a picture of me taken a month after the cupcake incident at the spot where it occurred. You can see the beaver lodge behind me and my father’s dog Pi.
A few weeks ago I heard Jeffrey Kripal interviewed on the Weird Studies podcast. While the entire discussion is worthwhile, I have really been grappling with the idea of the concept of the “gnostic closet” and whether or not the paranormal will ever be free of any hint of taboo.
Kripal lays out four reasons why he thinks that academics in particular remain in the closet about mystical and paranormal experiences of all kinds. These are:
- These experiences are universal thru space and time as far as we can tell – but there aren’t supposed to be any universals anymore
- A lot of these experiences are negative – terrifying, daimonic quality (fear), immediately suspect as of the devil or as antithetical to monotheism
- Extremely challenging to almost all religious worldviews
- Extremely challenging to materialist worldviews
(at 8:45 minutes in)
Which is all fine as far as it goes. But in my reading and experience, there is a much bigger problem with people speaking freely about many of their high strange experiences and it has to do with the nature of the paranormal. These phenomena violate boundaries by nature. They reveal secrets. They exteriorise the interior of people and groups. George P. Hansen addresses this aspect of the phenomenon extensively in his book The Trickster and The Paranormal.
It’s difficult to relay an experience which violates certain received ideas in your professional or personal circle. It’s more difficult to have your guiding paradigms shattered. However, there exist groups who cultivate these type of boundary violations and challenges to staid world views.
But even the most forward thinking, intellectually adventurous group is not going to be happy when it’s revealed that the leader is pressuring unwilling students for sex or that one of the founding members is embezzling. Paranormal phenomena reveal secrets and uncomfortable truths as a matter of course, disturbing the psychological and social stability.of individuals and groups. Resolving Kripal’s four issues listed above will not change this intrinsic quality of the paranormal.
Two paranormal phenomenon are well known for secret-revealing activity: poltergeists and ghosts. The idea that poltergeist activity bursts out as a result of unhappiness in a young person is a cliche because of the many times in which it’s found to be the case. The turmoil which led to the poltergeist outbreak is exposed for all to see when police, clergy, investigators, and neighbors crowd into the afflicted home. Additionally, two of the most renowned talking poltergeists, the Bell Witch and Gef the Mongoose, were both notorious gossips. And no collection of spooky stories is complete without a tale of a spectre returning from the dead in order to point the finger at their murderer (who had been unsuspected or escaping consequences until the ghost intervened – John Allore’s “Bad Dream House” is a modern day tale of the unquiet dead).
Not all experiences expose sordid or criminal truths. Many aspects of life are simply considered private. Out of respect for separate experience, someone who has become supernaturally privy to, say, the last moments of a tragic death or the sexual desires and activities of people they know may feel it’s simply not their place to reveal private information.
Then there is the practical angle. Many people desire dates, place and personal names, hard facts which can be researched and verified in order to feel satisfied that some unusual occurrence has taken place. But, again, much of this type of information is private and/or can be used for identity theft, etc. I noticed a number of date synchronicities pop up around my appearance on “Me & Paranormal You”, a whole constellation of dates and ‘next dates’ which first caught my attention when I was tagged in social media.
The post was a book review and the reviewer had written out the first line of the novel as an illustration to the post. This line contained a date which was my birth year, and the month and the day after my near death experience. The month and day of my NDE is also my paternal grandfather’s birthday, my paternal grandparent’s wedding anniversary, my father in law’s birthday, and my own wedding anniversary. Any instance of this date catches my attention for obvious reasons, the next day combined with my birth year did the trick. (The next day after I spoke with host Ryan Singer he interviewed Jeffrey Mishlove about his book “The PK Man”. I’d been trying without luck to encourage various podcasters to interview Mishlove on this topic for at least ten years and was so thrilled to see this finally take place that you can hear me squeaking with excitement at the end of the podcast).
Other dates in this constellation included the day before my mother’s birthday, a strange palindrome of my sister’s and my birthdates, the day before my birthday (twice), and my brother’s birthday. I can buy into the beliefs outlined by Kripal above or have left them all behind me decades ago but either way I’m not going to doxx myself and half my family just to satisfy some unknown skeptic’s thirst for ‘evidence’.
I hope these few example give researchers a feeling for the many personal and practical reasons experiencers may have for withholding information. I can’t speak to the best ways of handling such situations, though I will say that as human beings we have no right to others’ personal, private experience except as they freely choose to share it with us. And we should remember that people have sensible and moral reasons for keeping certain information and experiences private.
I’ll end with a story of my own. This experience is ‘bad’ on all levels – I have no proof and it highlights my bad qualities, ridiculousness, and painful health issues. It is an excellent example of the interior world being set out in the physical for all to see. At the same time, I think it’s pretty funny. In any event I offer it as one example of the type of tale not everyone wants to tell on themselves.
Last Thanksgiving we were going to have four people for dinner. I live with my mother and husband, and my brother was coming into town for the holiday. I love a pumpkin pie, but mom prefers chocolate, so mom bought one of each. We all had some pie for Thanksgiving, but there was one and a half pies left at the end of the day.
Now, my brother refused to take any pie home with him, mom got a stomach bug and hated the chocolate pie crust so she didn’t eat any, and my husband has self control. Thus, it was left to me to eat all of that pie. I had pie every morning for breakfast, sometimes pie for lunch. I have an outlandish sweet tooth, so while you’d think that all this pie would be quelling my desire for sweets it actually got me thinking about these delicious cupcakes I’d eaten in another town a month or so before. I was under the impression that the same bakery had a branch in the Oxbow Market downtown, dangerously close and accessible.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving I headed downtown to go to the Oxbow Market and get a couple of things for my mom. For hours beforehand I was battling internally about whether or not to get one of those cupcakes from that bakery. Soooooo delicious, perfect frosting and lots of it – but i’d been eating two pieces of pie a day for days now. I really shouldn’t – and etc. The point is this was really on my mind.
I drove downtown and parked, but before heading to the Oxbow Market I went on another errand for my mom – I went to check out the local beaver dam. My mom lived a few blocks from this dam for many years and we’re all interested in their doings. So as I was standing near the creek, looking at the beaver lodge, I become aware of a young drunk guy about half a block away, muttering to himself. He then notices me and yells full throated: “Hey Grandma, want to come back to my caddyshack?!?!?”
Without waiting for a response, he continued: “LET’S GO CUPCAKE!!! LET’S GO CUPCAKE!!! LET’S GO CUPCAKE!!!” seven or eight times.
No one has called me ‘cupcake’ in at least twenty years, so on that score it’s a pretty good synchronicity. But this incident managed to dredge up my vanity, my aging, my penchant for wearing modestly old fashioned eccentric outfits I sew myself, my insatiable sweet tooth, my obsessing over cupcakes for hours and days, the fact I’ll never be a grandma because my health problems were too severe for me to carry or take care of a child, and so on.
Now, this is a stupid, ridiculous story. I tell it here in hopes that researchers will get a feeling for what it’s like to have your personal, private foibles thrown in your face by a screaming drunk while a couple of horrified tourists judge you from the sidelines. It’s simply one of many instances where a person may not be inclined to share the whole story with you. A wider familiarity with the the reasons behind this reticence should be helpful in dealing with this material in a helpful and responsible manner.
Update: the day after I published this piece, Ryan Singer released an episode of “Me & Paranormal You” on Rainbow Children. At 21:00 minutes in he muses at a bit of length on the allure of cupcakes. I wish him the best of luck on his milkshake sabbatical.