Thursday, 12 November 2009

Psychic Beliefs: do you share yours?

Let me introduce to you my great grandmother - who was a practicing spiritualist medium at a time when she could still have been convicted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. Police officers would regularly attend her seances undercover, trying to prove she was up to no good. Unfortunately for them, her guides would always draw her attention to the fact that there was 'someone with big feet' in the room who shouldn't be - and she would calmly welcome 'the police officer amongst us' and scare the living daylights out of them!

Today Alan Power is going to court to claim that his psychic beliefs led to his sacking from the police. Alan is using rules designed to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace. His former employers are claiming his beliefs did not amount to a 'religious conviction' - despite Alan having been a member of the Spiritualist Church for 30 years. As the Spiritualist Church is one of only two legally recognised religions in Britain today, my feeling is that Alan has a point. Good luck to him.

The police regularly use psychic investigators to try and gain insight into problematic cases, but appear to prefer to keep this aspect of their work out of the public eye. In 2006 apparently 28 police forces denied using psychics at all - which still leaves many more who either do, or are unwilling to commit either way.

Given Alan Power's experience such silence is understandable. And I'm sure he is far from alone in facing discrimination in the workforce because of his spiritualist beliefs - namely, that there is life after death and it is possible to communicate with the dead. After all, wasn't there some other famous man who was meant to have returned from the dead and communicated with his people..? And I'm not sure any employer could get away with sacking someone for believing in Jesus; even in this secular age.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Divine guidance? Angels, tooth fairies and what we can 'know'

"Do we really know anything and, if so, what?
And how do we know it?
And how do we know that we know it?
And how do we know that we know that we know it?"
(Jones and Wilson (1987) An Incomplete Education. Page 302).

In a recent posting on the website of The Telegraph Christopher Howse reported on the possible presence of angels amongst us. Suggesting 38 per cent of Britons believe in angels he said ‘a university lecturer’ had criticised parents for dismissing their children’s reports of angel sightings.

Howse doesn’t say who that university lecturer is, but his article raises interesting questions and provoked heated comments from readers. These ranged from numerous reported angel sightings by both adults and children, to a fair number of postings expressing a huge degree of animosity, from those who hadn’t seen angels and knew they never would.

What is it that makes people so angry about the possibility of there being things we are yet to fully understand?

And even if angels don’t ‘exist’ (whatever that might mean), for those who believe they exist they have a very real impact on their lives.

One irate commentator said there has never been any tangible evidence of anything like Angels, Father Christmas or God. I’m guessing he would probably include the tooth fairy in that list. Yet thousands of lucky children have tangible evidence of the tooth fairy’s existence. They believe that if they put a tooth under their pillow at night the tooth fair will come and take it and replace it with a coin.

And thousands of children have their theory proved right by the very tangible evidence of a coin the next morning.

Who or what the tooth fairy may be is disputable, but their belief in the existence of a power which can manifest that coin is strong enough to bring that coin into being. The child who knows there is no tooth fairy refuses to put the tooth under their pillow. And hey presto they too have their proof of its non-existence because they don’t receive a coin.

If we believe there are people – or angels – out there who are there to generate good and positive experiences in our world, then chances are we will come across people and opportunities that generate those good experiences.

Whether or not there is ‘tangible evidence’ of the precise origin of that good experience seems somewhat irrelevant to those whose lives have benefited.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Spiritual spaces?

One of my research participants had an interesting experience recently. Upon trying to get his Tarot workshop advertised he was excluded from a particular publication on the grounds that it did not cover anything to do with 'spirituality'.

Upon a quick flick through said publication he came across an advertisement for a 'church walk'. He was informed by the editors that churches had not been seen as 'spiritual' and had therefore been included. Fairly ironic given the fact that they remain one of the most widespread physical expressions of spirituality in the British landscape.

My participant felt discriminated against.

I am sure many church goers would also be horrified to know their sacred spaces had been deemed non-spiritual.

What does consititute a spiritual space and can we distinguish between mainstream and minority spiritual interests in today's society?

Monday, 20 April 2009

Magical circles

In the summer of 2008 a beautiful stone circle appeared on the beach at Aberystwyth. As the days passed, people added to the circle, created baby circles alongside it, a pathway up to it, they washed the stones, photographed it, meditated on it…Perhaps surprisingly the only thing they didn’t do was destroy it – that was left to the sea during a particularly strong high tide some weeks later.

People have used the circular form in many types of guides for centuries. From stone circles such as Castlerigg and Stonehenge designed to align seasonal changes and agriculture, to manmade circles such as the compass and clock-face which have been key to human exploration of our planet. The circular mandala serves as a spiritual tool and meditative aid. In all its forms the circle represents our human drive to create order out of chaos.

The circle is so common to human life that it easily draws our attention, but is equally easily overlooked. What was it about this circle that inspired admiration, nurture and reverence, rather than the more common response in this day and age of destruction, vandalism or even official removal in the interests of ‘health and safety’ or some equally spurious justification?

Have you come across similar appearances in the landscape?What did you do there and why?What do you think inspires people to make such features and what is it that makes people add to them and admire them rather than disturbing or destroying them?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Feature in Soul & Spirit Magazine

Readers may be interested to see a recent feature I had published in February's issue of Soul & Spirit magazine.

It's generated lots of interest, and hopefully will boost traffic to the blog too!

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Spiritual triggers

‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new
landscapes but in having new eyes’ (Marcel Proust)

I’ve just returned to work after a period of longterm sick leave. Illness often sets us off thinking about questions such as:

What happens if I can’t go back to work?
What happens if I’m too ill to go out on Saturday night?
What happens if I die?

Very different questions, but all are directed at a central sense of what makes life meaningful for us and how we comprehend a meaning to life if we cannot see ourselves in it making the contributions we are so used to making.

At the heart of it is a need to connect on some level to something meaningful, which obviously for those bed-ridden and suffering from longterm illness isn’t always easy to do physically.
An ill person is embodied in a semi-functioning physicality. And what this does is to highlight both the importance of the body and its insignificance:

  • Important because through illness we suddenly feel let down by our bodies, we realize how much we rely on them functioning efficiently to get us to work, to maintain relationships, to do meaningful things with our spare time.

  • Yet insignificant because a really chronic or severe illness can show us just how it is possible to survive and exist meaningfully outside the confines of that body which is letting us down.

So the body might be a site for ‘triggers’ which propel us into a search for meaning beyond our embodied selves. And this is often where a spiritual journey begins. This trigger may be in the form of illness, but it can also come from suffering abuse, a mid-life crisis, or it may even come in less earthly forms such as an encounter with an angel or a spirit guide.

What triggered your spiritual journey…?