Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There's Something in the Bedroom...

In the References section of my book, There's Something in the Woods, I briefly noted that: "In the early hours one morning in late 2002, I had a nightmarish encounter with a wolf-like, cloaked figure that manifested in our apartment while I was in the depths of a sleep-paralysis-style slumber. It took all my strength to wake up, at which point the foul beast vanished into the darkness."

Collectively, I think, I've had maybe 2 other experiences of a similar nature: one (around 2003) involving a cloudy, shadowy figure leaning over me and preventing me from rising from the bed, and the other of a presence (that I interpreted as malevolent) slowly climbing the staircase at one of my old abodes in England. I struggled to wake-up, knowing full well that its destination was my bedroom (and which occurred at some point in the early-to-mid 1990s).

As a result, I've always taken a keen interest in reports such as these - hence the review that follows!

A lot of words have been written about the strange and unnerving phenomenon (or, perhaps, phenomena would be a better and more accurate word to use) that has popularly become know as Sleep-Paralysis (SP).

Some of those words have been good and some of them have been bad. Others have been wholly skeptical; while many have been firmly pro-SP.

But, what has been lacking until now is a truly in-depth, book-length and definitive study of the mystery written by someone who has actually experienced repeated episodes of sleep-paralysis, first-hand - and in all their terrifying glory, no less.

That situation has now changed (and radically so, too), thanks to Australian author Louis Proud, whose title (just published by Anomalist Books) Dark Intrusions: An Investigation into the Paranormal Nature of Sleep Paralysis Experiences, makes for both remarkable and essential reading.

One might argue that anyone with an above-average knowledge of the paranormal and a keen writing talent could sit down and deeply research the subject of sleep-paralysis and then, as a result, write a paper, a report or a book on the subject.

Well, maybe that's possibly true. But what would be utterly lacking would be the sheer, intense and harrowing personal touch that Proud skilfully brings to his book time and time again.

It's clear to me, at least, that the writing of Dark Intrusions was very much a cathartic experience for the author. And that's a good thing, taking into consideration some of the nightmarish events that he chronicles within the pages of his book - and with refreshing openness and clarity, no less. Indeed, Proud is not at all afraid to dig into his personal life, experiences, beliefs and ideas pertaining to the world of the paranormal as he searches for the answers relative to SP.

And, I suspect, possibly as a result of the fact that he has - in his 25-years - experienced numerous SP episodes, Proud displays the zeal, drive, inquiring-mind and enthusiasm that are needed when addressing such an emotive topic.

So, as a result of not just wanting to get an answer to what lies at the heart of SP, but also to understand, appreciate and reconcile how the mystery impacts upon his own life, Proud brings to the table a vast array of data that is thought-provoking, unsettling, creepy, ominous and...well, you get the idea!

Thankfully, Proud does not fall foul of the mistake that many authors make when writing about such anomalous phenomena: namely, simply reeling off case-after-case in mind-numbing and yawn-inducing fashion. Rather, he also provides the reader with a variety of theories to explain what may well be afoot with respect to SP, and what its relationship to us may be.

It must be said that there is much in the pages of Dark Intrusions that readers of a nervous disposition (or those who have experienced SP) may find unnerving. But for those of you who may be of that particular mind-set, I would say do not avoid Proud's book. In fact, I would actually urge you to digest its pages very carefully: you may very well come away from it profoundly changed and informed - and in a positive fashion, too.

But, that doesn't take away the ominous nature of SP: "Defiled" and "Unclean" are just two of the words that Proud uses to describe at least some of his SP experiences, a number of which have been very sexual in nature.

And, they are highly appropriate words, too - and not just in Proud's case, either. "You knew that I would come" are the bone-chilling words that one victim of SP reportedly heard uttered by an icy, female intruder from the outer-edge.

So, who - or what - are these uninvited guests who have, for countless generations, tormented probably millions of people all around the world in the middle of the night? From where do they come? What is their motivation? Can they be stopped?

These (and many more) questions are carefully addressed by Proud as he takes us on a wild-ride that includes such matters as: the Old-Hag controversy; Incubus and Succubus encounters; poltergeist activity (such as that relative to the famous Enfield Poltergeist saga of 1977); out-of-body experiences; Buddhist teachings and beliefs; the nature of the human-soul; the afterlife; altered states of mind and body; and much more.

Certainly, for me at least, one of the most fascinating aspects of Dark Intrusions was the material that focuses upon Alien-Abductions. If you read this chapter, and come away still thinking that AA's are merely the result of genetic experimentation undertaken by bug-eyed scientists from Alpha-Centauri, then there's absolutely no hope for you.

Proud demonstrates (and in a way that a number of AA researchers and writers are now beginning to suspect and understand) that the AA puzzle is one that also has major bearings upon questions relative to the after-life and the human life-force - and, of course, SP.

Those acquainted (or even unacquainted) with the studies of Dion Fortune, Stan Gooch and Trevor James Constable will find much of an enthralling and captivating nature, too.

But, for absolute downright creepiness, there is the story of the late Joe Fisher, author of The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts, which is as cautionary as it is mind-bending.

Equally fascinating is the story of how Proud himself deliberately tried to place himself into SP mode - with startling and notable results.

In other words, this is a truly excellent and wide study of a phenomenon undertaken by a man who has not only been touched and changed by SP himself, but who has had the courage to seek out the answers to this mystery, and who ultimately triumphs, rather than merely playing the role of victim to the menacing entities that invade our slumber.

As Proud states: "...the SP state puts you in direct contact with your soul."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Albion Dreaming

Countless newspaper articles, magazine features and books have been written - and from a whole variety of wildly differing perspectives - with respect to lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD as it is far more famously known.

Many of those same publications have focused their attention upon (A) such people as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert; (B) the CIA's various "mind-control"-based projects of the 1950s that involved the testing of LSD on both witting and unwitting individuals, and (C) the rise of LSD usage, and its associated culture, in the USA in the 1960s.

Of course, this is wholly understandable; since all of the above are integral facets of the story, or players within it. What has been sorely absent until now, however, is a detailed, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and insightful study of the history of LSD in the British Isles. Fortunately, that situation has now been rectified by Andy Roberts in his latest book, Albion Dreaming: A Popular History of LSD in Britain.

Andy's book is not only vital reading for anyone wanting to gain a deep appreciation of the significant role LSD has played in shaping whole swathes of British culture over the course of the last five or six decades; but it also exposes the deep hypocrisy that exists when it comes to attitudes (on the part of government agencies, the police, the media and the public) relative to illegal drugs (as LSD certainly is) and legal ones, such as alcohol and tobacco.

From the opening pages, it's clear to see that Andy has done his homework. The reader will gain a great understanding of how LSD came to Britain, and we learn many facts that some unacquainted with the drug may find surprising: namely, that ground-breaking research was undertaken - and notable successes were achieved - in the British Isles in the 1950s by certain elements of the medical community, who utilized LSD in the treatment of patients suffering from a variety of psychiatric conditions and mental-illness.

This is a truly fascinating section of Albion Dreaming and captures both the essence of 1950s Britain, and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship of the time that, needless to say, was manifestly different to that of today.

Andy also delves deep into the way in which the military and the Ministry of Defence of the 1950s tentatively immersed themselves in the world of LSD, as they sought to ascertain its effects on the human mind. And it's here we learn of some amusing tales of LSD-fueled squaddies staggering around the green and pleasant woods of England, as the LSD kicks in and they try - but completely and utterly fail - to act like soldiers.

Of course, Andy's humorous narrative aside, there is a very serious side to this: it was precisely this type of experimentation, and the profound effects on the guinea-pigs in question, that led the world of officialdom to realize the truly consciousness-changing effects that LSD has on the human-mind. And it is these same consciousness-changing effects that ultimately led to the downfall of the burgeoning LSD culture in Britain - at least, on a large, nationwide scale. But, I'm getting slightly ahead of myself here.

Moving on, Andy provides an excellent, and highly in-depth, account of the role that LSD played in the definitively-massive cultural changes of the 1960s, and particularly with respect to how music, art, the written-word and more were all radically altered and revolutionised by LSD use. Free-festivals, widespread availability of LSD, famous names in the rock world freely admitting to taking the drug, and countless stories of people opening their minds to new experiences - and not harming anyone else at all in the process - abound.

But then it all begins to get a bit dark.

Government clamp-downs, large-scale and nationwide police operations (such as the notorious Operation Julie), phone-tapping by the authorities, the demonising of LSD by the media, and the disapproving attitudes of old men in court-rooms with the power to punish and crush on a large scale, (yet with scarcely any appreciation or understanding of what LSD actually is) dominate the story as the book progresses right up until the present day.

No doubt there are those who will say that the police and authority figures have every right to clampdown on those who take LSD due to its illegal status. But, as Andy makes clear in Albion Dreaming, matters are not quite so clear-cut.

As Andy correctly points out, alcohol and tobacco are both legal drugs in Britain, both are highly addictive, and both can have an effect on the mind and body - and often in extremely tragic fashion, too. For example, one only has to look at the current figures and statistics concerning the number of British citizens affected by lung-cancer and liver-cirrhosis every year. Shocking and not pretty are very apt descriptions indeed. Yet, the right of the individual to purchase cigarettes and alcohol is accepted almost uniformly and without question within Britain.

So, why should the situation be any different for LSD? After all, studies show that the body has a high tolerance to the drug, it does not have the massively-addictive qualities of cigarettes, and it certainly does not result in liver-failure and death. And, as Albion Dreaming skilfully and factually shows, the scare-mongering stories of people on LSD thinking they can fly and throwing themselves out of windows to their deaths were simply that: scare-mongering stories.

The answer as to why LSD is treated differently and was ultimately made illegal, is actually very simple: unlike many drugs - whether alcohol, tobacco, painkillers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicine, the list goes on - LSD does not dull the senses. Rather, it achieves precisely the opposite: it opens, expands, transforms and elevates the mind to whole new levels and realms.

The aforementioned products that do dull the senses are perceived by those in power as being fine, because they keep the masses asleep - which is precisely how our leaders want us; and particularly so in the current world where freedom of speech and privacy of the individual are rapidly becoming things of the past.

The fact is that ever since LSD became a player in the lives, culture and activities of huge numbers of British citizens (you may be surprised to learn approximately just how many...), the government's response to the drug has been one dictated wholly by fear - or, rather, fear of the unknown.

And it's also a fact that when the setting and the mood are right (something which Andy stresses the absolute need for), LSD - perhaps more than any other drug - has the ability to radically and forever transform the individual, and in a deeply spiritual fashion, too. Users report a deeper appreciation for nature and for the world around them, and a realisation develops that modern-day society has tragically lost something very important that ancient-man (whose use of psychedelics, all over the planet, was longstanding and deep) was keenly aware of: the profoundly spiritual nature of life.

Now, when I talk about spiritual issues, I'm not talking about the modern-day world of organised religion - which is largely designed to control people via fear, guilt and the use of moralistic fairy-stories - but with respect to our relationship concerning the world in which we live, our culture, our heritage, our past, and also: the way in which the human mind is capable of so much more than simply existing in the 9 to 5 rat-race.

I scarcely need to say that no government wants its people surfing uncharted areas of the brain, and taking control of their own lives in revolutionary-yet-mind-opening ways - but I will anyway. The way in which LSD has the ability to do all of that and much more is graphically spelled out by Andy.

But, it was the clear potentials present within the LSD-driven culture that led those who did not (and still do not) wish to see the status-quo affected to take firm and hard action: the British Government, in other words.

So, while thousands of people every year will receive the devastating news that they are dying of alcohol-induced liver-failure, or from the ravages of cigarette-induced lung-cancer, the official fight against allowing the populace the right to become spiritual mind-surfers of the outer-edge continues.

Indeed, Andy's book is as much about the right of the individual and the aforementioned hypocrisy and double-standards, as it is about the history of LSD and its cultural setting in Britain. Whatever your view on drugs - legal, illegal, prescribed or otherwise - Albion Dreaming is a book that deserves your attention.