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fake ghosts

It was dinnertime at my family’s house. The topic had turned to one of my investigations, and my stomach was already in knots. I knew that we were entering dangerous territory. Whenever this subject comes up, I feel one of two things: fear that I will be ridiculed (but in the nicest possible way) or defensive (because someone will brush off what I am saying as ‘unscientific’ or ‘impossible to prove’). The worst outcome is polite interest for a few moments, followed by a change of subject. In that case, I know that I have been treated as the eccentric who needs to have her silly beliefs validated every now and then.

You can imagine my surprise when a relative of mine told me that he had seen a ghost in his house, on the stairs leading up to the third floor. At first, I was sure he was joking; but he was dead serious and very detailed in his description of her. He told me the story, and it was interesting. I decided to ask him questions and take him seriously, and for quite a few minutes he answered me and speculated as to the cause of the haunting. And then he smiled and tilted his head, and I knew: once again, I had been the victim of a joke. No big deal, right? I shouldn’t be so sensitive. He does this to everybody. No harm, no foul.

There was, however, harm. Every time someone laughs at me, condescends to hear a story or two and then quickly changes the subject, engages in debate with the intention of demonstrating to the world that I am gullible and ‘unscientific’, or simply behaves as if I were someone slightly ‘off’ or a tad weird, there is harm. The damage consists of the intention to degrade a person’s experience of reality. If I were to tell certain people that I sensed danger as I walked down a particular street and so decided to switch my route, no one would question my grasp of reality. I would be praised for making a wise decision and avoiding possible trouble by following my gut instinct. If, however, I tell certain people that I walked into a particular room and felt the strong presence of a spirit, I would be ridiculed—in the nicest possible way. Or, I would be politely rebuffed as a harmless eccentric. In the first case, following my gut instinct reaffirms my solid grasp of reality, even though there is no direct evidence that a particular, dangerous individual was following me. In the second case, I am judged for having the exact, same experience but in a different context. After all, I cannot ‘see’ the person I sense in the room, but I know that someone is there, and I adjust my behavior accordingly.

Part of the problem is our vocabulary. Paranormal investigators have a language, and that language is often mocked by the dominant culture. It is not scientific language; it is not religious language; it is not academic language: it is a linguistic ‘no-man’s land’ where no discipline or area of study can claim it. It belongs, perhaps, to the language of renegade Spiritualists from decades past, or to the more recent New Age lexicon so derided by pretty much everyone. Our language, therefore, has a kind of hippy taint to it, or the vague whiff of fraud associated with nutty mediums and psychics. There isn’t much we can do about that association besides change our use of language to a reasonable degree.

“Ghost,” “spirit,” “discarnate entity,” “specter” and the like all make us look like we’ve wandered into the marginal territory of psience. Even naming our teams is problematic. It takes hours, days, and weeks even, of thought and debate to find a name that is respectable. The “Paranormal Housewives” is a silly name, admittedly, but one that I am terribly fond of, because the ladies on the team are quite serious. The name belies who we actually are, and the contrast embraces the stereotypes while simultaneously fighting them. So, if we are to find a better way, what would that look like?

If we stopped using the old terminology, we would simply say something like this:

“I feel someone in the room.”
“I think there is a woman here with us.”
“I am picking up the presence of a man in his early 40s, beard, glasses, very thin.”
“I believe, based on the data we have collected, that there are several people either living in or visiting your house.”

If we avoid the words ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost’, we restore people to their former status. Yes, I realize that I have stated before that we don’t know who or what we are dealing with in many—if not most—investigations, and sometimes a ‘person’ is something else entirely, something not human; however, I wonder if our results would be more specific and informative if we treated the ‘presences’ as fully formed people? If they do turn out to be fragments of a consciousness or the energy of a residual haunting without intelligence, or God forbid, something nasty from the underworld, at least we will not have run the risk of speaking to a person as if he were something DIFFERENT from us, something “other” that shares nothing with our human, physical condition.

Often our results have an intimate relationship with what we seek. If we seek full human beings that we happen to not be able to see, perhaps we will find more actual people willing to communicate with us. It’s certainly worth a try. I think that that the PHW are particularly good at treating people well and with respect. Our attitude towards all the people in a house—both visible and invisible to us—is probably the reason that we have so much solid evidence for the so-called ‘paranormal’ (another term that has outlived its usefulness).

I can’t stop anyone from displaying a bad attitude towards me because I seek to know people who have changed their ontological status from material bodies to something else (and no, I don’t pretend to know what that ‘something else’ feels like, but I doubt that it changes your level of humanity and probably increases it). We will always run across those who believe in a cop’s ‘sixth sense’ but thinks that a person who has contact with someone without a material body is a nut job. I don’t do this to defend it to the critics or try to convince someone who has a vested interest in defending their world view. It’s scary to work on the margins of reality; it’s so much easier to stomp your foot on the ground and declare that if you can’t use your five senses to perceive it, then it ain’t there. No how. No way.

Until the haters have their own, mind-boggling experience, they will keep it up. Or, they will simply refuse to believe that what they have experienced could possibly be the portal to a much larger truth; how very unscientific of them.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD/PHW

OUIJA

Ouija_Board
(This is a scary story that I wrote. It’s one of my hobbies. I welcome all comments and hope you enjoy it.)

January 14th, 1984
I have never heard of mandatory therapy. Even stranger is Dr. Joe’s insistence that I keep a diary every day. When your house is infested with demons, you can’t really blame the family that lives there for the death on the property. None of that was my fault. There are forces greater than yourself that work in ways you barely understand. Even the most terrible thing you have ever done might be for the good. Mother taught me that nothing is as it seems; the best in us has a dark side, and the worst has a silver lining.

My job here is to convince Dr. Joe that I am blameless, because I don’t think he understands what Mother understood. He assumes that everything works a certain way, that there are healthy people who see time and events as linear and coherent, progressing towards something perfected; on the flip side, he thinks those who see time and events as jumbled, senseless and circular, belong in a cage, hidden from the world. I have to convince him with these words that I belong where I am, on the outside, where healthy people shop, eat out, fix up their houses, buy cars, raise kids and work most of the day. In order to do that, I have to tell my story, and I have to start here:

January 15th, 1984
Dr. Joe knows some things about me, but he doesn’t know everything. He knows I’m 16, very pretty, blonde and blue eyed. I listen to K-ROQ non-stop. I have a great tan from my afternoons at the beach. I work at a bakery and I dropped out of school. My mom is (was) an addict who spends all day locked in her room, and my dad took off a long time ago. My mom’s psycho boyfriend stays with us most of the time. I can’t remember his name. They come and go every few months . . . her boyfriends, I mean. My brother is 19 and a total nut job. He’s been in and out of a state hospital whose name I am supposed to keep secret. They say he’s moderately schizophrenic and has some personality disorder that makes him potentially dangerous. No kidding (read that in a sarcastic manner, Dr. Joe).

I like to spend my abundant free time reading about the survival of the soul after death. I always thought that religion was useless because it can’t prove anything; how am I supposed to believe in Heaven, when I can’t even imagine it? I used to ask Mother what Heaven was. She said, ‘imagine how you felt when you picked up Puddy Tat for the first time, and he cuddled with you and fell asleep in your arms. Heaven feels just like that, all of the time.’ I wanted to go to Heaven right then and there, but I didn’t understand that you had to die first.

Now I want proof for everything. Leonora Piper was a very famous medium, and she said the afterlife was a big reunion with all your loved ones who died before you, and other people say you have lots of lives and you live them all at once, even though you really only perceive one life at a time. Thinking about all this hurts my head, but I have to think about it. It’s important to know where you are, and where you are going, and why you are here. I am still very confused about the ‘why’ question.

I read about one book a day. I don’t have much else to do and no one to talk to. For the last few years, Mother has been totally useless and mostly absent, and my brother is either locked up or about to be locked up because he’s raving about Armageddon on some street corner and intimidating passers-by, or he’s begging for money on the freeway on-ramp holding a sign that says he needs to support four kids and a wife with cancer. That’s one thing I can say: we’re all liars in this family.

January ? 1984
I like starting paragraphs with the sentence “the trouble started on a Tuesday . . .” because it sounds so official and cool. The really awesome thing is that the trouble really did start on a Tuesday. I left Dairy Queen after a fight started in the parking lot between the surf Nazis and some Mexican rocker kids from the Valley. I headed home that day, because the Santa Ana winds were throwing sand in my face at the beach and it hurt. Not only that, but the waves were spitting sea foam and stuff was flying down the beach and it was freaking me out.

Our house is an old Craftsman, built in 1927 and on the Register of Historic Places. We got to live there because we are the official ‘caretakers’ and my dad, before he took off, was a member of the Historical Resources Board. The agreement was that we keep the place vintage and don’t do anything stupid like install vinyl windows or ‘update’ the bathrooms with the latest crap from Angel’s Hardware. Every now and then, we’re supposed to open up the house to the public—on Tuesdays, to be precise—and let them wander through to see what a real Craftsman looks like. There’s like hundreds of them in this crappy beach town, but whatever, I guess ours is special. Our house backs to an alley and behind the alley is a field dotted with trash and transients. I always wonder who is going to scale the fire escape behind Mother’s window and commit unmentionable crimes. The houses around us are old and falling apart. They just peel and rust under the beach sun and the salt air, and from behind the bars the occupants watch the weeds grow in the front yards while they smoke, drink and wait for the beach report.

As I was saying, the trouble started on a Tuesday. I was alone or with Mother, which is really a way to say the same thing. It was highly unlikely that any random strangers would want to see our historic house, because in the last year we had precisely three people show up on a Tuesday, and they showed up together the week before Christmas. I headed to my room at the top of the stairs. Even though I’m a teenager and you would probably expect my room to be covered in Miami Vice posters, you would be wrong. I have an Eastlake bedroom set and my walls have Victorian prints of ladies of leisure enjoying English gardens. I keep my room spotless. My Persian rug is clean and I vacuum the draperies once a week. How many other teenagers can say that?

Mother’s room, on the other hand, is a complete disaster. She sleeps on a mattress on the floor and covers her windows in towels. She has bottles of cheap wine and drug paraphernalia spread out all over the entire room, and for some reason, she sawed the legs off of a lovely side table from the 1940s. We don’t live in the rest of the house. It looks like a museum and it creeps me out. We don’t even use the kitchen except to microwave popcorn or make a ham sandwich. Everything in the kitchen is from the 1930s, and when I’m in there, I feel confused about living in a 1920s home with a 1930s kitchen in the 1980s with furnishings from the turn of the century and a blue-ray player in the common area. It scares me.

Mother came running into my room screaming about something. She had bruises on her face and arms, and her hair was literally standing on end. “It shook my bed and scratched me!” were the only words I could make out. She pulled up her shirt and showed me three, long, jagged scratches down her lower back. She was so thin that I could make out the topography of her spine and ribs as if she were an anatomical model. “It’s talking to me all the time, telling me terrible things, it’s going to kill your brother, just wait!” she wailed on, making a bit more sense as she continued. “You brought it here, this is YOUR fault, you have that damned Ouija board in your closet, don’t you?”

I do have a Ouija board in my closet, but I was eleven the last time I used it. I highly doubt that demons wait around five years before they decide to torture an old alcoholic and her loser kid. But I have to say, something had changed in the house and things started happening. Bad things. Before, this house was filled with light and was always quiet, like a church. After Mother’s breakdown, the house filled up with shadows that moved around from the corner of my eyes. It was cold in the living room, freezing cold, and sometimes that cold would travel to other parts of the house. Old houses make noises, I know, but do they growl? Sometimes I heard what sounded like a cocktail party or something coming from the dining room, with clinking glasses, women laughing in a delicate way, and men telling stories or giving instructions to the servants. Do I really have to tell you that nothing was ever there when I wandered halfway down the staircase?

I started losing things. I never lose things. My keys disappear at least once a day, and I would find them in the strangest places. Yesterday, I left them on my nightstand and I found them later on top of a burner. My latest copy of Cosmo vanished from my room and ended up in the freezer. I swear. I am not making this up. What really freaks me out, though, are the scratches on my back. Just like Mother, they appear in threes. I don’t like to think about things like devils, but I’m really not sure what else to blame. Why us, though? We barely have a life here.

May 1985
My brother came back from wherever he was yesterday. His eyes were both wild and glazed over, giving him a weird, Manson look. He’s skinny and bony like Mother, and it looks like he’s worn the same green tee shirt and ratty jeans for the last several weeks. He wears these brown leather sandals and his hair is long and messy, all blonde curls that smell like the beach. He looks like Jesus from a kid’s play at school. His nose seems thinner and kind of beaked, and his lips are chapped, like he’s dehydrated. He has cheekbones now and his eyes are hollow, so he looks older than 20. Or 23; honestly, I have no idea how old he is. He reminds me a little of Mother’s boyfriend, who hasn’t shown up—as far as I know—since she freaked out.

“I hear you guys are under demonic attack,” he smirks, turning every sentence into a joke or a weapon. I remind him that he preaches about Armageddon on a regular basis, so who is he to make fun of us? He laughs, tilting back in a very expensive chair in our very formal dining room, and says he doesn’t remember his preaching, but that other people do. “Shit, I don’t remember half of what I do or say. That’s why I keep ending up at . . .” Shut up! I yell at him, “don’t say it.” And he doesn’t, but he keeps winking at me and making me feel really uncomfortable. “What are you going to do about Mother? Are you going to move her off the shelf?” he whispers, as if she could hear us from upstairs behind a closed and locked door. My brother says things like that, designed to throw you off and make you wonder what’s happening in his head. “Nothing,” I say, because there is nothing to do. Demons or no demons, we can’t afford to move.

“Actually,” he whispers, “No joke. I see them everywhere, all over this house. It’s serious, this time. They’re not joking around anymore. They want your soul. They already have Mother’s, and they took mine years ago.” He starts laughing, and it’s a jarring, crazy sound, something out of a Halloween maze where they try to scare you at every turn in the labyrinth.

February? 1987?
Sorry, Doc Joe, I know you wanted this a long time ago—three years ago, right?—but I just couldn’t keep going after the Incident. I know you know all about the Incident, because that’s what keeps me in mandated therapy. It’s fine, I know there’s no rush. My life is much better now than it was back then. It’s much easier to be 19 and independent than 16 and still hoping for guidance and care from your Mother! But, as you know, Mother has been very hard to find these days. In fact, I can’t say when I saw her last. I try to remember, but it’s like pulling a car out of the mud or trying to remember what Rocky Road tastes like after 43 years of vanilla pudding.

I don’t miss her. My brother doesn’t miss her, either. He is still battling the mental health system, and losing most of the time. He kept a job for six months, making something in a shop, I forget what, but eventually even that required too much discipline for him. He shaved his head and gained twenty pounds, and I guess decided to go full-on white supremacist or something, judging by his Nazi tattoos and general aggressive vibe. He traded out the Jesus sandals and green tees for jack boots with studs and tight, white tee shirts that outline his little gut. His shredded jeans are probably the same ones he was wearing three years ago. OK, I know, this isn’t supposed to be about David. It’s supposed to be about me.

Me. Well, the last time I wrote, there was that demon problem. They might have chased her out of the house; I’m not too sure about that. She was delicate already, with that shady boyfriend who was such a loser that he wouldn’t use the front door. He used to come up the fire escape stairs and crawl into Mother’s window. I would see him and throw food or balls of paper at him and call him names. I know that wasn’t very mature, but what kind of guy doesn’t care enough about his girlfriend to actually knock at the front door? Plus, he looked kind of like a really ugly Fonzie and brought her drugs; so there was nothing to like.

Mother didn’t come out much as it was, but after the scratches, the whispers, the shadows and the eerie conversations taking place at 3:00 AM in the living room and dining room, she hardly ever cracked open that door. It didn’t make any difference, though; they still attacked her, scratching pentagrams into the skin on her back, throwing items around her room, laughing like hyenas, and worst of all, sending her into fits that made her arch her back and foam at the mouth. I saw all of this, and a couple times I ran away, but sleeping on the beach, freezing cold, and fighting off the meth heads and perverted bums was even worse than dealing with demons. So I always went back.

I told Mother not to react to them so much, not to talk to them, argue with them, scream at them or curse them out. She just couldn’t help it, though; and pretty soon her relationship with them became so all-consuming that her skanky boyfriend finally flew the coop and never came back. David watched us with amused detachment. That’s what I hate the most about David, to be honest. He just doesn’t care about anything. He used to take Polaroid pictures of Mother’s terrible fits (we eventually started to call them by their real name, possessions) and stick them on the fridge with magnets. The photos had strange foggy areas in them, and on some of them, I swear you could see faces. David called it his art project, and pretty soon he was recording the voices as well, and playing them back for Mother and me to hear. We didn’t want to hear those voices from Hell, but neither one of us had the courage to tell David to stop. People can be scarier than demons, you know?

I suppose that I started to hate David at that point. He was always in control of the house. He never cleaned up after himself or made his bed. He came and went at all hours of the day and night, never sticking to any kind of schedule. He didn’t bother to look for work or go to school. He just used the house as a rest stop between his stints at the State Hospital. He became obsessed with the demons in the house, and started to call them by name, which I knew was dangerous. He said that they talked to him on audio and through the Ouija board, but who’s to say they weren’t just voices in his head. How would David ever know the difference?

Tuesday, 1988
The Ouija board was his biggest mistake. As soon as he brought it out, I knew something terrible was going to happen. OK, Dr. Joe, here’s the part you really wanted to hear: it was Tuesday night, the worst night of the week. It had been cloudy for fourteen days in a row; I know, because I counted. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Mother was kind of there and not there, if you know what I mean. I was the only one cleaning up the house and fixing the little things that go wrong on a weekly basis in old houses. I had that fuzzy, angry feeling that can’t find any direction or outlet. I tried redecorating the living room with the funds we had from the Historical Resources Board, thinking that just maybe that would clear out the ghosts downstairs. I tried writing some poetry, walking around the neighborhood, even taking a couple of art classes at the local college. It was better than nothing, but it didn’t erase the hum in my head, the nervous energy, the uninvited, dark thoughts that I blame on the demons. No, that I blame on David for bring in to the house.

David was playing with the damn board on the dining room table. He put a big class of Coke right on the wood and didn’t care that he was going to leave a ring on the Louis XV walnut table that I had spent hours polishing and waxing. Instead, he started calling out words that the demons were spelling out. I won’t repeat what they said, because that gives them power, and that’s the last thing that they need. David stopped eating and showering and barely had the will to get up and use the bathroom. He was spending almost the entire day playing with it, listening to the voices on his audio clips, organizing his creepy Polaroid photos and writing in his journal. Who knows what he was writing; it was probably the story of his pathetic life with the paranormal. I tried telling him to stop, but he ignored me. Finally, I started yelling. That I do remember; I could hear my own voice, but it sounded distant and metallic, like something from outer space.

At that point, I was watching myself yelling at David. I wondered if I was my own ghost. Mother appeared at the top of the stairs, and I screamed at her to get back in the room or the demons would kill her. She made an ‘O’ with her mouth and turned around; she walked back into her room and I heard the sound of the door locking. My second me, the one that had moved back into the living room, was watching the original me gesticulating and pushing David, who stood up and poured his Coke all over the Louis XV dining room table, smiling at me with those infernal eyes. Then he slapped me. I don’t remember anything else for awhile. I was in the kitchen, drinking glass after glass of tepid water and then throwing it up.

It’s hard to know who walked back into the dining room, because I had been two people, and I wasn’t sure if I was back to just one yet. The first thing I saw was the scarlet, blood-soaked white tee shirt and then the disjointed position my brother had assumed in death, because I knew he was dead. Dead people, as it turns out, have their own body language. You know that there’s no soul left from across the room. He was a stiff, awkward shell of David, covered in blood and bits of something gooey.

It situations like that, it’s hard to know what a normal reaction is. I wanted my Mother more than anything, I wanted her to tell me that it was OK, that we could live without him, but her door was locked and she wouldn’t answer. I ran to my room and looked out the window. She must have disappeared down the fire escape. She didn’t come back. To this day, I don’t know where she is; she has never once visited me or even called. I know she’s alive, but I guess she’s too scared to look for me. She didn’t love David, so I don’t know why she would be so upset that he’s dead. All she did was complain about him, and she agreed that he was a loser that needed to get a life.

I kinda found God after that. We were all sinners in that house, and the Bible tells us that Satan loves sinners. He finds your weak spot and exploits it until you have no energy left to fight him off. The he does whatever he wants with you. Mother and David are responsible for bringing in the demons. Satan loves alcoholics and crazy people. He is also a liar, of course, and on some level, so am I. When we’re forced to tell our stories, we all lie. Not on purpose, but because we think that if people really knew us, we would spend eternity alone. That’s why the demons picked on me. They like scared people most of all. David used to say he didn’t believe in demons or Satan or God or anything that had more powers than he did. I bet David believes now that he’s burning in Hell.

August or October, 1989
Dr. Joe will let me out sooner if I tell the truth. He says it doesn’t matter how many years I need to tell it; because, as he always repeats in every therapy session, “the truth shall set you free.” I don’t think time is what we think it is. Sometimes years seem to pass, but it’s only been a few hours. Sometimes we think that something just happened, and it was thirty years ago. When you’re stuck at the State Hospital, time is completely meaningless. The routines, the repetitions, they destroy any notion of forward progress. Here, all we do is go in circles. When Dr. Joe says that I can leave as soon as I tell the truth, my hope is that time will start moving forward again. Maybe, that way, I will get the old Craftsman with the picket fence by the beach. Maybe then, I’ll have beautiful things and a family that loves me. Maybe then, people will have forgotten what I did to David in a fit of rage over that stupid Ouija board. It was my turn, and he wouldn’t let me play. He wouldn’t let me talk to Mother.

I just wanted my turn. The ghosts had started to talk to me, they were letting me into their secret world . . . they let me talk to Mother sometimes, and that was all I wanted, so that she could tell me that she loved me, that she was OK, and that it didn’t hurt when the car hit the tree and sunk in the lake. I don’t even remember what Mother looks like anymore. I keep seeing her under water, her hair like sea grass, her eyes open, cloudy and fixed on nothing, her mouth frozen in a little ‘O’, like death caught her by surprise.

Dr. Joe tells me that drugs and alcohol can make a person violent and irrational. He tells me that I don’t need to blame demons or ghosts for what I did to David. He wants me to be free of guilt. Even if he lets me out tomorrow, even if I confess that’s it’s 2015 and I’m fifty years old, even if I, as he says, ‘accept reality,’ it doesn’t change one, very important fact.

David talks to me every day. How they allowed a Ouija board in here is something of a mystery, but I guess he wants me to finally have my turn. David is waiting for Dr. Joe to let me out. The ghosts swear that I’m talking to Mother, but I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t think Mother would want me to hurt anyone. David says that as soon as I get my pretty house and sit down to have quail at my Louis XV walnut dining table, he’s going to dash my brains out with the jar of his ashes. He says that‘s what I deserve for covering him in Mother’s remains and keeping him forever from the Light.

He’s probably right. First thing tomorrow, I’m going to tell Dr. Joe that it’s 1965, and as it turns out, I died a long, long time ago. That’s the only truth that can set me free.

Kirsten A. Thorne
Kitty Serious

Jim Tucker

You know that a book is important to me when I still have 15 pages left and I can’t wait to write about what I have read so far. I am a big fan of Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research and Jim Tucker’s work as well (see: Life Before Life). The late Dr. Stevenson worked out of the University of Virginia in the Division of Perceptual Studies where Jim Tucker continues his work on reincarnation. Drs. Stevenson and Tucker are the world’s leading authorities on children’s past-life memories along with Carol Bowman, who is a non-scientist studying the phenomena in depth.
Return to Life picks up on Dr. Tucker’s American reincarnation cases and offers several examples of apparent past lives lingering well into a current life. Typically, children start forgetting these memories at around age 5, but some remember key features of a past life well into adulthood. One of the stories recounted is quite well known already—the case of young James who remembered a life as a WWII pilot shot down over Iwo Jima—and is well documented in Soul Survivor, a book his parents wrote after documenting his case for many years.
One of the chapters is particularly interesting to me: those cases where there is little hard, objective evidence that connects one person to a previous personality but where the child (or adult) continues to exhibit behaviors, phobias and emotional reactions that are not easily explained by current life situations or childhood traumas. I fall into that category myself, and to this day struggle with emotions and reactions that don’t appear to originate in this life.
I have discussed this elsewhere in this blog, but I still have more to talk about when it comes to the topic of past lives. In my case, my childhood was remarkable for the ‘weird’ remarks I would make and the odd behavior I would display, for no apparent reason. Lately, I have been reinterpreting stories and memories from the past and wondering if my experiences had something to do with breakthrough memories from the past. All of this, of course, leads me to wonder what the ‘self’ really is, and what part of Kirsten has come back this time around. One of the children in the book explains it as having a different personality, but a same self. That might take me hundreds of pages of writing to unravel (sorry, Soulbank readers, but sometimes I just have to write it out!).
When I was around five years old, I remember feelings of terror regarding drug use (illegal drug use). Anytime someone tried to make me take a pill or give me a shot, I would lose my mind. This was especially difficult for me, since I underwent two major surgeries at age five for unrelated issues and was often forced to deal with prescription drugs. I also had asthma and spent a fair amount of my childhood attached to an inhaler and prescriptions for steroids. However, I did know that there were medicines that one had to take for illness and drugs that people took for fun or to alter their consciousness. The idea of taking or being forced to take a drug to alter my consciousness terrified me to the point of trauma.
When I discovered joints hidden at the bottom of a drawer (I was seven or eight at the time), I lectured my parents about drug use even though they had never discussed the topic with me and were shocked that I knew what a joint was. I was obsessed with marijuana plants, hating them intensely and trying to keep my parents away from them (they did have one on the deck of one of our many apartment buildings, and no matter how much they lied to me about what it really was, I KNEW it was a ‘bad plant’). The 1960s psychedelic culture created total panic in me, even though I was not directly exposed to it. My parents listened to Cream and The Beatles, and even though there were psychedelic elements to some of the music, it was not their interest and there is no good way to explain my trauma around a certain aspect of 1960s hippy culture.
My fear of psychedelic music, images or lyrics had to do with the fear of losing consciousness. I associated that kind of experience with death. I know that the 1960s were obsessed with alterations in consciousness, but as a four and five year-old, it was odd that I was in full panic mode over any alterations of my consciousness produced by certain music, sights or sounds. To this day, I suffer from severe anxiety over anything I ingest that I don’t feel is 100% tested and safe for me. I am terrified of any kind of drug; I don’t even take Tylenol without extensive soul searching and fear. In high school and college, I would drink alcohol to excess—there was no panic over that unless I started to feel like I was seriously altering my consciousness—but I would not touch any pill or illegal drug even though everybody around me had no such qualms.
Even now, falling asleep is scary because it involves alterations in consciousness. A threat to my conscious awareness can come in almost any form, but I struggle attempting to remain in control of my faculties and not drift off, never to return. I remember an incident at 15 that triggered a very old memory. I was watching “Major Tom,” performed by David Bowie, on our old television in the living room. It was 1980. As I watched him and listened to the song, I had an out of body experience and a profound alteration of consciousness that so terrified me that to this day, I cannot watch Bowie perform the song without profound feelings of fear. I felt that this music would, somehow, kill me or take me so far out of my normal, rational experience of life that I would be mad or drugged and not be able to return.
The fear of drugs seriously affected my friendships. I would cry if a friend smoked a joint. I would lecture fellow college students on the dangers of drugs and make myself an unwelcome guest at many school parties. Anything, even an aspirin, seemed to contain the horrendous possibility of a slow, downward spiral into unconsciousness. As I have written about before, I ‘knew’ the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco not from a tourist point of view, but from the standpoint of a drug addicted, teen-aged prostitute.
That, of course, is speculation. However, it fits with certain behaviors, automatic reactions and responses, emotional trauma and general life perspective that doesn’t make much sense unless I lived a certain kind of life in my distant, previous-personality past. There are other aspects to my life as a young adult that point strongly in the direction of the past life that I mention above, but the details are so personal and painful that I don’t wish to relive them in a blog post. The most I am willing to say is simply this: I knew what it felt like to prostitute myself for money and drugs without ever actually doing it. I would talk to myself about my life as a prostitute, the narratives rich with detail, yet I should not have known or understood the content of those narratives. I have repeated those stories for years, for decades, even.
As weird as that sounds, I know that my instinctual reaction of nausea, sadness and depression simply writing about it validates that it did happen, and not in my current lifetime. Psychologists are the enemy of reincarnation theories, since they would always say that the roots of this narrative are in my childhood, and that I repressed the memories that would lead me to understand myself a certain way. Of course, when an entire profession bases its authority on key evidence that the individual cannot, by definition, access—repressed memories resulting in unconscious behaviors—there is no way for me to claim my life as within my understanding. The mental health profession cannot prove their theory nor can I prove mine; but how many key aspects of our lives can we not prove yet know to be true? Most, I think.
My strongest evidence comes from the memories that I do indeed have access to, and no ‘logical’ explanation for. My highly precocious childhood and my abnormal understanding and knowledge of a world I never lived in is proof enough for me. In many ways, I am still struggling to overcome the legacy of that past life. I believe that it continues to traumatize me to this day, but since I can’t find a mental health professional who treats past life trauma (wait—I’m in L.A.—they are probably everywhere), I will continue to work on the details of this life the best way I know how: bringing these issues into the light.
Back to Jim Tucker’s book; I DID finish it as of this writing, and I have to say that I am slightly disappointed with the theories he proposes that explain reincarnation. It is common in the last several years to use quantum theory as a tool to understand everything anomalous, but dare I say we lay people might not understand quantum theory well enough to make such sweeping connections to phenomena such as reincarnation? Yes, it’s true that particles behave strangely in quantum physics, so much so that an observer is required to bring a result into reality; it is also true that particles can exhibit backwards causality, where an observer can determine in the present the outcome of something that supposedly already happened.
It’s fun to go in circles with quantum mechanics and speculate on what it means for consciousness, but until there is some definitive proof that consciousness is required in the observation process in order for a present reality to coalesce, I have to take all this as interesting but not necessarily compelling. OK, so Dr. Tucker does say that important figures in the field of quantum physics have stated that the conscious observer is necessary for the outcome of present reality, but I need to read the original sources in order to accept that. My fear, of course, is that I will not be able to comprehend the original sources at the depth necessary to be able to make any true statements.
Dr. Tucker admits that he is speculating based on some commonplace tropes in quantum physics (I am really tired of the double-slit experiment and Schrödinger’s stupid cat), but I keep coming back to a basic problem with the idea that the universe and everything in it does not exist without my conscious observation (or someone’s conscious observation). It sounds too much like solipsism, the notion that the individual creates his own reality with every act of observation, and therefore the moon is not there if I do not look at it. Dr. Tucker does address that briefly, but doesn’t satisfy my objections.
Maybe this sounds stupid and reduces my credibility, but this little story doesn’t seem to have a good answer for me: the other day, I was looking up at the balcony and I tripped over a clump of grass that I had no idea was there. I fell and was injured. I did not observe that clump of grass, but it was there nonetheless. This sounds a lot like the disagreement between Bishop Berkeley and Samuel Johnson, which goes like this:
Refutation of Bishop Berkeley
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”
Boswell: Life
It appears that quantum physics is being used to prove the validity of what I see as sophistry: matter only appears to exist because we perceive it to exist. I don’t want to start walking down this long road of philosophical debate, because, frankly, it exhausts me. If the universe is a great thought, and our lives are successions of dreams, then there really is something pointless about existence itself, since it is not REAL (and here, drum roll please, is where I am supposed to ask ‘what is real,’ but let’s hold off for a moment on that one). Dr. Tucker disturbs me when he compares lives we live to dreams. He finds that metaphor most apt to understand our multiple incarnations, but for me the metaphor falls flat. Most dreams have very little in common with what it feels like to be alive in the world. He quotes a communicator through the famous medium Leonor Piper who, when asked what the afterlife is like, states that she was most shocked at how REAL it was, how everything had substance and weight. Reports on the afterlife via reputable mediums coincide on this observation; there is nothing vaporous, illogical, bizarre or contradictory in the afterlife. It seems just like a natural extension of this life.
Therefore, the extended comparisons to dreams don’t make much sense to me. If incarnations are us dreaming new existences, then it sounds like our lives are rather inconsequential. We are working out our spiritual development, but to what end? In which world? With what consequences? Dreams are experiments in reality that are not, in the end, real; dreams are psychological in nature when not precognitive, lucid or visionary or facilitating contact with the spirits of the deceased. Most dreams, probably 99% of them, are not indicative of a new reality but are rehashing our current one. No one can argue that most dreams feel like dreams, and that wandering around in the world of the awake is very, very different—very predictable, for one thing.
So while the dream analogy falls flat for me, I do understand why Dr. Tucker has to follow that route. If you accept that reality is created by the observer, you take away an external, objective world that forces people to interact and engage with challenging situations. If you believe that the world only exists as your projection of consciousness, then you run the risk of believing that you have no obligation to change it for the better, unless it’s to work on your personal, spiritual evolution. There is no suffering ‘other’ that needs you, just endless projections of you, everywhere you look. Take away the suffering other, all that which is NOT you, and you are left with a world saturated with your consciousness alone, your giant ego in search of self expression. It makes you God. And that makes me very, very uncomfortable.
I suppose that is the crux of the problem. These “we create the universe” theories turn the self into the Creator. Whether or not you believe in a Creator separate from you is not the issue; do you believe in anything that is not an extension of you? If you don’t, you’re probably two years old or a certain kind of scientist. I might have misinterpreted Dr. Tucker’s intentions or analyses here, and if I have, I hope he or someone who knows his work better than I do will set me straight.
We may not ever be able to “prove” reincarnation as scientific fact. I am dismayed by the fact that science is considered the ONLY way to prove an assertion. The statement “we live more than one life” can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through other venues besides hard science. It can be proven using legal definitions of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.” Once you have accumulated enough anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that it becomes preposterous to reasonably believe anything else, you can declare your case proven for the vast majority of the population. Why is it that we are so obsessed—especially in the study of the so-called ‘paranormal’—with proving via the scientific method something which hard science CANNOT EVER ACCEPT AS PROVEN?
The blessings of neuroscience or psychiatry will not be forthcoming. We can use their language and their methods to explore issues of continuation of consciousness, but we are not going to be invited to their awards ceremonies or ever find a place at their table.
That does not change the fact that reincarnation is the closest theory that fits the truth of so many people’s experiences. It does not change the truth of my life or the truth of the lives that I lived before, or the reality of the lives I have yet to live.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD
Kirsten with glasses

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Maria marin

I was listening to “Maria Marin Live” (forgive the lack of accents; not sure how to add them here!) on AM 1020, as is my custom after my last class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She pulls no punches and forces her callers to be direct, honest and sincere. Woe betide you if you can’t make your point or you’re full of B.S.; she will call you on it. I’m not sure how many of my readers listen to talk radio in Spanish, but I recommend you listen to what she has to say if you understand Spanish.

The topic of one of her recent shows concerned life after death, or more specifically, what her callers believe happens after death. There were those who had the quick answer, “you go to Heaven to be with God,” but when pressed on the details, became utterly incapable of providing any realistic descriptions or scenarios. Others, of course, said that nothing happens; and the majority stumbled around attempting to answer the question without the Heaven or the nothingness explanation, only to find themselves impaled on their own uncertainty. Ms. Marin did not provide them an easy out; she pressed them relentlessly to answer the question in a specific and meaningful way. When they couldn’t do it, she moved on to the next person.

I found myself in something of a panic, imagining that I was one of her callers and I had been pressured into answering the question. Even though this topic is my area of research and interest, there is NO WAY to spit out a quick answer to the question, ‘what happens after you die’. I realize that those who have had a near death experience might be able to answer this with the typical imagery: the tunnel, the white light, meeting relatives who have passed on, the life review, the inability to cross a certain boundary between life and death, and the final (usually unwanted) return to the body. However, this describes a transitional state between life in the flesh and the life of consciousness, not what happens after actual, physical death.

No one can answer definitively, since no one has died 100% in the flesh and returned to talk about it except Jesus, and well, there are some issues there, as well. My experience tells me that while there is no quick answer to the question, there is–at least–a concept that we can hold onto when forced to answer questions about life after death. In terms of scientific research, nowhere is there better evidence for the continuation of life than in the work of the late Dr. Ian Stevenson from the University of Virginia. His work on the past lives of children from around the world is legendary; I’ve discussed it extensively in other blog posts. What his work points to is that ‘life’ after ‘death’ is about the transference of consciousness from one body to another.

The best evidence points to the indestructibility of the conscious mind, spirit or soul (I do not think that these terms are interchangeable, but the differences between them are the subject of another post). It doesn’t disappear, but finds another body through which it expresses a self. How this happens is pure speculation, but it must happen at some point in fetal development. I remember my sister telling me–and she is nothing if not a skeptic–that she felt the precise moment when a spirit ‘jumped into’ my nephew while in the womb. He was pure potential and suddenly became a personality. This personality was, in his case, external to him and perhaps had nothing to do with our family and genetics at all.

Consciousness finds a way to continue, whether it be through reincarnation or through some other mechanism, such as inhabiting another dimension or alternate universe as posited by some quantum theories. One of these alternate dimensions of reality might look and feel much like the Heaven that the faithful expect to experience. Many Eastern religions posit the twin existence of soul and spirit, each living out separate existences as the same personality: the “spirit” continues to reincarnate with limited or absent memories of the previous existence, and the “soul” inhabits a timeless dimension where the expected rewards and/or punishments are experienced as expected. Some quantum theories posit that there are infinite versions of us in infinite universes, so that when one of us dies in one world, we simply skip over to another and pick up our lives there, either in the ‘present’ moment or a past or future moment.

It doesn’t work to think of time as important to consciousness after death, since it is a biological concept useful to understand what we perceive as forward movement towards a goal, but it is not an independent entity necessary to understand reality (at least as far physics is concerned–time could just as easily move backwards as forwards, and we only need the ‘arrow of time’ for formulas concerning entropy, which some physicists think doesn’t exist as an independent measure of anything, anyway). You can see why, by now, there is no way to answer Maria Marin’s challenge in a one-minute phone call. When you are discussing issues concerning consciousness–that great mystery–it doesn’t make sense to explain exactly what will happen, since that requires us to know exactly how our minds will perceive reality when we are no longer dependent on a brain or a body to filter and limit our experiences.

Since Ms. Marin requires total honesty, I will say this: I am afraid that the best evidence points to a recycling of consciousness that does not involve karma, reward, Heaven or eternal rest. It seems that our personalities are transferred to another human being, and we drag our baggage along into another life–whether in the form of unconscious trauma or conscious memories. I do think there is room for spiritual evolution from life to life, but that is not the same concept as karma or reward. Our suffering in one life might purify us and lead us closer to God, but it certainly doesn’t mean our next lives will be easy, fun, interesting or rewarding. The most spiritually evolved person might appear to have the worst material circumstances.

For what it’s worth, that’s my answer to Ms. Marin, if I had called in. We come back, again and again, working towards a nobler, more refined relationship with God. What that looks like for each individual is unknown. So, I take my last breath, I might have a transitional period where I’m in the Light and meet up with those long gone, and then I probably black out or go to sleep and wake up screaming, inhaling that first breath again, remembering or not that I was here before, and here I go again.

Yours on the journey,

Kitty Soul bank Post

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Kitty YELLOW

Have you ever felt like you have backslid into adolescence? Have you believed that there would come a time, some magic year, when you would be a grown up? Has that year or that moment seemed to have arrived, only to disappear and leave you feeling like a child again?

In my twenties, I really thought I was all grown up. I landed a full time job as a Spanish professor by age 27; by 28, I owned a home; at 29, I married. Before I hit 30, I was Chair of the Spanish Department at a major university. I was an adult! Yay!

All I had really done was put on the trappings of adulthood, imitating my elders, doing what was expected of me, and following a script that I didn’t write and couldn’t have known how to write, anyway. As it turned out, I had married the wrong man, moved to the wrong town, taught at the wrong university and bought the wrong house.

Predictably, the crisis hit. My adult life unraveled quickly, because the child had made all of the above decisions. I left the job, sold the house, abandoned the town, and moved back to California. That was an adult decision. It was where I wanted to be. Then, sadly, the childhood marriage exploded and I was left alone in another ‘perfect’ house in Long Beach that I purchased thinking it was a Good, Adult Decision. I lost the house. Again. I lost my job. Again. The child continued to make decisions.

I met my current husband, and for once, the adult was in charge. I married the right man; and then I proceeded to allow the child to take over. The child wanted a nice house South of the Boulevard, but she couldn’t afford it. No matter; there were plenty of banks around just waiting to loan me 3/4 million bucks on a teacher’s salary! So the child plunged ahead.

Around the time that the adult realized that the house was draining away money like a black hole sucks up light, her child became that strange thing we call a “teenager”. Kirsten–the kid and the grown up–was really, really confused by this. I had thought that we were perfect parents, and that we had the perfect kid. My husband and I congratulated ourselves daily. We were both, however, children. We didn’t understand the coming changes, and as it turned out, we didn’t understand anything that our daughter was enduring quietly and with much desperation.

My husband and I had to sell the house, and I lost my self esteem. The child in me was badly wounded and insulted. Little Kirsten had done everything in her power to imitate what adults do: buy expensive houses, go antique shopping every weekend, brag about their perfect kids–but in the meantime, she discovered that once again, she had imitated what she thought grown ups did only to discover that she had made childish decisions and saw the world from a child’s point of view.

Teen-aged Kirsten and her husband ran away to the beach, rebelling against the bad banks, our difficult families, the frustrating jobs, and our disappointed expectations. After awhile, the adults returned and made some hard decisions. Adult me faced facts: you’re broke, you’re too far from your job and family, you’re done shopping, and you need to go home and recover from your Angry Teenager’s impetuous actions.

The adult made good decisions, but the angry child is throwing fits on a daily basis. I WANT A HOUSE. I WANT A BETTER JOB. I WANT TO TRAVEL. I WANT TO LOOK LIKE I’M 25. I DON’T WANT TO GROW UP. It’s hard, because the angry child happens to be 49 years old, and everyone expects her to have grown up, like, 24 years ago. I’m sorry, everyone. I’m not an adult. Better said, I’m only an adult part time.

What a shock to realize that you are not grown up when you’re ‘supposed’ to be. Everything I believed about timelines–“when your THIS age, you’ll have X, Y, and Z and you’ll feel like this . . . “–has completely evaporated. Your AGE has NOTHING to do with your MATURITY. I’ve met very old souls with astonishing maturity levels who are about 20 years old. I know some people in their seventies and eighties who are fully-functioning teenagers. I DON’T WANT TO DIE A TEENAGER.

It’s not what you own, your civil status, your income, the countries you’ve traveled to, your education, your status as a parent, or anything external to you that makes you an adult. It’s your spiritual evolution that decides if your a grown up or not. If you are engaged in drama of any kind, if you are suffering, if you are trapped by desires you cannot fulfill, then you are still a child.

And it sucks to be a child with crow’s feet and a saggy chin. People expect better from you.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

Resurrection of the Dead?

Saint Kitty with Medallion

I worry sometimes that if I admit that I’m an Episcopalian and a great admirer and follower of Jesus, that I will lose readers who might think I am, therefore, unscientific in my approach to the survival of consciousness issue or some kind of religious fanatic that has closed her mind to other faiths, beliefs or theories. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I am Christian, but I am completely open to all alternative interpretations of life after death, reincarnation or existence in multiple dimensions or worlds. Some family members of mine are atheists, some follow Eastern religions, some are spiritualists, and some are fundamentalists of various stripes. I appreciate what they all contribute to my understanding of the world.

My mentor is Saint Christopher. He guides people over a tumultuous river. I strive to do the same in my life, leading my students and my loved ones to calmer shores when the storms of emotion cause the river to rise to dangerous levels. I don’t always succeed. In fact, there are many occasions where I feel that I have lost my charges to the currents and couldn’t help them. I do the best that I can within this human body.

Church for me is an experience of questioning and wondering. Sometimes–often, actually–there is church doctrine that confounds me, and I wonder what code the writers are using to make a point. This is the issue that vexes me at the moment: “Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória, Iudicáre vivos et mórtuos,
Cuius regni non erit finis.” Translated from the Latin, “And He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his reign will have no end.”

For Christianity, there is this time period between death and the Second Coming where the souls of the dead are hanging out and waiting for Judgement Day, when bodies shall be raised up and restored to their original state. There are so many problems with this notion, that I can’t imagine that it was designed to be taken literally. Bodies will not LITERALLY be raised from the grave on that day, because that is something out of everyone’s nightmare, and it simply doesn’t fit with Jesus’ metaphorical and symbolic teachings.

This is a great site for this interested in pursuing the debate:

http://jamestabor.com/2014/05/04/why-a-spiritual-resurrection-is-the-only-sensible-option/

For what’s it’s worth, from a non-theologian’s point of view, this is what I think as a researcher into the paranormal and survival of consciousness:

You can’t convince people to give up everything to follow Jesus if they don’t understand what the reward is. Jesus often spoke in parables and metaphors so that his followers could readily understand complex ideas. It makes no sense to tell people that they will go to Heaven with Jesus if they have no body. We experience this life through our bodies, and we simply cannot fathom what life would feel like without one. The “resurrection of the dead” allows us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, since He too was resurrected in bodily form after three days of physical death.

If you accept that Jesus performed miracles, then of course he could appear as a fully-formed human being three days after his death. Christians who do not believe in miracles are missing the experience of joy and hope that Christianity provides for so many people (this same joy and hope is present in most major religions). However, the Bible seems curiously silent on the issue of soul/body after death. Does the soul separate from the body after death, awaiting the resurrection of its body? Where does the soul go? Do all souls go to the same place after death, or are they categorized according to their worthiness to be with God?

I think that this is where reincarnation comes into the picture. Physical death occurs for everybody. The soul needs a new body, unless it is to go straight to God, which I think is for only the rarest and most enlightened of human beings. For the majority of us, we must find our way to God through through another lifetime to work our way towards God. When our journey to God is complete, then we will be completely resurrected, in a new body–a transcendent, holy body that encapsulates our enlightened soul, now with God. Until that moment, we are “dead,” in the sense that we are not with God.

The “resurrection of the dead” refers, then, to the whole integration of our spirits, souls and bodies with God. Until then, we cycle through lifetimes of experiences seeking to learn, to perfect, and to purify our emotions, intentions, beliefs and actions so that we are ready for our personal resurrection. There is not ONE single resurrection; our time comes when we are ready. Time means nothing in the Bible; only the contaminated life of earth is bound by time. There is no date, no time, no future, no present, no past for God. That is why the Bible states that we must always be ready for the coming of the Lord, for there is no way to know when we will be called (see the parable of the Bridesmaids awaiting their Groom).

Although reincarnation is not official Church doctrine, it was at one time before Church fathers and scholars purged all references to it in an attempt to differentiate Christianity from Eastern religions. A quick Google search of “Reincarnation and Early Church Doctrine” reveals much interesting information. It makes sense to me that the one area of survival of consciousness that has been most rigorously studied, researched and authenticated–reincarnation–dovetails nicely with the Biblical notion of a ‘waiting room’ before the Second Coming. The reason that the Bible is so vague on the destiny of souls after physical death, I think, has to do with editing and expunging references to reincarnation in the first few centuries A.D.

I am prepared for all comments, positive and negative, and I will listen to anyone who would like to correct, modify or argue against what I have said here, as long as you’re nice about it.

A fellow traveler,

Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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