A Matter of Spirit: An Imaginal Perspective on the Paranormal by Angela Voss

In Breaking Convention, eds. C. Adams, D. Luke, A. Waldstein, B. Sessa & D. King, Strange Attractor Press, 253-263

It is encouraging to see the current academic interest in therapeutic properties and usages of psychedelics and psycho-active plants. Sociological methods of quantitative data analysis and scientific investigation into the physiology of altered states of consciousness (ASC) are challenging negative and prohibitive attitudes and contributing to a general re-evaluation of legal constraints regarding their use. However, despite the undoubted importance of such research, there is one aspect of the ASCs which arise from hallucinogenic ingestion which remains outside the epistemological framework of conventional approaches, namely the evaluation of the ontological reality of the visionary experiences.

It is this dimension which interests me, for when a scientific-materialist paradigm is dominant, the question of the numinous and revelatory content of non-rational states of consciousness is inevitably marginalised or even ignored. This is to a large extent due to the polarity between rational and metaphysical epistemologies which has become intrinsic to post-enlightenment thinking and the resulting hegemony of the critical and analytical model of etic research. Often the only thing that can be said of overwhelming visionary experiences is that they are personal, mystical, transcendent, or transformative. Individuals may relate their visions with vivid narrative, describing enhanced colours, strange beings and situations perceived in ways that are impossible to articulate. But for those firmly anchored in the sense-perceptible reality of this world, it is easier to focus on ‘how’ such visions are achieved in physiological, neurological or mechanical terms than on ‘what’ is being revealed and why.


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