history. I visited a church near me which I had a strong feeling would give me some answers. I was sat in the empty church thinking over the possibility of Earths energies being controlled and used against the population by the Templars and I heard a woman's voice loud and clear. She was angry with me and told me in a stern but motherly voice that I had it all wrong. She told me that love is at the heart of things and is generally the driving force of all of our intentions. Be more understand of others intentions. The church was already quite cold but I'm sure the temperature dropped and I felt the anger and left like a scorned child, prepared to change the way I think and prepared to learn and to be educated. It was a really significant moment in my life and yet as I say...I've never shared it until now, that's because I don't think others with give a dam or because I'm worried they will either think I'm crazy or unwell in some way. Yet it was profound as I'm finding the paranormal is. Maybe the language I use is not up to much because I struggle to understand my experiences. I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that thoughts are things.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. You don't have to keep apologizing! Your comments are very welcome. I'm fascinated you and Raj had the same condition at birth as well- I wonder if I polled my readership what kinds of events might pop up from childhood?

  12. Why do the cynics bother with publishing a near-death non-experience? Like any other group trying to keep their place in the pile, they have an agenda to push, against the 'less educated', the have-not, the tax-donkey class -ie, most of us. The cynics killed the universe. It's dead. They need it to stay dead. We must not be allowed to be free, not even in our most private dreams. Until they have landed their foul dead zombie boots on the innermost beaches of the most worn-out soul that dares to dream of anything will these deeply unhappy enforcers of their own sterile world view experience anything remotely akin to happiness. Our despair is their only source of cold, lonely, ill-gotten hollowed-out joy.

    1. Well, when you don't really believe in what you claim to believe, seeing people disagree with your stated beliefs is a threat. Does that answer your question?

    2. Yep. That's pretty much what I was getting at.

  13. The timing of this post is uncanny for me, as I have been flipping through the pages of Jung's “On Life After Death.” And I don't usually read Jung. Anyway, he says, “...I must drop this question as a scientific or intellectual problem. But if an idea about it is offered to me—in dreams or in mythic traditions—I ought to take note of it.” Seems like a good fit.

  14. Huh- I was just reading some Colin Wilson stuff on Jung last night. How about that?

  15. Have you by chance read Gary Lachman's "Jung The Mystic"? he relates an NDE that Jung had due to embolisms from complications after a broken fibula when he was 68. If you haven't read about it, I'll type up the passage tomorrow. (This book has lots of info I haven't read elsewhere about Jung, if you need an excuse to pick it up. Turns out Jung did a bit of spook shit for Alan Dulles, psych profile of Hitler among other things. Really not surprised)

    Also, if you were polling your readers, I nearly drowned when I was 4. Pulled out of the pool by my mom, blue, and given cpr by my dad. Only reason I was found in time was bc I had left a sliding door just barely open or my parents would have looked elsewhere for me. Was back swimming after a little while. my mom still has nightmares about saving drowning children...

    And Raj, your comment really hit home.

  16. Do you still live within walking distance of six cemetaries?

  17. Is that you? Is that you writing this?:

    "Listen, there's a lot of things I can't do that normal people don't seem to have any trouble with. And it's pretty well documented that a lot of people who can and do experience the paranormal don't exactly lead splendrous lives and usually had horrific childhoods."

    Because if it is. wow. and lovely. me too.

    Haha...not funny.

  18. This is worth a listen when you get the time. I'm interested on your take on this.

  19. Until it happened to me....I couldn't fathom it. (anyway, just dropping by because of the email I got. Just don't have enough time right now to stick around. Will come back and finish my comment, after I read the post. Hope all is well with you, my friend, Christo.......

  20. Howdy! I realize this is somewhat off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does managing a well-established website like yours take a lot of work?
    I'm brand new to writing a blog however I
    do write in my journal on a daily basis. I'd like to start a blog so I can share my own experience and feelings online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips
    for brand new aspiring blog owners. Appreciate it!

  21. Hey there! I realize this is somewhat off-topic however I needed to ask.

    Does managing a well-established blog such as yours require a massive amount work?
    I am completely new to running a blog but I do write in my journal everyday.
    I'd like to start a blog so I will be able to share my experience and thoughts online.
    Please let me know if you have any recommendations or
    tips for brand new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

  22. Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?

    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended
    up losing several weeks of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any solutions to protect against hackers?