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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Published by the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology.

Volume 6

ISSN 2327-428X

Number 1

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Summer 2018

Editor Erika A. Pratte, Ph.D. Candidate Board of Reviewers Jean-Michel Abrassart, Ph.D. Candidate

Shaye Hudson, M.A.

Eberhard Bauer, Dipl.-Psych

Jack Hunter, Ph.D.

Callum E. Cooper, Ph.D.

David Luke, Ph.D. Jennifer Lyke, Ph.D.

Alexander De Foe, Ph.D. Candidate

Leslie W. O’Ryan, Ed.D., NCC, LCPC Guido De Laet, Dipl. - Counseling Drake Spaeth, Psy.D. Renaud Evrard, Ph.D. Annalisa Ventola, B.A.

Cover Artwork Catharina Elizabeth Bensman, No. 15, “1938” Courtesy of Het Johan Borgman Fonds  Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Table of Contents

Beyond the Veil Part Two: The Spiritual art paintings by C. E. Bensman (1877-1955)……….…6—12 Wim Kramer and Thomas Dobbelaer Preliminary Report on Extraordinary Experiences in Permaculture: Collapsing the Natural/ Supernatural Divide…………………………………………………………………..…………..13—22 Jack Hunter A Spontaneous Trip to Ellis Island is Part Tourist Visit, Part Homecoming….…………..……..24—25 Anastasia Wasko A Breakthrough ……………………………………………………………………………………….26 Elliot Talanfield Oracle of the Phoenix: Visionary Encounters with the Radical Phoenix Lights…………….…...27—31 Steven Blonder

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

The Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology (JEEP) welcomes research articles, personal accounts, artwork, music, creative writing, book reviews, and letters to the editor regarding subjectively anomalous experiences. Many times these experiences can be considered psychical, transformative, spiritual, transpersonal, etc. Examples of exceptional experiences include (but are not limited to) near-death experiences (NDEs), synchronicities, out-of-body experiences (OBEs), and precognitive dreams. JEEP is published twice a year online via ISSUU (https:// and in-print via Magcloud ( exceptionalpsychology).

Submission Deadline for Winter 2018 is November 1st To send an inquiry or a submission, please contact Erika A. Pratte, the editor, at Be sure to check out our website at Our Facebook page at And our Twitter page Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Peer Reviewed Articles

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Beyond the Veil Part Two: The Spiritual art paintings by C. E. Bensman (1877 -1955) Wim Kramer and Thomas Dobbelaer Abstract In the 2015 winter edition of the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, a first introduction to mediumistic art from the Netherlands during the period 1900 – 1940 was presented. After a general introduction, the article focused on the drawings by the Dutch medium J.H. Verwaal (1889 – 1972). In this follow-up article, we will focus on another mediumistic art painter from the Netherlands: Catharina Elizabeth Bensman (Amsterdam, June 8, 1877 – January 2, 1955). Although we do not know much about her mediumship, her paintings speak for themselves and reveal to some extend the way in which her work was conceptualized. Keywords: Catharina Elizabeth Bensman, mediumistic art, mediumship Introduction

On July 11, 2014, I (Wim Kramer) visited the Utrecht Chapter of Harmonia, the Dutch National Spiritualist Society in order to discuss an ongoing project with Harmonia’s archives. Harmonia’s building is located in the center of the medieval city of Utrecht. The building itself is at least 400 years old and owned by Harmonia since 1922. Ever since the beginning, all meetings and séances of the society are held here. The interior decoration and even parts of the furniture of the building have not changed much since the Second World War. During my visit we were discussing mediumistic paintings. The chairman of the society suddenly mentioned that in the attic there was a very old wooden box with several creepy, even ‘evil’ paintings in it that he had once seen a long time ago, but was afraid to ever see again. Of course this made me instantaneously curious and I suggested we should go up and take a peek. At first the chairman bluntly refused, stating: ‘for no gold in the world I would go up that attic again’. However, after some polite but persuading pressure and offering to take the lead, he gave in and we climbed the stairs. The attic was clearly abandoned for a long time and we even needed to find a ladder to get up there. Upon putting my head through the hatch, it became immediately clear that nobody had been there for decades. It was dark, dusty and gloomy, with just a small, dirty and partly broken window providing some light. The floorboards were cracked so we had to be careful to walk only on the solid-enough parts. The attic was stuffed with old cloths, suitcases, and a pile of junk. The wooden box was there, covered in decades worth of dust and the even more dusty paintings were inside. The chairman’s anxiety proved not to be unjust. The paintings showed to depict rather freighting scenes filled with demons, devils and biblical monsters. In the box we found a total of eight paintings. On the backside of each painting someone had glued a note, which over time had become brownish. The notes were written with a typewriter and gave short explanations of the work in question. The chairman noticed my fascination with the paintings and spontaneously proposed to donate the works to the Dutch ‘Het Johan Borgman Fonds’ foundation. I gratefully accepted. The chairman was happy to see the paintings leave the building and we at the Johan Borgman foundation are delighted with the eight new additions to our collection of mediumistic art.

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Artist’s Identity After dusting them off at our office we started to investigate the paintings in detail and tried to find out more about the artist. This turned out to be harder than expected, because even though it became immediately clear that the works were all painted by the same person, they were signed with different names. After a long time of painstaking efforts we thought we had a lead to the identity of the artist but it turned out to be a dead end and we had to give up. However, about two years later, in the autumn of 2016, we tried our luck again and this time we succeeded. Thanks to new internet databases we were finally able to clearly pinpoint the right mediumistic painter. It turned out to be the fairly unknown Dutch female medium: Catharina Elisabeth Bensman. She was born and raised in an upper-middle-class family in Amsterdam on the 8th of June, 1877. At the age of 18 she got married to Carel Gustaaf Johan Willem Koopman (March 2, 1873 – May 3, 1934). Her husband held a master’s degree in engineering and had a successful career at the Dutch National Railway Company. She took her husband’s family name and was now called Mrs. Koopman or Mrs. Koopman-Bensman. On May 21, 1903 their son Jan George is born in The Hague were they had just settled three weeks earlier, coming from the town of Nijmegen. Mediumship Although we have searched all available archives, the internet and piles of books and journals we only found four tiny references to Bensman’s activities and mediumship. All four dated between 1918 and 1922. Two of them describe Bensman’s work as an author and translator in the realm of Spiritism. She wrote a small booklet on the Fox Sisters that was published in 1918: ‘Gezusters Fox, Leah, Margaret en Kate, mediums en kampioenen van het moderne spiritualisme. Met portretten’. (In English: ‘The Fox sisters Leah, Margaret and Kate, Mediums and champions of modern spiritualism, with pictures’). In 1922 she translated the two Claude’s books (Claude’s book and Claude’s second book) by Kelway-Bamber into Dutch. This translation was published in The Netherlands by K.H. Noest Jr. Spiritualist Publishers and Booksellers in Amsterdam, a wellknown publishing house in those days specialized in spiritualistic and theosophical publications. The other two tiny references are on Bensman’s capacity as a medium: the first is a remark at the end of a Dutch review on Claude’s book. The reviewer is rather negative about the original book, but states at the end of her review: “Mrs. Koopman, who translated the book, is trustworthy both as a person and as a medium”. The second reference is in a list published by Harmonia in the society’s newsletter ‘Ons Orgaan’ (English: Our Newsletter) of April 1919. In this list of ‘Healing Mediums, Psychic Healers and Trustworthy Somnambulars’ Mrs. Koopman is listed as ‘Healing Medium’ with a footnote stating that she does not have open practice hours but can only be consulted after making a written appointment. London The Koopman family moves to London on January 5, 1925. Their 21-year-old son Jan George probably went straight on to study at Cambridge University because the formal governmental documentation lists his new address not to be in London but in Cambridge. In 1930 the family lives in the Golders Green suburb in London. In 1934, after a long period of illness Catharina’s husband dies. Three years later, on April 17, 1937, she gets re-married to Mr. Jan Albert Willinge (Assen, 29 June 1876 - ?) a widower himself. Catharina dies ten years after the war on January 2, 1955. Before her passing, however, she had been widowed for the second time because her obituary in a Dutch newspaper mentions that she was widowed twice. Additionally, the obituary reads that her body was cremated in silence on the 6th of January. Unfortunately it is not mentioned where she was cremated. Since there are no records of activity in a different place than London before her deVol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology mise, it seems logical to assume that she died there. Hopefully future research might be able to shed more light on her personal life and specifically her later years. Paintings As mentioned above, the eight paintings are believed to be ‘received’ by Bensman from the world beyond the veil. Six of them are painted on canvas and two on panel. Almost all of the paintings share strong similarities both in the themes and in the techniques of painting they display. The subject the paintings primarily seem to depict is that of the evil beings and forces in the Bible and in folklore legends. In some cases scripture forms the direct inspiration, for example in painting No. 14 titled ‘Abaddon’ where we see the biblical monster depicted as a dragon rising up from the flames of the underworld. The same goes for painting No. 22 where Bensman has written ‘Rev 21 V 6’ at the bottom of the work. This refers to Revelation 21 Verse 6, a passage in the Bible describing the contents of the Promised Land, the new Jerusalem. In this work the force of evil appears somewhat more abstract; by the symbolic number of Satanism: ‘666’. In some of the other works we see Satan-like and demonic figures such as the enormous demon terrorizing the people and destroying churches and factories in painting No.11 or the similarly big, black-feathered and redeyed skeleton clamping itself to a spherical object in the sky in painting No.15. In painting No. 18, titled ‘De Eenzame’ (‘The Desolate One’) we see the face of an evil entity captured in a knotted willow standing solitarily in the landscape and in No. 6 we see a red, horned demon shoot fire at fleeing elves dressed in white. In one of the No. 22, “Rev 21 V 6”  paintings (No. 9) there are no figures nor symbols representing evil, No. 14, “Abaddon”  but we see the lake of fire, where the wicked would be eternally tormented in the after-life. Mediumistic art and the spirituality that forms its foundation is often strongly linked to Christianity and the more prevailing forms of belief in the afterlife and ‘the world beyond’. Bensman’s clear Biblical inspiration thus is rather unsurprising. However, where the Old Testament promises the triumph of the good over the evil, Bensman’s paintings seem more pessimistic and far less hopeful. The ‘good’ is not absent in her works: we have the delicate elves in No. 6, the nuns in No.11 and the cross (the quintessential symbol of good) in No. 22, but they are always the losing factor in the scenes. It seems as if they are there simply to provide a basis for the evil to contrast with. This is highlighted and emphasized by Bensman’s use of colour and brushstrokes: in many of the paintings she contrasts a ‘cold’ palette of colours, like blue, purple and grey (representing the good) with a ‘warm’ palette like red, yellow and deeppurple (representing the evil). No.14 (Abaddon) is the perfect example, Vol. 6 No. 1

No. 15, “1938” 


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology showing us how Bensman constructed a contrast by painting a blue-purple sky with light, ‘dotted’ brushstrokes, which then abruptly transforms into a flaming, dark red ‘underworld’ created by strong, vertical strokes of the brush. Even in a work with little contrast in colours, like No. 18, we see that Bensman has divided the painting into a lighter left and a slightly darker right (where the devilish No. 6, “Forest”  willow is positioned), once again representing the struggle between the good and the evil, between the light and the dark. No. 9, “Lake of Fire”  Painting No. 11 has another interesting dimension to it, because after close

No. 12, “Mars” 

No. 18, “The Desolate One” 

No. 11, “Un tled” 

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examination of the depicted scene we deemed it very plausible that it resembles the Russian Revolution of 1917. The domes of the churches and the robe of the man in blue next to the demon are both in Orthodox-Christian style. It is clear that it is the Orthodox-Christian tradition which is the subject of the devils attack, together with capitalism, which are represented by the factories in the center-background (these where exactly the subject of attack in the Russian Revolution) The nuns in the bottomright corner are clearly isolated and victimized by the attack. What then is the role of the mass of people upon which the arrows of Satan fall down? At first we thought that they were being tormented and killed by the arrows, but then we came to the realization that the arrows symbolize the manipulation of Satan (Lamentations 3: 12, 13). He is striking the people with his poisonous arrows, which cause the people to tend to corrupted beliefs. This also would explain the arrows depicted on the banners 9

Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology that the people are carrying, they are not against Satan but they are following him. Bensman, an upper class woman, presumably was not very appreciative of communist revolutions and saw it as a devilish endeavor. It seems that Bensman believed that communists were controlled and instructed by a satanic entity in order to destroy Christianity. The description on the back of the canvas states that the work was created in 1913. This is quite remarkable and even problematic for our interpretation; for it would mean that the work was painted four years before the Russian Revolution started. This would mean that Bensman not depicted but predicted this historic event. Could this be prove of her mediumistic capabilities? Perhaps, but we suspect that she did not paint this work in 1913, but much later and that the person who added the description –biased due to his or her appreciation for Bensman’s medium ship - fueled by wishful thinking. The notes – in Dutch - were added much later (after 1955) and Bensman is addressed by the name Willinge, which she would only carry after 1937. So it is very unlikely that the person who wrote the note had firsthand knowledge of the actual date of the work. Painting No. 15, allegedly painted in 1938, can similarly be seen as a mediumistic prediction, this time of the mass-loss of human lives in the Second World War, with the angel of death looking down to the earth like a bird of prey, impatiently waiting to wreak havoc. Once again, it is (more) likely that this work was just coincidentally a seeming prediction of the destruction to come or that it expressed a more widely felt fear of another World War. Out of the eight paintings there is one that does not fit the themes of religion and evil that the other ones explore. Painting No. 12, titled ‘Mars shows us a landscape of Mars with surreal characteristics: a yellow atmosphere, strange red plants reminiscent of snakes and big blue crystals. This subject seems unusual and inconsistent with the other seven paintings, but is not unusual in mediumistic art as whole. Around the start of the 20th century Mars was subject to widespread fascination. People speculated endlessly about life on Mars and it was believed that there were whole societies inhabiting the planet. Within Spiritism it was often believed that the deceased of our planet now lived on Mars and they came in contact with them during their séances. One of the most famous ‘Mars-mediums’ was the French Catharine-Élise Müller who was given the pseudonym Hélène Smith by the French skeptical psychologist Théodore Flournoy, who wrote a book about her called Des Indes à la Planete Mars (From India to the Planet Mars) in 1900. Smith became famous through this book for her elaborate descriptions and art works about Mars and more importantly, the people living there. She even, in automatist writing-séances, constructed the alphabet of the Martians and translated it into French. Smith became a big inspiration for both mediumistic artists as surrealists and expressionists because Flournoy had argued that it was not a connection with the spirit-world which led to Smith’s creations, but the ability to work her creative imagination through her sub-consciousness. This legitimized the belief in automatism and that artistic works could be a product purely of the artist’s intuition and sub-consciousness. This unique work in the collection of eight shows Bensman’s versatility and places her within this sub-tradition in mediumistic art. Like with many mediumistic artists, it is hard to fully understand the process and beliefs of Bensman, especially since we have relatively little information about her personal life. Being a mediumistic painter meant to detach oneself in part or in whole from the product, since the artist functioned merely as a bodily tool of the spirit world. If Bensman truly interacted with the mysterious world beyond the veal, the product is far from comforting because the paintings - which are in essence a visual articulation of her interaction with the spirit world - show us not only a frightening and alienating evil, but also the losing battle against it. Canvasses and Frames One of the paintings (No. 15) has a clear date on it. On a second one (No. 11) a reference to the year of origin is made, but this is most probably done by the person who decades later wrote the texts on the small white papers glued on the backside of each of the eight paintings. The wooden frames of the paintings are all in the same style and are clearly homemade. This makes it evident that all eight paintings are framed by the Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology same person around the same time. The frames are made of cheap wood, do not perfectly fit and in some cases the wood has split because the used nails are too big. Another clear indicator is the fact that the glue that is used is the same for all frames. They are also all glued quite sloppily, with a clear lack of effort to prevent the glue from ‘bulging out’ on the front side of the paintings. This again fortifies the argument that the works were framed by one and the same person.

Four of the paintings have a clear stamp of the shop where they were bought. It is a stamp from the firm Tenzer at the Noordeinde 139 A in The Hague. This shop was established in 1887 and has been out of business for a long time. Today the location is occupied by a tapas restaurant but so far we were not able to find any information on when the shop has closed. Further close examination of the paintings showed that two of the paintings were painted on canvas bought in England. By measuring the dimensions of the canvas it seemed that some of the measurements were weirdly specific for professionally made canvasses (which were generally made in round numbers). Then we realized that some of the paintings had to be measured in inches in order to let the measurements be accurate. Later on, when we removed the paintings from their homemade frames, this theory was proven by the fact that on the side of the canvas of painting 11 with the figures ‘14’ and ‘10’ and the word “Winton” was stamped. It turned out ‘14’ and ‘10’ are exactly the size of painting No.11 in inches. From the internet we learned that Winton was a kind of oil paint used by (amateur) painters back in the 1920’s. Later on we found that on the backside of the canvas of painting No.12, partly hidden under the white paper, we could detect very vaguely the outline of a stamp. It turned out to be the stamp of the shop where the canvas was bought: ‘Reeves & Sons Ltd., Ashwinstreet, Dalston’. The internet showed that this shop existed from 1886 – 1954 in the London district Dalston. This explained why those canvasses were modelled after the imperial measuring system: they were bought in England. The discovery that at least two of the canvases were bought in England made us wonder if we could find out when the canvases originating from Tenzer in The Hague were bought. The stamp of the shop does not only mention the address but also the phone number: (H) 4229. Once again the internet proved very useful. We found out that only recently the Dutch national phone directories between 1920 and 1929 were made available on-line and even better, could be searched. In short, the number (H) 4229 was changed in the directory to 14229 on July 1, 1925. The reason for this is that the telephone services needed more numbers in order to be able to give unique numbers to the fast growing telephone-owning demographic. The lack of the number ‘1’ in Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology the phone number stamped on the canvasses proves that they were bought before July 1, 1925. This information is very much in line with the history we had reconstructed so far since it proves that the canvasses were bought in The Hague before the Koopman family left Holland. When it comes to the question how the paintings ended up in the attic of the Utrecht chapter of the Dutch Spiritualist society Harmonia we entertain two plausible scenarios. The first is that Bensman herself left them to Harmonia in her will. The second scenario is that after Bensman’s death the paintings were handed over to a Dutch friend or family members to preserve them for the future. This person then brought it back to the Netherlands and might have donated it to Harmonia sometime later. Conclusion Practicing art history in the world of Spiritism is often a difficult task. This difficulty comes from the fact that we try to approach the world of the cryptic, the occult and the supernatural with our limited human rationality and with science. It is to try to measure the immeasurable. This makes it hard, especially considering the little knowledge of Bensman herself, to interpret the works we found in the dusty attic. This is accompanied by the need to be careful about the information we find (like the notes on the back of the paintings), because a distinction must be made between the information we consider valid historical evidence and the information which is merely a product of wishful thinking or bias. We found out relatively much about Bensman, but there are still many questions unanswered. What we can say with certainty, however, is that Bensman is a fascinating artist and her works are striking and unsettling. She is therefore a welcome addition to the Dutch mediumistic art tradition. Acknowledgements The authors are in debt to Ms. Maaike Bloem and Ms. Selma Hofstra, co-workers at the HJBF, who did a great and significant job on tracing down background information on Mrs. Bensman. She was not an easy find. The authors are also in debt to Ms. Samantha Agnew (London) for kindly sharing her professional opinion with us on the Bensman paintings in an earlier stage of our research. Biography Wim Kramer is managing director of the Dutch ‘Het Johan Borgman Fonds’ foundation (HJBF). Thomas Dobbelaer studies Art History at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. He is the 2018 summer intern at the HJBF. Wim Kramer Thomas Dobbelaer

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Preliminary Report on Extraordinary Experiences in Permaculture: Collapsing the Natural/Supernatural Divide Jack Hunter

Abstract This paper is a preliminary report on the results of an informal survey tentatively exploring the connections between the practice of Permaculture and extraordinary experiences. It will introduce Permaculture, give an overview of the questions posed in the survey, examine some of the responses received and speculate on possible frameworks for understanding the connection. It is intended to be an exploratory study and to encourage further research into the connections between extraordinary experience and practical ecology. Keywords: Extraordinary experiences, permaculture, practical ecology What is Permaculture?

In essence, Permaculture is a design process for the regeneration of natural systems based on the observed principles of ecology. It was developed in Australia in the 1970s by ecologist Bill Mollison (19282016) and his student David Holmgren (Mollison & Holmgren, 1990), and has been steadily growing as a loosely organised global movement ever since (Taylor, 2010, p. 157). The term itself derives from the conjunction of the words 'permanent' and 'culture' (or 'agriculture'), so Perma-culture could be understood as a design system for creating ecologically rooted 'permanent cultures' that are 'regenerative,' rather than just 'sustainable.' One of the most popular formulations of Permaculture makes use of twelve key design principles, drawing from the work of David Holmgren, and in particular from his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2006). The twelve principles include: Observe and Interact. Catch and Store Energy. Obtain a Yield. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services. Produce No Waste. Design from Patterns to Details. Integrate Rather than Segregate. Use Small and Slow Solutions. Use and Value Diversity. Use Edges and Value the Marginal. Creatively Use and Respond to Change (Holmgren, 2006). These twelve principles are themselves couched within the wider tripartite Permaculture ethic of: Earth care. People care. Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Fair share. Holmgren's twelve principles are often used to provide the structure for the Permaculture Design Course (PDC), an intensive, usually residential, course in the principles of ecology, systems thinking, regenerative agriculture, ecological design and so on. The content of the PDC was formally codified in 1984 (Centemeri, 2018, p. 8). For many people PDCs can be transformative experiences in themselves, and they often represent a pivotal moment in people's lives. Participants in PDCs are awarded with a certificate in Permaculture Design on completion of the course (I completed my own PDC in 2017 at Chester Cathedral). A further intensive teacher training diploma course, which comprises the compilation of a detailed portfolio of successful Permaculture design projects, must be undertaken if an individual wants to progress further to become a teacher themselves. In the UK, PDCs are usually accredited by the Permaculture Association, the official body governing Permaculture practitioners ( It is important to point out that Permaculture is not a spiritual movement, though it does have certain 'religion-like qualities' (Marsh, nd.), and is not intended as a means to induce extraordinary experiences. At its core it is a scientific (broadly materialist), practical and hands-on approach to regenerating our badly damaged ecology. Indeed, many Permaculture practitioners would likely reject any association of Permaculture with 'woo-woo' subjects, for fear of detracting from its eminently practical, science-based, significance (Marsh, nd.). Nevertheless, Permaculture is for many others something much more than 'just' a regenerative ecological design tool – it represents an holistic worldview based on the principles of ecology and systems thinking that highlights the fundamental interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Moreover, for many the PDC experience is itself often understood as a 'religious experience' leading to a sense of 'empowerment' for the individual (Smith, 1996). This clearly suggests an association with spirituality. David Holmgren writes of the attractiveness of Permaculture to both the scientifically and spiritually inclined: Permaculture attracts many people raised in a culture of scientific rationalism because its wholism does not depend on a spiritual dimension. For others, permaculture reinforces their spiritual beliefs, even if these are simply a basic animism that recognises the earth as alive and, in some unknowable way, conscious. For most people on the planet, the spiritual and rational still coexist in some fashion. Can we really imagine a sustainable world without spiritual life in some form? (Holmgren, 2006, p. 3) Permaculture also shares many of the characteristic themes that constitute what scholar of nature religion Bron Taylor (2010) has called 'Dark Green Religion': Dark green religion is generally deep ecological, biocentric, or ecocentric, considering all species to be intrinsically valuable, that is, valuable apart from their usefulness to human beings. This value system is generally (1) based on a felt kinship with the rest of life, often derived from a Darwinian understanding that all forms of life have evolved from a common ancestor and are therefore related; (2) accompanied by feelings of humility and a corresponding critique of human moral superiority, often inspired or reinforced by a science-based cosmology that reveals how tiny human beings are in the universe; and (3) reinforced by metaphysics of interconnection and the idea of interdependence (mutual influence and reciprocal dependence) found in the sciences, especially in ecology and physics (Taylor, 2010, p. 13). Dark Green Religion in general - and Permaculture in particular – would seem to present particularly fertile new ground for expanding our understanding of the nature of extraordinary experiences, and the possible role of practical ecology in facilitating them. Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Observe and Interact: Reasons for Linking Permaculture and Extraordinary Experience I have been thinking about the connections between Permaculture and my own research on spirit mediumship and the paranormal (Hunter, 2018) since beginning work on the One School One Planet project ( Before commencing work on the project, which is working to develop a mainstream Permaculture curriculum for secondary schools, I undertook a PDC at Chester Cathedral led by Steve Jones, a Permaculture teacher of 25 years. One of the things I have noticed over the last two to three years of interacting with people involved in Permaculture is that subtle hints of what we might call 'nonordinary communication' with plants, animals and other features of the natural environment keep bubbling to the surface. Take, for example, this extract from an interview with an expert in willow cultivation, and a longtime practitioner of Permaculture principles, when asked how he became involved with growing willow: I first got into willow quite by accident, if I'm honest. I inherited, or took over, a piece of land in Mid-Wales, tried to make money from the land, tried to make a living from the land in a variety of different ways. All of them failed. In the meantime I planted some willow on a piece of wet boggy ground because I couldn't think of anything else to do with it, so I inadvertently applied the permaculture principle of listening to the land, and let the land dictate what you do. And now I have a willow business and all the other businesses completely failed. So even before I heard of permaculture I was following permaculture principles, and that led me to willow. So you could say willow discovered me rather than me discovering willow. Of course this could be read as an analogy – it was simply co-incidence that willow became such an important part of his life – but it could also be read as suggesting a subtle hint of perceived agency, intentionality and personhood in the willow – that the willow actively sought him out because he was paying attention. The connection, it seems to me, has something to do with the first principle of Permaculture design – Observe and Interact – 'listening to the land' – and this calls for further investigation. The Survey To make inroads into understanding this connection I created a short informal survey using the online Survey Monkey tool. I then posted a link to the survey on a variety of Permaculture groups on Facebook in an effort to reach out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Most online Permaculture groups are filled with posts about organic farming, gardening techniques, systems thinking, and videos about soil composition, mycelium, re-wiliding and so on, so my post on the paranormal broke the mould somewhat, and likely raised a few eyebrows, while for others the connection was obvious. The questions included, How long have you been involved in permaculture, and what were your motivations in starting to explore permaculture? What is permaculture, and how do you understand it? Are you religious/spiritual/atheist/agnostic? Please explain... How do you relate your personal beliefs with your practice of permaculture? Please explain... Do you believe in the 'supernatural'? Please explain why/why not? Have you ever had an experience of what might be called 'intelligence' in nature? Please explain... Have you ever had an experience of communication with plants/animals beyond everyday interaction, or any other experiences in nature that you would consider 'extraordinary,' 'anomalous,' or 'paranormal'? Please describe in detail... In your own words, what (if anything) links permaculture and the paranormal? Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology This is ongoing, open-ended research, and as such the survey will remain available online (https:// I would appr eciate any comments, suggestions or quer ies r elating to this project from an interested parties. To date I have received 29 responses, and already they are revealing considerable insights. Respondents range in age between 25 and 75, and are predominantly British or American, with one Canadian, one Israeli, one Palestinian, one Malaysian, and one German respondent. Because there are so many interesting threads to explore here, I will only examine those elements related directly to extraordinary experience. My survey also explored connections between Permaculture and religious belief, for example, but I will have to save this for another paper. There are also many other questions that could be asked in this context; to do with level of education, the role of literature and media in influencing beliefs and opinions, and so on. For the time being, however, and given the precursory nature of this paper, this survey will suffice in demonstrating that there is a connection between Permaculture and extraordinary experience to be explored. Extraordinary Experiences The following are extracts from the survey in response to the question “Have you ever had an experience of communication with plants/animals beyond everyday interaction, or any other experiences in nature that you would consider 'extraordinary,' 'anomalous,' or 'paranormal'?” Although I use the term 'extraordinary experience,' it is clear that in this context the kinds of experiences we are talking about are not necessarily understood to be 'abnormal' or 'paranormal' in any way (though they can be), but rather are often understood as entirely natural (even if not recognised as such by mainstream science). This is an important point that will be picked up again later: 1. “I have experienced moments of deep intuitive connection with wildlife. But this is not "paranormal." It is very normal, once one overcomes the de-vitalizing myths of our society.” 2. “Not of communication, but an experience during meditation that I had become an insect, which I felt was extraordinary - an altered state of consciousness, in some sense.” 3. “Sometimes it feels that I have an intuition about what a tree or place "feels" - often this turns out to relate to either a history of events in a place - or to the health of the tree.” 4. “I often have communication with dogs and orangs [sic] and with a gorilla. It is considered to be so far out of the comfort zone of most people that I don't usually talk about it. All of my friends are aware of it and request that I talk with their animals when they have an issue.” 5. “Only in that when I go out in nature I feel a connection to nature and absolutely ordinary instances seem paranormal or supernatural to my numbed and bludgened anthro-city-warped mind.” Intelligence in Nature I was particularly interested to explore the extent to which Permaculture practitioners perceive 'intelligence' in nature. Permaculture's systems thinking approach frequently emphasises the complexity of natural systems and highlights patterns in nature. It is interesting to explore the extent to which practitioners understand the complex systems of ecology as actively intelligent (i.e. teleological), and whether their experiences lend support to this idea: Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology 6. “The intelligence of nature surrounds us always. We are too wrapped up in our striving to notice. If you look, you will see.” 7. “I have had too many to name with wild animals - bears, cougar, dolphin, orcas and whales. I can certainly admire the intelligence in her design.” 8. “Absolutely, every time I look outside. Every time a plant reaches for more sunlight or produces chemicals to ensure that it won't be crowded out by other vegetation. Every time wildlife foils our plans to protect our livestock or gardens. Every time you see nature re-taking previously 'tamed' spaces.” 9. “Well of course, this is a fact of science, and I have observed it all the time. I communicate with intelligent animals frequently, and can observe the intelligent responses of plants, plant communities and ecosystems to various stimuli.” 10. “This is a silly question. Nature obviously embodies intelligence of different forms and degrees. The only way not to constantly experience "intelligence" in nature is to be totally oblivious, i.e., dead to the world.” 11. “My plants seem to make me aware of needs but I may be imagining this.” Natural or Supernatural? Many of the experiences and beliefs collected above appear to collapse the classic Western distinction between 'natural' and 'supernatural' orders of reality. I have discussed this binary at length elsewhere (see Hunter, 2012), but suffice to say that the distinction between 'natural' and 'supernatural' is a decisively recent one in the history of Western thought that is not found in all cultures. Indeed in many non-Western societies the 'miraculous' and the 'natural' (for want of better terms) are often inseparable components of a single cosmological scheme (Bowie, 2015). It is interesting to note, therefore, that Permaculture seems to provide a framework for understanding inter-species communication and non-human consciousness in a manner that collapses the distinction. The following extracts were in response to the question 'Do you believe in the 'supernatural'?': 12. “Yes. The ‘supernatural’ is part of my spiritual practise, god, deity, spirit worshiping. Divination, working with plant spirits.” 13. “I do not believe in what this culture seems to call natural. There is much more to what is happening than cause and effect and linear reality.” 14. “I believe that much happens outside our range of perception. How we perceive that is often classified as supernatural, but it is still entirely natural.” 15. “Its easier to say I don't "not" believe in supernatural forces, as I've experienced far too many strange things that my logical mind and scientific background can't easily explain.” 16. “I do not "believe" in anything which cannot be proven via a well-designed experiment. However, our human intuitions speak to us via experiences we may label "supernatural," and I believe Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology in listening to these, without "believing" in them.” 17. “No, because I see no reason to believe that any of the evidence for the supernatural is conclusive and go along with Hume's ideas about miracles (that if it seems more probable that those reporting them are mistaken or lying than that they happened, it makes sense to assume they didn't happen) and because my own experiences (and probably those of others) of the supernatural can be explained in ways that make no appeal to the supernatural.” 18. “Only the natural exists. What we call supernatural is more a confession of our ignorance.” In his book Dark Green Religion (2010), Bron Taylor distinguishes between four dominant frameworks through which members of what he calls the 'environmentalist milieu' (2010, p. 13) conceive of the relationship between their understanding of ecological complexity and notions of the natural and supernatural: Animism

Gaian Earth Religion


Spiritual Animism.

Gaian Spirituality.


Naturalistic Animism.

Gaian Naturalism. (Taylor, 2010: 15)

In this context Animism refers to 'a shared perception that beings or entities in nature have their own integrity, ways of being, personhood, and even intelligence,' which may be interpreted supernaturally or naturalistically (Taylor, 2010, p. 15). The reference to Gaia indicates an understanding of 'the biosphere (universe or cosmos) to be alive or conscious, or at least by metaphor and analogy to resemble organisms with their many interdependent parts' (2010, p. 16), informed by James Lovelock's popular 'Gaia Hypothesis' (Lovelock, 2000). Again, the complexity of the Earth system can be understood supernaturally or naturalistically. Supernaturalist interpretations tend to imply the existence of immateriality, spiritual beings and intelligences, while naturalistic interpretations emphasise a broadly materialist perspective, understood through the lenses of biology and the hard sciences. These categories are not always distinct, and frequently merge and overlap with one another. Taylor argues that the types 'represent tendencies rather than uncomplicated, static, and rigid clusters of individuals and movements (Taylor, 2010, p. 15). In spite of the fluidity of these categories, they are nevertheless useful in highlighting core perspectives of different camps within the environmental milieu. The experiences described above, as well as the interpretations that go along with them, would appear to support Taylor's classificatory scheme, as well as his observation that these are permeable categories. The experiences collected seem to collapse the distinction between supernatural and naturalistic modes of understanding the world, and point towards a middle way. What is the Connection? If there is a connection between extraordinary experience, encountering intelligence in nature and Permaculture it would seem to make sense to take into account practitioners' own understanding of the relationship. Some of these comments are particularly revealing, and further demonstrate the fluidity of interpretations within the Permaculture movement: 19. “To me permies [permaculture practitioners] are close to reality and so is [the] paranormal. [It is an] awareness of life and being outside our personal selves.” Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology 20. “You wake up to greater things when you deliberately work with the planet.” 21. “Nothing, in my view. Flora and fauna react to sound, light and other factors. So do humans.” 22. “Care. Care for the inclusion of all beings.” 23. “If by “paranormal” you mean being connected with our environments, plants, animals, winds and mountains I think [Permaculture] can be a gateway for many - because to design, we have to observe.” 24. “Perhaps openness to exploring, learning and hoping to understand things beyond our current knowledge?” 25. “Within a purely materialistic plane, Ecology (from which Permaculture seems to derive its main perspectives) is a science which shows us the patterns and connections between things that we might not otherwise perceive. My perspective of mystical experience is that they often provide that same broad connected perspective of the spiritual.” 26. “The tending of a life filled space means the ability to see into things farther - with the time spent tending there is often moments of connection that can be more rewarding than with humans. This allows a space for the unusual or predictive to be seen.” 27. “Permaculture is an attempt to bring into conscious awareness the connections with the natural world that we largely ignore.” 28. “Intuition. There's a growing body of scientific evidence regarding the nature of ecosystems which are now well understood from a materialist perspective. But we may gain direct insights about it through intuition. "Magic" and "energy" and "spirit" are the ways our brain's patternrecognition software speaks to us about such complicated systems. We may experience "energy" and connection and oneness with an ecosystem and so on as spiritual, but this is just entirely normal, there's nothing "para" in it.” 29. “Our "rational" faculties are important, but they are not our only faculties. To deny experiences coming through other faculties because they are "not" rational seems irrational to me. It further seems clear to me that a "culture" that denies a significant part of human experience cannot be a "permanent" culture.” 30. “No, that is the thought process of superstition, and it impedes scientific progress, giving tangible new evidence space for distrust and doubt.” 31. “I don't like the word paranormal. Nature IS.” 32. “When you say it this way I guess if I am practicing the type of permaculture that Toby Hemenway called a horticulture paradigm that I would be connecting with all of the beings in nature.” Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology 33. “Listening, in permaculture you listen to the environment around you to where you can fit in to it so we can feed and heal ourselves, the ‘paranormal’ world is quite similar in that sometimes all we need to do is quiet ourselves to see that it’s all around us.” Implications for Understanding Exceptional Experiences: A Two-Way Relationship? The perceived connections between Permaculture and extraordinary experience recounted by my survey respondents point towards an interesting correlation between interacting with the natural world (whether through observation of ecosystems, or the practical tending of gardens) and extraordinary experience (feelings of connectedness to nature, communication with plants and animals, and so on). It is a commonly reported consequence of extraordinary experiences that the experiencer comes away from their experience with an enhanced sense of connection to the environment. John Mack's work on the alien abduction experience, as just one example of a particular variety of extraordinary experience, highlighted the frequent centrality of the eco-crisis theme in many abduction experience narratives (Mack, 2011). Abductees may go on to develop a closer relationship to their ecology, and to develop a new sense of their place in the cosmos following their experience. Ring & Valarino (2006) have noted similar effects in Near-Death Experiencers, who often develop a 'heightened sensitivity to the ecological health of the planet' (p. 125) after their experience. Changing patterns of behaviour and worldview have also been noted following other forms of extraordinary experience, for example: 'lifetime experience with psychedelics in particular may...contribute to people’s pro-environmental behavior by changing their self-construal in terms of an incorporation of the natural world' (Forstmann & Sagioglou, 2017). The inverse is also evident in the survey data presented here – that through fostering a closer relationship with our ecology (through implementation of the Permaculture principle of 'observe and interact'), we also open ourselves up to extraordinary experiences in nature. The work of Botelho et al. (2016) also supports this suggestion. In their study of agroforestry in Brazil they found that: ...through the adoption and collaborative development of the agroforestry system, farmers have begun to conduct intense observations of the environment in relation to plants, animals, water, and soil and to shape and renew the use of traditional knowledge in their production methods. Furthermore, because the farmers now verbalize their reflections and exchange their observations and knowledge with others, they are internalizing the idea that a profound change is occurring in their conceptions of nature. This process is similar to the process that deep ecologists describe as a metaphysical reconfiguration of the self and the ecosystem (Botelho et al., 2016, p. 218). See also work on mystical, peak and ecstatic experiences in wilderness, which further supports the idea that opening ourselves up to, and interacting with, the ecological conditions in which we find ourselves can lead to extraordinary experiences of connection with the natural world (McDonald et al., 2009). It is also important to point out at this juncture that the ethnographic and theoretical literature on animism also emphasises the significance of participation and interaction with local ecosystems, and the formation of reciprocal relationships between humans and other-than-human persons, in animistic societies (Bird-David, 1999; Harvey, 2005). Ecopsychologist Theodore Roszak has gone so far as to suggest that animism has 'a proven ecological utility,' in that 'it disciplines the relationship of humans to their environment, imposing an ethical restraint upon exploitation and abuse (Roszak, 1993, p. 84). Given that we are facing unprecedented ecological collapse on a global scale, this would seem to be a particularly pertinent area for future research.

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Practical Applications of Extraordinary Experience Research I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. Gus Speth, Environmental Lawyer One of the most exciting aspects of this line of research is the potential for practical application to realworld problems. Climate change, ecological collapse, species loss, pollution, and so on, are among the biggest problems facing contemporary societies (Brown, 1996). If we can learn more about the role of interaction with the natural world in the modulation of extraordinary experiences - which themselves also lead to a desire to reengage with the natural world - then perhaps we can develop new approaches to rebuilding a relationship with our natural environment and begin to reverse some of the damage we have done and develop what Mark A. Schroll has called 'transpersonal ecosophical consciousness' – 'an ecstatic visionary philosophy of ecological harmony' (Schroll, 2018, p. 37). Acknowledgements Thanks to Dr. Fiona Bowie, Dr. David Luke and Steve Jones for comments on an early draft of this paper, and to the JEEP review board for their recommendations. References Bird-David, N. (1999). 'Animism Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology.' Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, Supplement, pp. 67-91. Botelho, M.I.V. & Cardoso, I.M. & Otsuki, K. (2016). ' “I made a pact with God, with nature, and with my self”: exploring deep agroecology.' A groecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 116-131. Bowie, F. (2015). 'Miracles.' In M. Cardin (ed.) Ghosts, Spirits and Psychics: The Paranormal from A -Z. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, pp. 161-166. Brown, P. (1996). Global W arming: Can Civilization Survive? London: Blandford. Centemeri, L. (2018). 'Health and the environment in ecological transition: the case of the permaculture movement.' In F. Bretelle-Establet, M. Gaille, M. Katouzian-Safadi (eds.) The Relationship between Environment, Health, and Disease Toward a Multi-Spatial and Historical Approach. Springer. Forstmann, M. & Sagioglou, C. (2017). 'Lifetime experience with (classic) psychedelics predicts proenvironmental behavior through an increase in nature relatedness.' Journal of Psychopharmacology, Vol. 31, No. 8, pp. 1-14. Harvey, G. (2005). A nimism: Respecting the Living W orld. London: Hurst & Company. Holmgren, D. (2006). Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Hepburn: Holmgren Design Services. Hunter, J. ed. (2012). Paranthropology: A nthropological A pproaches to the Paranormal. Bristol: Paranthropology. Hunter, J. (2018). Engaging the A nomalous: Collected Essays on A nthropology, Mediumship, the Paranormal and Extraordinary Experience. Hove: August Night Books. Lovelock, J. (2000). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mack, J.E. (2011). Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and A lien Encounters. Guildford: White Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology Crow Books. Marsh, C. (nd.). ' Permaculture (and) Religion' [Online]. Available from: Permaculture_and_Religion [Accessed 13/06/2018]. McDonald. M.G., Wearing, S. & Ponting, J. (2009). 'The Nature of Peak Experience in Wilderness.' The Humanistic Psychologist, Vol 37, No. 4, pp. 370-385 Mollison, B. & Holmgren, D. (1990). Permaculture One: A Perennial A griculture for Human Settlements. Tyalgum: Tagari Publications. Ring, K. & Valarino, E. (2006). Lessons from the Light: W hat W e Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience. Needham: Moment Point Press. Schroll, M.A. (2018). Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness: Myths, Comicbook Lore, Dreams and Inquiries Into Various Other Radical Transpersonal Ecosophical States. Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant: Psychoid Books. Smith, C. (1996). 'The Getting of Hope: Personal Empowerment Through Permaculture.' Proceedings of the Sixth International Permaculture Conference, September-October 1996, Perth, Western Australia, pp. 1-9. Taylor, B. (2010). Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. Berkeley: University of California Press. Biography Jack Hunter

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Personal Accounts

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

A Spontaneous Trip to Ellis Island is Part Tourist Visit, Part Homecoming Anastasia Wasko

I’ve listen to mediums, people who regularly traverse the material and spiritual worlds, discuss moving through time and space and experiencing different lifetimes during this one. I recently had my own journey across realms. I believe I tapped into the in-bodied history of my family. I have had intermittent dreams that I’m on a boat—my awareness is on a boat—somewhere near the East River or Hudson River. I am flying over the bridges around Manhattan. I am hovering in the air around around Jersey City, distinct because of the oil tanks, piers, green land, and industrial structures built right onto the water. I lived in Jersey City for a few years, and I always attributed these dreams to the processing of fragments of memory and visual impressions during my residency. But when I recently went to Ellis Island (located just south of Manhattan, where the East River and Hudson River merge/diverge), I realized that those dreams might not entirely be what I thought they were. I had some free time during a recent trip to New York City, and I decided that I wanted to go to Ellis Island. It felt like a spur of the moment decision. But strange physical sensations began as soon as the cruiseferry left Battery Park in Manhattan. Somewhere between South Ferry and Liberty Island, the concrete and glass, modern city-scape dimmed. The sounds of French and Asian languages, British English and New Yawker slang got quieter. The cell phones and digital cameras and headphones appeared sci fi-ish, garish and way too “new.” And then the muted-sensation experience passed. It came back when I entered the hall of the main building of Ellis Island—the main hallway of the gingerbread-house look-alike building. The singular color of the brown, and the piping of white through details in the stone held my vision. When I went inside, the cavernous lobby and ascerbic white, honey-comb tile and hundreds of people walking around in incongruous lines, held my being. I felt—imagined people who were laden with luggage and heavy sea legs and other physical effect of the Transatlantic journey. I felt the hairs on my arms stand up, as I thought, “I have been here before.” I intuited a call to go to the hallway on my left, a passage that led into the modern stations of computers and chairs, places to access passenger lists and genealogy records. I focused on my matriarchal lineage, so I researched the names “Guzior” and “Dudovich.” I was shocked to see that 20 people had passed through these halls between 1880 and 1950—people who had those surnames. I was real-time texting my mom throughout the search process. While I didn’t find exact names of my family members, I found similar and partial names. My mom noted the possibilities of misspellings and misliterations. After all, part of my matriarchal side has gnarly family names, like “Trzeciakiewicz”—a jumble of letters that is pretty easy to mix up. There were several people named “Yadwiga”—and I have several Hedwigs on my mom’s side—the Americanized equivalent of Polish names. I left the research hall in more of a mental fuzz than I had arrived. There were some connections being made in the process, more validation, and less literal answers. My mom mentioned that my maternal grandfather’s mom was a mail order bride. I had never understood what that meant, but just as I thought that, I walked into a room of the Ellis Island museum that contained pictures and manifestos from ships that carried hundreds of picture brides—women who were requested and sent for in the old country to marry men in America who wanted a similar culture. I was shocked. Every hair (that wasn’t already standing) on my body stood up. The room around me spun. I felt like I had understood why the experience was so inside me—Ellis Island was a sort of homecoming Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology for my physical body. The experience of time shifted completely. The pieces felt alive inside of me in my waking state—I was partly in my dreams, partly in the space of hyperawareness in the present moment. I believe the memories of those who lived lives as part of my physical family—those I am related to through blood—are part of the cellular make-up of my body, hence in-body, and it’s as if they were the source of the memories and visual fragments. But I also knew that all the blanks in the story of my family and my matriarchal lineage were blanks because of trauma; of issues; of things that you didn’t talk about because culturally, there was no space. I felt called to acknowledge these unknown, known people. I held the list of names that I had scribbled in my hand, and I went outside. I walked around the outer building, saying the names, saying that whatever business unresolved could be released, saying thank you for coming to America, saying thank you for being part of the family from which I came. Biography Anastasia Wasko is a writer, editor, and maker based in Kingston, NY. She is a student of yoga, shamanic reiki, evolutionary astrology, and the creative process. Anastasia studied hatha yoga and philosophy at Surya Ayurvedics in Kerala, India as well as at Mudita Yoga Lab in Kingston, New York. Anastasia Wasko

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

A Breakthrough Elliot Talanfield

As the child of an alcoholic father, I had my share of issues to deal with. In my thirties, I decided to try to “clear” things with Dad, by telling him how his behavior had affected me growing up. He was not at all receptive. In fact, he took the occasion to call me “holier than thou;” then dismissed me with this caustic benediction: “Just remember,” he sneered, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I was still mulling this several years later. One morning, during the long drive to my office, I promised myself that this little apple would move as far from the tree (and as fast) as it could thrust itself. But how, I pondered, DOES an apple “thrust” itself? This became for me a kind of Zen koan that I meditated upon while negotiating the morning rush hour. I had recently read The Road Less Traveled, and the idea suddenly jumped into my head that the answer I was looking for had something to do with that book’s author, M. Scott Peck – and that if I would just poke around a little with this hint, my solution would soon present itself. This kind of internal chitchat had become a habit for me by now, a harbinger of insight, encouraging me just to stay with the subject matter at hand, but in a relaxed sort of mental soft-focus. So I meditated on the unlikely mantra I’d been given: “Poke, poke; Peck, Peck; poke, poke; Peck Peck” . . . until the light came on: “You’re not an apple, you’re a chicken! Hold on . . . Not a chicken, but an unborn CHICK – growing ever more confined in its neurotic egg. From inside that egg, you can ‘thrust’ with all your might, this way and that; but as your father aptly prophesied, you will only ROLL yourself so far. Yet if, instead of thrusting, the chick just does what comes naturally – pokes and PECKS against the shell of that egg – it will, in due course, HATCH. And on that day, discover things the apple can never know . . . like FEET (not to mention WINGS!). I was so enamored of this “breakthrough,” I called my wife just as soon as I got to work. “You are not going to believe what I am staring at,” she said after hearing my story. As I was dialing her up from the office, she had been flipping through the pages of Newsweek Magazine. And when the ringing of the phone interrupted her flipping, it was on this picture (part of an ad for an airline) that her gaze had just then fallen:

From the Nov. 19, 1990 issue of Newsweek Magazine, reprinted with permission of Alaska Airlines Biography Elliot Talenfeld resides with his wife Carole in Phoenix, AZ. A former Clinical Law Professor and partner at a major law firm, he also holds a Master of Counseling degree and serves as a Cantor on the Jewish High Holidays. The above story is from Chapter 24 (A Matter of Apples and Eggs) of his book, Through A Still Imperfect Lens, a true story of Personal Growth and Relationship from a Psychospiritual Perspective. Other chapters (reporting equally exceptional experiences) are posted on the author's website, Elliot Talenfield

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Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Oracle of the Phoenix: Visionary Encounters with the Radical Phoenix Lights Steven Blonder

I was put into the position of being one of the first witnesses to the Phoenix Lights UFO sighting of March, 1997. I began seeing the lights three nights before the March 13 event, which has gone down in history as the most documented and well-known UFO sighting ever. I do not exaggerate. Hundreds of witnesses (including then Governor Fife Symington) saw the lights because they were outside viewing the Hale-Bopp comet. Millions more saw them from the film taken of the Lights by myself and others. This is unprecedented in the United States at least. The methods used to deconstruct the esoteric aspects of the event are unique and challenging for readers who have never delved beyond a literal or fundamental religious or spiritual point of view. I’ve done my best to take each part on its own with sufficient detail and background to help one form their own opinions while tossing out elements that cannot pass muster or fit into one’s current worldview. The ideas presented are meant to be examined – not accepted blindly. Even I continue to re-imagine or revise my conclusions, accepting that everything is always provisional until new information emerges. I’ve done my best to use authoritative sources except where it’s been impossible to do so. This is ultimately a story of my own personal journey to find answers to the many questions concerning the events and the larger questions that grew out of them. Sighting “Look, there’s another one and another and another!”, my neighbor shouted as several orange orbs appeared in the southwest horizon. Over the course of the week we’d become used to seeing these otherworldly orbs. Unbeknownst to us at the time we were witnessing what would become the most documented UFO sighting in the United States that Thursday in March 1997. It began on a Monday. I was relaxing on the second floor balcony patio overlooking the Gila River Indian Reservation just south of Phoenix smoking my oversized Hoya de Monterrey cigar. Lounging in my balcony chair staring out into the jeweled Arizona sky, I noticed a bright amber light in the distance competing with the sinking reds, oranges and purples of the setting sun. As it hung low on the horizon, I wondered if it was a helicopter or a small plane on its way into Sky Harbor Airport. The amber light hovered in the same spot in the sky for what seemed like 20 minutes. Suddenly the light dived down, creating a huge explosion of light in what I guessed must be a distant valley. Did a power station explode? Was there a plane crash? Not likely. The explosion of light had burst in what was surely pure desert. I took refuge in this logic to set aside my fears. Almost instantly a new set of questions blossomed as the amber light object hovered once again on the horizon near the Estrella Mountains. I called my wife, Suzi, out of the bedroom where she watched TV hoping she’d catch another explosion of light, something, anything, to reassure me I wasn’t hallucinating. No more light bombs appeared but she did catch sight of the object hovering in the same place. She suggested I might get a closer look through the video camera or binoculars. Much closer through the Panasonic Super 8, I caught sight of what appeared to be a vibrating orb of orange light. Rippling energy circulated counter-clockwise, suggesting the orb itself was the eye of a storm. The binoculars proved that this was no airplane but the exact details of what we were seeing were difficult to grasp. Neither Suzi nor I had any idea what this could be, so we called our neighbors Pete and Sandy for their opinions. Pete called me back after looking outside with his video camera. He and Sandy both saw the orb of amber light that had now taken to blinking on and off, on and off. We debated what, if anything, we should do about this “sighting” as we were beginning to collectively think of it. It wasn’t like anything any of us had ever seen. The behavior of the mystery light transcended the boundaries of the ordinary. Pete phoned the television news station to find Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology out if anyone else reported seeing the object. For some reason he was transferred to the weather department. Maybe they thought he was seeing giant orange hail? They told Pete that he was most likely seeing the HaleBopp comet, which was scheduled to be visible in the sky locally during this time. Pete assured the station that the light we were witnessing was in the southwestern sky while the Hale-Bopp comet was slated to appear in the northeastern sky. When we played the film back a bit later, we were amazed at the close-up view it offered. The vibrating orange orb was spinning like some hypnotic device wielded by a kohl-eyed, goateed magician to attain power over his victims. Later I would stumble upon the Prophet Ezekiel’s description of his encounter with similar phenomena as fiery “wheels within wheels” or the Ofanim.” That night, Suzi and I searched the Internet for mention of other orange orbs appearing in the evening sky. The “UFO Roundup” Web site posted similar stories of orange orbs low on the horizon in Australia. Witnesses there said the orbs of light were completely noiseless while blinking in and out. I decided to send a note to Joe Trainor, the site administrator. That just goes to show how eager I was to discuss what I’d witnessed and connect with any other witnesses in the Phoenix area. As carefully as I could, I described the color, the time, the direction, the behavior and the appearance of the lights both via the naked eye and through the camera’s magnification. The next morning Trainor requested a bit more information and my permission for him to pass my email along to the MUFON director in my area. MUFON stands for Mutual UFO Network. The idea of getting that involved set off warning sirens that I might be turning around a bend in the road that might forever label me as “one of those crazies” who give credence to the unexplainable. I feared this experience might lie beyond conventional wisdom that declares “everything has an explanation.” I threw caution to the wind – I’d talk to the MUFON guy if … I could keep my name out of it. I didn’t consider any degree of participation in a UFO sighting to be a career enhancer at IBM where I was hot in pursuit of an ascending career. I found myself looking forward to an adventure with a real UFO hunter. What would he look like? Indiana Jones meets Fox Mulder? The sightings intensified over the next couple of nights as I waited to hear back from Trainor’s connection. On Tuesday two orbs arrived to light up and go dark, light up and go dark. Neighbors dropped by to see the light show appearing around 9:00 p.m. each evening. One orange orb became two orange orbs and then three. At one point a military jet flew right toward the blinking amber lights, causing them to disappear. By the time I ran to get my video camera, the intense spiraling lights reappeared once again. I wrote another note to Joe Trainor at “UFO Roundup” to update him about the second night of sightings. Again similar reports come in from Australia. There, people were seeing these orbs actually moving close to the ground. That worried me a bit imagining swirling amber globes showing up on our balcony … but the fear was fleeting. Before long I snapped back to enjoying the moment and savoring the adventure drawing me in. We faced a long night of uncomfortable speculation before hearing back from Bill Hamilton, our local MUFON director on Wednesday, March 12. Two notes Wednesday morning got my adrenaline pumping – One from Joe Trainor asking if I’d heard from Bill Hamilton and the other from Hamilton himself. Hamilton wanted to meet me that day and left me his phone number. I eventually reached him later that afternoon. Hamilton embodied a Joe Friday matter of factness but with a friendlier, warmer tone. He wanted all the specifics, the facts as I saw them. He wanted times, positions, descriptions, behavior, the same things Trainor requested but in even more detail. Apparently he was filling out some report over the phone. Hamilton asked if he could swing by the next day to review my videos. ”Sounds great,” I said with some surprise. I was surprised he wouldn’t want to show up at the house that evening, as we’d seen the orbs every night since Monday with no indication of them quitting. As good as his word, Hamilton called me Thursday morning requesting to drop by that evening with a friend and photographer, Tom King. Hamilton worried that he might arrive fairly late in the evening since he and Tom were meeting a famous UFO guy at the airport that night, Dr. Steven Greer, Director of the Disclosure Project. That evening, I saw orbs all over the sky, and I thought the event was over by the time Hamilton and Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology King arrived at the house. On prior evenings the sightings were earlier - around 9:00. The first night, I believe they appeared around 8:00 p.m. The Flap I was dizzy from all the sightings that evening, March 13, 1997. The skies seemed full of oscillating orange orbs flickering on and blinking off, scattered in every direction across the sky. I thought maybe I’d been watching the skies too much and my imagination was getting the best of me. That night the amber light orbs behaved differently than the nights before. They didn’t remain static, hovering in the same part of the sky. They appeared in the western and even eastern skies. They toyed with my sensibilities. Hamilton and King finally arrived around 9:30. It appeared that they had missed out on the show for the night. I was in a foul mood, because I really wanted the experts, if you can call them that, to witness what I’d seen and hopefully offer some experienced advice about whether I truly had ventured into UFO land. Bill Hamilton looked to be in his mid-to-late forties with a smattering of gray hair, a few lines in his face. Medium height and build, a regular guy who just so happened to hunt UFOs for a living. Tom King seemed a little bit more unusual with his long hippie style hair and his girlfriend throwing out some 1960s type vibes. King’s patter had a California surfer dude undertone; he was famous for his video hanging 10 while boogie boarding with the words “Major Sighting Here,” the catch phrase of UFO hunters everywhere. The phrase would be refrained in many films and documentaries that would come later. Obviously disappointed he missed the orbs in person, Hamilton asked to see my films. As I played the videos Hamilton and King were quick to inform me that I made the rookie error of shooting using automatic focus; a cardinal sin in the UFO business. King, known for his video work in the UFO field, taught me to shoot using manual focus. Hamilton asked to see the balcony, our vantage point. Upstairs the normal collection of neighbors still searched the skies for more orbs. One of the neighbors suddenly yelled out, “There’s one, over there!” Hamilton and King ran down the stairs to grab their cameras and equipment from the car. I grabbed my video camera, remembering to switch to manual focus before honing in on the light object. Hamilton and King returned with an assortment of UFO hunting tools. Hamilton looked through a scope of some kind, reporting his observations to King, who was filming. King climbed up on the balcony ledge leaning against the roof as Hamilton called out the location, the weather, the time, the appearance, etc. Soon the orb disappeared. Several minutes later, another neighbor shouted, “Look, there’s another one! And another one!” Soon five lights lined up in a row with one orb set off from the rest. It was incredible to see this floating assembly of the orange orbs I’d been witnessing in the skies all week. King shouted, “Major Sighting Here,” as he almost tumbled off the balcony. King dangerously overreached trying to capture on film each of the lights as it brightened up and then apparently extinguished about four minutes later. I felt redeemed and immediately rewound my tape for replay. Only I was so worried about filming in automatic focus I neglected to hit record. I wanted to kick myself I was so upset. My magnification would have been better than King’s but his video would have to do. Luckily lots of others recorded videos that night from various locations, some showing up to nine lights in formation with one offset orb. Hamilton and King took off like madmen after the lights to see if they would show up near the Estrella Mountains. After they took off, the neighbors left. As the adrenaline ebbed I realized I was left with one very scared wife and child. Were we witnessing an invasion? As impossible as that question sounds, it crossed all our minds. That evening I dreamed of thousands of ships lining up and ready to move forward on command. Ten Years Later A few months after the event, I moved my family to the Dallas/Fort Worth area where I took a new job as a Management Supervisor for a large Advertising Agency. Several years went by until the 10th AnniverVol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology sary of the Phoenix Lights triggered something in me. A new found diversion into the Jewish Mystical Tradition of Kabbalah began to lead me into revisiting the Phoenix Lights which had never really felt closed. Of course there were official explanations of the Sighting provided by the government concerning supposed flare drops nearby, but those explanations never addressed the previous night sightings I had recorded and was witnessed by family and neighbors. These sightings were left open - even though the color and appearance of the Lights on March 13th were consistent with the Lights seen earlier. In 2007, I began writing a book about Kabbalah and found myself inserting material about the Phoenix Lights as if being led to consider explanations of the event that were like meditations or contemplations that were infused with an abundance of spiritual, religious and mythological content. The book developed as I looked at the entire Sighting as some kind of mandala to come up with my own answers of what the Lights may mean in the context of our seemingly transitional times. Esoteric studies were not new to me. I had studied metaphysics, astrology and other types of traditions in my 20s when I lived in my hometown of Los Angeles. I was always a seeker but I was just as passionate in my more mundane pursuits – until this moment. On occasion I Googled myself to see how many sighting-related stories would come up over the years since the event. Around the time of the ninth anniversary of the sightings, I found a couple of books and a movie had come out. One was written by Bill Hamilton, the MUFON contact who was on my balcony the night of the sighting. The other book and film were by the so-called Dr. X, as we knew her early on, Dr. Lynne Kitei. Even though this capitalizing on the event seemed almost sacrilegious to me for some reason, I still contacted Bill for a manuscript, which he graciously sent me. I also ordered the doctor’s book and film at her web site. I’m not sure what prompted me to relive the event in 2006 but for some odd reason, I felt myself being drawn in again – I needed some kind of closure. After plenty of unconventional and what could almost be called “psychic” or premonition type of experiences in my life, I decided that perhaps – perhaps, I could openup and allow myself to be intuitively led into discovering what was really behind those strange lights the week of March 10, 1997. For some unexplained reason, I strongly felt that a message was to be discovered, a mystery to be solved. I frankly became a little obsessed, not unlike Richard Dreyfuss’ character molding his mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Swirls of content unfolded in my mind as I grokked the sighting. I became a man on a mission. I rolled around every possible theory I could think of – all with the premise, the big question I asked myself: What were these lights trying to say? What did they mean? I no longer cared about who or what they were, which is where most people’s heads got stuck; after some recent intensive Kabbalah study I believed meaning could be found in just about anything if one could develop a receptive state of mind, stilled enough to let the intuition whisper its clues. In the summer of 2004 I taught a Kabbalah class, designed around Gregg Braden’s book The God Code. I chose The God Code so I could anchor my teaching to some popular material that was already making its way up The New York Times best seller list. Additionally, Braden’s treatise is based in the Kabbalistic system of Gematria, which (derived from the Greek word Geometry) correlates traditional Hebrew letters to numerical equivalencies. As Braden writes, “the idea of assigning numbers to letters comes from one the most ancient Jewish mystical texts – the Sefer Yetzirah. That text, purportedly written by the patriarch Abraham himself, says, ‘He created this universe by the three Sefarim, Number, Writing, and Speech.”’ Exploring Braden’s work would be a useful way to learn Gematria, since he uses the Sefer Yetzirah as the foundation for his groundbreaking theory that God’s name is embedded in our DNA coding. I imagined the ladder as a hyperliteral association with the structure of DNA, which anthropologist Jeremy Narby describes in his book DNA and The Origins of Knowledge. Narby suggests that through disciplined and rigorous training, shaman healers gain the ability to tap into the micro-consciousness of human and plant cells that “communicate” answers and solutions to them in trance. Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology While it may seem absurd and/or ridiculous to believe that the ancient Bible can tie DNA to transitory levels of consciousness, it is demonstrative of its ability to shapeshift itself into relevancy when viewed as a living breathing text as noted by the most authoritative experts in the field of Jewish Mysticism. The “twin” concept introduced in the text echoes throughout many of the narratives found in the biblical texts and its mystical commentaries. I then presented to the class my own novel correlation between Kabbalah’s ten sephirot and Moses’ ten commandments throwing in some new age concepts like the Law of Attraction and Karma to explicate these learnings and to introduce new concepts around the laws of kashrut (kosher) I developed on the fly relating them to the Tree of Life. All of a sudden I felt like a savant filled with knowledge that felt like it had to burst through. I began to infuse these ideas into my narrative when I came upon a satellite image of the sighting area which I devoted to deconstructing for the next several months. The image depicts the language used throughout the bible to describe the Ark of the Testament - the curtains showing the Lion (Leo and the tribe of Judah), the Wolf - the Tribe of Benjamin), the Eagle - the Tribe of Dan (Scorpio) and a boy/man (Aquarius aka - the child that will lead them) and OX as the Tribe of Ephraim (Taurus). Along with this is an image of man holding a Torah scroll as various mountains named such as the one where Isaac was sacrificed. There is the lamb with the crown of thorns that comes from that story where it says that it would be placed at that mountain. Next to this arc of images is a huge skull with many dark images which I've written a chapter on calling it Golgatha - the place of the skull. On the other side is a throne formed by the Gila River which spells out in Hebrew - Levi - the tribe whose job is to guard the Ark of Testimony. All of this is associated with Messianic times which say that a New Jerusalem will appear from the sky. There is much more to reference such as the King on the throne when viewed from another direction is in a traditional bow pointing towards Mecca. My search into the meaning of this event drove my own inner apocalypse with its associated rebirth. Readers can explore more of this story at Biography Steven Blonder (whose Hebrew name is Yehoshua Anshil) was not only a key witness of the March 13, 1997 Phoenix Lights event that has become the most documented UFO Sighting in history, he had been filming the Lights since March 10th and had invited investigators to his house the night of the major sighting Blonder participated in several documentaries and shows that were produced about the event and have aired on the Discovery, History and National Geographic Channels among others. Today, he is back working for that large technology company while he balances his other interests which include writing, Kabbalah and meditation. In 2015, Oracle of the Phoenix received an award for best spiritual book from The Indie Spiritual Book Awards committee in its category. Steven Blonder

Vol. 6 No. 1


Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Vol. 6 No. 1


Profile for Journal of  Exceptional Experiences and Psychology

Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 1 Summer 2018  

Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 1 Summer 2018