What, exactly, makes contact with us on paranormal investigations, or “ghost hunts?” This question has haunted me, so to speak, for years. Most of us assume that it is the intact spirit of a dead human being; however, after reading Colin Wilson’s Poltergeist: a Classic Study in Destructive Haunting, I may have another answer. This time the answer may be definitive.
The path to the answer is long and winding, requiring us to make some assumptions the materialist will not necessarily welcome. First and foremost—and I doubt anyone would disagree with this point—humans are inexhaustible fountains of kinetic, magnetic and electrical energy. Secondly, that energy does not evaporate or disappear upon the death of the body (the laws of physics support this notion, specifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics). If we can accept the first two premises, I will add a third—human personality is intimately bound and expressed by the energy we store, produce and throw out into the world. Most of don’t ever attempt to harness or use our energy to affect the physical world; however, the interplay between human “foci” and the boundless energy of the poltergeist (more on this later) exemplifies this relationship between both complementary and oppositional forces (here I consider the forces in classic and quantum physics, but I must leave that for another entry). The evidence for the previous affirmations ranges from psychic healing to E.S.P. to apparitions of the dead (and living). Anyone who thinks that the evidence does not exist has not researched the history of the so-called “paranormal”, and needs to read the peer-reviewed papers of William James and Frederic Myers from the Society for Psychical Research (to name two among hundreds who have studied anomalous phenomena).
How do we understand ourselves? We need to answer that question before we can decide what a ghost, a poltergeist or an elemental might be. There is an intimate interplay between our various “selves” and what we observe to be happening around us in haunted locations. It is a fact that something is “happening” during some paranormal investigations—but what we don’t often consider is the relationship between what we are observing and how we operate as human beings. Our minds do not create the phenomena per se, but the structure of our psyche organizes and energizes the spirits that draw from us in order to manifest or interact. If it seems intellectually suspicious to accept the existence of spirits as fact, I ask the reader to please read Wilson’s book—it makes perfect sense in the context of thousands of years of human experience. I am not asking for a leap of faith, but for the reader to consult an expert (Wilson) and to accept the preponderance of the evidence.
Our identity is not a solid, continuous, coherent structure. We have to construct our “selves” and create an identity from the fragments of our personality. Freud famously described the Id, Ego and Superego as the elements that constitute human personality. In the Huna philosophy, there are Lower, Middle and Upper selves. We are all aware of the “left brain, right brain” dichotomy, and the fact that one side of the brain can operate independently of the other. In broader strokes, there is the conscious and the unconscious mind, and the differences between “soul” and “spirit” that so many religions define (see Peter Novak’s The Lost Secret of Death for a fascinating discussion of this division). Across cultures, religions and philosophies, we find the same tendencies to view the human psyche as divided into various “compartments”, like rooms in a basement. Science itself supports this notion through studies of the brain, although doesn’t admit that there is a spiritual or extra-corporeal dimension to consciousness.
Wilson takes hundreds of cases of poltergeist disturbances and hauntings—both ancient and modern—and delves into the various theories that best explain the phenomena. He is particularly impressed by Max Long, Allen Kardec (father of Spiritism in Brazil), Cesare Lombroso, T.C. Lethbridge and the Huna philosophy of the self when attempting a coherent theory for the behavior and existence of “discarnate entities” Consider his understanding of the poltergeist:
“In addition to these two ‘souls’ [the conscious and the unconscious] we also “possess” (or “are?) a higher self, a superconscious being who might be regarded as the guardian angel, and—this is perhaps the most interesting suggestion—controls our future. It does so according to the desires and suggestions of the “middle self”—the conscious ego—and most of us have such messy lives because our suggestions are so muddled and contradictory. . . .
These three souls use three kinds of vital force, or mana, each with a different “voltage,” so to speak. The form used by the higher self is symbolized in religions by the sun. By way of illustrating this vital force on its lowest level, Long cites Nandoor Fodor’s Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, and Lombroso’s case of the poltergeist in the tavern. For the poltergeist, according to Long, is a spirit—“lower soul” which has somehow, in death, become separated from the middle and higher selves. According to Long, the lower self possesses memory, and the middle self does not. So a disembodied lower self is an earthbound spirit of the type that causes poltergeist disturbances. The disembodied middle self, separated from the other selves, is a wandering wraith without memory—in fact, what we would generally regard as a ghost.” (312-13)
A poltergeist, then, is a manifestation that draws energy from our lower selves. The destructive haunting takes advantage of our “energy leaks” to create disturbances in the environment, from rappings and scratching noises in the walls to smashed plates and spontaneous fires. The ghost is a remnant of a soul that never integrated itself, never found a way towards union through a higher spiritual purpose or mission. The ghost, possessing no memory, repeats actions in a mindless loop; it never realizes that time has moved forward. For the ghost, time does not move, but is paralyzed in an eternal present moment where is replays a trauma or relives the habits of an old life. The “higher self” presumably is capable of moving on to another plane of existence or another dimension of reality that we cannot perceive. The higher self is what we usually understand as the soul, capable of evolution and transformation. It seems to me that this is what reincarnates, what is reborn and continues a particular journey of self discovery.
This suggests that one person can divide into various energy forms, both while alive and after death. Lower spirits find us at our most vulnerable and feed off our energy; we can project our “middle selves,” the spirit without memory, into a double that does our bidding at a distance. This may be the body involved in astral travel and out-of-body experiences. All of this can occur while we are consciously occupying the only “self” we recognize: the higher self, the superego, or the seat of the soul. After death, our lower self can continue to generate energy or seek it from others–it is the instinct unleashed, the primitive desires of the frustrated child loosed upon the world. We could haunt someone through the lower self, sucking up the energies of those who allow us, and creating havoc and chaos without the higher self ever realizing it. Our “middle self” could split from us and create a ghost, again without our conscious awareness. What happens to our soul, our “higher self” after death? I believe that we strongly identify with our most developed and aware right brain, and consider that to be the source of our true identity; however, if we have not integrated the elements of our personality, our being, then we may well create the hauntings that others investigate. Could our divided mind fill the world with ghosts and poltergeists? Could that happen even in life? That would explain the complicated relationship we have with spirits and ghosts, the interplay between our conscious and unconscious minds with the myriad wandering spirits and thought forms (elementals and nature spirits ) that surround us.
I have often wondered, as I sit in the darkened hallways of Camarillo or the dingy surgical suites at Linda Vista what is speaking to us, what is slinking around the perimeter, who is touching our hair or brushing our face. If we have enough experience, we know what is exterior to us and what has a “natural” explanation; or so we think. If activity seems to occur more often when a certain person is in the room, it isn’t luck or “sensitivity”: it’s a mild form of possession, an interplay between the overflowing energy of the lower self, the unconscious, and a fragment of consciousness “out there” that is seeking self expression. I now believe that we can be possessed if we are weak, incautious, vulnerable or unaware of our own powerful emotions. Our energy is like food for lower entities, who–in the end–are fragments of the psyche of the dead (and in some cases, the living). We need to exercise extreme caution when we undertake such voyages of discovery in the land of the spirits, because we occupy the same space–and we create the same potential for chaos and terror.
If there is a way around the dilemma of the divided self, it would have to consist of a combination of mental and spiritual practices: as Wilson states, cultivate the authority of your higher self, so that “you” (your true soul) remains in control of your unconscious or lower self. I would add to that the necessity of continual spiritual development and transformation. Pray, meditate, find your path and purpose–protect the soul and foster its potential for great good in the world. Only through conscious integration of all your emotions, instincts, desires and mindless urges will you achieve the possibility of eternity as a soul with its memory–the past– intact; only through such integration is there a future, many futures, for you–the authentic you. Without such a resolution, such a marriage of the selves, the haunting that will most terrify you will be your own.