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Unexplained Mysteries of Mind

by anthonynorth on April 8, 2008

Unexplained Mysteries

Psychiatrist Arthur Guirdham wrote extensively about a patient; a ‘Mrs Smith.’ Going to Guirdham following nightmares in her early 30s, she began having memories of being a member of the sect, the Cathars, in 13th century France. Mrs Smith had suffered inexplicable blackouts since she was thirteen, describing them as if she was ‘going out of time.’ The knowledge she woke up with allowed her to write down the lyrics of an old medieval song in an obscure French dialect. Her therapy came to a head in February 1966 when she actually re-lived her death by fire in graphic detail.


The above is a classic case of reincarnation. India, predictably, has many cases. Ravi Shankar was born in Kanauj in Utter Pradesh, India, in 1951. Yet from a child he claimed he was the son of a barber called Jageshwar who had been murdered. As he grew older he became paranoid, arguing that the killer was still out to get him; an idea reinforced by a two inch birthmark under his chin, which resembled a knife wound. Determined to find out about this previous life, he eventually identified the murder, six months before his birth, of local barber’s son, Jageshwar Prasad, who had been decapitated with a knife. The murdered boy’s father heard of the claims and met Ravi, who gradually became convinced he was his father.


Five year old Alexandrina Samona died in Palermo, Sicily, in March 1910. Distraught, her parents began attending seances, and soon two ’spirits’ contacted the medium, one claiming to be Alexandrina. She further claimed that the two spirits would be born as twins before Christmas. They were born in November. One of the children had birthmarks where Alexandrina had had them, so she was named, also, Alexandrina. As she grew up, she seemed to have intimate knowledge of her dead sister, the most striking being on a visit to Monreale when she was ten. Insisting she had been there before with a ‘lady with horns’ where she saw some red priests, the mother remembered the first Alexandrina going to Monreale with a woman with cysts on her forehead to see some red robed priests from Greece.


A sceptic reading the above will immediately see the flaw in the Alexandrina case. A distraught mother could easily have lived her life thinking the second Alexandrina was really the first, and suggesting things to her that proved the case. This would be absolutely correct. If we look to wider phenomena, it is often the case that it is produced by a ‘community’ of more than one person. Similar claims can be made of a ‘community’ of medium and client. However, rather than automatically suggesting fraud, collusion, or simple suggestion, could a wider form of phenomena be involved that could, technically, be classed as a form of spirit?


The psychiatrist Pierre Janet was involved in one case from 1890 suggestive of possession. A businessman called ‘Achille’ had been away from his family but returned depressed. Sinking into a cataleptic state for two days, when he woke up he thought he was in Hell. Demons were burning him and he was surrounded by imps. After several suicide attempts he was sent to the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris where Janet’s attempts to communicate with him were initially unsuccessful. However, he gave the man paper and a pencil and asked him to write answers down. When asked ‘who are you?’ the pencil wrote ‘The Devil.’ This possessing entity went on to show he could control Achille’s body without him knowing it, even making him dance and put out his tongue. When asked why Achille had become depressed, the answer came - he had been unfaithful to his wife whilst away and felt guilty. The cause known, the possession was eventually cured.


During the 1870s a French boy called Louis Vive showed traces of possession after being bitten by a viper. Paralysing him in both legs for three years, during this period he suffered a fifteen hour sleep following a violent fit. When he awoke, the quiet well-behaved boy had become a violent, cheating delinquent. Louis’s two personalities vied with each other for mastery of his physical body. Physical characteristics even varied with this new personality, who had a speech defect and was paralysed down the right side of his body. In both these cases we have a further possibility. In both cases, a believer could believe a spirit possession could be involved, whereas a sceptic would automatically opt for psychological problems. Which is correct? Are either correct? Or does the answer lie in between?


During a study of cult gurus the psychiatrist Dr Anthony Storr suggested that we’ve drawn the line between sanity and madness in the wrong place. Rather, the sane are madder than we think, and the mad saner. This is clearly identifiable in cults, where rational, intelligent people can be drawn into a ‘system’ so easily. And I think a hint to this, and the above cases, could lie in the way we ‘role-play’. This is most evident in actors. Yet time after time, many actors have become so good because they literally ‘become’ the character they are playing. Some have even talked about the difficulty of shaking off the character in normal life.


If we accept this possibility, then we must bring ‘community’ back into the discussion. There is a known phenomenon between a patient and psychotherapist known as ‘transference’. Here, the therapist seems to be able to literally ‘suggest’ an element of his own mind or ideas into the patient. The most obvious expression of this comes in ‘false memory syndrome’, where a memory is implanted in a patient to the extent that he literally believes it to be true. And intriguingly, cases of ‘past life regression’ – an important element of reincarnation – is apparently more possible if the hypnotist believes in reincarnation himself.


The above suggests that the individual mind is neither as sane, nor as absolute, as we would like to believe. And the situation is made worse when we bring into the discussion the ‘archetype’. An essential element of Jungian psychology, Carl Jung’s work suggested that we all have access to personality types that are shared, and can be found in dreams and mythology. In other words, the ‘person’ we believe we are is quite possibly an amalgam of specific species traits we all share. If so, then these personality types would equally be historic. Hence, it is not impossible to imagine a person, during a moment of psychological disturbance, having his mind fundamentally upset, and changing his own personality to the point that it reflects another – perhaps even what appears to be a historic character. Which prompts the question: would this character actually be of his own mind? If you answer ‘no’, then a form of ‘possession’ – even a reincarnated person – is not impossible.

© Anthony North, April 2008

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