Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thanks for a great Halloween!

Thanks to all for making Halloween 2009 a great one! Spirits on Sproat was a wonderful success (despite the crummy October weather) and attended by more visitors than ever before. 

Special kudos go out to the 2009 scare team, including Chris, Andrew, Jake, Bobby and Emma.  We couldn't have done it without you.

We'll see you again in October 2010. Until then, don't let the ghosts get ya!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Spirits on Sproat 2009 YouTube video is finally here!

Here is the official 2009 Spirits on Sproat YouTube video for your enjoyment, featuring the Fugue Phantom performing Bach and baseball favorites, along with his pals. Simply click on the image below to play the video. Also for replay below is our 2008 YouTube video. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spirits on Sproat in the news

The media is shining its spooky spotlight on Spirits on Sproat!

The Chicago Sun-Times and SouthtownStar newspapers were kind enough to publish articles and photos on our display in 2009 and 2008. Click on the images below to enlarge them for easy reading.

Article published Oct. 18, 2009 in the SouthtownStar

Article published Oct. 22, 2009 in SouthtownStar and online (click on screen grab photo below and scroll down to "Oak Lawn" listing)

3 photos published Oct. 21, 2009 on (click on each photo below)

Article published Oct. 19, 2008 in the SouthtownStar

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bring the kids to Oak Lawn's Spookview on Oct. 24

The Oak Lawn Park District's annual Spookview event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24 from 3 - 7 p.m. at Oak View Center (4625 W. 110th St.) in Oak Lawn.

For the third year in a row, your friendly neighborhood Spirits on Sproat curator will join the Spookview festivities, presenting Halloween-themed cartoons (ie, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Simpsons), classic horror movie trailers, Three Stooges episodes and more projected on the big screen between 3 and 7 p.m. Check the building signage for room number.

Join us for a frighteningly good time at this annual Halloween event. Our celebration is designed for kids ages 3 - 10. In addition to the groovy ghostly movies, come take part in our spooky scare stations, ghoulish games, chilling crafts, and freaky food. Come early to the Halloween Costume Parade at 2:45 p.m. and stay late for ghost stories outside by the campfire at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Activity fees range from $.50 to $2.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Check out our new attractions for 2009

This year, Spirits on Sproat is introducing a few new props--including a possessed girl, Headless Horseman, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Plus, on select nights visitors will be treated to a live performance by the Fugue Phantom, who will tickle the ivories on our all-new upright organ prop.

We may also have a few new surprises in store, so stop by for a visit on the nights we're open--if you dare!

Help us send the kids to Cooperstown!

Spirits on Sproat is trying to collect funds to send Oak Lawn's Westside Warriors 12-year-old baseball team to Cooperstown, NY, for a weeklong baseball tournament held next August.

Please help us raise money for this non-profit endeavor, which would be a dream of a lifetime for these kids. (0ne of those young ballplayers happens to be the Tree-Boy/Fugue Phantom organist you've come to know and love at Spirits on Sproat!)

If you see a collection bucket with a Westside Warriors logo on it when you visit Spirits on Sproat, please make a contribution.

We're also selling raffle tickets for this cause, as well as tickets to a special Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament to be held Jan. 16, 2010 in Oak Lawn. The Texas Hold 'Em event will also include door prizes and a big split the pot drawing. To buy tickets, become a team sponsor or for more information, call Erik at 708-529-9028.

We appreciate your generosity. And thanks for visiting our Halloween yard display!

Videos to get you in the Halloween spirit

Here are a few carefully selected videos to get you in the Halloween spirit. Enjoy!

Channel 9 Creature Feature introduction (fan re-creation)

Svengoolie "Vampire Carpets" commercial

Mayhem on Mansfield Thriller dance 2008 (formerly THE best decorated house in the south suburbs; we miss you already!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Treat your ears to a scary tale for Halloween

Long before there was television, people listened to the radio for entertainment.

Horror and mystery radio programs from the 1940s and 1950s like "Lights Out," "Inner Sanctum" and "Suspense" provided plenty of goosebumps to listeners, who enjoyed the theater of the mind, which required using their ears and their imaginations instead of their eyes.

We've gathered a great selection of old time radio programs to get you in the Halloween spirit, including Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast that fooled half the nation into thinking that Martians had invaded America!

Click here to access a list of MP3 format audio files that you can download. Simply click on the name of the program file you want and download it to your computer. Enjoy!

Unveiling the mysteries behind ghosts

by Erik J. Martin

Dr. Larry Montz knows from firsthand experience what can happen when ghosts attack. Irritate one enough and you could end up dead, like his partner nearly did, who was lying before him, breathless on the floor of a creaky old English mansion, gasping for air.

Dr. Montz, America’s only full-time parapsychologist and 27-year expert in the field of paranormal research, had been hired to travel to England and investigate the now-famous active hauntings at Tonge Hall, built in 1594. His research team consisted of himself, two scientific field investigators, and two clairvoyants. One of them tried to communicate with an entity believed to be present in the room.

Suddenly, one of the field investigators clutched at his throat in horror and keeled over in a breathless paroxysm of agony. The entity passed quickly in front of the clairvoyant, heaving her against the wall and knocking the field equipment out of her hand. The next moment the spirit was gone, and the field investigator was able to breathe again. The clairvoyants eventually determined that Tonge Hall was haunted by not one, but three entities: two males and one female—a young child. And everything they experienced was captured intact on film.

Apparition definition
Webster’s defines a ghost as a “supposed disembodied spirit of a dead spirit, appearing as a pale, shadowy apparition.” But ask paranormal researchers for their interpretation of the word and you’ll get a wide array of answers. Many experts maintain that ghosts are lost souls, spirits of people who met their death traumatically and who perhaps don’t believe that they’re deceased. These apparitions are believed to take many forms that can be seen, heard, smelled, and felt.

“There are many different types of apparitions,” says Richard T. Crowe, a Chicago-based ghost hunter who’s been running tours of haunted locations for more than three decades. “Cold spots, phantom footsteps, phantom perfume scents, flickering candle flames, you name it.”

Ghost experts like Troy Taylor, president of the American Ghost Society, based in Alton, Illinois, say there are two kinds of ghosts—active, intelligent ghosts, who maintain the personality of someone who died and who are present in the entity of a conscious being; and residual ghosts or hauntings, in which energy is imprinted on the atmosphere of a certain place and an image or phenomenon reoccurs electromagnetically without an actual personality or presence. The spirit who attacked Dr. Montz’ team at Tonge Hall would qualify as an active haunting. The ghostly apparitions of warring Civil War soldiers still commonly sighted on the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania would constitute a residual haunting.

“These spirits remain on Earth for various reasons,” says Dr. Montz, the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research, who is a firm believer in ghosts. “Often it’s because they have a desire to protect or communicate with family members, or because they died too suddenly and want to continue living.”

True believers
Human beings have held a fascination with ghosts since as far back as 2,000 B.C., when the Epic of Gilgamesh—the Babylonian story of a man who communicates with his dead friend--was etched in clay tablets. Roman history espouses that Brutus, the army general who supervised the plot to murder Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., was visited twice by the ghost of Caesar, who served as an omen of death. Chinese and Japanese cultures continue to carry out archaic rituals and celebrate ancient festivals such as Da Jui (the “Hungry Ghost Festival”) in an effort to ward off evil spirits.

One needs only look to Hollywood and two of its biggest blockbusters of the last several years—"The Sixth Sense" and "The Blair Witch Project"—to understand just how popular ghosts continue to be in contemporary culture.

“There’s never been more interest in the supernatural, and it shows throughout our society and culture,” says Crowe.

“I don’t believe everything I’m told about ghosts,” says Taylor, who has traveled the world in search of ghosts. “I have a skeptical approach, and I like to see things for myself. If you’re a real ghost hunter, you look for evidence—paranormal phenomenon that can be authenticated.”

Dr. Montz agrees with Taylor’s philosophy. “You have to have an open mind to accept all of the possibilities of the unknown. But the concept of ghosts can be frightening to many people because of the way they’ve been raised. Religion, television and movies have given ghosts a negative connotation to make people believe they should be afraid.”

Most ghost stories, whether they’re fact or fiction based, only seem to perpetuate the negative myths and fearful stereotypes associated with the paranormal. But Crowe argues that other ghost legends, such as the tale of Resurrection Mary, cause us to ponder deeper, more spiritual reflections.

The Resurrection Mary story concerns the death of a young woman who was actually killed by a hit-and-run driver outside of Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, while hitchhiking home after a dance. Documented sightings of a girl in a long white dress and blond hair trying to thumb a ride continue to this day.

“Resurrection Mary has caused tens of thousands of people to reconsider the survival of the soul and the possibility of the afterlife,” says Crowe. “I think she’s a much more effective spokesperson for religion than all the world’s priests combined.”

Crowe’s most hair-raising paranormal experience came in on a beautiful starry summer night 1974, while visiting a legendary house in Hamm’s Lake, near Kenosha, Wisconsin, where one gang member purportedly slew another gang member and hid the body decades ago. Crowe and a fellow Chicago Sun-Times reporter were walking about the woods outside the house and noticed a shimmering, bluish-gray silhouette floating in the clearing some 50 feet away—a vision that vanished after one fleeting, paralyzing moment.

Phyllis Benjamin, president of the International Fortean Organization—a society dedicated to the scientific investigation of paranormal phenomenon--says she’s not sure if she believes in ghosts, but she find the evidence compelling, including her personal encounters.

In 1994, while lodging with a friend at a small inn in Marlborough, a little town in England, Benjamin dreamt about a small four-year-old boy in 19th century clothes. The next morning, she awoke to a cold room and found that her friend had actually seen an apparition of the same boy walking around their room.

“When we asked the innkeeper if any other guests had had such an experience, he replied, ‘Oh, sure—he’s our resident ghost, a little boy ho died in the 1870s.’”

Jim McCabe wasn’t a believer until he and his wife spent the night at the Old Colonial Inn in Concord, Massachusetts, site of the legendary ghost of Dr. Timothy Minot, physician and owner of the inn back in 1775. Mrs. McCabe awoke in the middle of the night with a stomach ache and, for kicks, called out, “Oh, Dr. Minot…”

“Suddenly a wave of electricity shot through her body and she couldn’t move,” recalls McCabe. “It was a terrifying experience that reoccurred twice in less than a minute.” Since that encounter with the ethereal, McCabe has dedicated his life to studying ghosts and conducting a year-round ghost tour of Boston.

Searching for spirits
Still not convinced that we live in a world haunted from ghost to ghost? If you’d like to go on a spook hunt of your own, be prepared, say the experts. Hauntings can happen anywhere, although some areas are more spirit-infested than others (McCabe’s ideal itinerary for sightings includes cities like York, England, Glasgow, Scotland, St. Bridgette’s Well in Lisconner, County Claire, Ireland, Williamsburg, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans, Chicago and Boston). But you probably don’t stand a ghost of a chance of encountering an entity unless you try these tips from the pros:
  • Do your homework. Read up on the locations you want to visit and ask questions of current occupants and neighbors. Check to see if there’s any local folklore about the place. Research obituaries at a local library for people who once lived at the location.
  • Study previous sightings. Learn about when it happened, the time of day, who was present, and other important details.
  • Learn to use the tools of the trade: Professional ghost hunters often use Polaroid instant cameras, 35mm cameras loaded with high-speed black and white infrared and color film, tape recorders, thermometers, Cathode ray magnetometers, negative ion detectors, Gauss meters, night-vision binoculars, infrared detectors and spectrographs.
  • Never go alone, in case of accident or injury caused by non-paranormal factors during your investigation.
  • Be respectful of the dead. Don’t desecrate a monument or building, ridicule, tease or make fun of the deceased. Dr. Montz warns that ghosts can be dangerous if you upset them.
  • If you ever encounter a spirit or experience a paranormal phenomenon, Crowe says to follow the ghost hunter’s golden rule. “Be quite—don’t try to communicate. Just stand still and take it all in. When you movie or speak, you disturb the environment and cause the ghost to vanish.”
The 10 most haunted sites in America
Professional ghost hunter Troy Taylor ranks these locales:
  1. The Bell Witch Cave, Adams, Tennessee. Associated with the story of the infamous Bell Witch, who haunted a family and was believed to have escaped into this cave.
  2. The Old Slave House (Hickory Hill), near Junction, Illinois. This mansion marks one of the only places where slavery existed legally in Illinois and is today believed to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves who were imprisoned and mistreated there.
  3. The Lemp Mansion, St. Louis, Missouri. This home was one the pride of an eccentric brewing family named Lemp. After Prohibition was passed and the family fortunes dwindled, the house became the scene of suicide and tragedy. It is believed that several members of the family still linger today.
  4. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, near Midlothian, Illinois. Believed to be the most haunted place in the Chicago area, this abandoned and desecrated cemetery boasts more than 100 documented paranormal events.
  5. Gettysburg National Battlefield, in southern Pennsylvania. The site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battlefield is now thought to be haunted by ghosts of the soldiers who fought there.
  6. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California. This former "escape-proof" prison, closed down in 1963, has been reportedly haunted ever since and documentation by staff members and visitors leads many to believe that many of the former prisoners are still waiting here to be freed.
  7. Dudleytown, in northwestern Connecticut. Residents of this cursed and abandoned village, first settled in 1738, were plagued by accidents, suicidal urges and insanity. One of the most haunted sites on the East Coast.
  8. The Winchester Mansion, San Jose, California. This mysterious house—which features maze-like interiors--was constructed in 1884 by Sarah Winchester, who believed she was haunted by the spirits of those who died by Winchester rifles.
  9. The Myrtles Plantation, near St. Francisville, Louisiana. This house, built in 1796, has been haunted for more than a century by the ghost of a former servant who was hanged for poisoning the young children of the plantation master.
  10. The Whaley House, San Diego, California. This house was built in 1857 by Thomas Whaley, whose entire family and the ghost of a man hanged there in the 1850s allegedly still haunt it.

Why old monsters never die

by Erik J. Martin

Old monsters never die, and they don't exactly fade away, either. Instead, they're reborn in fresh new takes on the horror genre that pay homage to the classic creatures and indelible demons of pop cultures past, a la contemporary fright films like "Twilight" and small scream TV series like "True Blood."

When I interviewed him a few years ago before his death, Forrest J Ackerman, the renowned horror historian and former editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, said that he believed many modern movies and TV shows pay a respectful homage to classic horror monsters and myths.

“It’s nice to see the legacy of pioneers like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi kept alive in contemporary horror movies and television programs,” Ackerman said.

James E. Gunn, Emeritus Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, told me that “almost every other kind of fiction is based on the notion that people earn their fates. What’s horrible about horror is that people often do not deserve the bad things that happen to them.”

Gunn argued that exposing viewers to timeless horror references—however subtle—in modern entertainment helps promote the classics of literature and film and form a more close-knit fan community.

“It tends to give viewers a kind of feeling of belonging, of being in the cognoscenti when they recognize something referenced” on their favorite TV show or new movie, Gunn said. “They feel as if their show is paying tribute to their knowledge of the horror genre. When a teenage viewer doesn’t ‘get it,’ they say, ‘gee, I’d better get with it and brush up on my horror history.’”

Why does the vampire mythos continue to be so popular, as evidenced by the strong following for modern horror series on television like "The Vampire Diaries"?

“A mummy or a werewolf are typically unpleasant, menacing characters,” said Ackerman. “A vampire, on the other hand, can be a more handsome, realistic creature that appeals to our humanistic, sympathetic side.”

Ackerman added that he does not worry about batminded burnout.

“There’s been a bit too much focus on vampires in the past few years in movies, books and television, and I fear that we may be getting burned out as a culture on vampires,” Ackerman says. “Being more of a purist of the classics, I also feel that they’re taking a bit too much liberty with the original Dracula archetype in some of these new creations. For example, vampires can get around by day now in some of these stories. But then again, they can’t have these vampires keep doing the same things over and over again. You have to add something new to the mythology.”

Ackerman, like most fans, believed that the undead, as well as their millennium-proof monster brethren, will never rest.

“I think classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, mummies and the like will stand the test of time,” Ackerman said. “I never saw the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character become forgotten. And Frankenstein, Dracula and the mummy have been brought back to life more times than you can count.”

Gunn agrees that these frightmare forerunners have staying power that will defy age.

“The reason characters like Dracula and the Wolfman have lasted this long is they are archetypal—they deal with certain basic human concerns. It isn’t that we’re afraid of turning into werewolves, it’s that we have these repressed feelings within us that we don’t often let out,” Gunn said.

The best and worst fright flick remakes

by Erik J. Martin

You can build a better mousetrap, but you can't build a better Frankenstein than the one brought to life by Boris Karloff. Or make Norman Bates any creepier than he was portrayed by Anthony Perkins in the original "Psycho."

Yet, like mad scientists confined too long in a haunted laboratory, modern moviemakers continue their attempts to improve on popular fright film formulas. They simply won't let some horror classics rest in peace, as evidenced by the slew of remakes Hollywood has churned out over the past three decades.

But fear fans can argue that there are as many good remakes of scary movies as there are rejuvenated celluloid monsters that were better left buried. Facelifts given to "Dracula," for example, either take a fresh bite out of the vampire legend (Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version, more faithful to Bram Stoker's original book) or just plain bite (the laughable 1979 attempt starring Frank Langella).

Wrap new gauze on the mummy's corpse and you either get a gripping sarcophogus comeback (Stephen Sommers' "The Mummy," 1999) or a tattered and tired retelling (the painfully awful "Mummy's Revenge" from 1973).

Put new fangs on the Wolf Man and you either end up with a fan favorite man-beast a la Jack Nicholson ("Wolf," 1994) or dismal dreck that should have been put out of its misery with a silver bullet before it hit the big screen ("The Wolfman," 1982).

We can only hope that if someday they dare decide to remake more modern terror touchstones like "The Blair Witch Project," "Scream" and "The Exorcist," moviemakers will put in a little extra eye of newt to ensure a quality witches brew of shock cinema. Meanwhile, conjure up a few old ghosts this Halloween by renting some of the remakes in my "best" horror film remakes list below. But beware of the dreaded retreads in my"worst" list!

Best horror film remakes
(remake year, followed by year of original release)

  • The Blob: 1988, 1958
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula: 1992, 1931
  • Cat People: 1982, 1942
  • The Fall of the House of Usher: 1960, 1949
  • The Fly: 1986, 1958
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 1939, 1923
  • The Mummy: 1999, 1931
  • The Thing: 1982, 1951

Worst horror film remakes

(remake year, followed by year of original release)

  • Frankenstein '80: 1979, 1931
  • Island of Dr. Moreau: 1996, 1933 (Island of Lost Souls)
  • Night of the Living Dead: 1990, 1968
  • Psycho: 1998, 1960
  • Village of the Damned: 1995, 1960
  • House of Wax: 2005, 1953
  • Halloween: 2007, 1978
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 2004, 1973
  • Friday the 13th: 2009, 1980
  • The Haunting: 1999, 1963

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Exorcising the myths behind demonic possession

by Erik J. Martin

"And Jesus asked him, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him…And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them…Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked...Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed."-- Luke 8:30-36:

Reverend John J. Nicola will never forget that day many years ago when he was summoned suddenly to a convent outside of Rome. There, in the room of a 29-year old Spanish nun, he, a priest and his assistant, the mother superior, and an awestruck psychiatrist had witnessed an unbelievable phenomenon. The rigid body of the young nun, apparently possessed by a demonic spirit manipulating her body and voice, had horizontally levitated high above her bed.

If you thought the film “The Exorcist” offered a harrowing, realistic depiction of a helpless girl possessed by the malignant hand of the devil, tip your hat to Nicola, who served as technical advisor during production. It’s no surprise that the movie scared the daylights out of viewers upon its release, thanks in large part to the authenticity of its story, written by William Peter Blatty, which seemed to touch a nerve with audiences searching for truth and meaning behind Biblical references to demonic possessions and 20th century news accounts of such unexplainable phenomenon.

A quarter of a century after the release of “The Exorcist,” we’re still searching for answers and trying to make sense of the stories. Is possession by an entity possible, or is it a figment of a mentally disturbed imagination? Can a priest and an exorcism rite really cast out the devil? What makes us vulnerable to the whims of a demonic will?

Old beliefs die hard
The word “exorcism” comes from the Greek word “exousia,” meaning “oath.” By definition, then, an exorcism is technically the act of putting a spirit or demon on oath, and is not actually the act of driving out the entity, as is the popular belief. This is why a higher authority, such as Christ in the Christian belief, is invoked to control the demon and cast it out of the possessed person.

Many world religions besides Christianity practice a form of exorcism, including Judaism, Buddihsm, Shinto, Islam, and Hinduism. Jews believe in a “dybbuk,” or doomed, evil spirit, that can possess a victim. To expel the entity, a ritual is performed that causes the dybbuk to exit the person through the victim’s small toe. A Hindu exorcism calls for the blowing of cow dung smoke, the burning of pig excrement, the pulling of the victim’s hair, and other rituals. Shamans called in to perform an exorcism must travel to the “lowerworld” to speak with and help cure the soul of a dead person possessing a victim.

The belief in human possession by Satan, his demons, and other indwelling evil spirits became popular sometime around the first century after Christ’s death. To this day, demons are believed to disturb their victims in one of two ways: they can invade the victim’s mind with evil, negative thoughts and thus cause an “obsession;” or they can physically invade and dominate the victim’s human body, resulting in “possession.” Many people believe that to rid the person’s body and mind of such an entity or evil spirit, an exorcism must be performed.

The New Testament is replete with references to satanic possessions and exorcisms. Start flipping through the latter part of the Bible and you’ll be convinced that the devil was one busy Beelzebub during the days of Jesus. So, why were there more accounts of possessions then as opposed to now? Where have all the indwelling demons gone, you wonder?

The devil’s doing or a mind malfunction?
Some theologians believe that Christ’s presence on earth triggered extra activity from the minions of evil, and that his resurrection and the subsequent establishment of the Christian church helped keep Satan’s forces at bay.

Psychologists, scientists, and others argue that anything that couldn’t be rationally explained, which presented itself as foreign or strange, or which challenged accepted spiritual doctrines, was usually labeled as “evil” or “the devil’s work” in the centuries following Christ’s death. They contend that reports of demonic possession of humans from the past through today are actually misdiagnosed cases of mental illness. The symptoms of dissociative disorders such as schizophrenia often closely mirror those exhibited by people who claim to be “possessed.”

“I’ve seen cases where a priest will tell a mentally ill person that he is demon possessed and perform an exorcism on him. Then the person obviously doesn’t improve and becomes desperate or suicidal,” says Dr. Steven Waterhouse, pastor at Westcliff Bible Church in Amarillo, Texas, and author of “Strength for his People: A Ministry for Families of the Mentally Ill.” Waterhouse has a brother with schizophrenia whose symptoms sometimes mimic those of a “possessed” person. “I do believe in demonic possession, but I think it’s rare. More often than not it’s a case of mental illness.”

Even recent guidelines from the Vatican emphasize that most behaviors apparently caused by demonic possession are actually provoked by psychiatric illness. Yet, despite recent changes in thinking about its exorcism rites, the Catholic Church is not about to proclaim that Satan is dead and buried.

“The existence of the devil is not an opinion that you can take or leave. It is an element of faith and Catholic doctrine,” said Cardinal Jorge Arturo Median Estevez, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline.

“I certainly don’t believe in demons,” says Dr. Larry Montz, the founder of the International Society for Paranormal Research and expert in the field of paranormal research as a parapsychologist. “If there were such things, I would have run into this line of work. Television, movies and religious beliefs are responsible for perpetuating these myths about devils. But I do believe that possessions by entities and ghosts of people who have died is possible. I’ve found in my research that they often occur in people who are very weak willed. And sometimes the spirit of a person who remains earthbound can become angry, possess a person, and cause problems.”

Montz worked on such a case in New Orleans a few years ago that involved a young child who was apparently possessed. “At first I thought he had a multiple personality disorder, but he was able to recite concrete, detailed information to us that no child his age would know.” With the help of two clairvoyants, Montz says he communicated with the spirit of an 18-year old who died violently in a car accident—an entity that was angry for dying prematurely who wanted to “take the body of someone else hostage.”

By reasoning with the spirit, his team was ultimately successful at convincing it to leave the child.

Even Nicola plays the skeptic sometimes. His subsequent explanation of the Spanish nun’s possession and levitation?

“Mass hypnosis—each person had hypnotized everyone else in the room.” Nevertheless, Nicola does believe in satanic possession. “My theory is that, contrary to popular belief, very innocent people who have a potential for doing great good in the world are attacked more often by the devil because they’re seen as a threat to him.”

A 21st century Christian exorcism In Jesus’ time, exorcisms were relatively simple—he or one of his apostles merely commanded the evil entity to leave the victim, and it obeyed. Today, however, the exorcism ritual is much more complex. The Roman Catholic Church, which last year revised its exorcism ritual for the first time since 1614, requires that an exorcism be performed only under direct order of a bishop after two thorough investigations that rule out mental illness or other causes. A church-approved priest trained in exorcisms (every archdiocese is required to have one) is then assigned to perform the rite.

The new exorcism rite begins with prayers, the blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying of hands on the possessed, and making the sign of the cross. Next, an appeal is made to Christ, the Holy Spirit and the saints of the church. The priest then employs an “imploring formula,” in which Satan’s evils are listed and God is asked to free the victim. An “imperative formula” follows, in which the devil is ordered to depart the possessed via the words “I order you, Satan…prince of the world…enemy of human salvation…”

According to the writings of Reverend Malachi Martin, the late author of the 1976 bestseller “Hostage to the Devil,” though each exorcism is unique, most follow four phases: the presence stage, in which the exorcist team becomes aware of an evil entity; the breakpoint stage, during which the entity recognizes its foes and wreaks havoc upon the possessed victim via physical abuse, disturbing noises, smells, sights, and voices; the clash stage, in which the exorcist grapples with the spirit for control of the victim; and the expulsion stage, denoting the victory of the exorcist in ridding the victim of the entity after invoking Jesus’ name.

Martin insisted that an exorcism’s success depends greatly on the strength, will, and guiltlessness of the priest. An easily intimidated clergyman or one with hidden sins can be vulnerable to the evil spirit, and may even become possessed by the entity himself if he’s not careful. For this and other reasons, most exorcists do not practice alone—they are usually accompanied by another priest or assistant, a medical physician or psychologist, and a family member.

Before you scoff at the notion of exorcisms, consider that you may have had one performed on you without realizing it. Every person given a formal Christian baptism at birth or later in life undergoes an “exorcism” of sorts, a la a short prayer delivered by the clergyman that is intended to cleanse you of original sin and renounce Satan.

Making sense of the supernatural
Every specialist has a different means of explaining away the phenomenon of possession, says Nicola. “A psychiatrist will say that it’s an illusion in your mind. A parapsychologist will say no, it’s psychokinesis at work. A physicist will say it’s a natural happening based on the laws of nature. A religious person will say it’s the devil’s doing. The church will say, we don’t know, so let’s use the principle of scientific economy, rule out other possibilities first, and then refer to a preternatural explanation.”

So, what’s a person to think?

“People today are more aware and intelligent—they want to know true answers to things they can’t explain,” says Montz. His advice for someone who is on the fence about the possibility of entity possession is to “Be open to all possibilities, but don’t believe everything you see and hear. Trust your internal gut feelings, and take your experiences with a grain of salt.”

Waterhouse recommends visiting a doctor to rule out physical and mental problems if you feel that you are being possessed. He also warns against dabbling too deeply in the occult. Satan worshipping, Ouija board playing, channeling and other occult activities can lead people away from their families and possibly promote antisocial, destructive behavior, he says.

Celluloid possessions
Delve more into demonic possessions and exorcisms by checking out these flicks—some renowned, some obscure, and all available on home video.
  • The Entity (1983). Barbara Hershey gets dominated by a lusty demon in this sometimes laughably lame fright flick.
  • Exorcism (1974). A satanic cult goes on a gruesome crime spree in a little English village. Tame by today’s standards, but has its spooky moments.
  • Exorcism’s Daughter (1974). Cheap ripoff of The Exorcist released a year later depicts the insanity of a woman who witnesses her mother’s death during an exorcism.
  • The Exorcist (1973). The grand poobah of exorcism movies and the feature that sparked our cultural obsession with demonic possession. Directed by William Friedkin, it’s also considered to be the most realistic and frightening horror film of all time.
  • The Possessed (1977). An oh-so-dated made-for-TV fleshcrawler starring James Farentino as an exorcist called in to cast out Satan from a private girls’ school.
  • Possession (1981). Rosemary’s Baby clone in which a secret agent’s wife prepares to give birth to an evil manifestation. The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972). Eerie flick about a wealthy divorcee whose brother, apparently the victim of Caribbean voodoo, undergoes harrowing transformations. Earns admiration points for predating The Exorcist by a year.
  • Repossessed (1990). A silly satire that’s still worth the rental just to see Linda Blair spoof herself—with the help of Naked Gun-slinger Leslie Nielson—and the entire demonic possession genre.
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968). A highly stylized and chillingly effective tale about a mother impregnated with the devil’s child, directed by master auteur Roman Polanski.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The truth behind our dreams

by Erik J. Martin

“Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow—
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
--A Dream Within a Dream, by Edgar Allen Poe

We all do it. It’s as common and natural as breathing oxygen. We simply close our eyes, fall asleep and succumb to what Shakespeare called “the children of an idle brain…begot of nothing but vain fantasy.”

Sometime after drifting off, the dreams come. And go. And come and go again. Yet, by the time we awaken, we’re lucky if we remember even the merest snatches of the last journey our unconscious mind just took us on.

Where do dreams come from? What do they mean? What’s their purpose? Scientists and psychologists are just beginning to unlock the mysteries of the human mind and shed light into the dark corners of sleep, separating dream facts from fictions. Whether you dreamed last night of your neighbor’s bodacious bod or a surreal netherworld straight out of a Salvador Dali painting, chances are that there was a reason behind it.

Dream analysts and researchers continue to dig for the clues, and more people than ever are turning to experts for answers to their subconscious Sandman signals.

Dream machines
Windows to the soul or waste vehicles for our unconscious mind to dispose of its insignificant trash? The debate on exactly what dreams are and why they happen continues. Meanwhile, there’s much that we’ve learned about our sleeping selves, and so much more that we have yet to learn.

Every night, we typically dream several dreams that last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, according to the Association for the Study of Dreams. Our most vivid dreams occur during a type of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep—a period when the brain is very active, the eyes dart back and forth quickly beneath the eyelids, and the body’s large muscles are relaxed. During REM sleep, we generally have a new dream every 90 minutes or so. Our most vivid dreams occur as our sleep progresses, especially in the hour before awakening.

Experts have discovered that during REM sleep, electrical activity flows from the brain stem into the thinking and motor regions of the brain, leading scientists to believe that the cortex works feverishly to process and understand the senseless nerve impulses it receives. By this logic, some researchers theorize that a dreamer may have an erotic dream in response to being sexually aroused, and not vice versa.

During the first ten years of life, a child’s dreams are more simple and typically unemotional—although nightmares can be more common. But by the time of adulthood, dreams become more complex and dramatic, and dreamers find themselves involved in their own dreams, unlike most children. Unpleasant emotions such as anger and fear are more commonly expressed in dreams than pleasant ones, and sexual arousal during dreams is frequent and normal.

Contrary to popular belief, most dreams are in color, although you might not be aware of it, and you are not in danger of dying during sleep if you dream that you have died. And, though laboratory studies have tried to prove whether dreams can predict the future, there is still no concrete scientific evidence to support this belief.

Perhaps what’s most amazing about dreams is that, though you may remember explicit details of one or more of your dreams after waking up, the reality is that nearly everything that happens during sleep is forgotten when you become conscious, according to the Association for the Study of Dreams.

The history of dream interpretation
Humans have been trying to decipher their dreams for thousands of years. The earliest known dream records, which date back about 5,000 years, are found in Mesopotamia. The clay tablets of seventh-century BC scholar-king Assurbanipal help tell the epic story of Gilgamesh, a ruler whose related dreams to his goddess-mother for interpretation.

The ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed that god visited dreamers in their dreams, and the Chinese contended that the soul left the body during sleep and produced dreams based on its expereinces. The holy Hebrew book the Talamud has more than 200 references to dreams, and the Sacred Books of Wisdom, written in India between 1500 and 1000 BC, depicted dreams to be good or bad omens depending on the dreamer’s actions during the dreams.

During the Middle Ages, dreams began to be analyzed in terms of their relationship to God. Many Christians preached that Satan was responsible for dreams, and many dreams were misinterpreted to signal whether or not you were chaste or sinful. Some women were even burned at the stake on the basis of their dreams.

Dream analysis changed dramatically at the dawn of the 20th century, when Sigmund Freud introduced his psychoanalytic dream theories. Freud believed that there are two types of dream content: latent (which contained unconscious fantasies or wishes), and manifest (superficial content that signified underlying or unconscious issues).

Freud’s contemporary Carl Jung had his own theory—that dream content can provide revelations that help us solve emotional problems, concerns, fears and conflicts. Jung postulated that recurring dreams demonstrate that emotional matters you consciously neglect can surface repeatedly in dreams via symbols and representational images.

Countless research studies on dreams and sleep have been undertaken in the last few decades. REM sleep studies conducted at the University of Chicago in the 1950s confirmed that dreams can have physiological causes and that dreams are dependent on the different stages of sleep.

Dr. Stephen LaBerge, a psychologist at the Stanford University Sleep Research Center and founder of the Lucidity Institute in Palo Alto, California, has shown that humans are able to remain awake during sleep (a phenomenon called “lucidity”).

While little is still known about dreams today, most dream experts agree that our dreams mirror our unique underlying thoughts and emotions. While there are common themes, symbols and archetypal dreams that are shared by many dreamers, these images and symbols can have different meanings for different people. Scientists continue to argue whether or not dreams have meaning, but there is no denying that every dream is unique, personal and meaningful to the person dreaming it.

The value of dream analysis
Today dream analysis is deemed worthy by nearly all psychologist and scholars. It is a powerful tool for self-discovery and is also used in therapy to uncover past events and trauma. And even if you don’t have a nagging dream, dream analysis can be a fun way to know more about our personalities and our inner being. All we need to do is pay attention to the messages that are being transmitted.

“As our own constructions, dreams tell us how we see the world—what we wish for, fear, and in general, expect,” says Dr. LaBerge. “Dream analysis is still much more an art than science. The aspects of dreaming that are scientific include knowledge about the brain state involved in dreaming, what determines dream content, and techniques and technology for controlling lucid dreams.”

Bonnie Russell, a dream analyst from Del Mar, California, who has been studying dreams for many years, says that we each dream a task through a story. “Your job is to figure out three things—what’s the story, what’s the problem, and what has to be resolved to get to the solution. My theory is that if you suppress feelings and memories, they have to come out somehow—where better than dreams? I believe that every dream has a message. The trick is in figuring that message out.”

Lauren Lawrence, a dream expert for and a former practicing psychoanalyst from New York city, concurs. Dreaming "is like sucking blood from the unconscious,” she says. “Dreaming is kind of like downloading a file from the computer that is your brain. Dream interpretation is kind of like being able to open the file. We spend roughly 20 years of our life sleeping and have about 350,000 dreams in our lifetime. And every single dream you have is important because it tells you something deep about yourself. ”

Lawrence has been able to help hundreds of subjects decipher even the most cryptic and bizarre types of dreams. For example, one teenage subject suffered from a haunting, reoccurring dream of being in her bedroom while a fierce, room-shaking thunderstorm raged outside, visible via two windows that shattered from the storm’s force. Outside, the water levels rose and threatened to flood the house, and the panicking girl didn’t know how to escape from the house. Lawrence interpreted the dream to represent the adolescent girl’s unhappiness with her life setting.

“The windows represented the eyes of her parents watching her, and the storm and the flood water signified a nullification of her space,” explains Lawrence. “And breaking glass symbolizes something coming up from the unconscious.”

Once the girl realized how depressed and discontented she was about her parent’s unhealthy encroachment into her life, she learned to cope with the anxiety and change her life. “And the dream never came back,” adds Lawrence.

“Your dreams reflect your deepest emotional responses to your waking-state experiences,” says Tidiani Tall, founder/CEO of eSpirituality Inc. and an expert dream interpreter. “Therefore a correct analysis of dream is only possible if they are viewed in the context of your particular life. This includes your past, your most profound attitudes, hatreds, prejudices, fears and pains. The adult personality is largely the result of the emotionally charged experiences of your life. Through your dreams, your unconscious will tell you what you need. It is up to you to use those keys in your conscious state. “

There are two to three thousand universal dream symbols that are basically the same for all of us, insists Tall. “They can be colors, places, actions or objects. Common dream symbols are falling, flying, sexual intercourse, and being chased.”

According to Lawrence’s book “Dream Keys: Unlocking the Power of Your Unconscious Mind,” there are also nine major types of dreams: anxiety; traumatic anxiety; self-affirmation; wish-fulfillment; problem-solving; initiation; prophetic; examination (the one where you have to take the final exam and you didn’t study); and, of course, oedipal (those erotically unforgettable dreams).

Wonder why you’re usually unable to recall what you dreamed last night? Lawrence has a sound theory. “When you are awake, you’re speaking the language of the conscious,” says Lawrence. “When you’re sleeping, you’re fluent in the language of the unconscious, so waking up means you’re no longer in that country. You’re like a foreigner trying to peace the language together, so it becomes difficult to remember the dream.”

Lawrence’s advice? “As soon as you wake up, lie very still, keep your eyes closed, and focus on what you just dreamed and what it meant. Then, immediately jot it down on paper. Keep a dream journal and refer to it for more clues and insights about yourself.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Close encounters of the entertainment kind

by Erik J. Martin

If you had been alive on Halloween eve in 1938, you probably would have been scared out of your wits. And for good reason: Ruthless, grotesque Martians were taking over the planet. At least that's what thousands of Americans believed while listening to Orson Welles' infamous radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ book "The War of the Worlds."

Welles’ clever hoax underscores an essential truth about the entertainment hungry public in the modern media age—that we want to believe in extraterrestrial life, and that the media, which continues to saturate our collective consciousness with science fiction films, TV programs, books and other offerings, is very good at making us believers.

If you want to know how popular extraterrestrials are these days, just open the movie section of your newspaper, take a walk down to the bookstore, stroll down the video game aisle at Wal-Mart, or simply turn on your television. Practically everywhere you look for entertainment these days, a classic Grey alien with those big black oval eyes—or one of his distant cosmic cousins--is staring you in the face.

Why this growing cultural obsession and consumer feeding frenzy over UFOs and their otherworldly occupants? For one, there are more supposed alien encounters and UFO sightings reported today than ever before. Word of mouth, however tabloid-like ridiculous in nature, gets around. And recent outer space explorations and scientific discoveries—including the possibility of life on Mars--are stoking our interest in uncovering the unknown truths of the universe. Hollywood, book publishers, television producers and other savvy media powers that be have their fingers on the pulse of what the public wants: namely, more xenomorphs, interplanetary predators, little Grey men, X-File conspiracies, and brain-eating zombies from outer space.

The evolution of alien life
The flourishing science fiction entertainment industry of today can thank 19th century pioneers of the genre like Mary Shelley, who penned the original "Frankenstein" novel, Jules Verne, author of fantastic tomes like "From the Earth to the Moon," and H.G. Wells, famous for books such as "The Time Machine." It was early literary visionaries like these who sparked cosmic curiosity and intergalactic imagination among the masses and laid the foundation for sci-fi pulp.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, sci-fi magazines first began to appear, including the granddaddy of them all, Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories. It and rival magazines such as Astounding Science Fiction and, eventually, Galaxy Science Fiction, featured short sci-fi works by masterful authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. The success of these monthlies paved the way for more science fiction books and short story collections by a newer generation of authors, including Ray Bradbury, Frederick Pohl, Harlan Ellison, and "Dune" creator Frank Herbert.

Movies were just as important as the printed page for sparking the sci-fi revolution. In 1902, filmmaker George Melies created a landmark special effects-laden sci-fi short called "A Trip to the Moon," depicting a lunar landing and our first look at fictional aliens on the big screen. Longer feature films like Metropolis and Things to Come followed.

But it wasn’t until the 1950s that sci-fi films came on with a fury, thanks largely to America’s fear of the spread of communism and nuclear annihilation, two themes that perfectly represented themselves in the form of evil aliens and science run amok. "The Thing From Another World," "The War of the Worlds," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Angry Red Planet" and other films stirred up the country’s Cold War anxieties and packed movie houses everywhere. Viewers got their first taste of the cerebral sci-fi film a la "2001: A Space Odyssey," in 1968, and in 1977 with the groundbreaking "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (CE3K), which ushered in the era of the friendly alien, portrayed to perfection in "E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial."

Television also advanced the image of science fiction, especially early series such as "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone." "Star Trek" came along in the late 1960s, creating a whole new universe of alien characters and an avid sci-fi fan base. And "The X-Files," which debuted in 1993, brought an unmatched level of realism and credibility to the visual genre, further piquing our desire for contact with aliens and our yearning to unlock rumored secrets being held from us by the government.

Media make-believe

Psychologically speaking, why is it that we are so intrigued by aliens and their craft, especially considering we have no proof of life beyond this planet? Dr. James E. Gunn, Emeritus Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, has his own theories.

“I have the feeling that the ready acceptance over the years of flying saucers and the aliens they involved was a kind of replacement of religion,” says Dr. Gunn. “If God is dead, as some theologians claimed, then we had to look elsewhere for some kind of superior creatures that might save or damn us.”

The notion espoused in popular science fiction that aliens might covet our planet or our women or our bodies is an old one, says Dr. Gunn. “It makes good fiction, but it isn't logical. In fact, it isn't rational that aliens would ever come to our solar system or our planet. The distances are simply too great to make such a trip practical, even if it is practicable. But we like to speculate about such matters because it is a great burden to imagine that we are the only intelligent creatures in the universe, and on our shoulders is the responsibility for understanding it and making our existence matter.”

Believing in UFOs and aliens has a lot to do with our openness to identifying reality and asking the simple question, ‘What is real?’” says Patricia Baker, a psychotherapist and sociologist who has investigated UFO cases and worked with people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. “To think that there is life out there on other worlds is a sign of our culture’s intelligence. It’s also a reflection of our yearning for ‘wholeness,’ the feeling that something—call it a higher purpose or a deeper connection to explain the mysteries of life--is missing in our lives, something bigger than ourselves.”

Baker asserts that the media has the power to influence our image of and beliefs about aliens, and it certainly makes a lot of money off of our enjoyment of sci-fi. “But the consciousness of our culture has created the media’s obsession with science fiction entertainment. Once the media gives us a quality, credible program like 'The X-Files', the public responds and interest in extraterrestrials and making contact with them grows all the more. But the interest was there long before those savvy TV and film creatives introduced their sci-fi products.”

The ever-evolving face of aliens
We’ve seen all manner and species of aliens illustrated in movies, programs and stories over the last hundred years—everything from wet leathery Martians to Klingons to Wookiees. And though their appearances vary wildly and their attitudes range from bloodthirsty to benevolent, we just can’t get enough of their brood, no matter how boring the outer space stereotypes get.

“Hollywood has difficulty with aliens. To keep audiences watching, aliens are usually either virtually human, or monsters,” says Josh Calder, consultant with Coates & Jarratt, a futurist consulting firm. “Most movies depict aliens as funny-looking foreigners with different emotional tendencies. Real aliens will be far stranger to us than Chinese or Inuit, and possibly stranger even than dolphins or elephants. We share a lot of DNA with other animals; we will share no DNA with aliens. Given the course of life on Earth, most aliens should either be primitive life forms or fantastically advanced.”

Dr. Gunn says he liked CE3K because it never once mentioned that the aliens might be dangerous. CE3K also made popular the image of the amiable otherworldly being, as evidenced by the popularity of "E.T." and even "Mork and Mindy." He also counts "2001: A Space Odyssey" as a top sci-fi film favorite.

“Even if the aliens are never shown in 2001, at least we can believe in their theoretical existence. Most other aliens in movies are believable only in fictional terms--that is, they make good stories,” he says.

“The trend in the eighties was definitely more toward the benevolent alien, as you see in movies such as 'E.T.', 'Starman,' 'Brother From Another Planet,' and the 'Abyss,'” says Ann Crispin, science fiction author of many Star Wars and Star Trek novels based on the movies and television series.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Crispin continues, aliens became more malevolent—a la the "Alien" movie sequels and "The X-Files" TV series. Calder argues that the best movies depicting E.T.s show the gulf between humans and aliens.

"'Contact' and '2001' are good, as they both show how bewildering interaction with aliens is likely to be. 'Starman' is a nice representation of how hyperadvanced technologies will appear essentially magical. As depictions of aliens with plausible motivations, 'Aliens' and 'Starship Troopers' aren't that bad. The least realistic are those that have aliens like us in their motivations, emotions, and communication forms," Calder says.

"Star Trek" and "Star Wars" fall into this category, says Calder.

“I think the science fiction genre is constantly redefining itself and going in and out of phases,” says Crispin, whose favorite extraterrestrials are the pug in "Men in Black" and H.R. Giger’s horrific monster featured in the "Alien" movie series. “For a while there, books with fantastic stories set on Mars were all the rage. Today, the focus of science fiction has shifted more inward. Instead of showcasing aliens from strange worlds, the spotlight and setting is more on our own planet and solar system. Movies like "Contact," "The Matrix," and "Mission to Mars"—in which the aliens are dead or not shown--demonstrate that.

Sci-fi trends, says Richard Schickel, film critic for Time Magazine, “depend on what the zeitgeist of the moment is—whether or not we’re feeling nervous or in control as a society. Like westerns, science fiction entertainment tries to plug into the themes of the day. That’s why I believe we’ll see more movies like 'The Matrix' and 'Contact,' which explore virtual alien realities and alternative universes.”

When it comes to sci-fi literature, “books about solar system exploration, robotic missions, and the military are very popular nowadays because their themes mirror the recent news and scientific advancements we read about,” says Crispin. “But the truth of the matter is that fantasy fiction is outselling written science fiction today, and we’re seeing a shift toward more fantasy features in theaters, which is fueled all the more by the 'Lord of the Rings' films.”

Sci-fi sneak previews
Indeed, the future of the science fiction genre in entertainment certainly appears to be at a crossroads. Does it hold infinite possibilities, or will consumers eventually get bored with it all as sci-fi writers scramble for fresh settings and more fantastic aliens and plots? And, as we learn more about the limits of time, space, and the laws of the universe, will this restrict sci-fi writers from penning creative yarns that science says isn't possible?

“I'd say the future of science fiction is infinite,” says Dr. Gunn. “Every advance in scientific understanding has had two consequences: either people suggesting that science fiction no longer has anything to write about, or the raising of new questions that make for even more dramatic and insightful stories. We have to go with what science says isn't impossible, not what it says is possible, and even the impossible looks more possible all the time, what with the uncertainty principle, quantum physics, nanotechnology, genetic and biological insights and techniques, and new discoveries in space and with advanced instrumentation.”

As for the possibility of alien conceptualizers running out of ideas and sci-fi lovers running out of interest, Crispin says relax. “Consumers, as well as science fiction creators, will continue to have wild imaginations that won’t let the genre suffer.”

When truth is stranger than science fiction
5 must-see movies and the real-life UFO cases they’re based on:
  • The UFO Incident (1975) This TV film tells the allegedly true story of Betty and Barney Hill (played by Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones) and their purported abduction by aliens in September, 1961. The E.T.s, who allegedly probed the couple’s bodies (inside and out) on their spacecraft, are depicted as resembling the classic “Grey” alien.
  • Roswell: the UFO Cover Up (1994) This film, broadcast as an original Showtime cable movie, is loosely based on the famous Roswell story, which made headlines across the world in July of 1947. Kyle MacLachlan stars as Jesse Marcel, an intelligence officer troubled by having been made to lie about having seen the debris of a crashed flying saucer in the New Mexico desert. Rumor has it that four classic Grey alien bodies—originating from the Zeta Reticuli system--were recovered.
  • Fire in the Sky (1993) In the American northwest in 1975, Travis Walton and his timber-cutting coworkers claim that they encountered an alien vessel. Walton supposedly was zapped up into the UFO, and his buddies were accused of murdering their missing partner. The abductee returned days later, telling of his experience with blond Nordic and Grey aliens (only the latter are shown in the movie). James Garner plays a skeptical police officer trying to debunk the account.
  • Communion (1990) Based on author Whitley Strieber’s alleged encounters with possible alien beings who have been abducting him throughout his entire life—as detailed in his wildly popular book Communion. Christopher Walken portrays Strieber in this choppy adaptation of the bestseller that helped spark a renewed interest in UFOs.
  • Alien Secrets: Area 51 A strange two-part documentary that aired on the Learning Channel and is available on video, Alien Secrets explores some of the most intriguing UFO cases of the 20th century. Detailed in depth is Bob Lazar’s famous account of Area 51, the infamous military base outside of Las Vegas that the Air Force continues to deny even exists. Lazar claims to have worked there briefly on an out-of-this-world project: Reverse-engineering UFO propulsion systems. Stanton Friedman, Bruce Maccabee, and Glenn Campbell are among the prominent figures in the field who lend commentary.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mind might: Psychokenesis explained

by Erik J. Martin

Think mind over matter isn’t possible? Dr. Larry Montz says think again. In his many years working in the field of paranormal research, America’s only full-time parapsychologist has encountered hordes of ghosts, communicated with an entity that took possession of a young child, and experienced more than his share of weird and wild supernatural phenomenon.

But one of the strangest occurrences he ever witnessed involved one of his own team members, Derek Acorah, a British investigator. Acorah, who was giving a presentation to a large audience, had just severed business ties with a deceitful man named John. The man defiantly showed up back stage and began trying to sabotage Acorah’s presentation.

The normally even-tempered Acorah politely but firmly asked the ex-business partner to leave, but when John wouldn’t, Acorah became enraged. Suddenly, John was mysteriously hurled back into a wall, from a previous, stationary and secure standing position. Acorah had not touched the man. But Dr. Montz was convinced that his otherwise mild-mannered partner had harnessed within himself the power of psychokinesis.

An inexact science explained

Maybe your parents were right when they told you ‘Put your mind to it and you can accomplish anything.’ At least that’s what most researchers and investigators in the field of psychokinesis believe. Also referred to as “telekinesis,” psychokinesis, or “PK” for short, is the use of your thought and will to make some sort of change in the physical world. It’s the enigmatic force at work in movies like “Carrie,” “Powder,” “Phenomenon” and “Firestarter.” According to the book “Paranormal Experience,” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, PK is the influence of mind over matter through invisible means, such as the movement of objects, bending of metal and the outcome of events. It is also considered to be a form of “psi”--the symbol experts use to identify psychic phenomena that encompasses both extrasensory perception (ESP) and PK.

The term "psychokinesis" comes from the Greek words psukhe ("psyche") meaning "breath," "life" or "soul," and kinein, meaning "to move." Experts have demonstrated that PK happens both spontaneously and deliberately, indicating that it is both an unconscious and conscious process.

We don't know precisely what it is or how it operates. It isn’t something that be explained in terms of physics, nor it is affected by any of the forces or laws of physics. But we do know for certain that PK exists, and has been recorded since ancient times.

Since the 1930s, PK has grown into a high priority research interest, and it has become the fastest-growing field of parapsychology, particularly in the United States and the Soviet Union. Although experiments have scientifically demonstrated that it is possible to influence the roll of dice and the arrangement of numbers in machines (overall study results fall barely above a 50/50 chance), statistical findings from controlled lab studies have resulted in contradictory findings.

What’s more, some experiments have been attacked for their methodological flaws, and many human subjects have been accused of fraud and trickery. Due to perceived lack of credibility, the psychological and scientific community have grown skeptical of PK investigations and experiments.

Still, recent history is littered with popular examples of actual people who purportedly harnessed PK powers, including Ted Serios, a man who could look at something and apparently create an approximate photographic image of it on film. D.D. Home, a 19th century medium, was renowned for his ability to handle hot coals without being burned, and to levitate. And in the 1960s, an Israeli psychic named Uri Geller awed television audiences with his alleged powers to bend or break metal with a few taps of his fingers and mental concentration. Geller's powers were rumored to be so intense that while performing on TV, some viewers witnessed their own household objects undergoing similar changes. But attempts to test Geller in a laboratory were not successful. Naysayers insisted that Geller was a phony who used sleight-of-hand tricks.

“There have been people in the history of parapsychology who have claimed to have extraordinary psychic powers but are in fact using magic tricks to duplicate the effect,” says Dr. John A. Palmer, Director of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, which conducts parapsychology studies. He adds that what may seem like an utterly believable PK experience may actually how be a mind trick or a form of self or outer hypnosis. “This is why we rely primarily on laboratory research to provide scientific evidence for PK. In the lab you can control for magician's tricks by doing experiments.”

The power of PK in you
Some people are born with extraordinary PK ability, just as some people are born with extraordinary artistic talent, says Dr. Montz. He believes that all people display varying degrees of Psi abilities--mostly ESP. “The people who are more advanced or focused can sometimes demonstrate PK abilities. In my estimation, the demonstration of different Psi abilities I've witnessed and studied are attributable to the mental discipline of the individual, combined with the energy life-force or spirit of that individual.”
Experts contend that PK can be cultivated deliberately through training concentration and intent. There are many ways, and techniques vary.

“PK happens spontaneously, too,” says Guiley, author of more than 20 books on such subjects as the paranormal, mysticism, ghosts, magic and vampires ( “We've all read stories about people do somehow perform superhuman feats when disaster strikes. That's PK at work.”

Okay, you ask: If PK is possible, why have we not seen more proof or examples of it among everyday people?

“I think this is because a combination of conditions is necessary for PK to occur and this combination rarely occurs naturally,” says Dr. Palmer. “If we could ever discover what this set of conditions is, we could increase the prevalence of PK.”

Popular culture on the occult usually portrays psychokinesis in very dramatic ways. Heroes and villains use the power of their minds to fling objects and people about with ease, cause disasters to happen (pr prevent them), and so on. Historical documentation of PK is dramatic, too, but in a different way. The acts of shamans, such as bringing rain, are deemed to be PK events. Many of the miracles of the saints, such as bilocation, levitation, controlling the forces of nature and manifesting food, have PK elements. Healing at a distance and magic also involves PK.

“If you let Hollywood define PK for you, with movies and TV shows of spectacular displays of mental power, then you will indeed see very little, if any, PK around you in life,” says Guiley. “However, PK is part of everyone's life. You become what you think and believe. The universe orders itself around you according to your thoughts. If you believe deep in side of you that you are creative, that you are talented, that you are a winner, you will consciously and unconsciously fulfill those thoughts. The same follows if you think negatively.”

Nevertheless, thought isn't everything, says Guiley. “To be truly effective, it has to be united with action. Your thoughts have the power to magnify your action. But harnessing the power of your thought takes effort. Thousands and thousands of thoughts, many of them conflicting, pass through our minds every day. The majority of our thoughts do not come to pass in reality because they are not organized into sufficient energy, powered by will and intent.”

As for the ability to use PK for mind control of others, Guiley says perish the thought. “Ultimately, you are not going to force anyone to do something that goes against their deepest will. The most responsible and productive use of your mental power is to improve your own life, help other people and make positive change in the world.”

If PK is real, then why don't more people win the lottery on purpose or make a killing in the stock market?

“Chance is 50-50, and results of controlled PK experiments fall barely above chance,” says Guiley. “Statistically, this is very significant, though it doesn't seem so from a ‘what's-in-it-for-me’ perspective. Also, there are subtle group factors involved. When you enter a lottery or play the stock market, you are going up against the hopes and intents of potentially millions of people. That's a lot of wills mixed together.”

Anxious to test your PK abilities? First, practice relaxing and focusing your thoughts through meditation. When you are ready, try simply rolling dice, using your focused mental powers to attempt to affect the outcome of the roll. To practice moving objects with your mind, Dr. Montz recommends placing a small piece of paper (2.5" long x 1/4" wide) folded in half, over a needle that's stuck in a cork. Concentrate on making the paper spin.

PK prognostications
In the future, Guiley believes that we will continue to advance our understanding of how mental power works, and be able to adapt it in practical and reliable ways. For example, researchers are already busy working on computers that respond to thought. Sci-fi scenarios in which we use thought to operate a variety of machines will someday come to pass, she believes.

Will we be able to flip objects through space like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”? To do so would require some sort of interaction with the law of gravity. History shows that this may be possible, because we have historical testimonials of saints, yogis and spiritual masters levitating in altered states of consciousness. Whether we will learn how to make them happen on cue, and to manage the experiences themselves, is another matter, Guiley says.

Dr. Palmer believes that tomorrow’s potential applications for PK and psi in general are mind-boggling.

“The one application we think of now is curing disease, like dissolving a cancerous tumor. But this is only one of an infinite number of potential applications. However, especially for PK, we have a long way to go to realize this potential. This is why I think it is so important that we continue doing research to further establish the reality of things like PK and, if it is real, bring it under control so that it could be reliably applied.”