Exploring the Extraordinary

  1. Charismatic Christian beliefs of spiritual healing are a stark contrast to the secular West’s emphasis on scientific positivism and rational-empirical ways of knowing. However, keeping stride with the West’s increase in scepticism and spiritual apathy, the Charismatic spiritual healing movement has steadily increased over the past three decades in Western Europe and North America. Contemporary Charismatic claims of spiritual healing often defy etiological explanation and can include: a sense of unexplained euphoria; the alleviation of physical pain and/or mental illness; the biological [re]construction of properly-functioning limbs (“limb lengthening”), organs, and sensory perceptions; “inner healing”; and demonic exorcism. Based on approximately one year of small-scale ethnographic fieldwork with Charismatic Protestants in Ontario (Canada) I explore the phenomenon of Charismatic healing and consider how this belief and practice relates to broader Charismatic theology.

    In this paper-presentation, I draw from my ethnographic work (2013-2015) to present several focused case studies of Charismatic healing. Reflective of the diversity of practices within Charismatic healing, each case study focuses on a different “process” of Charismatic healing. They range from physical healing in a group context (in which blindness is first healed and then the healing is ‘revoked’) to the healing of memories (in which the supplicant processes several memories with a prayer counsellor), to the exorcism of evil spirits in an individual setting. I use these case studies to explore the broader Charismatic theological focus on “healing” and “restoration” at the cosmic-wide level. Using Tanya Luhrmann’s notion of “cultural kindling” I propose that there is a reciprocal relationship between individual Charismatic healing (both physical and non-physical) and the broader Charismatic doctrinal stance of “Kingdom theology,” and I suggest that this relationship should prompt us to re-imagine what is meant by “religion.” Namely, “religion” for charismatics is not limited to a set of practices or beliefs, but entails an intricate, ongoing, healing process that results in individual and cosmological restoration.

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    PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 7th CONFERENCE, 4th-6th DECEMBER 2015, YORK, UK. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com
    For more information about Nadya's work, please go to cambridge.academia.edu/NadyaPohran

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  2. This speculative talk will look at some of the links between cybernetics and the paranormal in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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    PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 7th CONFERENCE, 4th-6th DECEMBER 2015, YORK UK. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com
    Read James' blog Residual Noise at residual-noise.blogspot.co.uk/
    Find out more about James' project (co-convened with Dr Evie Salmon) The Alchemical Landscape at thealchemicallandscape.blogspot.co.uk/

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  3. The purpose of this paper is to examine the cultural context of beliefs about spirit possession in a fishing village in South India. Residents say that bereaved mothers can be possessed by their own dead sons – an "extraordinary” statement from the perspective of nearby high-caste communities. According to Brahmins, for example, it is not possible for women, because of their lower status in the social hierarchy, to be possessed or inhabited by spirits. Yet, for the members of the Jalari caste fishing community, not only is the proposition seen as reasonable, it is the basis of recruitment to the role of “spirit possession medium.” A woman’s experience of loosing a son, in fact, is a necessary condition for her transformation in the role of possession-medium. He “possesses” her, initially causing her great distress, and then invites her take on the role of a professional medium. Thereafter, when people consult her for the diagnosis of problems, the dead son is believed to act as a conduit for communication with a range of spirits, including other dead people and goddesses. This paper will examine the life histories of two Jalari caste possession mediums who live in a fishing village in the Telugu-speaking regions of coastal Andhra Pradesh state. What is it that makes their experiences “extraordinary,” when they first undergo possession, and then a matter of routine when they accept the tutelary role of their dead sons? How do adjacent higher castes understand the peculiar (from their perspective) beliefs of the Jalaris? And finally, what are the psychological dimensions of female possession-mediumship, and how different must they be in order to account for the transformation of some bereaved mothers (but by no means all) into mediums?

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    PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 7th CONFERENCE, 4th-6th NOVEMBER 2015, YORK, UK. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com

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  4. This talk will draw on the research from English Heretic's 2014 project “The Underworld Service”.The Underworld Service was a broad survey of katabatic narratives in culture since 1947. One strand of the project explored modernist literature's apprehension of a shift in creative consciousness that occurred in response to the atrocities and eschatological weaponry of World War II. Widely accepted as a key text within this canon of literature is Malcolm Lowry's Under The Volcano.

    First published in 1947, Lowry's novel draws inspiration from Dante's Inferno, but on an esoteric level its employs Hebrew Qabalah to for its narrative and structure. Lowry's tutor in this mystical system was Charles Stansfeld Jones, a major figure in the Thelemic world of Aleister Crowley. The person of Stansfeld Jones provides a pivot point at which modernist sensitivity to this katabasis collides with the more outre theories of Post Crowleyean magick. The talk will argue that the visions and readings following Stansfeld Jones' heralding of The Aeon of Maat provide a narrative continuum from non-occult sensibilities to the flagrantly occult.

    Taking the volcano as the transpersonal marker of an eschatological consciousness, the discussion will draw on my own peregrinations during the construction of The Underworld Service to suggest that we can use systems such as Stanislav Grof's Basic Perinatal Matrix to explore both our personal creative co-ordinates as well as our understanding and acceptance of wider shifts in human consciousness.

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    PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 7th CONFERENCE, 4th-6th DECEMBER 2015, YORK, UK. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com
    For more information about Andy's project English Heretic, please go to englishheretic.blogspot.co.uk/
    For more information about Andy's record label, Eight Climate, which works with ethnographic recordings from the imaginal world, please go to english-heretic.org.uk/EighthClimate/

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  5. Andrew Lang, in his work on the diffusion of the classical myth of Jason and the Argonauts, themes from which appear as far afield as Japan, Russia, and Samoa, proposed his driftwood theory; tales can be swept ‘like pieces of drift-wood’ from one place to another (1898: 97), ‘diffused by borrowing’ (1893: 417). Myths, legends, and folk-tales are rarely exclusive to a single location; they travel across counties, countries, and continents, with communities ‘borrowing’ aspects or whole traditions from other communities. This process of diffusion ‘by borrowing’ is the theme of this paper, which focuses on the tales of Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester.

    Boggart Hole Clough consists of 171 acres of dense forest and deep ravines, situated three miles north of Manchester’s city centre. This park possesses a wealth of local folktales, the majority of which are aetiological in nature, centring on a supernatural character known as ‘the Boggart’. The earliest known literary source detailing ‘the Boggart’ is John Roby’s Traditions of Lancashire, published in 1829; Roby recounts a story concerning local farmer George Cheetham, whose farmhouse was haunted by a Boggart: a ‘strange elf...sly and mischievous’ (1829: 296). Tormented by the Boggart’s pranks, Cheetham’s family leave their home – only to discover that the Boggart has decided to ‘flit’ (move house) with them.

    Uncanny similarities between Roby’s tale of the ‘flitting Boggart’ and one set in County Cork, penned by folklorist Thomas Crofton Croker (1825) four years earlier, lead us to question the originality of Manchester’s Boggart. Particular details also appear to have been ‘borrowed’ from certain Yorkshire tales, and close parallels with legends from Scandinavia (which included a ‘flitting’ brownie) and Italy (a ‘flitting’ Laùro) suggest that the diffusion of the Boggart tale was not isolated to the British Isles.

    Folklorists such as Stith Thompson believe that, concerning tales which manifest themselves in various geographic locations, there is invariably a ‘theoretical original’ (1965: 417). However, as this paper aims to demonstrate, this should not devalue the later manifestations: the borrowings. Folklore is, by its very nature, protean, mutable, and multifarious. There are no ‘accurate’ or ‘inaccurate’ accounts of the supernatural, only numerous divergent versions; harnessed, reinterpreted, and recontextualised to fit various times and places.

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    PAPER PRESENTED AT EXPLORING THE EXTRAORDINARY 7th CONFERENCE, 4TH-6TH DECEMBER 2015 in YORK. For more information about Exploring the Extraordinary, please go to etenetwork.weebly.com
    For more information about Dr Houlbrook and her work, please go to manchester.academia.edu/CeriHoulbrook

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Exploring the Extraordinary

Hannah Gilbert Plus

Exploring the Extraordinary is an interdisciplinary network for those engaged/interested in research into the 'extraordinary' - topics often regarded as paranormal, supernatural, religious, transcendent, ecstatic, exceptional, mystical, anomalous, magical,…


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Exploring the Extraordinary is an interdisciplinary network for those engaged/interested in research into the 'extraordinary' - topics often regarded as paranormal, supernatural, religious, transcendent, ecstatic, exceptional, mystical, anomalous, magical, or spiritual. We regard extraordinary experiences as those that transcend the mundane, with interests in the experiences themselves, and how they have influenced and been incorporated into human societies. Our members include a number of individuals from different academic disciplines (including anthropology, art, english studies, folklore, film studies, geography, history, natural sciences, parapsychology, philosophy, physical sciences, psychology, religious studies, sociology, theatre studies, and theology), as well as those who are not affiliated with such institutions. Exploring the Extraordinary also has links with artists, writers and film-makers who are inspired by extraordinary topics and themes.

Exploring the Extraordinary was founded in 2007, by Dr Madeleine Castro, Dr Hannah Gilbert and Dr Nicola Holt, who were - at the time - postgraduate members of the Anomalous Experiences Research Unit, based at the University of York, UK. The network grew out of a desire to provide a central hub for those with research interests in extraordinary topics, offering regular opportunities to network and discuss their research. Such research interests are often marginalised within larger academic environments, and so a supportive and interactive forum was hoped to be beneficial to those working in this field, and for those interested in these areas. We run an annual academic conference.

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