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.