Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dark Intrusions: An Investigation Into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences

Book Review: Dark Intrusions: An Investigation Into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences  by Louis Proud  (Anomalist Books 2009)

This is an engaging book by a quite young Australian author who experiences sleep paralysis in a chronic fashion. Many of us have had sleep paralysis experiences where we awaken, or sometimes think we have awoken, and experience being unable to move while experiencing various auditory, visual, and/or tactile hallucinations. It is often associated with the hypnagogic state. The state is also associated with out-of-body experiences (OBEs). This book does a good job of investigating these relationships and other possible relationships of sleep paralysis to alien abduction and spirit possession of various sorts among other things. He investigates these comparisons from many angles and the reading was at times quite fascinating and although I do not agree with all his possible conclusions – he does present the various possible theories quite well. Interestingly, I actually had a sleep-paralysis experience (of sorts) while reading the book.

The author loosely defines the sleep paralysis experience as follows: “a condition whereby a person experiences temporary paralysis of the body shortly before waking up (known as hypnopompic paralysis), and less commonly, shortly after falling asleep (known as hypnagogic paralysis). Although their minds are reasonably alert and awake and alert, they find themselves unable to move their bodies – sometimes as long as a few minutes, though usually just for a few seconds.” It is related to the normal body paralysis of REM sleep called “muscle atonia” that keeps us still while we dream. It is thought that 25-40% of the population has experienced this condition at least once and to some it is a chronic re-occurence. Personally I can recall about 10 or so experiences of it and I suspect many more that were quickly forgotten and I suspect that many people have these experiences and forget about them. It is similar I think to dream recall where if one practices it one notes that there are many dreams remembered and then forgotten in drowsy states.

Part 1 of the book is an examination of the SP phenomena with many of the author’s personal experiences and the personal experiences of others from researchers of the phenomenon and books on the subject. One book he examines is called, “The Terror That Comes In the Night,” by David Hufford from the 1970’s. Before this book and a few others there was not much concrete information or study of SP. Hufford noted the experiences of many people in Newfoundland regarding the Old Hag phenomenon where people claim to have experienced being held down by an Old Hag, unable to move, and had difficulty in breathing. The Old Hag phenomena here gave SP a more cultural explanation in terms of a named demon. In my own researches I have read about a very similar phenomenon among the African-American Gullah people of the southeastern coast of America. In both of these cases the Old Hag is suspected to be sent by those bewitching the victim. SP also has at least a few other cultural contexts. One is a demonic form in Japan. The other is the Incubus/Succubus phenomenon commonly reported in the Middle Ages. These are all very similar phenomena and most definitely refer to sleep paralysis. The Cambodians have a notion that SP -  “permits people who suffer unjust deaths to haunt the living and creates bad luck.” This comes from psychiatrist Devon Hinton who has worked with Cambodian refugees suffering from PTSD. He considers that various stresses such as this and things like shift work and jet lag may induce SP experiences.

The author describes several of his own SP experiences and notes their terrifying nature. He has experienced tactile ‘hallucinations’ – the experience of being touched, fondled, or pushed, and occasional glimpses of  gruesome spirit creatures or energy patterns. Emotionally, he identifies his own experiences as a feeling like being violated or raped and notes the notion of tasting the energy of the entities. Others have noted auditory hallucinations. In my own experiences, auditory hallucinations and the feeling of air rushing around my ears while in the hypnagogic state have been more common with a few energy balls noted and tactile buzzing in the chakras noted. The author also talks about spirit sex, or some sort of mental sex with spirit energy that is quite satisfactory. I have never experienced this but it is fairly common in the literature – even in the Middle Ages where incubus and succubus spirits were thought to be sex-hungry demons.

Next begins Part 2 of the book where SP experiences are compared with the various spirit manifestations that they are quite often associated with. First he investigates their relationship with hauntings and poltergeist phenomena. Here he first presents the story of the Ghost of Bowling Green where college girls moving into a house in Kentucky experience multiple episodes of poltergeist activity and SP experiences quite regularly. Even visitors have experiences in the house. Here the idea that place can influence SP is compared to the long suspected association with ghosts haunting places and further ties SP to spirit manifestation activity.

He also goes through the definition of poltergeist according to Spiritism. Spiritism is an off-shoot of Spiritualism. He gives some historical focus to these movements: Spiritualism flourished from about 1840-1920 and the main idea is that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. Spiritism was codified by the Frenchman Allan Kardec, a name given to him by the spirits who dictated “The Spirit’s Book” – one of his famed works and according to the author a meaningful work which depicts selfishness as the root of evil. He states that the main difference between Spiritualism and Spiritism is that Spiritism advocates reincarnation while Spiritualism does not. Anyway, these ‘doctrines’ pretty much framed the techniques and rules of spirit communication as it is commonly known. Apparently Spritism is extremely popular in Brazil as are some offshoots of African Yoruban magico-religious systems similar to voodoo that have detailed spirit communication mechanisms. Proud then describes a famous case in England called the Enfield Poltergeist where the activity was said to be intense and frequent. He notes that poltergeist phenomena has been associated with children as possibly being the mediums through which the ghosts act. He thinks that some SP incidents are attempts at possession by spirits.

Next is an interesting chapter called ‘Mediumship, Channeling, and the Joe Fisher Story.’
Joe Fisher wrote several famous books about reincarnation, predictions, spirits, and ghosts. Fisher quite unexpectedly committed suicide by hurling himself off a cliff. The author investigates whether his death may have been caused or influenced by a group of “malevolent discarnate entities” like those apparently describe in his books – particularly one called “The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts.” He describes Fisher’s and others’ experiences with channeling and spirit guides and the metaphysical knowledge that they revealed. He also notes their contradictory and sometimes unruly nature and other inconsistencies among many channeled guides. Just who these spirit guides are is investigated through opinion. The late Tibetan Buddhist teacher Namgyal Rinpoche gives an interesting one: “As a general spiritual law, no enlightened being would speak through an ordinary human. The discarnate spirits who are making themselves known through channeling are united in their desperate need for love. Their audience is a generation that is also hungry for love.” Indeed, according to Buddhism and several other indigenous traditions – hungry ghosts are deeply suffering spirits beset with unfulfilled cravings. The author notes some of the contrast in defining channeling vs. mediumship. Here he notes that mediums contact spirits while channelers are contacted by spirits. He suggests that mediums communicate with discarnate humans while channelers communicate with ‘all kinds of exotic intelligences.’ Here is another quote on this distinction by the late Hindu teacher Suhotra Swami: “Mediums are experienced clairvoyants who ‘fish’ for discarnate entities,” whereas channelers are “initially psychic greenhorns who, unwittingly, or even unwillingly, are taken over by the entities.” He notes also though that the terms are often used interchangeably and that “all channelers are mediums, but not all mediums are channelers.” He goes on to describe some famous channelers and channeled beings such as Jane Roberts and Seth and J.Z. Knight and Ramtha (around whom a possibly unbalanced cult has developed). He notes that Allan Kardec’s “Mediums Book,” states that “As a general rule, distrust all communications of a mystic or fantastic character, as well as those which prescribe ceremonies or eccentric actions.” The author notes too that some channelers are ‘full trance mediums’ meaning that they enter a deep trance and are unconscious of their actions while in trance. Another interesting suggestion is the observation that channelers have been found to generally die young, suggesting that this work takes a toll on the body. The British occult author and paranormal investigator Colin Wilson, who wrote a forward to this book, suggests that mediums can get parasite effects on their vital energies from communing with spirits often. This may be an effect referred to as a “leaking aura.” Finally the author investigates the Nechung Oracle of Tibet, the medium advisor to the Dalai Lama seen depicted in the movie “Kundun.” The Nechung Oracle is more like a shaman perhaps in both appearance and action. He wears an extremely heavy helmet and whirls and hisses rather like a madman – but is said to give useful advice.

Next is the story of Stan Gooch who is a medium and psychic investigator. He has written many books, several through strictly automatic writing where spirits are said to more or less telepathically dictate the words. Gooch had many experiences in the hypnagogic state which apparently he was able to sustain. He too is quite skeptical of spirits – seeing many as lower astral entities full of flattery and often communicating meaningless jibberish in flowery language (hey I do that too!). Gooch has written several books about psychic phenomena and definitely associates SP experiences with them and poltergeists and spirit activity. Several mediums including Gooch, Joe Fisher, and the author describe satisfying encounters of spirit sex – but suggest that they may not be entirely wholesome. The author notes an observation by Gardiner and Osborne in their book, “The Shining Ones” which suggests that ancient shamans saw the hypnagogic and hypnopompic threshold states as a sort of sexual union metaphor associated with creativity – perhaps even more than metaphorically as the incubus/succubus phenomena and sexual nature of SP occurring in these states indicates.. Shamans likely regarded the hypnagogic/hypnopompic as a portal to other worlds and also trained to sustain this state. Gooch sees most spirit phenomena as ultimately internal, as psycho-spiritual aspects of ourselves rather than as external entities. I tend to favor this view although the author seems to lean to the external entity idea. There are certainly merits of both and one would best perhaps keep an open-mind (no pun intended).

Brazilian Spiritist Chico Xavier is the next topic. He was an automatic writer who wrote more than 400 books. According to this book he was also a great humanitarian and an all around nice guy easy to like. He was an apparently moral man twice nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The guides he channeled appeared to be very knowledgeable, consistent, and concerned for the welfare of people. Perhaps he attracted more upper astral entities.

Next we have a survey of British occultist Dion Fortune and her investigations of psychic attack and defense. Many see SP experiences as psychic attack, either initiated by the spirits themselves or by someone sending them through malicious magic or even thoughts. She says that occultists may train in projecting their etheric body double and using it as a weapon of sorts. Certain witches have also described a similar method to me.
She talks about etheric energy similar to the idea of ectoplasm, the etheric body energy being somewhat like an artificial ghost. Some of these are thought to be thought-forms. This idea is prevalent in many occultisms including theosophy. In Tibet, some thought-forms are called tulpas and it is said that some can come about through intense visualization which is a major part of tantric tradition. Spiritists call the etheric energy body the perispirit and give it very similar qualities. These types of bodies are also given in many indigenous and shamanic traditions. Fortune distinguishes between thought-forms and more distinct, independent, and self-motivated “artificial elementals.” She describes them as being dependent on energy input much like a poltergeist is thought to feed on mediums. Likely referring to schizophrenia she notes that they (quoting the author), “think themselves to be persecuted by invisible beings, when, in actual fact, although these ‘beings’ have a partially objective existence, they are actually thought-forms exuded from the aura of the patient.” She notes that unless absorbed by an object the etheric energy is directed to, it will return to the aura. She also says that the hypagogic/hypnopompic states are such that “the etheric double readily extrudes.” He also talks about the possibility of vampiric etheric spirits who have somehow escaped the so-called ‘second death’ – that of the etheric, or lower astral body. I have read about such beings in shamanic lore and there are also ceremonial means in various cultures as well in occultism to properly dispose of such energy. He wonders also at the judiciousness and safety of Tibetan and other Mahayana Buddhist practices of feeding the hungry ghosts. He mentions the various smoke and food and drink offerings to attract them and compares this to incense in Western ceremonial magic to allow them to manifest. In the Tibetan tradition the smoke and smells are said to feed them. He suggests that people overly sensitive to spirits, or chronic SP sufferers avoid such practices although I don’t know if that is warranted since I have done this many many times in differing places, times, and ritual contexts. In my view, it is OK to risk some danger in compassionate service but perhaps some folk are too sensitive. One of my teachers once mentioned an uncle of his in Tibet that practiced the Chod, or visually and mentally cutting up, cooking, and offering one’s body to spirits and demons – where one evening a demon stole his La – which is a soul component possibly corresponding to the etheric double. When he returned the next night same place same time to do his practice the La was returned.

Hypnagogia and SP are often associated with auditory hallucinations and often the hearing of voices.  I have experienced this several times. Apparently, there are quite a few people who hear voices regularly, perhaps that inadvertently enter hypnagogia regularly. The auditory hallucinations of SP sufferers and schizophrenics may be similar. They may appear to be internal or external voices. Apparently among more severe schizophrenics the voices are loudest and seem to come from without. The late psychologist Julian Jaynes wrote the book, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” which postulates that the state of early historical humans was more akin to schizophrenia and that they really did hear voices which they attributed as the voices of gods. He notes the many instances of ‘divine voices’ in our earliest literature. He equates this with the more hallucinogenic right hemisphere of the brain being less connected to the left hemisphere in early man than today. The author goes through the work of clinical psychologist Wilson Van Dusen who worked at a state mental hospital with schizophrenic patients. Based on his data Proud suggests that schizophrenia may be a form of spirit possession. Van Dusen suggests two classes of spirits based on degree of general ill-will and unrulyness. This basically corresponds with the upper and lower astral classification of occultists. Van Dusen interviewed folk who apparently channeled spirits continuously. One phenomenon that is similar to other spirit communicator’s reports is that of spirits being able to read minds or mine the thoughts and memories of a person. Perhaps this is why they can appear to know things only known to a person. Several mediums as well muses like William Blake describe visions of heaven and hell – not so unlike the upper and lower, celestial and terrestrial realms of shamans. One such medium was the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). He was able to prolong the hypnagogic state and apparently launch himself to multiple realms. He had experiences of precognition, clairvoyance, and other psychic and ESP experiences as well. His spiritual awakening was initially prompted by intense dreams and visions. He was known to be kind and modest. He wrote many books on all sorts of subjects and kept records of his visions. Concerning spirits he did describe vampiric ones that Colin Wilson would term “mind parasites.” According to the author, in general he thought that spirits, “exert a profound influence on the way we think and act but normally remain unaware of our existence just as we normally remain unaware of theirs because a kind of barrier exist between them and our consciousness.” When the barrier is pierced or the threshold crossed, then sanity might be compromised. Swedenborg modeled the spiritual universe according to a hierarchy based on Christian notions of good and evil. He thought that each person has four personal spirits, two good ones dwelling in the interior of one’s mind and associated with love and affection, and two evil ones dwelling in the unconscious of one’s personal memory. He says that they are unaware of us but see consider that our thoughts and memories are their own. Reminds me in a way of Odin’s ravens.

Apparently when one is having an SP experience the brain registers REM activity so it is like one is awake yet dreaming. They can be seen as intrusion of REM activity into wakefulness. Abnormal temporal lobe activity has also been associated with these experiences so neurologist Wilder Penfield in the 1960s and more recently Michael Persinger have experimented with electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes. (somewhere I have a short paper I wrote in the 80’s about Penfield’s ESB –electrical stimulation of the brain- experiments) Persinger’s experiments with the temporal lobe have been credited with inducing SP-like and perhaps alien abduction type experiences. He has an idea called Tectonic Strain Theory where he correlates paranormal activity to geomagnetic activity. He thinks that seismic activity due to earth strain can cause electromagnetic activity that can affect the temporal lobe. This idea is controversial. The author goes through some ideas of how we are affected by electromagnetic energy of various sorts and notes that some people are more affected by it than others.

Next is a fascinating chapter about Robert Monroe and his amazing Out-of-Body experiences (OBEs). His first book, “Journeys Out of the Body” was published in 1971 and is an account of his many experiences of astral projection as it is called in occult literature. He experienced roaring sounds and vibrations. I have had these as well associated with OBE and a type of lucid dreaming. I think there are two types of lucid dreaming and this one overlaps with the phenomena of OBE. After more frequent occurrences Monroe was worried he might be developing schizophrenia but decided to explore the experiences. His first projection experiences involved projecting to the ceiling and seeing himself and his wife lying in bed. After hearing about yogis in India practicing this he decided to explore it further. He describes several instances of visiting people in far away towns and then corroborating where they were and what they were doing. Some even claimed to hear or see him. He notes and describes the astral silver cord that connects the astral body to the physical body in occult lore. His experiences also indicate that one may affect matter in this state. I have tried to communicate once in this state to my dad but he did not notice me. He noted that at times his consciousness became split between his astral and physical bodies – a condition that Lucy Gillis calls “Out of Phase Dual Awareness” in a book called “Wrestling with Ghosts.” Monroe discovered on occasion that what he thought was a spirit or entity was actually his physical body when his consciousness was projected to his astral body. This was typically during – re-entry. In fact SP experiences may be related to re-entry of this sort. Having difficult re-entries Monroe discovered that there is another energy body about 4 inches ‘out of phase’ with the physical and that it was much easier to merge with it. This out of phase second astral body may be what is associated with SP phenomena. Monroe considered that the astral body is affected by electromagnetic energy. In an experiment in a Faraday Cage that blocks out EM he was unable to project and suggested that might be a means for a ghost catcher. He describes two zones or locales of the astral. Locale I is more dense and harder to maneuver. Locale II is more refined and seems like the more natural realm of the astral body and is further removed from the physical than locale I. He describes locale II as full of spirit beings. Along the lower astral part of locale II he describes insane beings and dead souls trapped much like hungry ghosts full of craving, some craving sexual satisfaction in what he called a huge  ‘sex pile’ of males and females. Monroe also describes encounters with various ghosts and elementals. Monroe started the Monroe Institute to further investigate the phenomenon and developed a technique called HemiSynch – or Hemispheric Synchronization done through sound pulses in headphones. He has done lots of telepathic and spirit guide experiments as well and utilizes measuring of neurological phenomena through EEGs and such.

Next are the fascinating accounts of Whitley Strieber and his “visitors.” His book, “Communion” was a big seller about alien abduction phenomena. Proud goes through a lot of this and compares it to SP, OBE, medium, and all the other phenomena in the book and it compares quite favorably. Strieber wrote several other books about various “alien” beings such as “the Greys” and their knowledge, teachings, and history. His experiences were sometimes shared by his wife and others and often involved lights hovering outside the house and such things that distinguish them somewhat from dreams and astral phenomena – but perhaps that is just the component of ‘expectation’ which can be powerful. Apparently, he does compare the aliens to spirits and elementals. He also describes many OBEs so he seems to have mediumistic capabilities. Admittedly, though the ‘probing’ encounters seem a little different but interestingly enough people taking the hallucinogenic drug DMT have encountered very similar probing-type experiences.

Finally there is the story of Trevor James Constable. In his book, “The Cosmic Pulse” he describes telepathic communications from alien entities. Some of this information suggests that UFOs are some sort of astral mutants with an agenda. He suggests that UFOs can be photographed with infrared techniques. He apparently used Wilhelm Reich’s cloudbuster device (used for weather experiments he was engaged in) to attract these ‘biological UFOs.’ Another of Reich’s inventions is the Orgone Energy Accumulator which consists of alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials which either absorb or reflect this energy. The idea is to draw the energy in and trap it in a concentrated form. I guess it is like a kind of atmospheric prana that we are immersed in. It may be an etheric energy.

Anyway, great book with much more than sleep-paralysis information. I enjoyed reading about the various humans and their strange abilities and contemplating the meanings of these fascinating phenomena.

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