Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 10: Haunted Hotels

Going down? Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City.  Image Source: She Blogged By Night.

Now, here is an odd coincidence. A few days ago when I was writing this piece on haunted hotels, I kept thinking all morning of a friend of mine who is a travel writer. I wondered if he has seen any ghosts in his many travels, especially at inns and B. & B.s. Later that night, we happened to chat online.  He mentioned he was staying, at that moment, in a haunted hotel.  He described where he was (the residential part of the hotel was a converted house), and what was happening (noises, poltergeist activity in the room). The management jokingly mentioned the house was haunted.  I suggested maybe they were responsible, but he didn't think so.  He said no one else was there in the building. He said, "I can't believe I am live chatting a real haunting." I talked to him through the night to keep him company.  "Just remember, you're not alone," I said.  He said, "I know. That's the problem."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 11: The Fake Mystic

 Crowley as a young man.

There have been some pretty great mystic frauds, or other occultist fakes, spiritualists or soothsayers who falsely commune with the supernatural, out there over the years. Mother Shipton. John Dee. A host of False Messiahs. Christian Rosenkreuz. Nostradamus. Nicholas Culpeper. Madame la VoisinEmanuel Swendenbourg. The Count of St. Germain. Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. Sir Francis Dashwood. Adam Weishaupt. Franz Mesmer. Francis Barrett. Marie Laveau. The Fox Sisters. Eliphas Levi. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Daniel Dunglas Home. Cheiro. Albert PikePaschal Beverly Randolph. Madame Blavatsky. Max Heindel. Grigori RasputinGeorge Gurdjieff. Eva Carriere. Rudolf von SebottendorfEdgar Cayce. Wilhelm Reich. Dion Fortune. Harvey Spencer Lewis. Margaret Murray. Uri Geller. George and Kathy Lutz. Ed and Lorraine WarrenL. Ron Hubbard. Anton LaVey.

Some readers may disagree with this list, but the people here have all been seriously challenged with regard to their claims of psychic or mystical power, or regarding the authenticity of their spiritual experiences.  It comes with the territory.  Harry Houdini, the great illusionist and magician, notably challenged, investigated and debunked many of his 'psychic' contemporaries.  His stunts were incredible, but they were never labeled as more than that.  It takes some conviction to pull off Houdini's level of trickery, but proclaim it to be real, a result of communing with a world beyond our own. Living as a False Prophet is not easy.

None of these characters - except perhaps Lord Byron - could hold a candle to Aleister Crowley.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 12: Meet the Cryptkeepers

"The ceiling design in the Capuchin monastery [in Rome]. Father Time is depicted as a skeleton ringed in vertebrae bones. (Photo by Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images). Circa 1950." Image Source: Avax News.

A select group of people in human societies have always stood watch over the frontiers between life and death. In the past two millennia, these people were mainly monks.  As the photos of their catacombs and cemeteries illustrate, they had no psychic skepticism because they believed in the spiritual afterlife.  But what is more important is that this was an engagement with death that was simultaneously credulous and tangible.  It was a medieval sensibility, a direct engagement with both sides of death, spiritual and human.  One look at these photos tells of the profound aftershocks in European culture of the Black Death, which lasted for centuries.  The crypts, built in the terrible aftermath, tell of times when the bridge between here and there was much more real than it is now. Ossuaries, especially, are locations that draw a straight line not only between life and death, but also between religion and science, between the middle ages and the present.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 13: Advice for Parents

Image Source: The Maverick Life.

There's a long-standing assumption that children are more psychic than adults.  This talent apparently extends to their (happy) belief in elves, fairies and Santa Claus and their (unhappy) ability to see dead people. There are loads of sites and chat on the Web devoted to this topic; for just a few examples, go here, here, here, here, here, here and here. You would think that children seeing ghosts would give rise to an unexpected corner from which sceptics would arise, namely, parents and the people who advise them.

However, the belief that children have imaginary friends, see strange things and have vivid imaginations is pretty much tolerated across the board. Psychics see these cases as instances of a child's heightened abilities, and mostly celebrate and encourage themStaunch atheists seem to take a live and let live attitude about their children's belief in the spiritual world; this may seem surprising, but as hard core rationalists, their conviction remains that a child will figure out these issues, including ghosts, for him- or herself.  They basically advocate using the Socratic method with children on all matters related to death and the afterlife. If there is scepticism from parents and the people who give advice on good parenting, it may weirdly arise from those who are very religious (as here). 

But most people who advise parents tell them not to deny the child's belief in ghosts because it will damage the child's self-esteem.  Ghosts, despite their dark glamour, are quickly sidelined in favour of a bigger priorities. The main concern becomes the parents' relationship with the child as it relates to the development of the child's independent personality; advice doesn't directly address whether or not the ghosts exist and the child is actually seeing them.  In other words, the focus is on the growth of the child's healthy subjectivity and consciousness.  But, except for staunch Christians, no one seems to care much if those lines are drawn in the child's personality in response to ghosts (whatever they may or may not be).  The question of what ghosts are is relegated to the parents' degree of mature belief.  In short, people who advise parents tend to tell them to withhold their own beliefs in these instances and allow the child some room to draw the line between reality and imagination.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 14: The Supernatural Ivory Tower

A faux inscription: View of the old quadrangle of the Miskatonic University, Arkham, Massachusetts, built 1797; drawn by G.M. Sinclair, 1915 (from Picturesque Haunts of Old New England, by George M. Sinclair, Boston 1915). Image Source: The Necronomicon.
So much for the Ivory Tower being the seat of Enlightenment rationalism and intellectual skepticism that immediately rejects psychics, mediums, spirits, the paranormal, superstitions, and wide-eyed religious fears of devils and demons. Universities stereotypically harbour godless scientists.  But in 2006, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine conducted a study that found that the higher your level of education, the greater your tendency to believe in the supernatural.  (Hat tip: Live Science) They found graduate students to be particularly susceptible. Having spent more than a day or two in graduate school, I can see how the experience might inspire a belief in the big picture (let us say).  Sceptical boffins (as Brits call them) are believers! From the report:
Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study.

Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.

The results are detailed in the January-February issue of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents.

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma.

In general college students checked the "Believe" box less than the general population surveyed by Gallup. But the lack of "Don't Believe" responses among college students was lower for six of the 13 categories: psychic or spiritual healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, ghosts, clairvoyance and witches. That means a higher percentage of college students put themselves in the "Not Sure" column on these topics. ...

More significantly, the new survey reveals college is not necessarily a path to skepticism in these realms.

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students. "As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.
Academics search for rational explanations of the supernatural in terms of human psychology. The University of Edinburgh is home to the famous Koestler Parapsychology Unit, which investigates paranormal phenomena. Parapsychology is a field of research in some 30 countries, which seeks to explain telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences. Other departments and institutes that work in this area include: the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; the Rhine Research Center, successor to the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory (later called the Foundation for Research into the Nature of Man); the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, London; the Boundary Institute; the Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona; the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology, Lund University, Sweden; the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, University of Northampton; Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology Unit, Liverpool John Moores University; Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, Freiburg, Germany; Institut Métaphysique International, Paris; International Consciousness Research Labs, linked with Princeton; Laboratories for Fundamental Research, Palo Alto, California - previously funded by the US government; Le Laboratoire de Parapsychologie de Toulouse, France; the Mind-Matter Unification Project, Cambridge University; the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute includes investigations of psychopharmacology; and the Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena at University of Derby. This is not a complete list! On a slightly related note, Russian scientists set up an institute to investigate the Sasquatch, Bigfoot or Yeti this year

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 15: Skeptics and the Shadow People

Shadow People: Hat Man and the Hooded Figure. Image Source: Paranormal People Presents.

For the most part, skeptics pretty much dismiss the findings of ghost hunters and psychics.  But skeptics and non-skeptics alike acknowledge certain phenomena as verifiable aspects of human perception, even if they disagree on the sources of those aspects. Shadow People are great examples; in German, they are called Shattenwesen.

Image © Jason Jam. Image Source: Dr. Fong's House of Mysteries.

First off, a recap on how far we've gotten in this Countdown to Hallowe'en regarding skeptics and their investigations of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.  Most modern ghost hunting shows are a type of Reality TV, with equally bad acting, but the additional prop of night vision cameras. 

There is a special brand of ghost hunter who dismisses other ghost hunters with a real tone of authority. This is the low tech ghost hunter who nonetheless claims to be more 'scientific.' I actually love it when technology loses some of its automatically-assumed scientific cachet and when low tech solutions are considered to have more street cred.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 16: The Most Compelling Ghost Videos and Photographs

The Brown Lady. Photographed by Captain Provand/Indre Shira, Country Life Magazine (1936).  Image Source: About.com.

Even now, when almost anyone can doctor a photo or film, cameras and videos are still considered the most tangible proof of the supernatural.  Although paranormal experts use sensitive gadgets that measure sound and electro-magnetic frequencies and temperature and so on, people always want to see these things with their own eyes.  And here we are: the incredibly limited number of photos and videos that have stumped even the most sceptical sceptics.  I searched across the Web in several languages, and it comes down to these images.  Looking at some of them, maybe we should be thankful that the number is small!

The most famous ghost photo of all (above) is of the Brown Lady, taken in 1936 in Raynham Hall, Norfolk England.  This image is widely considered by sceptics and more credulous people in the field of paranormal investigations alike to be an authentic photograph.  From About.com:
This portrait of "The Brown Lady" ghost is arguably the most famous and well-regarded ghost photograph ever taken. The ghost is thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, wife of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount of Raynham, residents of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England in the early 1700s. It was rumored that Dorothy, before her marriage to Charles, had been the mistress of Lord Wharton. Charles suspected Dorothy of infidelity. Although according to legal records she died and was buried in 1726, it was suspected that the funeral was a sham and that Charles had locked his wife away in a remote corner of the house until her death many years later.

Dorothy's ghost is said to haunt the oak staircase and other areas of Raynham Hall. In the early 1800s, King George IV, while staying at Raynham, saw the figure of a woman in a brown dress standing beside his bed. She was seen again standing in the hall in 1835 by Colonel Loftus, who was visiting for the Christmas holidays. He saw her again a week later and described her as wearing a brown satin dress, her skin glowing with a pale luminescence. It also seemed to him that her eyes had been gouged out. A few years later, Captain Frederick Marryat and two friends saw "the Brown Lady" gliding along an upstairs hallway, carrying a lantern. As she passed, Marryat said, she grinned at the men in a "diabolical manner." Marryat fired a pistol at the apparition, but the bullet simply passed through.

This famous photo was taken in September, 1936 by Captain Provand and Indre Shira, two photographers who were assigned to photograph Raynham Hall for Country Life magazine. This is what happened, according to Shira:

"Captain Provand took one photograph while I flashed the light. He was focusing for another exposure; I was standing by his side just behind the camera with the flashlight pistol in my hand, looking directly up the staircase. All at once I detected an ethereal veiled form coming slowly down the stairs. Rather excitedly, I called out sharply: 'Quick, quick, there's something.' I pressed the trigger of the flashlight pistol. After the flash and on closing the shutter, Captain Provand removed the focusing cloth from his head and turning to me said: 'What's all the excitement about?'"

Upon developing the film, the image of The Brown Lady ghost was seen for the first time. It was published in the December 16, 1936 issue of Country Life. The ghost has been seen occasionally since.
Ghost girl in fire (1995). Photographed by Tony O'Rahilly. Image Source: Damn Cool Pictures.

Caption for the above photograph: Of all the ghost photos I've seen (well, except for that one that I can't show at the present time), this one is hands-down the most eerie. Probably the most disturbing too. I didn't know about this one until a few months ago. Almost ten years ago, on November 19th, 1995, Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England was engulfed in flames and burned to the ground. As firefighters tried to stave off the inferno a town resident, Tony O'Rahilly, took pictures from across the street using a telephoto lens on his camera. There, rather clearly in one of the photos, is what looks very much to be a small girl standing in a doorway, with the brightness of the flames behind her. No one ever remembered there being a small girl present on scene, much less in that close a proximity to the fire. The photo and the original negative were turned over to a photo expert who decided that the picture was 100% authentic: "The negative is a straightforward piece of black-and-white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with." Okay, so what's a girl ghost doing in such a big fire? Well in 1677 a fire destroyed many of Wem’s wooden houses. The fire was said to have been caused by a 14-year old girl named Jane Churm, who had been careless with a candle. Churm died in the fire along with several others, and her ghost is said to still haunt the area. Whether there's such a thing as ghosts or not, it must be said: if this is just a trick, an illusion of smoke and fire that happened to be captured on film, it's a zillion-to-one coincidence that it just so happened to appear in the form of a girl who also died in a terrible fire at the same location. But hey, stranger things than that have happened in this world, right?

They have indeed.  This year, Dr. Fong's House of Mysteries picked up a debunking of the above photograph in the Shropshire Star (17 May 2010). A reader found a 1922 postcard of Wem in 1922 with a little girl (pictured below) who looks an awful lot like the Wem ghost (pictured above).

This is the picture of Wem in 1922 that revived interest in the ghost story. Note the girl on the left. Image Source: Shropshire Star.

From the Shropshire Star:
[Reader] Brian [Lear] spotted an eerie similarity between a girl standing in the street in a 1922 photo of Wem and the young girl whose fuzzy image was famously captured amid the flames as Wem Town Hall burned down in 1995.

That photograph taken by local amateur photographer Tony O’Rahilly created international headlines and sparked the legend of “The Wem Ghost”.

There was speculation that the girl was 14-year-old Jane Churm, who accidentally started the disastrous great fire of Wem in 1677 and was reputed to be haunting the town hall.

Wem folk enthusiastically embraced the story which put their town under the spotlight. A sign on the outskirts had a makeshift alteration to read “Ghost Town”, experts in paranormal activity visited, and there was even a scroll and a plaque to mark where the ghost was spotted.

But when Brian, from Shrewsbury, looked at a photo of Wem — a postcard franked in 1922 — in our Pictures From The Past slot the other day, his eye was drawn to a little girl standing in a doorway.

“I was intrigued to find that she bore a striking likeness to the little girl featured as the ‘Wem ghost’,” he said.

“Her dress and headgear appear to be identical.”

So we have blown up detail from that picture to compare with the “Wem ghost”. And, by jove, he’s right!
The Wem ghost.  Image Source: Shropshire Star.
The girl in the 1922 Wem picture.  Image Source: Shropshire Star.
This image was in one of my earlier posts: Ghost on Packhorse Bridge, Caergwrle, UK; courtesy of Cheshire Paranormal Society. Image Source CPS via BBC.

Caption for the above photograph: Ghost hunters from Cheshire Paranormal Society (CPS) took this photo during a vigil on the historic Packhorse Bridge in the village of Caergwrle, near Wrexham. At the time members hadn't realised what was apparently standing on the bridge in front of them, said John Millington from the group, but some group members had reported feeling uneasy. Also, other paranormal activity was also recorded, such as so-called orbs of light, one of which can also been seen in this photo. Through further study and assistance from members of Hope and Caergwrle Heritage Society, it's thought three ghosts haunt the bridge; a young girl and two women. CPS members believe this photo shows the ghost of Squire Yonge who, the history books say, was well known in the area 300 years ago.

Tantallon Castle Ghost (May 2008). Photographed by Christopher Aitchison. Image Source: Daily Mail.

Caption for the above photograph: In the ruins of a Scottish castle, an elderly woman apparently peers down from a window. She seems to be wearing centuries-old clothing, including a ruff. Even more bizarrely, according to the man behind the camera, no such figure was there when he took the picture - which was declared the winner of the contest. The image was captured by Christopher Aitchison at Tantallon Castle in North Berwick, East Lothian, in May last year. Detailed examinations have concluded the image has not been manipulated. Mr Aitchison said: 'I took the photograph at around 3pm. I was not aware of anyone or anything being present in my picture, only noticing the anomaly when I got home.' Staff have verified that there were no sinister dummies in period costume or historical re-enactments going on that day. 'I did not notice any nice old ladies in ruffs walking around the stairs.' The snap was judged the best of more than 250 submitted to a study being run as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. About a quarter of a million members of the public voted on the eerie images, and gave Mr Aitchison top spot, with 39 per cent believing it to show a ghost. Sceptics argued that the figure could simply have been an unnoticed visitor or have been formed by an unusual reflection of light against the wall and grille.

Blogs breathlessly reported that the above photo had been checked for tampering and 4 sceptical experts could detect no trickery. It doesn't look like a nice little old lady to me!  It looks like a V for Vendetta type.