This article is excerpted from Darklore Volume 1, which is available for sale from Amazon US and Amazon UK. The Darklore anthology series features the best writing and research on paranormal, Fortean and hidden history topics, by the most respected names in the field: Robert Bauval, Nick Redfern, Loren Coleman, Jon Downes and Daniel Pinchbeck, to name just a few. Darklore's aim is to support quality researchers, so it makes sense to support Darklore.
Hungry Ghosts: The Dark Side of the Paranormal
by Michael Prescott
Years ago, on a whim, a friend led me into a New Age bookstore in Los Angeles. At the time I was a committed rationalist and knew nothing about paranormal phenomena except what I’d read in skeptical, debunking books. Unlike my friend, who found the bookstore’s atmosphere amusing, and who enjoyed pointing out the bizarre titles and covers, I felt distinctly ill at ease. There was something disturbing about being immersed in all that occult literature. I felt as if I’d ventured into unknown territory – dangerous territory. And I was glad to leave.
Later, as I became interested in the paranormal and began to grasp the extent of the evidence for such phenomena, I chalked up my earlier reaction to a form of culture shock. There I was, a rather repressed rationalist, coming into close contact with ideas I found threatening to my worldview. After all, there was nothing actually dangerous about that little bookstore – was there?
Maybe there was. Over the years, as I’ve studied this subject, I’ve encountered a fair number of cautionary tales. People who become unduly interested in psychic phenomena – interested to the point of obsession – can find their mental health deteriorating, their relationships fragmenting, and their social status undermined. Of course, obsession is a bad thing regardless of its focus, but I suspect that it’s easier to become obsessed with the paranormal than with, say, stamp collecting. Something about this field of inquiry tends to draw people in and make them vulnerable to harm.
The Curious Case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Since I’m a writer, I take particular interest in the case of Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle was one of the most popular writers of his day, and his Sherlock Holmes stories are still widely read and dramatized. Fairly late in life he became convinced that it was possible to communicate with the dead through mediums. As his interest grew, he neglected his fiction writing and spent most of his time traveling the world to attend séances and deliver lectures on spiritualism. His reputation suffered, and he was the target of ridicule from some quarters. He had a widely publicized feud with the debunking magician Houdini. Editors began to dread getting Doyle’s manuscripts in the mail, for fear that his latest contribution would be yet another essay on the talkative dead. Doyle’s fame was such that his essays were invariably published, but his editors weren’t always happy about that fact.
With the passage of time, Doyle’s critical faculties suffered. He became more credulous, more willing to vouch for even the most dubious phenomena. ... Read More »
Fascinated at the moment by the number of times I've come across two aspects of the near-death experience while researching my book Stop Worrying, There Probably Is An Afterlife: that the appearance of the deceased loved ones meeting the newly-dead is 'assumed' for the experiencer's benefit (a la Ellie Arroway/Jodie Foster's father in the movie Contact), and that communication with these individuals is nearly always explicitly noted as being via telepathy.
These elements are present in what I regard as one of the most 'archetypal' near-death accounts that I've ever come across (mentioned previously in my essay "Death Before Life After Life"), the story of Louis Tucker, a Catholic priest. What makes Tucker's NDE account doubly interesting is that it was described in his 1943 memoirs, Clerical Errors, published a number of decades before the near-death experience was common knowledge. The experience itself took place in 1909, when Tucker was suffering the life-threatening effects of a severe case of food poisoning. With the family physician in attendance, Tucker lost consciousness, and was shortly thereafter pronounced dead by the doctor:
The unconsciousness was short. The sensation was not quite like anything earthly; the nearest familiar thing to it is passing through a short tunnel on a train… I emerged into a place where people were being met by friends. It was quiet and full of light, and Father was waiting for me. He looked exactly as he had in the last few years of his life and wore the last suit of clothes he had owned…I knew that the clothes Father wore were assumed because they were familiar to me, so that I might feel no strangeness in seeing him, and that to some lesser extent, his appearance was assumed also; I knew all these things by contagion, because he did.
Soon I discovered that we were not talking, but thinking. I knew dozens of things that we did not mention because he knew them. He thought a question, I an answer, without speaking; the process was practically instantaneous… What he said was in ideas, no words: if I were to go back at all I must go at once…I did not want to go back; not in the least; the idea of self-preservation, the will to live was quite gone…I swung into the blackness again, as a man might swing on a train, thoroughly disgusted that I could not stay, and absolutely certain that it was right for me to go back. That certainty has never wavered.
There was a short interval of confused and hurrying blackness and I came to, to find myself lying on my bed with the doctor bending over telling me that I was safe now and would live… I told him I knew that some time ago, and went to sleep.
For more fascinating glimpses 'behind the veil' of death, make sure you pre-order a copy/package of Stop Worrying, There Probably Is An Afterlife from the IndieGoGo crowd-funding page - every order helps support the writing of the book, and is greatly appreciated.
The near-death experience gets a lot of coverage for its apparent depiction of a wonderful afterlife of grassy meadows, loving relatives and a forgiving deity. However, there is sometimes another side to the experience that is less discussed - the smaller percentage of NDEs that are distressing to the experiencer, with visions of torment and hellish realms.
For those interested in learning more about this aspect of the NDE, you might like to check out a new ebook by near-death experience researcher Nancy Evans Bush titled Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near Death Experiences:
The tinge of centuries colors the way we hear today’s near-death experiences and what we make of them. Why should some individuals tell of blissful heights of spiritual experience while others believe themselves at the depths, lost in the stars or consigned to hell?
Dancing Past the Dark: Distressing Near-Death Experiences, the first comprehensive exploration of disturbing NDEs and how people interpret them, is packed with solid information and first-person narratives that, although marked by dismaying and even terrifying features, turn out to have something vital to say about life itself. Sweeping from research findings to a review of the cultural evolution of hell through a thoughtful analysis of how individuals interpret and ascribe meaning to their near-death experiences, the author, a longtime researcher of these NDEs, brings study data and years of personal insights to the questions that swirl around the topic, providing a wealth of viewpoints and ways of thinking about the subject that will be new to many readers.
You can find out more about the book, its topics, and the author, at the Dancing Past the Dark blog.
Once again, I wanted to point out that my crowd-funding campaign for the book I'm currently working on, Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife. Check it out! There's everything from great eBook deals (get 10 DRM-free ebooks for just $20) through to collector's edition hardcovers.
Here's the promo trailer I created to give the vibe of the book:
We're currently running 'behind' schedule on the funding, so we could use your input - even if it's just a $5 eBook! I'm sure you'll enjoy the book thoroughly - I've been hard at work on it and am digging up all sorts of interesting things. Appreciate your assistance in bringing this book into being!
As mentioned a couple of weeks back, I'm currently writing a book exploring the evidence for an afterlife - which you can help me out with, by pre-ordering eBooks, or signed paperbacks/limited edition hardcovers. One of the reasons for this project is to correct some of the misinformation that is spread by scientism-ists and the mainstream media, and I haven't seen much more of a better (worse?) example than this article in Washington Monthly, in which Art Levine 'channels' the spirit of Christopher Hitchins to debunk any idea of an afterlife. In doing so, he seems to take particular aim at the near-death experience (NDE):
What was clear enough before my death was that visions of an afterlife were no more verifiable than any other bedtime tales designed to offer false hope to toddlers frightened of the dark. They are the ultimate embodiment of the solipsism at the heart of all religions. This infantilizing fiction comes in various guises, from orthodox religions with their fabricated consolations of fairytale heavens — whether it is the Islamic fanatic’s seventy-two celestial virgins or the Christian fantasia of winged angels — to the modern pseudoscientific “research” into so-called near-death experiences (known with ridiculous technicality as NDEs). These hallucinatory claims, originally popularized by a Dr. Raymond Moody for Me Generation readers of the 1970s, rest on numerous banal and repetitive testimonials about floating above one’s body, hurtling through a tunnel toward a bright light, vividly reviewing episodes from one’s past as if watching a holiday slide show, and encountering various beings lit up with an unearthly glow. These latter apparitions can range from one’s surprisingly youthful-looking relatives to an omniscient spiritual guide, including the ubiquitous Jesus if you’re a Christian, not-so-coincidentally matching your own faith or lack thereof.
There’s nothing in these visionary tall tales that can’t be either simply explained through an understanding of basic science or discounted as the unprovable “revelations” of individuals with no legitimate claim on our belief. That was my position before I experienced my own peculiar hallucinations after death, and I have seen no evidence since then requiring me to recant my position. Was I wrong on the afterlife, as so many among the bien-pensant brayed for me to admit that I was wrong on Iraq? Plainly, no.
As the psychologist Susan Blackmore has persuasively shown, the near-death experience is a product of the dying brain and shaped by the individual’s cultural expectations. The temporal lobe is especially prone to inducing hallucinations, memory flashbacks, and other visions after death when undergoing anoxia, or oxygen deprivation. In concordance with this understanding, virtually every one of the phenomena I experienced after my own death has a clear-cut neurological or biological cause or an obvious cultural antecedent. As Blackmore wrote recently in the Guardian, “If human consciousness can really leave the body and operate without a brain, then everything we know in neuroscience has to be questioned.”
I really don't know where to start with the sheer number rebuttals this thing demands, and the book is definitely where you'll see me detail all of that. From the anoxia explanation, to claiming that Susan Blackmore has "persuasively shown" the near-death experience is a product of the dying brain, Levine gets everything wrong apart from the final statement in the blockquote above.
I should remark though that the book will *not* be a simple propaganda job for the afterlife conclusion. The goal will not be to assert that any particular conclusion is "true" - just that, on the current evidence, any rational person could certainly 'believe' that there is some sort of existence beyond death, and so perhaps we should all be discussing this possibility.
Here's an interesting documentary on 'The Enfield Poltergeist', featuring commentary from the researchers involved and critics of the case, including Guy Lyon Playfair and Ciaran O'Keefe:
In case you missed it last week: I'm writing a book about 'the afterlife' (/echoeffect)! Help me out, and pre-order the book. I recommend the $20 eBook gift pack - you get the book yourself, plus you get to give it to 10 other people, absolutely free! Not a bad deal, surely?
Plus, supporting this project also supports The Daily Grail in a big way. From a quick $5 contribution which gets you a complete book, through to a special sponsor pack with plenty of benefits, EVERYTHING helps. Please do take a look, and join with me in exploring this mystery.
Okay Grailers, I need your help and I'm hoping you can come through for me! Today I'm launching a crowd-funding campaign at IndieGoGo for the book I'm currently working on, which has the working title Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife. Check it out!
I've got a bit of a description of the project over at IndieGoGo, but here's the TLDR version: I'm tired of religious leaders and outspoken atheists dominating the discussion of one of the biggest questions facing humans...what - if anything - happens at the point of death. Rather, I want to put the focus on those who say they have seen 'the other side', and those who say they can communicate with the departed, and explore the latest scientific research into these phenomena, with an additional focus on the mystery of consciousness. I've got some fascinating material to share, and look forward to exploring these topics with you all.
Here's a quick promo trailer I created, mostly in an attempt to give the vibe of the book (it borrows from a few of my favourite artists in doing so):
So, check out the page for Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife - there's a bunch of good value deals on eBook versions if you have a Kindle, iPad or some other reader (I recommend the $20 gift pack...10 books to give away to friends!). Also have some high end signed, limited edition hardcover packages as well, for the book connoisseurs/collectors among you.
This is a project I've been wanting to get to for a number of years now, and I'm very excited to be on the road to finally creating it! Really appreciate any help you can offer - I'm sure you'll get value for money, no matter what you contribute! And please share with your friends and family, as this crowd-funding campaign absolutely relies on word-of-mouth.
Fascinating documentary looking at the use of mediums/oracles in Tibetan Buddhism:
Cloaked in secrecy for over 400 years, the State Oracle of Tibet has been a strange and mystical aspect of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This ancient spirit, which has inhabited a succession of thirteen human mediums, advises the Dalai Lama on matters of public and religious policy. To witness the eerie spectacle of a medium entering a trance state and being possessed by the Oracle is to confront profound questions about the very nature of human consciousness.
With permission from the Dalai Lama that had never been granted before, The Oracle explores the ancient practice of consulting spirits.
The last 10 minutes of the film features what must be fairly exclusive footage of the Dalai Lama himself consulting with the religion's three main oracles, and then discussing how he uses their 'talent'.
I'm currently writing a book on belief in the afterlife, and came across this wonderful video of a young man recounting his recent near-death experience (of a type) - caused by a heart condition suffered throughout his life - via index cards, accompanied by Gary Jules' lovely rendition of "Mad World". Take a look before reading on:
Such an intriguing story: direct personal experience of something that has led him to an extraordinary belief, which appears to have helped conquer his earlier fears and led him to be sure of a better place beyond death. I immediately resolved to track down the maker of the video, one Ben Breedlove, to talk further with him about his experience and what it meant to him.
But I can't. Because Ben Breedlove died just one week after posting the video on YouTube, on Christmas Day, aged 18. I have to say, this cut me to the bone emotionally. I never knew Ben Breedlove in any sense prior to viewing this video, but his friendly smile, and honesty and willingness to share his strange experience (not an easy thing to do in this cynical world) just made me like him immediately. To just be there, talking about his fear of death and how his recent experience had liberated him, and then almost immediately gone, seemed like a message meant for us all to contemplate. I am so very glad that this experience - no matter what you think of it, reality or hallucination - gave him a personal feeling of peace, and pride in how he had lived his life, before his final encounter with death.
And so beyond that immediate, gut-wrenching moment, what this terrible news brought into sharp relief for me was the simple fact that we are all gifted with something precious: life. Whether you're religious, an atheist, or just of a general spiritual bent, there is far too much to do in our time on this Earth to waste time being negative. Chase your dreams, while appreciating everything you have been given, love and be loved, and perhaps most importantly of all, do good.
Godspeed Ben Breedlove. Thanks for sharing your story.