Exploring Overlapping Themes Between NDEs and UFO/Alien Encounters

Last week I received a last-minute invitation to join Gene and Chris on The Paracast on Thursday. It was the beginning of a chain of SNAFUs on my part, in which I found myself out of home and unable to return at the appointed hour of our Skype seesion, and couldn't even warn Gene because my phone ran out of battery and megabytes on my data plan --fortunately Gene was kind enough to re-schedule to later in the evening. Chris on his part also suffered problems of his own and couldn't join us (it turned out his good friend, Zuni elder Clifford Mahooty, had a sudden health problem and Chris went to his aid. It seems Clifford is doing much better now and is out of danger, but I'm sure many Grailers will still want to send out his prayers and good wishes to him).

So in the end it was me, Gene and Curt Collins of Blue Blurry Lines who filled in as guest co-host. Despite the initial mishaps --and the occasional technical problem on my end-- it was a delightful conversation which took on a rather weird spin: We started up with the usual UFOlogical subjects --including "the topic that shall not be named", which is how Gene refers to the Roswell slides brouhaha of May 5th-- but then for some reason I can't fully explain --and bear in mind I came to the interview *completely* unprepared, worried only about getting back home on time-- I shifted the chat into deeper and fringier waters, when I mentioned the apparent similarities between near-death experiences (NDEs) and what is commonly referred to as 'alien abductions' --I guess sometimes it pays to 'play it by ear'!

We talked about many other things, in that episode --which you can listen to by clicking here-- but then on the next Friday, Gene sent my a second e-mail asking if I would be interested in writing a little editorial for the Paracast Newsletter, 900-1000 words long, expanding on these overlappings between NDEs and alien encounters.

At first I agreed (since I still felt in debt with Gene for behaving so unprofessionally the day before) not knowing whether I would be able to add anything beyond what I had already mentioned on the interview. Then I had the insight of asking Mike Clelland for help; Mike has been looking into the direct contact experience with a very 'out-of-left-field' approach which would be completely unheard of in uptight organizations like MUFON --that's why I enjoy reading his Hidden Experience blog so much, and also look forward to his upcoming book about owls and alien encounters.

Mike quickly replied back and pointed to a Hidden Experience audio conversation he recorded with Dr. Suzanne Gordon in 2013, which dealt with exactly this kind of criss-crossing correlations, between the type of liminal experiences that are often regarded as independent of each other by traditional investigation --if an NDE subject were to fill a questionnaire prepared by a UFO organization, the results might conclude him to be a an alien abductee, and viceversa. Mike also adviced me to look into the work of NDE researcher Dr. Kenneth Ring, who was among the first to observe these correlations with an open mind --others who were unafraid to look into these overlappings were the late Dr. John Mack, and of course Terence McKenna, the 'Bard' of the psychedelic movement.

With all this I began to expand upon my notes more and more, and then after my mind was 'fully pregnant' with potential I set myself to the task, and did not stop until the 'small' 900-1000 word-long editorial grew into a 4650-word behemoth, which I titled "Charon's Silvery Boat: Overlappings Between Near Death Experiences and UFO/Alien Encounters."

Here's a sample of what I wrote, treating both types of experiences as if they were different manifestations of the same phenomenon:

  • The experience transcends national, ethnic, religious or social boundaries. Unlike what Stephen Hawking would have us believe, UFOs are not just seen by crazies and weirdos, and alien abductions are not an exclusively American anomaly --even though the database is currently skewed in favor of that nationality, presumably because that's where it has raised the most attention. Likewise NDEs are reported by people from many different religious backgrounds, including those who had a completely atheistic worldview.
  • Despite certain variability, the experience possess a prototypical 'core'. Even though no NDE or UFO/alien encounter is 100% alike --in fact, these type of experiences seem to be deeply personal, and thus hard to convey to a third party -- there's an emerging narrative easy to identify in both NDEs and alien abductions. This uniformity, researchers say, is what makes them hard to dismiss as mere hallucinations --although skeptics would claim the uniformity is the result of either hoaxes or delusions caused by modern cultural 'contamination'; even though these experiences have been reported across different cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
  • The experience manifests independently of the subject's volition. With the NDEs there's either a grave illness or a life-threatening accident that brings the individual to the brink of physical death, in a set of circumstances outside of its control. The lack of choice is also shared by alien abductees, who are said to be taken by non-human entities without their consent (the old Contactees of the 50's and 60's might be perceived as an exception to this, and maybe we could say the same if someone experiences an NDE after deliberately attempting suicide).
  • The subject experiences a detachment of his physical body (OBE). This sense that the experiencer's consciousness dissociates itself from the regular vantage point of the body, and allows it to observe the surrounding environment from a different POV --i.e. from above the hospital room-- is probably universal in the NDE literature. Although OBEs are rather common in the modern alien abduction/encounter narrative, we cannot claim it's a stereotypical aspect of the experience --in fact, the 'physicality' of abductions is a much contended point in the field; then again, obsessing with 'trace evidence' has not yielded the expected rewards of respectability traditional UFOlogy has sought in the last 60 years…

The rest of it you can get access to by simply subscribing to the Paracast newsletter, free of charge. Once I fulfilled my deadline, Gene invited to continue the discussion we'd started last Thursday, and to discuss my editorial with him and Chris --who could now re-join us once the issue with Clifford had been solved-- on the 'After the Paracast' supplement podcast, which is part of their Paracast+ membership. The monthly or annual subscription fee grants you access to both the 'After the Paracst' catalog, as well as an ad-free version of their regular show --the annual subscription also gets you an e-book version of Chris O'Brien's 'Stalking the Tricksters' [Amazon US & UK]

You will notice the text acquired a 'scholarly' tone that is quite uncharacteristic of my typical writing. Again, this is not something I had originally anticipated, yet evolved 'organically' as I started to work into what I wanted to convey --which, it must be stressed out, is NOT terribly ground-breaking, since I'm only expanding on what other people had already noticed. If anything, I may have been the first guest in The Paracast to talk about NDEs --something in which I DON'T consider myself to be any kind of authority, or particularly versed in-- and discuss how this and other type of mystical experiences hint at our remaining ignorance with regards to hard problem of human consciousness; which I personally believe to be a crucial part of what we inadequately refer to as 'the Paranormal.'

After I submitted my text document to Gene, who proceeded to prepare it for inclusion in the newsletter, I wanted to add another point to my list of implications to our culture these experiences represent: They force us NOT to jump into Conclusions. To me the folly of the first UFO organizations who started to look into the mystery of 'flying saucers', is that they did so with the preconceived premise that these unknown objects are extraterrestrial vessels of some kind, and have therefore tried to FORCE the square UFOlogical data to fit into the round hole of the ETH. Likewise, I think it would equally unwise to look into the ample NDE literature and unilaterally conclude these experiences prove the existence of 'God' and 'Heaven', according to the expectations of religious doctrine --what seems to be going on is far, FAR more complex than that.

What these experiences DO seem to hint at --I refrain to use the word 'prove' at this point-- is that our current materialistic paradigm which equates Mind solely with the biological machinery of the human brain is sorely need of an update; so too is the methodology of UFO organizations, which should let the data lead them into a conclusion, instead of the other way around.

What conclusion that could be, I cannot truly say; yet I suspect NDEs, 'abductions', psychedelic trips and other types of visionary experiences hint to a much disregarded aspect of the human condition. Perhaps looking deeper into these intersections might help us seem them --and ourselves-- on a clearer light.


The Real Walking Dead: Funeral Customs of the Toraja of Indonesia

Toraja people dressing one of their deceased family members

Throughout human history, our definition of death has varied wildly. Even in the scientific terms of Western culture in recent centuries, we have gone from looking for signs of breath, to signs of heartbeat, through to realising that a person can sometimes be 'brought back' from death more than an hour after the heart has stopped beating.

Resuscitation expert Dr Sam Parnia has noted that the problem is that our concept of death has "traditionally been very black and white" - we have tried to frame death as a certain moment, rather than what it really is: a process.

The Toraja of Indonesia, on the other hand, fully embrace death as a process - though perhaps more in a spiritual sense rather than as part of Parnia's scientific model. For them, death is a transition...and a somewhat lengthy process at that.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Religion notes that Toraja funeral rites can be broken down into four fundamental stages:

During the first, the deceased is said to be ill: Washed, dressed, and adorned, he may be nurtured for as long as a year. Then comes the first festivity, lasting from five to seven days, with sacrifices, lamentations, songs, and dances; this marks the difficult passage from life to death and ends with a provisional interment inside the house. During the following intermediary period, these festivities increase. Finally the ultimate ceremony is performed, requiring several months of preparation during which winding-sheets, cenotaphs, and, most notably, an effigy (the famous tau-tau) are employed, not without ostentation; it concludes with the burial and the installation of the deceased in the beyond.

In case you were wondering: yes, the above means that the Toraja basically continue interacting with the corpses of their loved ones for years, feeding, bathing, and dressing them. In August the Ma'nene ritual is held, during which time corpses are exhumed to be cleaned and fitted out with new clothes, and repairs are made to their coffins. As part of this ritual, before being re-interred the dead are quite literally walked around the village.

Deceased Toraja couple

And while the Toraja continue interacting with the physical remains of their ancestors for many years, the dead also may communicate with their descendants in another way: in his book, Communing with the Gods, Charles Laughlin notes that the Toraja "sometimes experience their long dead ancestors in dreams, and these experiences are taken to be real."

For more on the funeral customs of the Toraja, see the TED talk below, and also this detailed article at Ancient Origins. A gallery of images of the Ma'nene can be found at the Daily Mail.

Find more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.

New Zealand School Students Perform the Haka at the Funeral of a Teacher

Palmerston North Boys' High School in New Zealand has posted the above video of the Haka performed by students during the funeral of one of their teachers, Mr Dawson Tamatea.

On watching the video, not only does it come across as a massive sign of respect for Mr Tamatea, but also as quite a cathartic ritual for the students, allowing them to express their emotions and feel part of a cohesive group during this tough time - two things that often don't happen in Western culture during emotional periods.

Modern society in New Zealand has done a great job in integrating and respecting historical Maori culture. It makes me wonder how many other modern societies could benefit from embracing their indigenous cultures.

The entire school performing the Haka during the arrival of Mr. Tamatea in the hearse. This was a very emotional and powerful performance. We are extremely proud of our boys' performance and we know that Mr Tamatea would be too.

For those watching in other parts of the world, this is our school Haka. This is the translation:

Be prepared take hold
Reach out
We of Palmerston North Boys' High School stand steadfast
Within our Domain
Standing firm
Standing proud
Standing with respect
To uphold
To uplift
To uplift
To uphold
The prestige of our school
Our aims are to seek knowledge
And reach our goals and aspirations
Seek the horizon of aspirations
And draw near to it
Those aspirations that are near, take them
And it be known, yes, let it be known
Let your adrenalin abound high above
It is done!!!

Conner Habib, Ida Craddock & Sacred Sexuality

Over at Reality Sandwich, my friend Conner Habib has just launched a new series of essays named The Sex Radicals: Seven Thinkers Who Can Revolutionize Sex in Our Cultures, intended to highlight intelectual figures whose philosophy changed his own perspective about sexuality, and whose teachings he thinks could prove intrumental in reshaping the Western attitude about this truly vital aspect of the human experience.

Because let's face it: Even though we seem to think we're experiencing the most sexually liberated age in history, there are still many puritanical taboos plaguing our society's attitude toward Sex and Eroticism --the fact that in an American office complimenting a co-worker of the opposite gender for their looks can be perceived as sexual harassment, prostitution is still illegal in most countries of the world, breastfeeding in public freaks the crap out of many people, and we still stubbornly cling to the delusion that children are asexual beings, is proof enough that as high-minded as we pretend we are, from the waist-down we're still pretty much stuck on the Dark Ages…

But why bringing this up to the attention of the Grail community, you may ask? As Conner himself is quick to point out in the introduction to the series, several of those radicals he is intending to "invite to the orgy" were also riding on the fringes of Science, Spirituality and the Occult; to the point that a few of them, like the (in)famous Wilhelm Reich, are still relegated to the 'cooky cupboard' by the mainstream.

[Their craziness] in fact, is a large part of what makes them important. To come up with new possibilities for the world, you have to hang out in the impossible and the imagined quite a bit. You have to say outlandish things to see if they’re true. To stand outside the depressing weight of our reality requires deep and intense encounters with your own imagination and seeing things that others don’t see.

Some members of the list will already be familiar to you, like Reich (whom I've just mentioned) and Aleister Crowley --whose name either rhymes with 'holy' or 'fouly', depending of what you think of him-- but others you might have never heard of before. Take for example Ida Craddock (1857-1902) with whom the #SexRadicals series gets started: Aside from being a XIXth century feminist and crusader against the sexual repression of her era --this was after all, the time when boys were given Medieval-like contraptions intended to prevent them from 'suffering' wet dreams at night-- she also claimed to have had sexual intercourse with an angel named Soph:

After some loving correspondence with Soph, Craddock did, and reported her ecstatic sexual experiences with him in a language that strongly resembles the language of objectum sexuals, who fall in love with and make love to objects and landmarks. It’s a moving language of ecstasy – an encounter with a partner whose being-ness others can’t understand. The invisible breath of the angel so in love with you, that you’re the only one who can see him.

Alas, poor Ida paid dearly for the hot angelingus action, and other terrible 'perversions' she committed in the eyes of her many enemies --her own mother included, who was totally scandalized by her daughter's claim that sexual pleasure was a sacred gift every human had the right to claim, and that moral conventions forbidding us to do so was the real serpent we needed to cast out of Paradise.

Make no mistake about it, my fellow Grailers: When it comes to Sex, Spirituality, paranormal phenomena, and many of the things we outsiders value in life, Transgression *is* the scarlet letter stamped on the forehead of those who dare to step out of line of what the Status Quo considers 'respectful' or 'credible'; and yet it is by the cumulative power of those transgressions how our society is forced to drag forward one inch at a century, until the deviancy is grudgingly adopted and becomes part of the ruling paradigm --which eventually signals the need for a new revolution to kick us out of our prudish complacency, and make things interesting for the younger generations...

Enjoy Conner's Sex Radicals series --and bring lots of lube, to grease the hinges of the Doors of Perception.

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Jeff Kripal at TedX Houston: The Art of Making the Impossible Possible

For some reason this video fell off our radar when it was released in 2013 (but it's never too late to correct that mistake): Jeffrey Kripal, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Rice University, and the author of Mutants and Mystics and Authors of the Impossible, spoke at TedX Houston in 2012 about the literary quality of what we call 'paranormal' phenomena, and how these experiences tend to disrupt the either/of logic we are conditioned to use in our modern world, because they have an external component as well as an internal one --often deeply personal and meaningful to the experiencer.

It is because of this ambiguity that many great artists are drawn and inspired by these kind of events, which also hint at the pivotal role Consciousness may play in the scaffolding of Reality itself.

  • Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred [Amazon US & UK]
  • Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal [Amazon US & UK]


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What is Wrong With Our Culture?

Alan Watts wonders what is wrong with our culture, starting with TV...

You know, for the vast majority of American families, what seems to be the real point of life, what you rush home to get to, is to watch an electronic reproduction of life. But you can't touch it, it doesn't smell, and it has no taste.

You might think that people getting home for the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal banquet, or an orgy of love-making, or a riot of music and dancing...but nothing of the kind. It turns out to be this purely passive, contemplation of a flickering screen. You see mile after mile of darkened houses, with that little electronic screen, flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing. And thus, in no real communion with each other at all.

...Even in the spectacles one sees on this television, it's perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other, but oh dear no, not people loving each other, except in a rather restrained way. One can only draw the conclusion that expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred. And it seems to me that a culture that has that sort of assumption is basically crazy...

CT Scan of Buddha Statue Shows It Has a Dead Monk Sealed Inside

Monk's remains within Buddha statue (photo by M. Elsevier Stokmans)

When I recently posted news about a mummified monk, a reader sent me a link on Twitter pointing out another fascinating, related news story. In this case, a CT scan of a statue of Buddha which showed the remains of a 12th century Chinese monk were sealed within it:

In Amersfoort's main hospital, Meander Medical Centre, the nearly thousand year old mummy has been recently examined with a CT scan and an endoscope. Several hospital employees helped with this unique project in their free time. A gastrointestinal and liver doctor took samples of yet unidentified material and examined the thoracic and abdominal cavities.

The hospital: "He made a spectacular discovery: at the place where once had been organs, he found, among all kinds of rotten material, paper scraps that were printed with ancient Chinese characters."

Click on through for the full story, including a wonderful image that makes it look like the Buddha is giving birth...

(hat tip: @gaborcsigas)


Mummified, or Master Meditator? Is this Extremely Well-Preserved Buddhist Monk Actually Alive?

Mummified meditating Mongolian monk

If there's one thing better than Forteana, it's alliterative Forteana! So check out this mummified meditating Mongolian monk mystery posted at BBC News:

A mummified monk found preserved in Mongolia last week has been baffling and astounding those who uncovered him. Senior Buddhists say the monk, found sitting in the lotus position, is in a deep meditative trance and not dead.

Forensic examinations are under way on the remains, found wrapped in cattle skins in north-central Mongolia.

Scientists have yet to determine how the monk is so well-preserved, though some think Mongolia's cold weather could be the reason. But Dr Barry Kerzin, a physician to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, told the Siberian Times that the monk was in a rare state of meditation called "tukdam".

"If the meditator can continue to stay in this meditative state, he can become a Buddha," Dr Kerzin said.

The mummified/meditating monk was found after a man stole him and tried to sell him on the black market. The cadaver/near-Buddha is now being held securely at Mongolia's National Centre of Forensic Expertise.

Link: Mummified monk in Mongolia 'not dead', say Buddhists


Heroic Monkey to the Rescue!

At the railway station in India's northern city of Kanpur, a monkey was seriously electrocuted after stepping on a live wire. The incident would have surely ended on a gruesome fate for the little primate, if it wasn't for one of his furry friends, who came to the rescue:

It is incidents like these which throw a monkey wrench (pardon the pun) on the whole 'selfish gene' notion promoted by neo-Darwinists like Dawkins and the like, who keep insisting that Evolution is spurred by violent competition; when in fact scientists like the late Lynn Margulis have proposed much more accurate evolutionary models founded on the concept of Symbiogenesis.

So next time you see someone in need of help, be a good ape and lend him or her a hand... or a tail.

[UPDATE: Conner Habib has chimed in to point out that the monkey's heroism may have more to do with Mutualism (Cooperation) than Symbiogenesis --even though the latter is a scientific theory, and the other isn't. A fair point, yet the idea of mentioning Margulis was only to underscore how there are better ways to explain Nature than the 'dog-eat-dog' world proposed by Neo-Darwinists.

DMT & the Hebrew Prophets: New Book by Dr Rick Strassman

20 years since his seminal DMT studies, recorded in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Amazon US/Kindle, UK/Kindle), Dr Rick Strassman has released a new book that's sure to get Joe Rogan excited.

In (take a breath before reading this out loud) DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible (Amazon US), Strassman looks at the striking similarities between the visions of Hebrew prophets - including Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel - and the experiences reported by the volunteers of his DMT studies. Strassman proposes a new model of consciousness and visionary experiences -- theoneurology, in which the Divine can communicate with us through DMT. Strassman's model is a counterpoint to neurotheology, and will no doubt rock the boat of neuroscience.

It promises to be a fascinating read, and a sample chapter available here certainly whets the appetite. If Mitch Schultz (who made a terrific film based on Dr Strassman's book) is considering a sequel, I reckon DMT 2: Hebrew Boogaloo would be a good title.

Via Disinfo.