Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies from Between the Worlds

Book Cover of Talking With the Spirits

I'm pleased and proud to announce the latest book release from Daily Grail Publishing today: Talking With the Spirits: Ethnographies From Between the Worlds (Amazon US and Amazon UK), a scholarly anthology of essays, edited by Jack Hunter and David Luke, on the phenomenon of spirit mediumship in various cultures around the world - from good old-fashioned British Spiritualism through to more shamanic manifestations in other corners of the world:

Talking With the Spirits is a cross-cultural survey of contemporary spirit mediumship. The diverse contributions to this volume cover a wide-range of ethnographic contexts, from Spiritualist séances in the United Kingdom to self-mortification rituals in Singapore and Taiwan, from psychedelic spirit incorporation in the Amazonian rainforest, to psychic readings in online social spaces, and more. By taking a broad perspective the book highlights both the variety of culturally specific manifestations of spirit communication, and key cross-cultural features suggestive of underlying core-processes and experiences. Rather than attempting to reduce or dismiss such experiences, the authors featured in this collection take the experiences of their informants seriously and explore their effects at personal, social and cultural levels.

Here's the chapter and author listing:

  1. Believing Impossible Things: Scepticism and Ethnographic Enquiry • Fiona Bowie
  2. An Agnostic Social Scientific Perspective on Spirit Medium Experience in Great Britain • Hannah Gilbert
  3. Spirits in the City: Examples from Montreal • Deirdre Meintel
  4. Mediumship and Folk Models of Mind and Matter • Jack Hunter
  5. Cyber Psychics: Psychic Readings in Online Social Spaces • Tamlyn Ryan
  6. Spirit Possession in East Africa • Barbara Stöckigt
  7. Developing the Dead in Cuba: An Ethnographic Account of the Emergence of Spirits and Selves in Havana • Diana Espirito Santo
  8. Mediumship in Brazil: The Holy War against Spirits and African Gods • Bettina Schmidt
  9. Psychedelic Possession: The Growing Incorporation of Incorporation into Ayahuasca Use • David Luke
  10. Anomalous Mental and Physical Phenomena of Brazilian Mediums: A Review of the Scientific Literature • Everton Maraldi, Wellington Zangari, Fatima Regina Machado, Stanley Krippner
  11. Spirit Mediums in Hong Kong and the United States • Charles Emmons
  12. Vessels for the Gods: Tang-ki Spirit Mediumship in Singapore and Taiwan • Fabian Graham

A must-have for the bookshelf of any person interested in mediumship - you can grab a copy of Talking With the Spirits from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

News Briefs 31-03-2014

Hard disk recovery = News Briefs recovery. Was NOT looking forward to to rewriting the news on my iPad from a photo of my frozen Mac screen!

  • The first transparent 3D-printed skull has been successfully implanted.
  • Speaking of see-through heads: glass brain - an anatomically-realistic real-time 3D brain visualisation.
  • Still speaking of see-through heads: a transparent head might foil facial recognition software, but won't stop scientists recognising the face you're thinking of.
  • Whales are cool and all, but this is getting desperate, no? How whale faeces help slow Antarctic warming.
  • Mirage Men - how the US government created the UFO myth §now online.
  • Wirral mathematician solves secrets of stonehenge.
  • How to prove the paranormal: scientists discuss.
  • Quantum experiments show how time emerges from entanglement.
  • Just don't blame the bankers: former World Bank senior council says a "second species" on Earth controls money & religion.
  • Suspended animation trials on humans begin.
  • Could "Ancient Egyptian" glyphs found in Australia rewrite history?
  • Researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair - and it's working.
  • James Lovelock: 'Instead of robots taking over the world, what if we join with them?'.
  • Demons, mummies and ancient curses: should the British Museum be afraid?.
  • How to unmake a sea serpent: the case of the Scoliophis Atlanticus.
  • Controversial glow-in-the-dark plants go on sale.
  • How to bake scientifically accurate cake planets.
  • 10 of the most bizarre books ever written.

Quote of the Day:

One man practicing kindness in the wilderness is worth all the temples this world pulls.

Jack Kerouac

Was Noah a Shaman?

If you haven't seen Darren Aronofsky's Noah yet, do yourself a favour and see it. It's copping a lot of criticism from atheists & believers alike, both sides completely missing the point of storytelling and mythology. Allegory isn't that hard to find in the dictionary. It's their loss, Noah is a fantastic movie.

Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Noah's grandfather Methuselah, gave this brief but fascinating interview about his approach to playing Methuselah, the film's shamanic themes, & why he gave Noah a hallucinogenic brew to speak with God. I have an inkling Aronofsky's read Persephone's Quest by R Gordon Wasson (Amazon US/UK), and possibly The Holy Mushroom by J.R. Irvin (Amazon US/UK). Professor Benny Shannon suggested a few years back that Moses may have been on a psychedelic trip when he received the Ten Commandments, so the idea of entheogens influencing Judeo-Christian religion has been around for a while. Combining Noah's visions, psychedelic trip, and affinity for all creatures great and small, Aronofsky has certainly built a case for a Biblical shaman.

Russell Crowe drinking a psychedelic beverage when he thought he was getting a nice cup of tea is just one reason why Noah is a lot deeper than just the flood myth (uh, pardon the pun). The film Noah began as a graphic novel (Amazon US/UK), and although both the comic (gorgeously illustrated by Niko Henrichon) and the film follow the Biblical story fairly faithfully, there are enough differences to make them completely different beasts. io9 recently spoke with Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel about creating Noah, and why it should appeal to atheists, believers, and everyone in between.

Darren Aronofsky wrote:
... you don't need to be Jewish or Christian or even religious to be familiar with the Noah story or be moved by the idea of a universal flood punishing mankind for our wickedness and threatening to wipe us out for good. That's part of our cultural heritage. It's buried deep. And like all deeply ingrained stories it continually gets retold and reinvented with each telling. Hopefully our telling resonates with all sorts of people, Jewish or Christian, atheists or believers.

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News Briefs 28-03-2014

“Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation…”

Quote of the Day:

“…and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

News Briefs 27-03-2014

Still looking for the PAUSE button…

Thanks Kat & Susan.

Quote of the Day:

"There are cultural, religious, and even political reasons that the story of scientific progress and political enlightenment are so attractive, and filter down even into our children’s entertainment. It allows us to see ourselves as the apex of history, the culmination of an inevitable, upward surge of improvement. It reassures us that our political values are righteous, and reminds us who the enemies are. The messy, complex, non-linear movement of actual history, by contrast, is unsettling, humbling—even terrifying."

~David Sessions, blogger for The Daily Beast.

Has This New Discovery By Astronomers Confirmed there is a 'Planet X'?

Planet X?

Astronomers have extended the range of our Solar System with the discovery of a new 'dwarf planet' orbiting our Sun. The planet, currently technically labeled '2012 VP113', has an elliptical orbit that brings it to within 80AU of the Sun (an 'AU' is the unit of distance from the Sun to Earth) at perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun) - some three times the distance from the Sun to Neptune - while it gets as far as 450AU away at the other end of its orbit. The object is not unique: astronomers have previously discovered another similar dwarf planet, named 'Sedna'. Indeed, the new discovery, by astronomers Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo, hints that there are a multitude of dwarf planets orbiting the Sun in a location known as the 'inner Oort cloud'.

An intriguing coincidence is that the current positions of both Sedna and 2012 VP113 - which are also near both their perihelions - are very similar, leading to some speculation of an unknown, massive body orbiting our Sun well beyond our current sensing abilities - a 'Planet X':

The latest work has already thrown up an intriguing possibility. The angle of the body's orbit and that of Sedna's are strikingly similar, an effect most likely caused by the gravitational tug of another, unseen body. One possibility is a "Super Earth" that traces so large an orbit around the sun that it has never been seen.

"If you took a Super Earth and put it a few hundred astronomical units out, the gravity could shepherd Sedna and this new object into the orbits they have," said Sheppard.

Over at her Planetary Society blog, Emily Lakdawalla has a more detailed breakdown of the discovery, the coincidences, and what it might mean for the Planet X theory. She notes that for a an object of that size to form ('accrete'), it needs to be in a circular orbit - so the elliptical orbit of these two dwarf planets suggests that they were 'scattered' by something at some point after they formed. But the 'Planet X' theory isn't the only possible explanation - the planets may have been thrown into their current orbits by a star that passed within "several hundred AU of the Sun and disturbed orbits of objects it passed near", or it may be due to the fact that Earth was born in a star cluster.

It's really quite striking how close Sedna and 2012 VP113 are to each other right now, both close to their perihelia, both at around 80 AU. Here's an illustration that I put together using the JPL Small-Body Database Browser that shows you just how close they are.

Their current proximity is mostly a coincidence, given the fact that they have different orbital periods; there's nothing about their orbits that says they should be in the same place at the same time, except for the fact that their orbits happen to take them to similar spots in the sky when they are close to the Sun. But we are more likely to discover such objects when they are near perihelion (hence brighter and moving faster), so given the proximity of their perihelia they would've been somewhat close to each other in the sky because that's where we could see them both.

The fact that they have perihelia at similar locations is an interesting observation, though. And it's one that Trujillo and Sheppard noticed, too... They went on to hypothesize that the clustering of argument of perihelia resulted from "a massive outer Solar System perturber" [and] showed that it works for a super-Earth at 250 AU, but "This configuration is not unique and there are many possibilities for such an unseen perturber."

...I have confess to a bias here: I really wanted this coincidence in argument of perihelion to be strong evidence of a planet X. I would love for there to be a planet X. So would Trujillo and Sheppard, evidently, because they spent quite a bit of space showing it could work. And so would Nature, because then the first clear indication of a planet X would be in an article published in their journal.

But Hal [planetary scientist Hal Levison] dashed my hopes, or at least my certainty. "It's a very weak result," he told me; and indeed the paper spends more column inches on what 2012 VP113 tells us about the inner Oort cloud as a population than it does about this potential "perturber."

"There may be other explanations for this, rather than the extreme position of, "it's a planet"; but I can believe there's something going on".

In other words: something threw these planets into their elliptical orbits, but we still don't know what. Watch this...errr...space.

Link: A second Sedna! What does it mean?

An Unearthly Scene: TUMBLEWEED FIRE TWISTER!

Take tumbleweeds, a twister, and a small grass fire. Mix. Et voila, a scene like something out of an X-Men movie...

TUMBLEWEED FIRE TWISTER!

The Language of the Birds: Hummingbird Vocalisations Eight Times Slower Than Normal Speed

Hummingbird hovering

Does our human-based perception of events in time blind us to certain aspects of 'reality'? Hummingbirds are notorious for the speed at which they flap their wings (up to 80 times a second), but as the video below shows, when their behaviour is slowed down (in this case, eight times slower than normal speed) other aspects become apparent - in this case, their high-pitched twittering suddenly sounds a whole lot more like a language of some kind.

A few clips at the beginning let us hear "normal" vocalizations of hummingbirds as they squabble at the feeder for last-minute feeding rights at dusk... The video was recorded in 848x480 resolution at 240fps using a GoPro Hero3+ Black edition , then slowed down to about 30fps for playback using GoPro's Studio software. The audio was slowed down roughly the same amount, and since no audio "stretch" effect was used, the pitch and playback are simply lower and slower. The reverb effect is naturally produced by the acoustically reflective hard surfaces around the feeder, and are much longer and more more noticeable than in real time.

We already know that slowing down video of an intelligent human makes them sound like a stoner - but in the case of hummingbirds, slowing things down tends to make them seem a whole lot more intelligent.

Coincidentally yesterday I was listening to the song of an Australian magpie and was struck by how much it sounds like intelligent communication. Are birds talking all around us and we're simply deaf to it all?

News Briefs 25-03-2014

Too many meatspace responsibilities, not enough time for Grail duties. But the TDG news briefs wait for no man...

Quote of the Day:

Cause you are a single grain
A mere molecule
Mistaken for a king
You're only a simple fool

Dallas Green/City and Colour, "Take Care"