Mysteries: The Occult, Paranormal and Supernatural
Wednesday, October 31, 2007; 10:00 AM
Curious about the occult, mystics, The Kabbalah, spirits, Atlantis and other lost worlds, psychic powers or other supernatural or paranormal phenomena? British author Colin Wilson has researched these areas for decades and took your questions at Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 10 a.m. ET.
The transcript follows.
Wilson is the author of dozens of books, both fiction and nonfiction, many with metaphysical or occult themes. Nonfiction works include "The Occult: A History," "From Atlantis to the Sphinx," "Rogue Messiahs: Tales of Self-Proclaimed Saviors" and "Mysteries: An Investigation into the Occult, the Paranormal and the Supernatural." His fictional works include "The Mind Parasites," "The Space Vampires" and "The Return of the Lloigor," a story set in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos.
Freising, Germany: Where exactly did the term, "occult," come from? Although it's used now for any non-traditional religious movement, such as New Age beliefs, wasn't the occult originally associated with Satanic beliefs?
Colin Wilson: In any dictionary it says occult simply means hidden, and in fact doctors still use it in a quite ordinary sense of "not visible" -- occult anxiety and similar phenomena.
But obviously it simply has come to mean any kind of hidden knowledge. I don't like the term much myself and it was kind of a second-best when I came to write "The Occult." I would have preferred something like "The Paranormal" or "Supernature" because I don't see it as meaning something particularly supernatural -- it was something that came to me quite slowly. I started off very much obsessed with science when I was young and only gradually when I was studying the paranormal did I understand that it was good common sense, as solid and real as atoms and electrons. For example, almost all occult things seem to me like the existence of ghosts, to be something that has been accepted throughout thousands of years of history. Once I saw how much solid evidence there was for it, that it wasn't a sign of pure superstition, I began to see that we need a new world view in which the paranormal is taken as much for granted as science. I've no patience whatsoever for these scientists that claim it's all superstition.
Morgantown, W.Va.: Mr. Wilson in some of your books you claim that the so-called poltergeist phenomenon is not because of teenage hysteria, but the the activities of real spirits. On what do you base you opinion? Could you share any personal experiences that would verify this belief?
Colin Wilson: I started off like everybody else believing that these were just disturbed teenagers until I came across a well-authenticated case of a poltergeist staying in the same house when different families were there. Little by little I became convinced that it's in fact a spirit. That's a view that's accepted quite widely now among paranormal researchers. As for personal experience, I once went with my wife to investigate a poltergeist which had smashed everything in the house, broke every plate and dish. The daughter of the house told me this thing had dragged her up the stairs by the throat, and I knew she couldn't have done that herself with her unconscious mind. Another time I was in a pub in Coryton, alone, and a big heavy pint glass jumped off the floor near me and hit the floor and bounced without breaking. It was a poltergeist saying hello to me, so I turned around and bowed to it. That's really my only contact with what you might call a poltergeist, but I don't do a lot of physical research, going around places looking for poltergeists. What I do is I collect facts.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Are there any scientifically verified accounts of ESP, clairvoyance, or telekinesis actually occurring? If so could you provide some details or reference any papers or books regarding such phenomena?
Colin Wilson: Yes, there are lots and lots of quite well-authenticated accounts, this Russian lady Kulagina who caused all kinds of strange things. She could make a piece of paper move around at will, her mind could actually look at things and make them do what she wanted. And there's lots and lots of this -- look up psychokinesis of any good dictionary of the paranormal. There's a gigantic thing edited by a man named Sheppard. Uri Geller can do it of course -- a lot of people think he's a fake, but I don't. I've been in the room when he's done it, bent spoons and such. I'm convinced he's completely honest, he just happens to have this extraordinary ability.
Pottstown, Pa.: How do you maintain your sense of societal norms and yet delve into worlds that are beyond the grasp of mainstream society? In other words, how often are you dismissed or respected by members of mainstream society for your interests?
Colin Wilson: Don't forget, the occult or paranormal is only a very small part of the things that interest me. I started off as a philosopher in the same tradition as the continental existentialists, back in the '50s with Sartre and Camus. I was trying to create a different, optimistic existentialism. I got terribly interested in the work of the philosopher at the foundation of existentialism, Edmund Husserl. His method of philosophy was objective observation of our inner states, which he called phenomenology. It seemed to me that when you approached questions of existentialism using these methods, you began to see that Sartre is talking rubbish when he says it's meaningless that we live and meaningless that we die. Meaning is an objective datum, it exists in the universe, out there. This was my deepest conviction from a very early stage. My 1956 bestseller, "The Outsider," which had the unfortunate effect of making me famous, was concerned with these issues. So I've been doing this for 50 years, and still they don't understand what I'm talking about. The existential philosophers remain as pessimistic as ever. No one really has grasped what I'm talking about, but I think it will be eventually.
I think part of the reason they don't grasp what I'm talking about is that my range of interests is so wide. I've written on philosophy, music, wine, numerous novels -- one of which, "Lifeforce," was turned into an extremely bad film. One of the things that came to interest me was the paranormal because roundabout seven years after "The Outsider" came out, everyone became very interested in this. "The Morning of the Magicians" was a bestseller in France, and was filled with all kinds of nonsense. "Was Hitler a black magician." But it also spoke of people I was very interested in, like Gurdjieff, who I think is one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, and whose basic conviction was that we were asleep, almost literally. So I got interested in so much that I think people became bewildered by the sheer range of the hundred books I've written. I only became interested in the occult because an American publisher asked me to write about it. I was convinced it was going to be total nonsense, "Alice in Wonderland," how many unbelievable things can you believe before breakfast. But then I met Robert Graves, who told me a number of stories that convinced me of the reality of the paranormal, so he played a big role in this book. Eventually I came to the conclusion that there was just too much evidence to not believe it didn't exist. I get so tired with materialists who are too lazy to study this stuff.
As I was saying a moment ago, ghosts have been accepted by all civilizations as far back as we can go. No doubt some of this is superstition, but it's continued for such a long time that there's no way it could all be made up. That's true of many other things -- I've had many instances of telepathy with my wife, people have seen the future with great accuracy. A friend of mine named Mark Bredin had just given a concert in London and was going home in a taxi and suddenly he knew with absolute certainty that a taxi would jump the light at the next intersection and slam into his taxi. And sure enough it happened. Examples like that convince me. And when I then came to recognize that poltergeists were in fact spirits, then obviously I was really getting into deep waters. And as absurd as it sounds, despite believing in poltergeists, I didn't believe for a very long time in life after death, but gradually I studied the subject more and more, wrote a book, "Afterlife," and after that I just had no question whatsoever that it exists. In recent years, a friend of mine called Monty Keen, died while he was giving a speech to the society of psychic research, but he kept coming back, appearing to all kinds of friends and speaking with them. So that suggest life after death actually exists.
But I want to emphasize once again that this is only a small part of my interests; I'm mostly interested in philosophy and what the human mind can do. My next book will be "Mindforce," about the extraordinary capacity humans seem to have for tremendous momentous of happiness and what I call "power consciousness." There's a poem by W.B. Yeats, about him sitting in a London shop, about a sudden onset of incredible happiness. That happens so much more often than we believe. A friend of mine, Abraham Maslow, the head of the American Psychological Association, terms them "peak experiences." He'd gotten sick of studying sick people and asked around his friends for the healthiest people they knew, and he studied them instead, and he quickly made a discovery -- with great frequency all healthy people had these "peak experiences," and of course the great question is how do you reproduce them. The center of Marcel Proust's great novel, "Remembrance of Things Past," are these moments. What Laslow discovered that when people like his students began to talk to one another about these experiences, they began having them all the time. Whenever I am in a state of optimism, good things tend to happen to me, and the opposite also is true. In principle, we know the secret of how to make things go well, rather than badly. This is a kind of occult experience. Our minds possess a tremendous power we do not understand, but if we accept this as a reality, then everything changes. The paranormal is all about this strange ability of the mind.
Herndon, Va.: Do you believe that there is a Hall of Records underneath the Sphinx and, if so, will it be found in the next decade?
Colin Wilson: I think in all probability, yes, but of course it's impossible to say if it will be found in the next decade. This is not a matter of the paranormal. But I have always believed that civilization is thousands of years older than we accept, and in ancient Egypt this was of tremendous importance, that their civilization dated back thousands of years beyond what we believed, and I believe evidence of that will be found, as you say, under the pyramids. So yes, I do believe these things will be discovered.
While we're about this, let me just give you one of the strangest, most inexplicable facts about the age of civilization. This has to do with the Nineveh number, which was discovered in a tomb in Iraq, the tomb of an ancient king, and the people who discovered it in the middle of the 1800s, because they discovered on a clay tablet a 15-digit number. In these days even 1,000,000 was not a common number in civilization -- there was not a great deal of use for it. But Maurice Chatelain realized that it was 60 times 70 to the power of seven, and he then discovered that this number is the processional cycle, which is tied to the procession of the equinoxes, and that cycle lasts 26,000 years. The Nineveh number was this number times 240. The Frenchman believed that this was the "cosmic constant" that the ancients had spoken of, which was a number into which all the great numbers of the solar system would divide exactly -- the orbit of the sun, the planets, etc. He couldn't understand how some civilization in the past could have known all about the solar system in the utmost detail. Studying the numbers in detail, however, he found a few very small discrepancies, for instance in the rotation of the Earth, in the sixth decimal place. When he adjusted this for the slowing of the rotation of the Earth, he found that it would be completely accurate 60,000 years ago. That is one of the reasons I believe very much that there is some ancient civilization. You will say that some of this sounds completely mad, but you have to understand that all of this develops from the serious interests I've been exploring for the past 50 years.
Philadelphia: Have you examined the abilities of people like Alison DuBois and similar people who claim they can get messages from spirits? If so, what have you found? If not, what are thoughts on their abilities?
Colin Wilson: Yes, certainly I've studied mediums. I've known several, and many have been incredibly accurate. Some people are born with this weird ability to see things others cannot -- all animals have this sense. For example, most can see ghosts in the act when taken into haunted houses and such. There was a famous tiger hunter called Jim Corbett who found he developed a very keen sense of danger when he was about to be attacked. Corbett needed this extra sense, but you and I don't. So we human being gradually have gotten rid of all kinds of paranormal faculties that animals and primitive human beings still possess. Mediums are essentially people who still have some of these faculties, and I've known many of them, and the kind of thing they can do often is completely incomprehensible. For example, a man I got to know, Robert Cracknell, who knew things by second sight that he could not possibly know. In one example in Central London a girl was murdered and disappeared, and a reporter asked Cracknell about it, and Robert was pretty convinced she was murdered by a black man who had committed by several other murders and that her contraceptive device had been torn out and was on the back seat of the man's car. The police came to Bob and accused him of being the murderer. He explained his psychic powers to them and gave them numerous details and told them that the killer was already in custody, and the police exchanged a look because it was they were fairly certain they did have the man. As I've gotten to know Bob Cracknell I've seen him do this again and again.
Sacramento, Calif.: Are there vampires, aliens, and/or any other non-human creatures living among us? If so, can you discuss this please. What if any danger do they pose to the rest of us? As a follow-up, if there are any such non-human creatures living among us, are there any identifying characteristics one can look for?
Colin Wilson: My first feeling about vampires is that obviously they simply were a myth, a legend, but as I studied cases that occurred in middle Europe in the middle of the 1700s, I found that there seems to be real evidence for their existence. In Medvigia, there were a number of people who were supposed to have died a long time ago who actually were still very much alive. I wrote a book called "Unexplained Mysteries" on topics like these. As for aliens, flying saucers became very popular when I was a boy; it wasn't until about 40 years later that I was asked by a publisher in the '90s if I would write a book about this notion of aliens and whether they existed. Once again I found the evidence was very strong indeed; I'd met a number of very sensible people who were convinced they had been abducted. Bud Hopkins for example has written on dozens of cases of it. Do I believe that these things pose a threat? On the whole I don't. But I do believe they're studying us very closely and can make life very uncomfortable for the people they abduct. What it's all about I just don't know. The great significance of all this evidence has to be the recognition that we're not the highest intelligence in all the universe; in a sense we are still apes.
Ein Karem, Israel: In my opinion the occult is destructive, leading to the problem of repressive, obsessive and possessive nature ... what is your opinion? Is Harry Potter a factor in the occult growth today?
Colin Wilson: Harry Potter I've never read. It's a bit too young to me. I sat halfway through the first film on television, but it's not really my cup of tea. But your feeling I perfectly understand, many people share it. All I can tell you is that I started off as a skeptic and I've learned as the years go by that it just doesn't work. There are so many things we don't understand that by far the best attitude is to take an open mind. When you open your mind, extremely interesting things get into it. Members of the Society for Psychic Research are very sensible, down-to-Earth people and through open mindedness I think hold a more sensible view of things than scientists, who regard the whole thing as a delusion.
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