Paranormal phenomena are anathema to orthodox scientists because they demolish the central dogma of the materialistic faith: that everything is explicable in terms of physical matter-energy operating according to known laws. Many scientists are so convinced that the paranormal does not exist that no amount of evidence will ever persuade them otherwise. Once when two physicists submitted an article presenting evidence for clairvoyance (or remote viewing) to a scientific journal, an ‘expert’ consulted by an editor responded by saying: ‘This is the kind of thing that I would not believe in even if it existed.’1
Some self-appointed guardians of scientific orthodoxy have become so concerned at the growing tendency for people to question the received wisdom of science and take mystical ideas seriously that they’ve set up organizations to combat these ‘worrying’ trends. One of these groups is CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. CSICOP has only ever conducted one organized paranormal investigation. It concerned the ‘Mars effect’, the claim that there is a certain correlation between the birth times of sports champions and the position of Mars. Research was carried out and it was then announced in CSICOP’s journal that the Mars effect was a myth. Shortly afterwards the project’s statistician, a member of CSICOP’s executive committee, published a scathing denunciation of CSICOP’s handling of the investigation, claiming that the data had been manipulated. Several defections by other prominent members followed. Since that fiasco, CSICOP has not undertaken any other serious investigations, and prefers to rely on ridicule to debunk the paranormal.2 This is scientific fundamentalism at its most extreme.
The claim that there is ‘no evidence’ for the paranormal is rather absurd given that people have been reporting psychic experiences for thousands of years. In modern society, between half and three-quarters of the population believe they’ve had psychic experiences, and a conservative estimate is that at least one person in ten has had an experience that cannot reasonably be explained by normal means. Well over half of these experiences occur in dreams, nearly a third involve intuitions or hunches, and the rest are apparitions of various kinds. It’s interesting to note that the American Psychiatric Association believes that people who claim to have seen the future or report seeing visions about what is happening at distant locations are displaying symptoms of mental disorder. This contrasts starkly with the situation in many so-called ‘primitive’ cultures, where psychic phenomena are an accepted part of everyday life.
The rise of the spiritualist movement in the middle of the 19th century marked an outbreak of psychism in ‘civilized’ western society. Inevitably, a great deal of trickery and fraud went on at seances, and sometimes even genuine mediums resorted to cheating when their psychic ‘gifts’ proved unreliable. Most scientists used this as an excuse to dismiss all such phenomena as deception and delusion. But a small number of prominent scientists took the trouble to investigate spiritualist phenomena and concluded that they were often genuine. One of them was Sir William Crookes, the leading chemist and physicist of the era, and another was the French astronomer Camille Flammarion, who stated that any scientist who declares mediumistic phenomena or other phenomena as yet unexplained by science to be impossible is ‘one who speaks without knowing what he is talking about’.3
The most remarkable medium of the 19th century was Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced ‘Hume’).4 In addition to the usual rapping sounds being heard at his seances, tables and other objects moved and floated, phantom hands appeared, invisible hands grabbed people, musical instruments started to play, and he occasionally levitated. He gave seances for many famous people, including Emperor Napoleon III, the Tsar of Russia, and Queen Victoria. His seances took place in good light, and he never took any payment for them. He was tested dozens of times by committees of sceptics, and also by Sir William Crookes, and was never detected in any attempt at trickery.
One of his feats was the handling of burning coal. Attempts to explain away Home’s apparent immunity to fire border on the absurd. One critic, for example, claimed that Home had a small reservoir of hydrogen hidden in a secret pocket of his coat, with a tube coming down the sleeve; at the appropriate moment he would turn on the gas, and when the current of hydrogen came into contact with the coal – which was supposedly a piece of platinum – the metal would start to glow. The idea that such a device would have fooled Crookes is rather far-fetched. And it could hardly explain the occasions when Hume would put his whole face among the burning coals of a fire and move it about. Home was also accused of using a telescopic fishing rod to move furniture around, but given that he performed his phenomena in good light such claims merely expose the ignorance of those making them. Nor did Hume fare much better with the Catholic Church. He was expelled from Rome in 1864 for practising sorcery, on the assumption that if the manifestations were genuine, they must be the work of the devil. If Home had become a monk, he would no doubt have been acclaimed a miracle-working saint!
Another remarkable medium was the Italian peasant woman Eusapia Palladino.5 She was known to cheat whenever she could, clumsily ‘levitating’ tables with her feet. But she claimed that when in trance she was unaware of what she was doing, and that it was up to her investigators to control her movements. For 20 years, from 1890 to 1910, she was subjected to tests in rigorously controlled conditions by dozens of the most eminent scientists in Europe. In light good enough for them to watch what she was doing, the vast majority of her investigators reported that they had seen objects move and levitate at a distance from her, as well as feeling themselves tapped, nudged, and even kissed, as if by an invisible being with a childish sense of humour, who would untie their shoelaces or play with their spectacles. But not everyone was convinced. At one seance, which took place in darkness, a wicker table that had originally been behind Eusapia was later found upside down on the table in front of her. One sceptic claimed that while her hands were being held, she’d managed to lean over backwards, pick up the table with her teeth and fling it over her head!
Psychical research organizations began to be formed towards the end of the last century. But although their investigators were generally open-minded towards telepathy, many showed themselves to be just as prejudiced as outright materialists when it came to more challenging mediumistic phenomena, such as the materialization of ectoplasmic human forms. In the 1930s laboratories began to be established dedicated to research into ‘parapsychology’. Since then, a great deal of evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP) has been accumulated, and even certain psychology textbooks now admit that there appears to be a small but significant effect that needs to be explained.6 But parapsychologists, too, have displayed a certain bias, because although they’ve put a lot of effort into investigating ESP and also micro-psychokinesis (or micro-PK), which involves the effect of consciousness on atomic particles, much less attention has been given to macro-psychokinesis, which involves the movement of larger objects by mental power, and poses an even greater challenge to orthodox science.
Macro-PK was dramatically brought to the world’s attention in the early 1970s when the young Israeli Uri Geller erupted onto the scene. He’s best known of course for bending metal objects such as cutlery and keys by stroking them lightly, and sometimes without touching them. In addition to being an accomplished showman, Geller has submitted to tests in more than a dozen laboratories in Europe and the United States, and has never been caught cheating.7 Metallurgists have examined some of the bent or broken pieces of metal and in some cases are unable to explain the changes in the microscopic structure. Geller’s abilities have also been examined close-up on different occasions by at least two experienced magicians, who declared that they could see no way that trickery could have accomplished what they had witnessed.
Not surprisingly Geller lost interest in formal tests when sceptics either ignored the results or offered increasingly implausible explanations as to how he might have tricked the investigators. For example, to explain Geller’s skills at remote viewing, one article in a scientific journal alleged that he may have had a miniature radio implanted in a tooth through which a confederate could have given information. This charge was easily refuted some months later when Geller submitted to a dental examination which revealed no tooth radio and no signs that there had ever been one. An interesting side-effect of Geller’s public performances has been the rise of ‘Geller clones’ who were able to repeat some of his feats; these were often children, who were not well educated enough to realize that what Geller appeared to be doing was forbidden by the laws of physics – or, at least, the laws of certain narrow-minded physicists.
Explanations of the paranormal tend to fall into two main categories: explanations in terms of quantum physics, and occult explanations. To explain telepathy and clairvoyance, some parapsychologists invoke ‘quantum nonlocality’. This sounds very impressive, but what they’re basically saying is that information can be accessed from elsewhere or exchanged between minds absolutely instantaneously without any transfer of any energy of any kind. This is of course completely illogical, but it saves them from having to believe in nonphysical energies and forces. To explain micro-PK, some parapsychologists invoke the widely held theory that subatomic particles turn into mathematical abstractions known as ‘probability waves’ when they’re not being observed, and then ‘collapse’ into real particles again only when we try to measure them, and they add that in some cases our conscious minds can influence the outcome of this mysterious ‘collapse’. This theory, too, raises more questions than it answers, and the idea that subatomic particles don’t exist unless we humans try to look at them must surely rank as one of the greatest conceits of the age.
It’s very fashionable nowadays to add the word ‘quantum’ to anything we don’t understand and then imagine that it’s been explained. Heaps of books have been written about the ‘quantum brain’, ‘quantum mind’, ‘quantum self’, and ‘quantum consciousness’. Perhaps a sizable volume could also be written about ‘quantum claptrap’! At any rate, quantum physics takes us only one small step beyond the everyday material world to the underlying quantum field. But are we to believe that reality ends there, just because our equations end there? If we want to find more plausible explanations for psychic phenomena, and in fact for all phenomena connected with mind and consciousness, then we have to step through the ‘quantum barrier’ into the world beyond – the occult world.8
According to the ancient wisdom tradition, our physical planet is surrounded and interpenetrated by astral realms, composed of grades of energy-substance imperceptible to our normal physical senses.9 The astral world corresponds to the astral body or model-body of a human being, around which the physical body is built. It’s sometimes called nature’s picture-gallery, because it’s said to bear a record of everything that has ever happened or lived on earth; it’s the thought-atmosphere of our planet, corresponding to what some modern psychologists call the ‘collective unconscious’. Thoughts, ideas, and emotions are elemental energies carried on the astral currents. Our minds are continuously immersed in these currents, and we attract to ourselves thoughts and ideas with which we resonate most strongly, and modify them as they pass through our minds. Sometimes an idea may become so powerful and emotionally charged that it takes hold of a great many people’s minds at the same time, resulting in a psychic epidemic such as a new cult, a new craze, a new fashion, or perhaps an invasion of abduction-loving aliens with a lively interest in human reproduction. Invasions from inner space pose a far more immediate threat than an invasion from outer space, and every noble and unselfish thought or deed strengthens our defences.
The brain is an instrument of the mind, and the mind and brain are constantly interacting via the intervening astral levels of our constitution. What we normally call ‘psychic powers’ are really just an extension of our ordinary mental faculties. (Since ‘psyche’ means mind or soul, ‘psychic powers’ in its broadest sense covers all our mental powers.) Our personal memory, for example, involves accessing records stored in the fabric of our own inner being, whereas clairvoyance can provide access to the records of ideas, thoughts, and events not directly connected with ourselves. The general outline of future events can also be seen in the astral realms, because the future unfolds out of the patterns of the present, and is therefore foreshadowed in the present. The lower astral regions are described as a sea of swirling currents, a confused jumble of pictures, and a mass of entities wandering or drifting in all directions. This explains why the astral visions of ordinary psychics are often confused, unreliable, and contradictory.
Just as our mind can act on our own brains and bodies, so it can also influence objects at a distance, for willpower is an actual force, a stream of subtle energies, and it affects the physical world from within, via the astral and ethereal planes. Objects within a distance of about 10 feet can also be moved by extruding an astral arm or leg. Evidence for this is provided by the phenomenon of ‘pseudopods’ – ectoplasmic limbs or prolongations that were sometimes seen emanating from a medium’s body.10
Poltergeist phenomena are a form of untamed psychokinesis, and often appear to centre around a particular individual, such as an emotionally disturbed adolescent. Such individuals act as the contact-point with the astral world, just as mediums do in seance room phenomena. They generally seem to attract the assistance of playful and mischievous nature-spirits, and it’s rare for people to get seriously hurt during poltergeist outbreaks. It’s interesting to note that when objects move without being touched, they tend to behave in very unusual ways; for example, they may move very slowly, stop or change direction in mid-flight, or strike with extremely weak impacts. Clearly, if the reality of such phenomena were accepted by official science, many tons of academic textbooks would become worthless overnight!
Seeking contact with invisible beings through ‘channelling’ is very popular nowadays, but it’s a big mistake to think that just because an entity is invisible it must be spiritual. Channelling can easily open the doors of our minds to the grosser astral entities closest to the earth plane, and once we’ve invited them in we may find it more difficult to shake them off. There is, however, one form of channelling that is totally safe and in fact highly recommended – and that is the ‘channelling’ of our own higher, spiritual self, our inner god. Our receptiveness to its guidance and inspiration increases in direct proportion to the purity of our motives and aspirations.
According to theosophy, the chances of receiving messages from the genuine souls of the dead via a medium are virtually nil. To understand this we have to draw a distinction between the human-spiritual soul or reincarnating soul on the one hand, and the animal-human soul or lower astral soul on the other. The death of the physical body is said to be followed by a ‘second death’ in the astral realms, when the higher human soul detaches itself from the astral soul, and enters a dreamlike state of consciousness in higher realms, where it rests and digests the lessons of the previous life. The souls that have reached this state cannot be dragged back down to the material level. The only way to commune with them is by raising our consciousness to their plane, and this may sometimes happen during sleep.
After the second death, the astral soul is left behind in the lower astral regions as a decaying corpse or shell, which slowly dissipates into its component elements. Seeking contact with deceased friends and relatives through a medium generally leads either to contact with the astral shell of the person concerned, or with other entities that draw on the information present in the minds of those attending the seance to answer any questions asked. Contacting astral shells in this way gives them artificial life and disturbs the natural process of dissolution, and is therefore inadvisable.
Psychic abilities are latent in each one of us and, in themselves, are just as natural and normal as our ordinary mental powers. However, genuine spiritual teachers throughout the ages have consistently warned of the dangers of forcing the development of paranormal powers prematurely, because this can produce imbalances in our inner constitution and lead to ill-health and mental instability. Research conducted by Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese authority on tantric yoga, has shown that paranormal powers are closely connected with certain subtle energy centres or chakras in the physical and astral bodies. He’s found that overdevelopment of the paranormal ability of one chakra can cause functional disorders or disease in the internal organ associated with that chakra, and may even lead to an early death. He says that many psychics who have overworked the chakra located in the solar plexus, which is connected with clairvoyant powers, have died young or have had severe problems in the stomach and intestines. He himself developed a gastric ulcer.11
It’s well known that many mediums have suffered from poor health and nervous and mental disorders. Daniel Home, for example, suffered from consumption, and was finally forced to abandon his seances by ill-health. Mediums’ sensitivity and receptiveness to astral influences and impressions, far from being a sign of advanced spiritual development, is usually a sign that their physical-astral constitution is impaired. The only value in mediumistic and spiritualistic phenomena is that they’ve provided abundant evidence that there is far more between heaven and earth than orthodox science would care to know about.
There’s a great contrast between ordinary mediums and psychics on the one hand and trained adepts or spiritual masters on the other. Mediums are often the passive playthings of lower astral beings, and their ‘powers’ are largely involuntary, erratic, and uncontrolled. Spiritual adepts, on the other hand, have attained full control over their higher psychic, mental, and spiritual powers. They’ve risen far above the temptations and delusions of the material and lower psychic worlds, and radiate a spiritual vitality so strong that no evil forces could even bear to approach them.
Spiritual development is not about seeking astral wonders but about right thought and right action; it involves eliminating every trace of selfishness, cultivating the virtues of altruism and compassion, attaining inner balance and harmony, and living to benefit others. Most people find it hard enough to control their existing mental powers – their thoughts, emotions, and desires – and the development of lower psychic powers while we’re still burdened with our egocentric personalities merely places extra temptations in our way. As we progress, higher mental and spiritual powers will develop in a natural manner. One of these is what the Hindus call buddhi – the faculty of inner understanding or intuitive wisdom. This is the source of our conscience, our instinctive feelings of right and wrong, and of the fitting response to any situation. Those who succeed in fully awakening buddhi, become buddhas, meaning enlightened ones or awakened ones. These highly evolved and very rare beings are the forerunners of the human race.
If we really want to see an occult phenomenon, we don’t need to wait until someone bends a spoon for us or levitates a table. All we have to do is open our eyes and look around us, and within us – at the marvellous universe we live in, the wonderful diversity of nature, the mysteries of birth and growth, the cycles of life and death, the amazing powers of our selfconscious minds. All this can hardly be the result of blind physical forces. One of the key teachings of the ageless wisdom is that the universe and everything within it grows and works and is guided from within outwards. The visible physical world is the projection, the outer manifestation, of inner, invisible, causal worlds, just as our physical body is the outer garment of our inner nature – astral, mental, and spiritual. We are children of the cosmos, microcosms of the macrocosm, and therefore all the powers and faculties, all the secrets and mysteries, of the universe are contained within each one of us, waiting to be unfolded. Mystics throughout the ages have therefore taught that the path of spiritual evolution is the path inwards, deeper and deeper into the core of our being, into vast inner realms of wisdom and knowledge.
There is no real separateness in nature. We are all part of one another: woven from the same divine essence, and interwoven by magnetic ties of thought and feeling. One of the commonest psychic experiences is for people to receive telepathic impressions, often connected with accidents or deaths of people they are close to. To give an example: One night in 1893, the commander of a training ship sailing on the Mediterranean thought he felt a child climb onto his bunk and kiss him, but striking a light, he saw nothing. Later he learned that at the time of this experience, his two-year-old son had died of diphtheria; he had died while kissing his father’s photograph, saying ‘Papa ... boat ... on the water.’12
As an ancient philosopher once said: ‘There is one common flow, one common breathing. All things are in sympathy.’ Everything we think or say or do impacts on the world around us for good or ill, and our greatest challenge is to try to live our lives in a way that will help to create a universal brotherhood of humanity, in the awareness that outwardly we may be many, but in essence all is one.
- Quoted in M. Talbot, Beyond the Quantum, Bantam Books, 1988, p. 220.
- Richard S. Broughton, Parapsychology: The controversial science, Ballantine Books, 1991, pp. 81-6.
- Quoted in H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, TUP, 1972 (1877), 1:195.
- Parapsychology: The controversial science, pp. 61-3.
- Brian Inglis, Natural and Supernatural: A history of the paranormal from the earliest times to 1914, Prism/Unity, 1992 (1977), pp. 379-95, 419-32.
- Parapsychology: The controversial science, p. 278.
- Ibid., pp. 157-65; Richard Milton, Forbidden Science: Suppressed research that could change our lives, Fourth Estate, 1994, pp. 41-6, 155-6.
- See W.Q. Judge, The Ocean of Theosophy, TUP, 1973 (1893), pp. 152-73; Helen Todd, Psychic Powers, PLP, 1975.
- G. de Purucker, The Esoteric Tradition, TUP, 2nd ed., 1940, pp. 1012-27.
- Natural and Supernatural, pp. 388-9, 423, 429-30; Brian Inglis, Science and Parascience: A history of the paranormal, 1914-1939, Hodder & Stoughton, 1984, pp. 78-9, 82, 112-3, 163, 174-5.
- Hiroshi Motoyama, Theories of the Chakras: Bridge to higher consciousness, Quest, 1981, pp. 256-79.
- Brian Inglis, The Paranormal: An encyclopedia of psychic phenomena, Paladin, 1986, p. 195.
Visitors from the twilight zone