Saturday, 31 October 2009

Photographic Anomaly...

I took this photograph at a small cave, known colloquially as "Merlin's Cave", near Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall in Powys, and was interested to see some peculiar "photographic anomalies" in and above the water in the cave when I looked back at the photo. There would seem to be streaks of light in the cave that do not appear in other photos taken of the cave.

Interesting features:

  • Site known colloquially as "Merlin's Cave" - connotations with magic
  • Site of natural beauty
  • Autumn a couple of days before Hallowe'en

These combined with the photographic anomaly begin to form a supernatural narrative with intimate links to place and folk beliefs.

This sort of photographic anomaly would generally be classified as evidence of "rods" or "skyfish", but might also be interpreted to demonstrate the existence of discarnate spirits, extraterrestrial/dimensional entities, nature energy, fairies, etc.

Of course it is entirely possible that these "anomalies" could in fact be insects, but they remain interesting nevertheless.

Photographic anomalies do occur and they provide ambiguous stimuli for interpretation by the observer. These streaks could be interpreted in any number of ways.

I do not know what they are, but through considering them insights into the structure of supernatural narratives can potentially be gleaned.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Experiencing Drug Induced Altered States of Consciousness...

The announcement of the sacking of Professor David Nutt from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has got me thinking about the motives of the government with regard to drugs policy.

Professor Nutt fell out of favour with the government for suggesting that the dangers posed by the ingestion of drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis were comparable to those associated with horse riding - coining the term"Equasy" - and arguing that this practice represents "an over-looked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms". Nutt observes that:

"This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use" (source)

If the government is not basing its policies on the risk factor involved in the ingestion of psychoactive chemicals, then what reason does it have?

Psychoactive plants and chemicals (psychedelic in particular), by definition, produce an alteration of consciousness when ingested. Naturally the huge varieties of psychoactive substances produce an equally large variety of alterations of consciousness, each one providing a different perspective on the world through subtlely, or severely, affecting the way in which we perceive and interact with it - even to the extent of entirely shifting our perspective away from this world altogether.

This is the most immediate consequence of ingesting a psychoactive chemical, and is potentially at the root of government concern over their use.

I have already posted this quote from William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, but will do so again oweing to its relevance to the issue at hand here:

"... our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded" (James, 2004, 335)

James' realisation of the vast plurality of world-perspectives occurred after an experience with nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as laughing gas and still popularly used recreationally for its consciousness altering effects. James' experience opened his eyes to a potential multiverse of subjective worlds. This potential is an inherent part of what it means to be human and consequently represents a fundamental property of the universe, of which we are a part. When these other worlds are ignored we are missing out on a substantial portion of our freedom to explore existence.

I wonder, therefore, whether the decisions made by the government to ignore evidence, provided by their expert advisers, have anything to do with the fact that they may indirectly result in human beings excersising their innate freedom to perceive the world in alternative ways.

Theorists such as David Icke would support this suggestion. Icke has argued that there has been an agenda in place over hundreds of years to increasingly narrow human access to understanding the true nature of reality:

The actions of the government with regards to the issue of drug consumption would appear to bolster Icke's hypothesis. Efforts are being made to impinge on the potential for human beings to experience reality in all it's beauty, intricasies and infinite permutations.

The issue is very real. These experiences are very real, and our ability to access them is being reduced. Of course the ingestion of psychactive compounds is not the only means to experience altered states of consciousness, but it is a means that we should not be denied.

I have a particular worry about the possible illegalisation of Salvia Divinorum, an incredible plant with the power to enable the experience of alternate realities and communication with their inhabitants. To have this doorway walled up would be a great loss.

It is worrying to note that government policy concerning consciousness altering substances (as well as on other issues) is followings its own agenda, regardless of expert opinion.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Friday, 16 October 2009

Depicting Discarnate Entities...

Human beings have been making depictions of "the supernatural realm" since at least as far back as the Palaeolithic (depicting, at least, in such a way as to withstand the ravages of time - we would not, for example, be able to detect drawings made with sticks and sand in the archaeological record). Some of the earliest known depictions of "non-ordinary beings" can be found in the caves of Algeria.

The paintings seem to depict anthropomorphic creatures with animal characteristics - horns, tails, etc. Creatures that are neither human nor animal, but something more than the sum of their parts. Beings such as this are referred to as therianthropes. The inspiration for these enigmatic images may well have come from encounters with beings during altered states of consciousness achieved through any number of techniques (I have spoken a little about rock art and psychedelics in an earlier post).

The spirits depicted in the above image were drawn by the Iglulik Eskimos. "They represent deities which through terrifying and frightening their natural state can be captured and tamed by shamans and thus transformed into benevolent 'helping spirits' or familiars" (Lewis, 1971).

Different cultures, from different time periods and geographic locations have depicted the spirit world for thousands of years.

The psychic photography of the Spiritualist movement represents a more recent attempt at embodying the disincarnate. Cultural Historian Marina Warner has discussed at length the evolution of the western depiction of the supernatural in her book Phatasmagoria (2008). Key elements she has highlighted include the use of metaphors and analogies concerned with light, air, mist, clouds, wings, etc. when describing the denizens of the invisible world. Spiritualist photographs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries clearly partake of a cultural tradition in western art - they are a culmination of motifs and iconography that have developed over centuries of attempts to picture the invisible. At the core of this tradition, however, is the experience of the supernatural - the inability to convey the precise nature of the experience and the necessity to draw analogies with bright, fluid and etherial aspects of the physical world.

I am not suggesting that all Spiritualist photographs are the product of "fraud" or "trickery" but am rather pointing towards a wider frame-work in which to understand and interpret such images. I would even consider the blatantly "fraudulent" (again, a term that I think may need re-evaluating) photographs, which clearly show that the spirit-form is nothing more than a doll, such as those taken of the medium Helen Duncan and the spirit-child Peggy (see below), to be objects worthy of investigation.

Belief in the ability to imbue objects with independent agency is both ancient and widespread. What we are seeing in these photographs is a vestigal practice - a pre-christian survival that shares commonalities with other cultural and beliefs systems, across the world, but shares nothing with the positivistic empirical world-view that evaluates their validity as proof of the existence of spirits and mediumistic ability.

In Ancient Egyptian tombs, archaeologists have uncovered thousands of small humanoid figurines called shabti figures. These figurines were essential companions to the deceased as they journeyed forth into the afterlife. Because it was believed that the afterlife was much the same as the world of the living, deceased individuals would be called up to work in the fields and on the land on their arrival there. The purpose of the shabti was to come to life and carry out the work in place of the deceased, their work was primarily agricultural (Spencer, 1991, 68). These little figurines possess agency - they are more than just models. They were believed to have the power to come to life and to serve (much as the Swedish Tomtar statuettes, discussed in an earlier post, are said to).

Ancient Egyptian belief in the power of representation provides fascinating insights to our understanding of the depictions of supernatural beings:

"The Ancient Egyptians believed that once a word was written down it was inherently magical and could make whatever was written true, especially when spoken aloud, an act which breathed life into the words. Thus the representations on the walls could come alive and make real what they depicted and had to be chosen with care lest some dangerous being came into existence in the tomb" (Dodson & Ikram, 2008, 15)

Representation gives life to abstract concepts - it enables a manifestation to occur - entities that can only be grasped in the mental realm are condensed into the material. Again, in the tombs of the Ancient Egyptians we find this power put into use. Tombs are adorned with depictions of the deceased and engraved with their names - the act of creating a likeness of the deceased allows for that individual to "live on" after death. Indeed the link between the effigy and the soul of the deceased was a strong one, and tombs often house small shrines at which offerings of food and drink would be deposited. These carvings became a point of merging between the world of the living and the invisible world of the dead - a false door to the other world.

It is possible, therefore, that we could be missing the point when we dismiss the photographs of Helen Duncan and her doll Peggy as evidence of fraudulence. Marina Warner writes of Peggy:

"...the photograph shows a ghastly crude mask, with huge white face and heavily daubed mouth wrapped in an old sheet, every inch a Hallowe'en bogey. That these ghosts could ever have persuaded anyone, that these makeshift clumsy apparitions could ever have been recognized as the lost loved child by the child's own mother, reveals the depth of people's need to reach some peace with the dead" (2008, 246)

To my mind it is not so difficult to believe. The doll may act as a conduit, a vessel or a focus point through which a spirit can be channelled. The idea is not a new one, and parallels to it are in evidence throughout the ethnosphere. If spirits are believed to be disincarnate, as they very often are, then there is no reason to assume that a spirit cannot incorporate itself into an inanimate object - like pouring water into a vase - in much the same way as the Egyptians believed the spirit of the deceased could inhabit its likeness carved in stone.

When viewed from the Ancient Egyptian perspective representation and reality are blurred - an image IS what it depicts in a very real sense. A photograph of a materialised spirit is a materialised spirit, a painting on a cave wall of a horned being from another world is just that, and a model of a deceased individual is what it appears to be.


Dodson, A & Ikram, S. 2008. The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Thames & Hudson.

Lewis, I.M. 1971. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Ltd.

Warner, M. 2008. Phantasmagoria: Spirit Visions, Metaphors, and Media into the Twenty-first Century. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.

Spencer, A.J. 1991. Death in Ancient Egypt. Great Britain: Penguin Books Ltd.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Michael Jackson's Ghost (pt. 2)...

In a PREVIOUS POST I discussed the way in which Michael Jackson, following his death, became associated with the paranormal (in much the same way that many other celebrities have become entwined with the supernatural). I have suggested that this "cult of celebrity" is deeply connected to the realm of mediumship and spirit communication.

This current manifestation of the supernatural-celebrity mediumshp cult has taken another interesting turn: Derek Acorah is set to make contact with Michael Jackson during a live seance to be broadcast on Sky1 (read full article HERE).

Tantalising food for thought regarding the relationship between celebrity and mediumship.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Research - Contemporary Belief in Ghosts...

Folklorist Paul Cowdell is currently conducting research into contemporary beliefs about ghosts. He is partiularly interested in "questions like: what people mean when they say 'ghost'; how their beliefs or non-beliefs relate to their experiences or lack of them; and how their beliefs fit in with other beliefs they may hold."

To this end Mr. Cowdell has put together a QUESTIONNAIRE with the aim to "get as wide a set of responses as possible". If you would be interested in participating in this research, simply fill in the questionnaire and return to Paul Cowdell.

Read more.