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Book Recommendation: “Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness”

Readers of The Teeming Brain will find something of more than passing interest in the just-released nonfiction anthology Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness: Liminal Zones, Psychic Science, and the Hidden Dimensions of the Mind. This is indicated not only by the book’s heady subtitle, and not only by fact that it is co-edited by Daniel Pinchbeck and Ken Jordan of Reality Sandwich fame, but by the fact that its contents include three essays by current and future Teeming Brain contributors.

David Metcalfe, who writes our popular column De Umbris Idearum, is present with an essay titled “On Anthropological Approaches to Anomalous Phenomena: Explorations in the Science of Magic and the Narrative Structure of Paranormal Experiences.”

Popular consciousness and edge-science author Anthony Peake, whose person and books we’ve mentioned many times, and who will soon be featured as a Teeming Brain contributing writer, is present with an essay titled “Layers of Illusion: Manifesting Astral Body, Dream, and Lucidity.”

And Ryan Hurd of, whose books and lectures on consciousness, dreams, sleep paralysis, and related matters are among the best around, and who will also soon become a Teeming Brain contributing writer, is present with an essay titled “Sleep Paralysis Visions: Demons, Succubi, and the Archetypal Mind.”

The rest of the table of contents reads like a who’s-who of fascinating figures in these and related areas. Here’s the official description:


In Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness, a diverse group of authors journey into the fringes of human consciousness, tackling such topics as psychic and paranormal phenomena, lucid dreaming, synchronistic encounters, and more. The book is published by Evolver Editions/North Atlantic Books.

Collected from the online magazine Reality Sandwich, these essays explore regions of the mind often traversed by shamans, mystics, and visionary artists; adjacent and contiguous to our normal waking state, these realms may be encountered in dreams or out-of-body experiences, accessed through meditation or plant medicines, and marked by psychic phenomena and uncanny synchronicities. From demons encountered in sleep paralysis visions to psychic research conducted by the CIA, the seemingly disparate topics covered here congeal to form a larger picture of what these extraordinary states of consciousness might have to tell us about the nature of reality itself.


Recommended Reading 10

This week’s links and reading cover apocalyptic trends and their cultural, psychological, and artistic/literary aspects; economic collapse in America and Europe, with attendant venality on the part of politicians and the wealthy elite; the rise of an über-surveillance state in America; epic protests in Canada; the decline and fall (and continued decline after falling) of America’s colleges; a poignant plea for us all not to forget the real human suffering that attends the current debate over the status of antidepressants; a list of steps to “becoming a writer”; thoughts about fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other genre fiction in literature and film; the American military’s relationship with the entertainment industry; lucid dreaming and near-death experiences; and a timely warning about the dangers of taking in too much information (from posts like this one, perhaps?).

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The 1960s Redux: In our new age of apocalypse, is the consciousness revolution back on?

For the past few years, I’ve had a mounting sense that the abortive consciousness revolution of the 1960s and early 70s may have come back from the dead, riding on the wave of apocalyptic sentiment that’s been washing over us all since the late 1990s. Sometimes a new datum, or something that I interpret as a datum, enters my field of awareness and reinforces this.

Today, as on most days, I spent a few minutes browsing the latest updates at Tony Peake’s forum. That’s Anthony Peake, mind you, the British author of Is There Life after Death?, The Daemon: A Guide to Your Extraordinary Secret Self, and the forthcoming High Plains Drifters and Time, Dreams & Precognition. The first offers a revolutionary, scientifically-based theory of subjective immortality. The second elaborates on an idea included in the first: that we’re all divided into two separate centers of consciousness, and that the self which does things like read the words you’re now reading is the “lower” one which is ontologically preceded, accompanied, and guided by a higher one. The third will be a study of out-of-body experiences. The fourth is explained by its own title. For obvious reasons, Tony is occasionally described as a successor to Colin Wilson.

At his forum today, I found a mention of a new book, published in May and accompanied by a blurb from Tony, titled The Dark Man. Written by Deborah Wells, who, like me, is a participant at Tony’s forum, it is devoted to exploring the “mysterious dark presence . . . a tall, dark, gaunt man” that “stalks us through our dreams, our waking lives and our creative endeavors” and is pervasive in “the history of religion, philosophy, art, and literature.”

This struck me with an electrical jolt of personal significance. Why? Well, it’s obviously because of my own experiences with the dark man via my sleep paralysis episodes. And that surge of ecstatic and fascinated recognition as I first read about Ms. Wells’ book and then availed myself of the Amazon and Google Books previews helped to crystallize my aforementioned thoughts and feelings about a possible resurrection of the 1960s consciousness project. Because, as evinced by the very existence of her book, and Tony’s work, and a thousand other current and recent reference points, we are right now experiencing an epic fermentation of cultural discourse about consciousness, selfhood, the paranormal, scientific knowledge, and the nature of reality itself.

I was born in 1970, so my personal memories of the period are drenched in a misty air of mythic significance. When in my late teens and early twenties I discovered the intellectual/cultural/spiritual/philosophical legacy of 1960s — by obsessively reading Alan Watts, Theodore Roszak, Robert Anton Wilson, and other authors; by watching the likes of Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate, Easy Rider, Harold and Maude, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! and 2001: A Space Odyssey about two million times; by studying the history of the civil rights movement, the hippie movement, the psychedelic culture, the Vietnam War and its attendant cultural insanity, the great worldwide protests of 1968, etc. — I wished fervently that I could have lived through that heady period, when it seemed as if the collective cranium of Western and global civilization was primed to erupt in a psychedelic expansion into new realms of thought, experience, and being that would inevitably lead to new patterns of social, political, religious, and cultural arrangement.

But of course we all know what became of that age. In America (and Britain), the excitement died a miserable death under the onslaught of various assassinations, scandals, economic calamities, and the eventual consolidation of the corporate consumer worldview under and after Reagan (and Thatcher). And that’s not even to mention the movement’s own inexorable centrifugal force and latent narcissism, which led it to corrupt itself from within.

So that’s the past. Now fast forward to the first decade of the 21st century, and what do we find? As in the sixties, everything seems apocalyptic. Everything seems poised to melt away and reveal an ugly truth lurking beneath the facade of what we have collectively agreed to call a normal way of life. For Americans especially, what primed us for this was the Y2K non-event. Then 9/11 deflowered us. After that, successive waves of tentative financial calamity, followed by our current and ongoing full-blown financial-economic collapse, erased our (illusionary) innocence entirely. Additionally, fears about serious and calamitous climate change have made significant attitudinal contributions, along with other ecological portents, fears about peak oil and 2012, and the first-ever wide-open recognition, by pretty much the entire public at large, of the entrenched and seemingly incurable corruption of our most prominent political and business institutions, as illustrated most recently by the collusion of BP and the U.S. federal government in creating a total fustercluck in the Gulf of Mexico.

And running neck in neck with this — again as in the 60s — we’re seeing a concomitant explosion of new discourse, expressed in books (including Tony’s and Ms. Wells’), films, music, and more, that appears to pick right back up where the original consciousness revolution left off. This formerly esoteric and marginal realm of investigation and experience, which deals with a true upending of conventional notions about selfhood, identity, time, space, and reality, presently appears to be snowballing into a major cultural force with transformative and mainstream-invading potential.

To name just one more example, only two weeks ago Rachael by-God Ray featured a segment on her network television show about “mysterious illnesses” — and one of them was sleep paralysis, a subject which, as indicated by the explosion of recent books and documentary films (one of which caught Ray’s attention), and by the solid backbone of scholarship established by Dr. David J. Hufford over the past three decades,

  1. is linked directly to religious experience, and is in fact an authentic firsthand religious experience of its own;
  2. is a classic instance of a major human experience that has been rejected by the dominant Western worldview of the past several centuries; and
  3. is manifestly edging its way into the mainstream of the Western first-world cultural conversation.

In short, I find this all quite astonishing, not to mention hugely gratifying. And although I fear my chosen data points in support of my conclusion or suspicion may seem idiosyncratic and weird, I don’t think this invalidates the suspicion itself.

So where’s it going to lead? Naturally, I have no idea. But I’m currently rereading Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger to remind myself of where the original consciousness revolution came from, and of the extent of its failure due to a tendency toward personal dissipation, as interacting with the violent backlash from a dominant mainstream culture acting out a psychological/neurological imprint of reactionary hatred and fear. At the same time, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, things might really have a chance to change this time.

Shadow Visitors: Sleep paralysis and discarnate “dark ones”

Louis Proud: Dark IntrusionsA week or so ago I finished reading Louis Proud’s fascinating book Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences. Published just last year, it argues that sleep paralysis is actually a cousin to spirit mediumship, in that the experience represents an actual visitation by paranormal entities that live constantly among us. Usually we remain in a condition of mutual ignorance — we don’t see these entities, and they don’t see us — but sometimes they become aware of us, and then, if they’re the lower and more craven kind, they latch onto us to feed on our life energy. Sufferers of sleep paralysis thus serve as conduits to the spiritual or daimonic realm in a manner roughly similar to mediums or, in a slightly different context, the teenager that’s typically identified as the focal point for a poltergeist disturbance. (For a detailed explanation of Proud’s ideas, see the interview he gave to TheoFantastique a couple of months ago.)

You’ll recall that I myself suffered for years from savage episodes of sleep paralysis. I still have them occasionally, only they’re much milder and less dramatic than they used to be. In the beginning they were fully as shattering and spiritually transformational as what Proud — a sleep paralysis sufferer himself — describes in his book. Although I never bought fully into an all-out paranormal explanation of the whole thing, remaining mostly skeptical about such matters, I was unable, as a matter of psychological fact, to escape the awful pall that the experiences cast over my life for a few years, just as I was unable to deny the clear impression that the figure or figures that visited me during those episodes were objectively real, as opposed to subjective dream figures generated by my brain. Of course, that doesn’t mean they actually were (or are) real. But as in all things, it’s prudent here to make sure you’re informed before you pass judgment, and in this case that might mean reading — for instance — the work of David J. Hufford, the brilliant pioneer of sleep paralysis studies (and a professor of both humanistic medicine and religious studies in the Penn State and University of Pennsylvania systems). Among the several aspects of his work that are guaranteed to provoke a reaction deeper than a mere shrug are his findings that the phenomenology of the sleep paralysis experience (what it feels like, and what the “entities” encountered during it look like and act like) remains constant across cultures, even among those that are fully isolated from each other, thus giving the lie to the idea that cultural expectations determine the content of the attendant hypnagogic visions; and that even among educated moderns who have been taught, or who have sometimes eagerly sought out on their own, the voluminous medical literature that explains the neurological aspects of sleep paralysis, it’s still quite common for them absorb this medical-scientific knowledge without changing their opinion that their experiences have a metaphysical or paranormal basis.

Reading Proud’s book has got me to reflecting seriously on everything that happened to me during those years, a task that’s made easier by the fact that I wrote about a lot of it in my journal at the time.

Here are two things about my experiences that I’ve never mentioned to anybody, including family and close friends. I bring them up now because I figure they might prove interesting to those of you who are fans of my horror fiction and want to know more about its origins.

First, I’ll highlight two famous images from Hollywood that, although they’re very distinct from each other, manage in tandem to illustrate the thing that I encountered during one of my earliest and most powerful sleep paralysis experiences (which I described in a kind of glossed-over fashion in “Fun with nocturnal assault“):

"The Beast Within" and "John Carpenter's The Thing"

If you can imagine these two images — which are probably familiar to you — mingled together to the point where they’re concomitant, then you’ll have a good sense of what I encountered in my bedroom one night in 1993. On that occasion, I emerged circa 3 a.m. from a sleep so deep that it was almost a coma, to find myself paralyzed by a dark figure hovering over me at the foot of the bed. When I say I was paralyzed by the figure, that’s precisely accurate: I had the sense that this thing was responsible for the awful state of paralysis that had unaccountably taken hold of me. And yes, I do know, and I think I may even have known then, about the physical paralysis that naturally occurs during REM sleep. In the presence of that dark figure, I was immediately panicked, horrified, positively sickened with terror and dread, in a way and to a degree that I had not only never experienced but had never even conceived. And this horror was a result not only of my paralysis, nor of the figure’s presence and frightening appearance, but of the awful knowledge of its reason for being there, which gripped me suddenly and totally. The thing was a vaguely man-shaped vortex of darkness, and I knew, with a kind of psychological weight that I had never imagined, that it was the anti-me, that it was like my own personal black hole, and that its presence, in fact its very existence, meant my utter annihilation. I actually felt it sucking my entire being into it, like a roaring, devouring hurricane meant for me and me alone.

Yes, cue thoughts of the Jungian shadow, the disjected and repressed aspects of the total self, objectified in a moment of involuntary hypnagogia to confront me. But does such an explanation, even if accepted (and it sounds valid to me), necessarily negate and exclude all others? Can’t the “explanation” of many things be multivalent?

So that’s the first of the two things mentioned above: In 1993, during my worst-ever episode of sleep paralysis, I encountered a demonic-seeming figure whose very essence and raison d’etre was my utter negation, and which looked a bit like the cinematic images I’ve supplied. I didn’t think of the movie pictures until sometime afterward, though, when I was trying to come to grips with the whole thing, and was trying to remember what the entity had looked like, which was singularly difficult because although it definitely had a visual appearance, which definitely felt like I was looking at it in just as real and wakeful a fashion as I’m now looking at my laptop screen, its appearance was also, somehow, psychological or spiritual, so that what it looked like to the physical eye was completely intermingled with what it “looked” like to thought, emotion, and the imaginal eye.

The second thing is a little anecdote from my college years that has come back to haunt me from time to time, and that has now pushed its way to the front of my thoughts thanks to Proud’s book. As I mentioned in a recent Demon Muse post (“Stoking Your Creative Fire: Embrace your Creative Demon’s Rhythm (1)”), when I was an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I took a class titled The Creative Process. It was offered through the honors college, and was created and taught by Dr. Betty Scott, who in addition to being a noted trumpet player was and is a long-time adherent of alternative spiritualities and health modalities. Her Creative Process class, which I took when it was brand new and had only been offered once or twice before, was ostensibly about the subject named in its title. It was supposedly intended to teach students the psychology of creativity and help them increase their creative potential. And while it really did cover this territory, it also ended up being so chock-full of non-mainstream spiritual and psychological stuff that it could validly have been titled New Age 101. Under Dr. Scott’s tutelage, I and my fellow students engaged in guided visualizations to find internal creative guides. We drew and shared personal mandalas. We created and endlessly wrote affirmations. We listened to subliminal learning tapes consisting of New Age electronic music accompanied by subaural messages aimed at increasing our creative focus and energy. We discussed Richard Bach’s newest book at the time, One, which continued the author’s tale of his transcendent love affair with his “soulmate,” Leslie Parrish-Bach, that he had begun in The Bridge Across Forever. (Having been mesmerized first by Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull and then his Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah back in high school, I was an easy mark for this one. Of course, the whole thing seemed to fall apart retroactively when he and Leslie divorced in the late 1990s.)

At first I dug the hell of the whole thing, and I started out as one of the star pupils in the class. But partway through the semester I dove with gusto into researching a paper for another class about the then-hot New Age movement in America, and by the time I had finished writing that paper, which touched on the channeling phenomenon (including J.Z. Knight and her Ramtha swindle), neurolinguistic programming, crystal mania, UFOlogy, and all the rest of that ill-defined, Shirley MacLaine-helmed phenomenon, I had shifted into full-blown skeptic mode, and for the rest of my foray through The Creative Process I was barely able to contain my scorn for what we were doing. Poor Betty, who really was a great lady, couldn’t help but notice the change. Of course she was a lot older and wiser than I was, so I think she just endured my altered demeanor as she had probably endured the attitudinal volatility and pseudo-schizophrenia of a great many college students before me.

Then, a year or two after I was out of her class, a mutual friend named Robert who had been in there with me, and who had gone on to spend more time with Betty in The Creative Process II (a class that I naturally opted to skip), told me something that came blazing up from my memory several years later when I was suffering my near-meltdown from repeated sleep paralysis attacks.

Specifically, Robert told me that when he was talking with Betty one time after a class meeting of Creative Process II, he brought up my name for some reason — an understandable occurrence, since the three of us, he and Betty and I, were all mutual acquaintances. And then for some reason she shared with him that she was concerned that I might have a “dark one” attached to me. I blinked when he told me this, and replied, “Huh?” since this was the first I had heard of such an idea. So he explained that, according to Betty, a dark one is an unincarnate or disincarnate spirit that longs for fleshly existence, and that sometimes one of these spirits will attach itself to a person and live vicariously through his or her bodily experiences. But when it does this, it accidentally and involuntarily imparts a kind of night-sided emotional cast to its host, simply by the fact of its own nature and presence, so that its host’s outlook, mindset, attitude, and overall view and experience of life are tilted in a certain dark-ish, anti-life direction.

And that, my friends, is something that Louis Proud describes very specifically in Dark Intrusions.

As I have explained before — for example, in my Strange Horizons review of Unexplained: An Encylopedia of Curious Phenomena, Strange Superstitions, and Ancient Mysteries, and also in some blog posts here and at Demon Muse — I’ve been very interested in the paranormal, in ghosts and UFOs and cryptozoology and all the rest, since I was a kid, when Daniel Cohen’s books about these things were a delight to me. As an adult that interest has continued,. and I’ve gone on to read books of a much more sophisticated nature, everything from Colin Wilson, John Keel, Patrick Harpur, and Anthony Peake to explicitly skeptical stuff like Skeptical Inquirer and a couple of the hardcore skeptical titles from Prometheus Books. And I’ve done all that while earning a graduate degree in religious studies and pursuing a side career as a supernatural horror writer and independent scholar of such matters. So it’s not like I haven’t thought about such things in awhile. It’s not like I haven’t been “up” on the mediumistic and parapsychological theories of earthbound spirits and all that. But reading Proud’s book, and finding him not only saying things about “lower order spirits” that recall Betty Scott’s odd speculation about me all those years ago, but doing so explicitly in the context of a study of sleep paralysis, which is an experience that helped to define who I am now, has really knocked the bolts loose on some of my mental doors. Multiple interpretations indeed. I feel like I’m living out a metaphor.

If you’ve experienced sleep paralysis yourself, and if you have any thoughts about any of what I’m saying here — or even if you haven’t and you don’t — I’d love to hear your reactions. The comment threads on my previous posts about sleep paralysis have been most enjoyable to read, so if you’re so inclined, please speak up.

Oh, and for those who may be wondering, the answer is yes, the nocturnal supernatural assault scene near the end of my story “An Abhorrence to All Flesh” in Divinations of the Deep, where a character is horrifically destroyed by a man-shaped hole or vortex that appears at the foot of his bed, does indeed hail from the experience I’ve described here.

Recommended Reading 32

This week: a report from Germany’s Der Spiegel about America’s awesome and incontrovertible decline; a summary and review of Morris Berman’s twilight-and-decline-of-America trilogy; thoughts on the rise of the new plutocracy; a lament for the science fiction future that never was, along with a profound and subversive sociocultural analysis of why it wasn’t; thoughts on the new art-and-entertainment category of “the upper middle brow” and its implicit danger as a spiritual narcotic; two cogent examinations of the meaning and fate of books; an article about the mainstream rise of the multiverse model of cosmology and its mind-blowing philosophical and personal implications; a speculation about the possibility that out-of-body experiences may really tell us something about the reality of disembodied consciousness; and a wonderful article by Erik Davis about the current renaissance of psychedelic research. Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 12

This week’s links and readings add up to an exceptionally rich and varied smorgasbord. Topics include: planetary environmental Armageddon plus other modes of doom, along with the American psychology of denial regarding the true direness of our present situation; the authentic rise of an American totalitarian state along the lines of Nuremberg; the egregiously overlooked (by formal policymakers and pundits) role of religion as a causative and formative factor in world affairs; Facebook’s Promethean desire to reshape the world and suck up all of its money with our collective personal data; the manipulation of our neurochemical responses by modern technology and advertising to induce maximum addiction; our perpetual state of chronic enslavement to clock time; a call to end the insanity of “maximum productivity” and build a more human and humane economy; a blessedly clear-sighted graduation speech that tells kids they’re not at all special; a defense of the value — not just aesthetic but political — of formally correct English; examinations of the cultural influences on Prometheus, the American gothic legacy of Ray Bradbury, and the exquisite horror of fairy tales; and a wonderful explanation of why reading Robert Anton Wilson is actually good for you.

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