Can psychic and/or spirit experiences create meanings that foster the spiritual development of world religions? Throughout this exploration, I am assuming that all world religions are parts of an ever expanding whole. Steven Hawking (1990) hypothesized that the universe is always expanding, and for me, this opens the question of an ultimate knowing, possibilities or impossibilities.
Svoboda (1967), in his essay entitled “Parapsychology”, provides the reader with a developmental history of paranormal phenomena and their levels of acceptance by institutions, especially world religions. The author explains that “for many centuries paranormal phenomena were considered the work of some dismembered ghost or supernatural force working through a ‘crossed’ human agent” (Svoboda, 1967, p. 995).In most early religions, especially the Christian religion, the paranormal was debated and often considered the work of Satan, and the church disavowed their experience.
During many time periods, and especially within the last century, scientists began to study these phenomena. In Europe, “a Belgian committee was formed in 1948 to study ‘objectively and scientifically’ all paranormal phenomena wherever they were to be found. This left the door open for occultists and spiritists; it exposed the whole science to the suspicion with which such practitioners were viewed” (Svoboda, 1967, p. 995).
In his essay, ” An introduction to psychic studies”, Banks (1988) makes a distinction between the words ‘psychic’ and ‘parapsychology.’ Psychic “refers to non-physical phenomena that are extrasensory in nature” (Banks, 1998, p. 1). He describes parapsychology as “the scientific, statistical, the experimental approach to phenomena” (Banks, 1998, p. 1). Parapsychology is a science that has to do with extrasensory perception (ESP), such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psycho-kinesis. Psycho-kinesis is the “ability to influence an object without any motor influence” (Banks, 1988, p. 9).
The scientific exploration of parapsychology also examined the phenomenon of spiritism, whose practice makes use of some of the same parapsychological elements. Thus, a more open dialogue and acceptance of spiritism began to emerge by different levels of institutions. Spiritism, according to Pace (2004), “is the name properly given to the belief that the living can and do communicate with the spirits of the departed, and to the various practices by which such communication is attempted” (Pace, 2004, p. 1). It is postulated that those who communicate with the deceased can use various phenomena, which often fall under the umbrella of the paranormal. This may include interpreting physical phenomena such as noise, apparitions and levitation, or psychical phenomena such as trance speaking and clairvoyance. Rogo (1982) offers a distinction between psychic experiences and the experience of spiritism. The author suggests that “a psychic phenomenon usually occurs through an act of conscious or unconscious intention by the witness” (Rogo, 1982, p. 9). In the case of spiritism (also referred to as a type of miracle), “some alien intelligence does in fact seem to be directly interacting with the affairs of human life” (Rogo, 1982, p. 9). Rogo also explains that the “witness has no inclination that his own mind or powers may be involved in the occurrence” (Rogo, 1982, p. 9).
Rupert Sheldrake (2003), a biologist, conducted experiments that demonstrated examples of scientific studies of psychic phenomena. He observed the psychic phenomena of telepathic communication and hypothesizes that the mind has intentions that can be separate from the brain. He defines the transfer of these intentions as an exchange of communications in morphogenic fields, and he defines these fields as activities where “imposing patterns or structures are imposed upon indeterminate processes” and where the object of the intention can receive the information and effect a change in that object (Sheldrake, 2003, p. 278). He suggests that the collective intention in morphogenic fields could causepermanent change in the object of the intention.
Sheldrake connects this psychic phenomena with similar phenomena found in most religions: “The idea that minds or souls reach out beyond bodies is found in traditional societies all over the world, and is taken for granted in most religions” (Sheldrake, 2003, p. 15). Rogo (1982) also suggests “most religious miracles have purely secular analogues that occur within the world of psychic phenomena” (Rogo, 1982, p. 299). He goes on to suggest that the talent to perform a miracle doesn’t belong to any particular religion and thus cannot be used to claim exclusive truth in any religious tradition.
In The Quest for the Fourth Monkey , Sylvia Fraser (1992) introduces the reader to psychic communication and its implications for healing. She engages in the “matter-spirit” debate and gives examples of those who have received positive guidance from experiences with paranormal phenomena (Fraser, 1992, p. 14). Fraser writes about psychic phenomena that exist beyond the five senses and claims their validity simply due to the fact that she and many others have had experiences of these psychic states. She states that these experiences can be important for guidance in everyday life. Fraser builds a compelling complex of ideas about the nature of psychic energy conduction between self and whatever is defined as the other by using new knowledge from modern physics. This knowledge supports the breakdown of divisions between “matter and energy, space and time, past and present” (Fraser, 1992, p. 244). Is this not what most world religions aspire to? The author discusses quantum theory, a theory based on the unpredictable nature of energy when random transformations occur. She explains the particle and wave energy theory, where these two elements exist in an enfolding relationship. These energy forms cannot be pinned down as either a particle or a wave, but exist as both dual opposites and as one and the same, depending on the observer. Fraser also explains that the same notion is also contained in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, where the observer is what is relative to the object. This supports a self-other debate that an observer is separate from self or other and yet is also a part of both. In this new physics, self and other have the property of “non-locality … and thus space and time dimensions can be allowed new inquiries” (Fraser, 1992, p 244). In terms of new additions to the spiritual development of world religions, and as far as human comprehension, can we not pose the possibility of the other as being human and spiritual in nature?
Physicist David Bohm (1990) adds to this notion of the inclusion of quantum physics for information on mind and nature. He explores the connection of mind and matter as an interlocking system attached to a whole :
All of this can be summed up in terms of a new notion of quantum wholeness, which implies that the world cannot be analyzed into independently and separately existent parts. This sort of analysis will have at most an approximate and limited kind of applicability; i.e. in a domain in which Newtonian physics is approximately valid. But fundamentally, quantum wholeness is what is primary (Bohm, 1990, p. 5).
As Sylvia Fraser (1992) explains in the particle and wave theory, all matter is in an enfolding relationship, depending on the perspective of the viewer. Can this energy theory be co-constitutive in nature? We are constantly breaking down our subjective perspectives in order to create new or transform old meanings in our communications. Instead of thinking that our ideas are always right, with an understanding of an enfolding relationship of energy in our communications, we can constantly construct and reconstruct our world of personal meanings. This, perhaps, can help us to be better attuned to our mind, body and soul in connection to one’s self and others . This potential interrelationship of matter is open for discovery as a valid scientific study, or as a legitimate explanation for personal experiences of psychic phenomena, or as part of a person’s spiritual growth. Fraser imagines a web of energy in the universe that is potentially relational. She postulates an open question where two views can be combined. Perhaps as humans we create our reality out of potentially existing energy, and perhaps that potentially existing reality then carries a consciousness based on ethics and values that is also capable of further expansion based on a change of consciousness. This hypothesis supports a process model, rather than an up or down hierarchical system, based on ongoing construction as required by our interconnectedness and the situation at hand. This knowledge is important for transformative healing that one might receive in moments of spiritual contemplation.
Psychic healers and mystics build a strong case for the experience of self-other-oneness linking through an intuitive knowing and through conducting practices with the goal of correcting imbalances in psychic energy. Bill Henkin and Amy Wallace (1978) are practicing psychic healers who hold the belief that everyone has the capacity to have and receive psychic experiences when psychic healing is necessary. For these authors, “the process of self-healing begins with self-observation. Self-observation knows neither temporal nor spatial limits” (Henkin & Wallace, 1978, p. 63). Further, they believe the energies that heal are energies attached to the cosmos and not personal, and that the healer and receiver have to surrender to the deconstruction of self-other dualities. For Henkin and Wallace, psychic balance is co-constructed on the astral plane using the energy from the cosmos. The psychic balance is transformative, allowing the receiver to feel in harmony with the universe and yet understand the necessity to hold dualities at the same time as imbalances occur. For me, this addresses the challenges that we explore in giving ourselves over to our chosen spiritual practice.
In summary, the results of scientific experimentation are providing increasing levels of validation of psychic and spirit experiences. Increasing acceptance can and has added new dimensions to the doctrines of the different world religions. These experiences can then open new pathways for a filtering process that can provide the potential for added meanings in a person’s personal choice of spiritual devotion. Science might become the connecting bridge, as its increasing knowledge of paranormal phenomena and spiritism may provide complementary, not antiviral, dimensions to the development of world religions.
I invite dialogue, thoughts or feeling responses to my article.