Research Into the Paranormal
By Colin Wilson
Published by Watkins Publishing
528 pages, paperback
I should state, first of all, that I’m a huge Colin Wilson fan, and have read just about everything he’s written on the paranormal and occult. Consequently, the reader is likely to find my review a little on the biased side – and for this they will have to forgive me.
In the introduction to this stunning new edition of Beyond the Occult, Wilson calls it his “most important non-fiction book.” The book is significant, he says, because “it unites two main currents in my thinking: the existentialist ideas developed in The Outsider, and the ideas that developed from my study of ‘the occult’.”
Beyond the Occult, first published in 1988, expands upon what is presented in The Occult (1971) and Mysteries (1978), two earlier works of Wilson’s that deal with the same subject. These three huge books make up a kind of trilogy, and are best read in order of publication.
Extremely broad in scope, Beyond the Occult is divided into two parts. The first part, ‘Hidden Powers’, is largely philosophical, and deals with such topics as ‘the hidden self’, mystical experiences, split brain physiology, hypnagogic phenomena, psychometry, synchronicities, time slips, and many, many others.
Wilson stresses the point that our everyday state of consciousness is feeble at best, and could be vastly improved. We make the mistake of assuming that ‘everyday consciousness’ is normal, he says, when we could be operating on other – much clearer – states of consciousness, some of which allow us to utilise our ‘hidden powers’.
Those who admire the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky – both of whom Wilson mentions frequently – are likely to find these ideas appealing. Also mentioned are Aleister Crowley, Stan Gooch, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Koestler, Rudolf Steiner, Nandor Fodor, Allan Kardec, William Blake, and a whole host of other writers, occultists, scientists, mystics, philosophers and paranormal researchers.
Despite the impressive amount of information contained in Beyond the Occult, and the fact that it covers so many subjects, and mentions so many names, very rarely does the reader feel overwhelmed or confused. One is guided fluently from subject to subject, gaining, in the process, a comprehensive and sophisticated understanding of paranormal and occult phenomena.
As always, Wilson uses lucid, unpretentious language, and manages to hold the reader’s attention from cover to cover. What, he asks, can the occult and paranormal tell us about ourselves and our purpose in life? The answer is a great deal, as he so aptly demonstrates. Wilson attempts to join the pieces of the puzzle together, so to speak, and find a deeper meaning to such phenomena; at this he succeeds admirably.
I found Part two of Beyond the Occult, ‘Powers of Good and Evil’, particularly compelling, as it deals with some very strange and mysterious topics, such as black magic, poltergeist disturbances, spirit possession, shamanism and Spiritism. Once again, Wilson proves himself to be an extremely knowledgeable and seasoned expert on paranormal and occult phenomena.
Over the decades, he has read a huge amount of literature on such topics, has corresponded with, and spoken to, numerous paranormal witnesses and researchers, and has even investigated some interesting cases of his own. The amount of research he has conducted in this area is truly astounding.
In one of his many fascinating personal anecdotes, Wilson describes the time he investigated, in 1980, the ‘Pontefract poltergeist’ case. The case involved what seemed to be the spirit of a Cluniac monk. Having interviewed the family in whose home the disturbances had taken place, Wilson was left in no possible doubt that the case was genuine. The evidence forced him to conclude, somewhat reluctantly, that some poltergeist disturbances – such as this one – can be explained by the existence of spirits, rather than the agent’s own unconscious mind. (The poltergeist ‘agent’ is the person around whom most of the paranormal activity takes place). This, explains Wilson, “was an embarrassing admission to have to make. With the exception of Guy Playfair there is probably not a single respectable parapsychologist in the world who will publicly admit the existence of spirits.”
My only quibble with this book is that it seems unnecessarily long, and is, in parts, repetitive. In those sections of the book that explore philosophical ideas, Wilson tends to go on a bit. He is an author so passionate about unravelling ideas – and seeing where his ideas lead him – that I’m sure, had his publisher allowed it, he would have made this 528 page book twice as long as it already is.
Those who want a straightforward book on paranormal and occult phenomena, and have little interest in philosophy, mysticism and psychology, should best look elsewhere. On the other hand, those who have an interest in this area for much deeper reasons will gain immense pleasure and inspiration from this book, and, like me, may even find it life-changing.
Not only is it a brilliant work on paranormal phenomena, it’s also a brilliant work on existentialist philosophy. Beyond the Occult is fascinating, thought-provoking, absorbing, and definitely one of Wilson’s best.