True Tales of the Paranormal: Hauntings, Poltergeists, Near Death Experiences, and Other Mysterious Events

by Kimberly Molto
ISBN: 1550024108

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Just in Time for Halloween
by Gordon Phinn

On August 10, 1901, two English schoolteachers, Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, guidebooks in hand, somehow managed to get lost in the gardens of Versailles. Wandering about in the ever more oppressive summer heat, they began to notice more and more people in 18th century garb, a couple of whom spoke to their imminent distress in a manner obviously intended as helpful. Gardeners gardened, well dressed ladies sat and sketched, a wedding party moved off in the distance. Both tourists, felt, well, queer. Some months later Miss Jourdain returned alone. That same eerieness reasserted its influence: two labourers in odd tunics loaded a cart and then disappeared; silk dresses rustled, unseen voices whispered.
Years of research convinced the two that they had glimpsed the landscape and buildings as they were in 1789. When they published a book in 1911, a family living opposite the park contacted them to say that they had witnessed similar enigmas so often they took them for granted. Their book, An Adventure caused a stir in psychical research that has lasted to this day. Labelled "time-slips" or "retrocognition of the past", similar accounts have accumulated in the archives.
The English civil war battle of Edge Hill, the first major combat of that terrible strife, was fought to a bloody draw on december 24, 1643. Two months later shepherds witnessed a reenactment in the skies above, a reenactment three hours long. The following night, a magistrate, William Wood, and a minister, Samuel Marshall, lent credence to their claims by joining them. The following weeks saw the spectacle repeated a total of eight times, with an ever growing ferocity. Several senior officers sent by the King later swore under oath that they had recognised close friends amongst the ghostly combatants.
Such large scale animated apparitions are not the primary concern of Kimberley Molto, who sticks closely to the tried and true in her brief contemporary survey of ghosts and their gravity defying contortions, but a comprehensive cataloguing of the various careers in which consciousness may indulge. Is schizophrenia, for example, mediumship run amuck for lack of a controlling ego? Is autism an incarnation only partially completed? Perhaps senile dementia is a complete absense of soul? Is sentience fueled by consciousness or the other way around? A unified field theory if you please, ladies and gentlemen.
A century ago a variety of researchers managed to rack up some impressive inventories of such possibilities, among them Frederick Myers with Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death and Charles Leadbeater with The Other Side Of Death. Both were massive undertakings and can still put quite a dent in any amateur researcher's enthusiasm. More modest efforts have surfaced in the last twenty years. Both Colin Wilson's Poltergeist and Mysteries and Patrick Harper's Daimonic Reality take a fair stab at at least outlining something resembling a unified field theory of the psyche and its myriad mysterious manifestations.
In the face of such overwhelming odds, Ms.Molto restricts herself, perhaps wisely, to telling and retelling some local variations on the fairly standard issue ghost and poltergeist stories, bolstering her paltry sample with some interviews with medical and psychiatric personnel, whose tales of death bed visions and past life regressions have been more extensively treated elsewhere. A research scientist specialising in cognitive neurobiology, she attempts to temper a lifelong fascination with the supernatural with the calm precision of the professional. Mostly it fails to work: for every "etiology of her trauma" and "cold, cyanotic remains" there is a "blood curdling scream" and more than a few nights which are "dark and stormy" to remind the patient reader of their extended stay in the squeaky shadows of eerietown.
Molto, through much of the book, spares no effort in evoking all the creaky furniture of spooksville, some of which collapses into dust in the unfortunate reader's lap. Whether Molto feels this kind of genre baiting comes with the territory or is just plain naive is unclear. Certainly her delineation of the various scientific approaches to the paranormal currently in vogue is knowledgeable, precise and clear. Quantum physics and chaos theory both provide tantalising metaphors and models for the serious psychic researcher, and she is to be congratulated for devoting the space to them and other such lesser known but equally challenging materials as the "Thermal Fluctuation Model" and the "Decision Augmentation Theory". Ghost fanciers can, and should be, provoked by such models, and in the best examples of the genre, have been, right back to 1848, when novelist Catherine Crowe's study Night Side Of Nature wowed the reading public, and is still generally credited with being the first sustained effort to treat such phenomena in the scientific spirit that would later become the norm for research societies springing up throughout the world.
Beneath all the usual tramping around old houses and animated chatter with those who have felt the cold breath and subdued threats of angry and malicious entities lies a rather touching yearning for spiritual reassurance, which is generally at odds with the professed rationalism of scientific enquiry. One senses its subterranean presence in many a paranormal study, and in the present volume it rears an anxious head on several occasions, most noticeably in the often revealing interview with the very open minded psychiatrist Dr. Pond, in which Molto, rather breathlessly, utters the epochal "Do you think there is an actual soul in us that lives on?" and the good doctor responds "I believe there is some energy, whether we call it the "soul" or the "entity" or the "life-source"...there is something there."
Were it not for the long history of human interest in apparitions and their activities throughout the rise and fall of many a civilisation and religion, one would be tempted to make sagacious pronouncements about spiritual needs in a secular society. This being the case I shall restrain myself to righting a glaring wrong-Molto's assertion that "poltergeists are a psychic force emanating from within an individual while simultaneously interacting with the external electromagnetic environment." The work of Guy Lyon Playfair, Max Freedom Long and Colin Wilson in this area has long made a case for the following: discarnate entities, fully established in the lower realms of spirit, and ranging in ambition from mischievious to malicious, use energy leaks' from apparent gaps in the etheric bodies of pre- and post-pubescent children to fuel their sometimes ferocious attacks on the innocent and unsuspecting. Earth energies emanating like gravity in reverse from underground streams and the invisible yet detectable (mainly by dowsers in the same way they locate water) powers of ley-lines criss-crossing the landscape, are also suspected of being somehow harnassed by these dastardly tykes.
Despite these caveats, I welcome Ms Molto's fledgling attempts to imbue an often shady and hysterical genre with a modicum of learning and restraint. As an entry level work it is more than adequate, and will likely be enjoyed by many a casual reader. Moreover, I trust that she will widen her scope and deepen her resolve to contribue a work of greater originality in what will inevitably be a sequel.

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