Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spiritualism, parapsychology and the paranormal

Heather Graham and I did a paranormal workshop at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in San Francisco last week and I promised the participants that I'd post this timeline here for those who didn't get it at the workshop.

Heather and I both write paranormal and supernatural that is firmly grounded in research and real life case studies and experiences, and in the workshop we encouraged participants to read widely in ALL fields of the occult and paranormal, as well as take ghost tours from professional ghost hunters and visit reputedly haunted places, like the French Quarter in New Orleans and Gettysburg, both to create a sense of reality in their paranormal writing and also to spark ideas for future novels.

This timeline below isn't at all inclusive - it's just meant to give a taste of the wealth of paranormal history and literature out there to explore (and this is really just from mid-1800''s on).



by Alexandra Sokoloff


Marie Laveau, “Voodoo Queen of New Orleans” (1827-1881) rises to prominence in New Orleans.

1848 – Publication of The Night Side of Nature – definitive text on ghosts and ghost seers, by Catherine Crowe (introduced the word “poltergeist” into common usage...)

1859 - Publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species triggers a surge of interest in spiritualism. Darwin’s co-evolutionist, Alfred Russel Wallace, becomes an active participant in the British Society for Psychical Research

1851- 1886 – international fame for medium Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886) – psychic, medium and levitator of objects and self.

Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) and Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) read the Akashic Records, “a repository of everything that has ever been thought or done.” Blavatsky founds the Theosophical Society and publishes its bible, Isis Unveiled, in 1877.

1882 – Founding of British Society for Psychical Research (to bring the scientific method to investigations of the paranormal)

1885 - Founding of American Society for Psychical Research in Boston. Harvard psychologist and philosophy professor William James was a major advocate and participant.

…. Initial research projects of both societies concentrate on the exposure of fraudulent mediums (including Mme. Blavatsky).

1886 - Publication of Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frank Podmore and Frederick Myers (of the Society for Psychical Research). Consists of 702 compiled and verified real-life cases of “crisis apparitions”, clairvoyance and telepathy.

1900 – Infamous British magician Aleister Crowley (“the Beast”, “the wickedest man in the world”) studies mysticism with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, subsequently breaks from the Order to found his own magical order, Thelema. Books include The Book of the Law, The Vision and the Voice, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.

1920’s – the enormous number of deaths in WWI fuels the occult movement in Europe and America – Kabbalah, tarot, séances, ceremonial magic, and particularly an obsession with contacting dead loved ones.

1920’s - The “talking board” aka “alphabet board” aka “spirit board” is invented to replace more cumbersome methods of spirit communication such as table-tipping and tapping and the planchette (automatic writing). Parker Brothers starts mass-producing the boards as Ouija boards: telephones to the other side.

1927 – the first dedicated parapsychology lab on an American campus is founded at Duke University by Dr. William MacDougall and Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine. At the lab, over a period of nearly 40 years, Rhine conducts his world famous ESP and psychokinesis tests under laboratory conditions and is said to have scientifically proven the existence of ESP.

1947 – UFOs come to international attention – and popularity - with the reported sighting by Kenneth Arnold.

1953 – Psychic Uri Geller discovers his mind-bending abilities.

Mid to late 60’s – the popularization of the theories of quantum mechanics, and scientific and recreational experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs creates a societal climate of mind-expansion.

1968 – Carlos Castaneda publishes The Teachings of Don Juan and introduces the concept of shamanism to the general public.

1968 – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi achieves world fame for his non-traditional form of Yoga when the Beatles begin practicing Transcendental Meditation.

Early 1970’s - The Philip Experiment in Canada – a group of researchers from the Toronto Society of Psychical Research “create” a poltergeist.

1978 – JZ Knight begins channeling “Ramtha”

late 70’s to present – researchers including parapsychologists, Princeton engineers and the U.S. government study the potential of “remote viewing” - the ability to gather information or a remote target consisting of an object, place or person.

1980 – publication of The Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson – definitive text of the New Age movement.

1983 – Shirley MacLaine publishes Out on a Limb, further mainstreaming New Age concepts (including UFOs and trance-channeling).

1987 – Harmonic Convergence

Psychiatrists Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, George Ritchie and Raymond Moody Jr. study Near Death Experiences - NDEs (1978-2000)