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William Gibson’s influential “Neuromancer” – A thought-provoking review at Stuff Jeff Reads


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“Power” by Jim Morrison

Stuff Jeff Reads


I love The Doors and I am a huge fan of Jim Morrison’s writing, but I have to admit that some of what was posthumously published as “poetry” is really nothing more than the scribbled thoughts of someone who was way too stoned for his own good. Much of what is in Wilderness Volume 1: The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison falls into this category. The following poem, though, is one of the better pieces in the collection.

I can make the earth stop in
its tracks. I made the
blue cars go away.

I can make myself invisible or small.
I can become gigantic & reach the
farthest things. I can change
the course of nature.
I can place myself anywhere in
space or time.
I can summon the dead.
I can perceive events on other worlds,
in my deepest inner mind,
& in the minds of others.


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Review – The Trickster and the Paranormal (Hardcover Book)

tpnTitle: The Trickster and the Paranormal
Author: George P. Hansen
Media: Hardcover Book
Publisher: Xlibris (564 pp. with endnotes and index)
Date: 2001

George P. Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal offers a variety of paranormal considerations around the psychological, anthropological and literary image of the trickster. Hansen’s exposition of Max Weber and Claude Lévi-Strauss is competent while reflections on Emile Durkheim are thought-provoking.1

The Trickster provides a clear account of some of the main trends in semiotics and critiques classical notions of so-called primitive and advanced religion. It also looks at contemporary cross-currents in psi and psi research. Considerable focus is given to the American psi scene but not exclusively so. References made to leading international figures, particularly European, are usually accompanied with brief but telling biographical sketches.

My main reservation with The Trickster is its reliance on the structuralist notion of binary opposition. In fairness, Hansen provides reasons for using binary opposition as the methodological backbone of The Trickster. He says a structuralist approach stimulates thought in areas that otherwise might be ignored. And he rightly notes the need for structure and limitation in any inquiry. The issue, I suppose, is the type and degree of structure that’s best for the task at hand.

It seems reasonable to accept a binary opposition of good and evil.2 But a master opposition of this sort in ethics doesn’t justify generalizing the notion of binary opposites to every modality of “our current Western worldview.”3 Hansen does say that the trickster mediates and collapses binaries, and that this process involves numinosity. But, again, he seems to firmly believe that Western culture is predicated on binaries (pp. 31, 62).

Another analytical consideration emerges when Hansen acknowledges uncertainties arising from the so-called emic/etic debate yet applies anthropological data in support of the trickster theory as if the debate were fully resolved. This is one aspect of the The Trickster that just doesn’t wash. Hansen periodically upholds the trickster as if it weren’t a device designed – or constructed as Foucault says – to stimulate thought. Instead of insisting on universal binaries and a mediating/collapsing trickster, wouldn’t it be simpler to just say that the numinous compels us to reevaluate our current assumptions and opinions?

With regard to ethics, Hansen says the Godhead contains both good and evil, and seems to advocate a type of pantheism where the dyads of creator/creation and good/evil are, respectively, taken as one and the same—perhaps something like the “warp and the woof” of the Upanisads. Not much mention is given to monotheistic theologies where an entirely benevolent creator God endows human beings with free will, thus permitting evil for a greater good. A discussion of St. Anselm’s faith-based view, “I believe in order to understand,” along with the propositional statement, “reason follows revelation,” might have been useful in rounding out The Trickster.

This leads to another unsatisfying aspect of The Trickster. Different mystics from various world traditions are presented as if they’ve experienced the same type of numinosity, when in fact we can’t be sure.4 Freud’s so-called ‘backward-looking’ theories and Rudolf Otto‘s rather basic distinctions regarding the numinous are treated in some detail, but The Trickster doesn’t probe too far beyond these standard reference points for numinosity.

To its credit, however, The Trickster questions current thinking on mysticism. Mysticism may overlap, Hansen says, with other paranormal abilities.5 Other positive aspects of the The Trickster can be found in the discussion of UFOs, frauds and hoaxes. Hansen’s treatment of lab research on psi and its practical implications is useful except, perhaps, where he notes confounding variables with retroactive PK yet proceeds to suggest research directions as if these indeterminable factors are “not too severe.”6

The Trickster’s section on literature and literary criticism offers some pointed observations on French rationalists. Thoughtful and mature reflection can be found on the oft diffuse relations among imagination, reality, paranoia, mythology, ontological boundaries, space, time, life, afterlife and the self. Still, and at the risk of sounding like an old-school theologian, I didn’t see too much on the idea of a created self, humbly existing in an “I – Thou” relationship with an omnipotent yet perfectly loving Creator.7

On the whole, The Trickster is an engaging and intelligent book. And it would be unreasonable to expect a bona fide innovator like Hansen to create a slick, seamless work in largely uncharted areas. The Trickster should help readers to better understand psi in relation to the socio-political world of the 21st-century. As cutting-edge material, there might be room for improvement. But for its considerable scope and heuristic value The Trickster and the Paranormal is certainly worthwhile.


1. For instance, Hansen argues that Durkheim has been largely misunderstood by sociologists. For Hansen, Durkheim does not reduce the idea of the numinous to non-mystical origins. This is an interesting if debatable claim. Consider, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (London: Allen & Unwin, 1964), pp. 218-22, 427, 439-440, 442-443, 444.

2. I would suggest that heaven and hell exist independently of whatever relativistic language games we might play with the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ When viewed from the perspective of everlasting life, this is supremely practical.

3. (a) See p. 62. Among other things, Hansen notes the binary code used in computing; but are human beings computers?

4. See p. 78. Along these lines, William James, Evelyn Underhill, Joseph Campbell, C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, John Milton, Sri Aurobino and St. Teresa of Ávila – to name a few – each suggest that numinous experience may contain radically different qualities and textures.

5. We must ask whether paranormal abilities are in every case equivalent to divine gifts. As St. Paul puts it, those without love are meaningless (1 Corinthians 13).

6. See p. 330, 342-43. It is assumed that visible subjects (or “social groups” consisting of human beings) and not some invisible external agent largely influenced pre-recorded trials. The latter possibility would still involve a reevaluation of space and time. However, it is conceivable that if a demonic supernatural power did exist, it could dupe people into believing they’re producing a retroactive PK effect when they’re not. See my discussion on the idea of discernment in ETs, UFOs and the Psychology of Belief.

7. Granted, brief mention is given to the idea of ‘heaven’ and the ‘mystical marriage,’ and Otto runs throughout the book. But with regard to the latter, I felt that I was mostly reading Hansen’s Otto instead of Otto’s Otto.



Review – Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal

Photo: MC

Title: Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal
Author: Roderick Main
Format: Trade Paperback
Publisher: Princeton University Press (177 pp. with index)
Date: 1997

Book reviews are usually about new publications, whereas Dr. Roderick Main’s Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal has been available for well over a decade. But considering this book’s unusual subject matter it might be appropriate that we’re looking back, so to speak.

After all, Jung says that the individuation process, where one becomes healthy and whole, is a lifelong journey. And at some point in one’s spiritual formation unconventional phenomena like synchronicity and numinosity can crop up, suggesting not just a linear but a holistic or, as Hermann Hesse put it in his novel Siddhartha, an upwardly spiraling universe of space, time and human experience.

Put differently, our take on life can sometimes defy a common understanding of things, and contemplation of the future, the past and, perhaps, heaven and hell can come to the forefront of consciousness. It’s at these times that the paranormal may become more than idle speculation and, indeed, a lived reality.

Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal contains a good number of selections from Jung’s massive body of work. Considering the book’s relatively concise format, it does a good job in capturing the scope of Jung’s thinking in the area parapsychology.

I’ve already spent many years studying and writing about Jung’s Collected Works, so I found Main’s Introduction (39 pp. with 5 extra pages of notes and references) most engaging. Not to say that I’m entirely bored of Jung, but it was nice to see some fresh new thoughts.

Of note are Main’s reflections on:

  • Causality and acausality
  • Jung’s understanding of the term “meaning”
  • Jung’s alleged leaps of reasoning
  • Jung’s view of time and eternity
  • Jung’s small-p political acumen

Also useful are selections from Jung’s work about telepathy and life after death.

Jung on Synchronicity might not satisfy those looking for the goofy and conflicted “everything’s okay” perspective, so often found in the New Age circuit. Nor is the book a mere repackaging of Jung’s work or another limiting tract of Jungian dogma. On the contrary, Jung on Synchronicity is an intelligent, forward-thinking book that further develops several paranormal ideas investigated by Jung.

As Jung himself writes:

The hypothetical possibility that the psyche touches on a form of existence outside space and time presents a scientific question-mark that merits serious consideration for a long time to come.†

Main has responded well to Jung’s challenge. Indeed, scholars and intelligent laypersons should gain much from this penetrating study.

† C. G. Jung, “The Soul and Death” (1934), cited in Main, p. 144.


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Review – Tranceformers: Shamans of the 21st Century (Trade Paperback)

Reality Press

Dr. John Jay Harper’s Tranceformers: Shamans of the 21st Century presents an engaging survey of wisdom teachings from around the world and questions many underlying assumptions that inform 21st century culture.

Tranceformers also includes diverse parapsychological reports from NDEs, premonitions, astral travel, UFO encounters to different types of loving bliss. And it notes the alleged difference between Eastern and Western mysticism, a distinction mentioned by Carl Jung, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade and several others.

Based on Harper’s interpretation of a vast amount of data, humanity apparently could be headed for global disaster by 2012 if we don’t make a collective course change for the better.

Harper envisions an abrupt polar reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, with devastating effects on climate and ecology and an overall breakdown of satellite technology.

In short, Tranceformers suggests that the very survival of mankind could be at stake.

While some sociologists and historians might dismiss this as yet another case of millennial hysteria (remember Y2K?) or fast-buck scamming, the idea of magnetic pole shifts isn’t just a New Age fable.

Earth scientists have long known that magnetic north isn’t true north. And it’s generally accepted that pole shifts, even complete North-South reversals, have occurred in geological history.

Most people, however, probably wouldn’t embrace the idea that a catastrophic shift could happen as soon as 2012.

But we may never know for sure if the growing number of 2012 warnings are valid because if there’s no pole shift by 2012 one could say our collective prayers and meditations saved the Earth, a strategy that Harper calls for.

To his credit, Harper says on more than one occasion in the book that he’s not 100% sure. And this personal and scientific humility sets Tranceformers apart from most other New Age prophecies.

Believers in sync with Martin Buber’s I-Thou philosophy probably won’t take kindly to Tranceformers’ natural pantheism (where God is portrayed as the living universe), while others will likely find this cosmology inspiring.

Whatever one believes in, Tranceformers is an honest, fast-moving work that gives a reasoned argument and passionate plea for humanity to adopt a holistic, prayerful approach to the universe, the Earth and ourselves. It should be a captivating read for those drawn to parapsychology and, in particular, the cataclysmic idea of Earth Changes.

Perhaps most important, Tranceformers might help to spearhead a whole new kind of scientific theology–one based on direct experience and humble reflection instead of the unconscious reproduction of age-old tropes and modes of reasoning.


Revised from a review originally appearing in 2006. My outlook has changed considerably since that time and this update reflects those changes

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Review – Myth: A Very Short Introduction (Trade Paperback)

NYC - Rockefeller Plaza - Atlas: Wally Gobetz (note: image unrelated to publication)

NYC - Rockefeller Plaza - Atlas: Wally Gobetz (image unrelated to publication)

Title: Myth: A Very Short Introduction
Author: Robert A. Segal
Media: Trade Paperback
Publisher: Oxford (163 pp. with endnotes and index)
Date: 2004

Myth: A Very Short Introduction should be useful for those interested in the anthropological, philosophical and theological aspects of myth.

The layout is well organized. Eight chapters deal with different aspects of myth (e.g. Myth and Science, Myth and Philosophy, Myth and Religion), followed by a conclusion, index and suggestions for further reading.

Mythology is a huge topic and Segal’s presentation is made manageable by using the myth of Adonis as a kind of maypole around which various theories are compared, not in a purely linear fashion, but more as a kind of dance of recurring themes.

Other myths are mentioned, usually when it’s too much of a stretch to apply the Adonis myth to a given theorist. As Segal notes, Myth is not a summary account of world mythologies. It’s a multidisciplinary presentation of recent attempts to understand why myth came into being, what it is and does.

Those familiar with Segal’s earlier work, Joseph Campbell: An Introduction (1987), will be impressed with the quantum leap that the author has taken in a relatively short period. Altogether, the exposition in Myth is tighter and the analysis more thorough. Not surprisingly, Myth provides competent observations on the notion of the hero.

My greatest reservation with Myth is Segal’s treatment of science. In several places Segal seems to trivialize earnest attempts to understand the scientific enterprise. Karl Popper’s idea of falsification and the postmodern view of science as stories are duly noted but Myth tends to dismiss serious contemporary thinking about science as if these inquiries are merely a “fashionable” trend (p. 13).

Moreover, Myth provides no working definition of science or a very inadequate one at best. The reader finds just a few asides about Segal’s perception of science and its supposed “authority” in the 21st century (pp. 12, 18, 128, 138). In contrast to his definition of myth, Segal’s commentary on science comes off paradoxically ambiguous and monolithic.

Another shortcoming may be found in the somewhat limited discussion within Chapter 8, “Myth and Society.” No mention is given to Roland Barthes and his seminal work, Mythologies. Nor do we find much on the idea of social power and how this might inform an understanding of both myth and science.

But in all fairness, this is part of Oxford’s A Very Short Introduction series. I imagine that various sacrifices were made for the manuscript to fit the concise format. As such, the writing style is a bit laborious in places. One would think that Oxford, the supposed crème de la crème of universities, would have provided a better editor. But then again, the times might be changing in an academic world compelled to make economic sense.

These difficulties aside, Myth: A Very Short Introduction is, on the whole, a good handbook. Casual readers should find this work more than adequate, whereas seasoned scholars and academics will perhaps gain some new insights.


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Review – Images and Symbols by Mircea Eliade


Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols - Fair Use

This is the last of a long line of books by the celebrated Romanian scholar, Mircea Eliade, that have found their way into my library.

I’ve been familiar with Images and Symbols for quite some time, having browsed its pages at libraries and first run bookstores before finding an inexpensive secondhand copy.

For years I found the chapter “The ‘God Who Binds'” compelling. Here Eliade points out that the ‘binding of evil’ motif isn’t peculiar to the Christian story. However, each religious tradition has its own unique spin on the idea of knots and cords.

Some say it’s all about liberation–an untying or release from the bonds of karma, or an escape from hell or the symbolic labyrinth of the unconscious.

Other traditions more closely resemble the Christian story when telling of magically or, perhaps, spiritually binding fallen angels, demons and other invisible reprobates and sending them down below or away where they belong.

But there’s a lot more to this book than knots and cords.

The section “The Symbolism of Shells” is diverse and intriguing, as is Eliade’s treatment of the motifs of “The Center” and “Time and Eternity.”

Instead of separating religion and myth from history, Eliade makes every attempt to locate sacred stories within the cultural contexts that, at least in part, produce them.

Images and Symbols compares but does not superficially equate different world religions. This is particularly evident in the second paragraph of p. 166, where schematic similarities are noted but inner experiences are said to differ among some of the major religious traditions.

Here one could ask how Eliade knows they differ. And this is a tricky problem for religious studies and phenomenology in general. Be that as it may, I’m not convinced it’s an insoluble one.

All in all, a great book. One I’m happy to have added to my Eliade collection.