Victorian Ghost Stories

Below is a great and quick summary by Dr. Roger Luckhurst, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of London regarding Victorian attitudes toward anomalous experiences that were commonplace during Victorian England. A future entry on this blog will also cover parallel trends in America at the time.

The 19th century is routinely thought about as the era of secularisation, a period when the disciplines and institutions of modern science were founded and cultural authority shifted from traditional authority of religion to explanation through the scientific exposition of natural laws. The sociologist Max Weber spoke about this process as the disenchantment of the world.

The emblematic figure in this narrative is Charles Darwin, the anxious amateur biologist who held off publishing his theory of evolution by natural selection for years for fear of the religious and social disturbance it might produce. Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) did indeed result in a crisis of faith for many in the 1860s, before his ideas became embedded in British intellectual life in the last decades of the century.

While we might still accept the broad brush strokes of this story, the Victorian period is also of course a period of deep and sustained religious revival. There was an evangelical revival in the Christian church but also a host of dissenting, heterodox and millenarian cults. It was a golden age of belief in supernatural forces and energies, ghost stories, weird transmissions and spooky phenomena. For a long time historians ignored these beliefs as embarrassing errors or eccentricities, signs of the perturbations produced by the speed of cultural change.

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A Revolutionary Way of Explaining Paranormal and Anomalous Events

This is a review of Dr. Jeff Kripal’s book Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (Chicago, 2010). Dr. Kripal holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University.

When a distinguished endowed chair with impeccable academic lineage and credentials publishes a book on interpreting paranormal experiences, how can anyone at least not be a bit intrigued? On the face of it, what we have in this gem of a book is a learned review of four “authors of the impossible.” That is, four writers who delved into experiences that many of us would simply dismiss as impossible, or, to cite the well-known philosopher of scientific materialism, E. Scrooge, anecdotal experiences that may simply be excused as having come from “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, [or] a fragment of an underdone potato.” Underneath the review of these authors, what Dr. Kripal seems to be doing as elegantly as possible, is nothing less than exploring a new 21st-century metaphysics that can actually account for events on the fringes of our experience. If that sounds complicated or difficult to grasp, it really isn’t.

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A Procession of the Damned

A Procession of the What?

A procession of the damned, that’s what.

In the words of Charles Fort:

By the damned, I mean the excluded.

We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.

The ultra-respectable, but the condemned, anyway. But they’ll march.”

This blog is a plain language and accessible review of some of the truly revolutionary ideas currently being recognized by academics and public intellectuals that help to explain generally overlooked or unstudied human experiences. We give understandable context to an array of “edge” topics like anomalous religious experiences, consciousness, chaos and ritual magic, UFO abduction claims, DMT visions, and the like. These events, generally not seriously studied and, at times, even ridiculed in the past one hundred years, can no longer simply be brushed aside. We seek to treat the experiences with respect while also starting to build a worldview that fits these types of incidents while remaining true to sound intellectual standards and a slimmed-down vocabulary taken from the history of philosophy. In short, there is solid evidence that weird things happen, we seek to build them into a worldview that doesn’t ignore science and reason while simultaneously doesn’t succumb to popular unquestioned assumptions about the nature of our universe. We pursue a metaphysics and epistemology of high strangeness.

The blog is loaded with intriguing anecdotes, scientific findings, and weird (but verified) stories that cause us to reconsider what is real. It borrows heavily from Jeff Kripal, Diana Walsh Pasulka, Jacques Valle, Charles Fort, Dean Radin, Gordon White, Graham Hancock, and Russel Targ.