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Oliver Sacks – A shy man who overcame his “disease”

English: Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks a...

Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was an influential British-born neurologist and bestselling author whose clinical and yet anecdotal writing style stresses the inalienable dignity of human beings suffering from neurological disorders.

His work looks at how patients with neurological disorders cope and, in so doing, explores the notion of body/soul interaction in both ‘disabled’ and ‘normal’ people.

He appeared in Wim Kayzer‘s 1994 video series, A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle, along with Rupert Sheldrake, Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennet and other major figures who, at the time, were at the cutting edge of their respective fields.

Sacks’ overt holism is best illustrated in his own words: “Mozart makes me a better neurologist.”



Sacks was a shy person, to the point where he called shyness a “disease.”¹ He spent many years in the closet, first as sexually active and then as a celibate, until he found a male partner with whom he shared his home.² His book Awakenings (1973) was made into a film, nominated for an Academy Award in 1990.


² Ibid.


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The idea of the Seer

Thee High Priestess ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Blah (T.H.P.O.T.T.O.P.B.) by Suzanna / Comtesse de Wurzeltod

Thee High Priestess ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Blah (T.H.P.O.T.T.O.P.B.) by Suzanna / Comtesse de Wurzeltod

In the spiritual sense a seer is a person with an alleged gift of inner sight. He or she apparently “sees” the past and future, possibly across great distances and through different spiritual realms. At least, that’s one aspect of the seer.

Another aspect is found in some non-Christian spiritual figures like Da Free John, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Chinmoy and Paramahansa Yogananda. These individuals apparently receive other people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences, and say they use these abilities to assess their disciples’ degree of spiritual development—that is, to “know where they’re at,” spiritually speaking.

Mystical Hinduism, particularly the guru ideal, highlights the importance of the seer. And his or her abilities are often believed to contribute to spiritual wisdom. Sometimes the guru is described as a kind of heroic figure who has scaled the inner reaches. Other times, a more humble approach speaks to spiritual “gifts” instead of emphasizing the guru’s great “achievements.” The idea of the gift connotes the notion that God bestows paranormal abilities for some good reason, often unknown at the time of receiving. The idea of the achievement may pay lip service to this, but may exalt the seer as if they were equal to God, or God on Earth (e.g. an avatar).

English: Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna K...

Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna Kowalska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In traditional Catholicism the seer adheres to the rules and regulations of his or her religious order, as we find in monasticism. Spiritual abilities are entirely viewed as gifts or charisms from God and are usually played down out of humility. There is no desire to exalt oneself as a big holy person, this being an unsavory approach (which Jungians, incidentally, call inflation or self-aggrandizement).

In fact, in Catholicism, the true saint detests any kind of special attention because that would interfere with their spiritual development. This seems to represent a huge difference between the Catholic saint and some non-Catholic gurus, self-proclaimed prophets and so-called “spiritual leaders.”

Catholic seers apparently have the gift of “reading hearts,” which usually involves knowing and feeling another person’s thoughts, inclinations and overall spiritual condition. For some saints, coming into contact with another person not in a state of grace can be excruciatingly painful.¹

Some folks entertain the notion that a seer may possess unconventional abilities but question the source of these abilities, along with the ethical application in daily life.

Paramahansa Yogananda as depicted on the cover...

Paramahansa Yogananda as depicted on the cover of Autobiography of a Yogi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But not all are so accepting. Skeptics like James Randi remain unconvinced about everything paranormal, to include the notion of “seeing” at a distance.

In Greek myth Tiresias was a blind seer.

¹ See, for instance, Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy Diary. Sri Ramakrishna and other Hindus tend to talk about this phenomenon within their own religious framework. So instead of the “transfer of sin” (Christianity), Hindu mystics speak of “karma transfer.” I find it interesting how similar experiential phenomena get fitted into very different religious theories. In my view, this partly due to the human element at work—Mankind, the theory maker.

Related Posts » Clairaudience, Clairsentience, Clairvoyance, Remote Viewing, Rishis, Psi, Psi Spies, Wisdom



Important to Buddhist belief are the five skandhas or “aggregates of attachment” said to be the source of all suffering. The skandhas are:

  1. matter or form (rupa)
  2. sensation (vedana)
  3. perception (samjna)
  4. mental formations (samskara)
  5. consciousness (vijnana)

Taken together, the five skandhas contribute to the impermanent personality and the illusion – so Buddhists believe – of individuality.

Impermanent and subject to change, skandhas may reappear from one life to another. But this reappearance is discontinuous, like an old candle burning out with a new candle being lit (a common Buddhist analogy used to try to illustrate the belief in discontinuity).

Whether or not one agrees with every aspect of Buddhist teaching, the skandhas offer a conceptual alternative that could be applied to a critique of the Hindu view of reincarnation.¹

The two religions of Buddhism and Hinduism may seem similar at a glance. However, Buddhism clearly differs from the Visistadvaita school of Hinduism because, for Buddhists, the soul too, and not just its attachments, is usually seen as illusory and without permanent existence.

¹ See, for instance, Reincarnation: A New Look at an Old Idea – Part 3.

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Soul Loss

Photo: Barney F

Photo: Barney F

In shamanic traditions, soul loss is the notion that psychological or physical illness is caused by the loss or spiritual abduction of the soul from the physical body.

Through rituals, dancing or entry into a trance (sometimes induced by hallucinogenic drugs such as mushrooms or peyote)¹, an experienced shaman allegedly undergoes a mystical voyage to return a lost, wandering or abducted soul to its body.

Reasons for leaving the body could also involve severe trauma, such as those associated with accidents or sexual abuse.

While the shamanic view of soul loss is an intriguing idea not too difficult to imagine in our age of digital graphics, video games and films like The Matrix, critics of Shamanism believe that shamans are lost in a world of fantasy or possibly astral, even demonic realms.

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, Sri Ramakrishna once said that all religious and spiritual paths lead to the same place and involve the same type of numinosity. But not everyone agrees with this view. For some, Ramakrishna’s claim is questionable. And some believe that demons may pretend to be angels or helpful guides when really, they just want to mess people up.

¹ The eminent scholar of religion and mythology Mircea Eliade seems to call this state of mind “ecstasy.” But he has been critiqued for not giving a clear definition of just what he means by ecstasy. See for instance,

Related Posts » Illness, R. D. Laing, Possession, Spiritual Attack



All Souls Night in Gdansk: Robin Hamman

All Souls Night in Gdansk by Robin Hamman

The idea of the soul is variously understood around the world and throughout history.

A distinction is often made between an individual soul and a world soul (anima mundi).

Some regard the soul as a multiple entity, as in ancient Egyptian religion or the contemporary views of the alleged trance channeler, Jane Roberts/Seth. Others insist the soul is single. And yet some say the soul is the conceptual “I” that apparently remains constant throughout one’s life (itself a highly debatable claim).

Plato viewed the soul as single but containing multiple functions.

Aristotle saw the soul as a partly rational and partly irrational function governing bodily needs, desires and actions that disappears at death.

Soul is also envisioned as a spiritual, self-motivating eternal agent or substance.

St. Thomas Aquinas insists the soul is united to the body but not of the body. For Aquinas it “operates through corporeal organs” with its “proper function” being “in the understanding.”

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin

Deutsch: Thomas von Aquin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In much of Hinduism the soul reincarnates, ultimately to merge with God, as a drop of water returns to the ocean from whence it came. In this sense, individuality is temporary, at best.

However, Ramanuja‘s Visistadvaita school of Hinduism provides an important exception to this idea. For Ramanuja, individual souls (jivas) emerge from and ultimately rest within God (Brahman) but retain some aspect of their individuality, existence and, therefore, reality.

The anatman doctrine of Buddhism contends that the idea of a soul is just a conceptual illusion; for Buddhists, the soul does not really exist.

Catholics believe that the soul is created by God at the moment of human conception, a view that has sparked intense debate among pro-life and pro-choice groups. Concerning death and the afterlife, traditional Catholic believers say the soul might (a) rise to heaven (b) be purified in purgatory in preparation for heaven or (c) descend to eternal hell.

In pop culture “soul” refers to a musical form, originating in America, that blends gospel music with rhythm and blues. Although soul music was created by black Americans, its offshoots are composed and performed by anyone, anywhere.

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Tramp Souls

A Haunted Trail by Joshua Debner

A Haunted Trail by Joshua Debner via Flickr

In mystical thought, tramp souls are deceased persons said to be clinging to the material world, often to some locality. They might be holding a grudge against someone whom they feel wronged them.

Alternately, tramp souls are regarded as accidental death victims who don’t understand why or haven’t accepted that they’ve passed.

Tramp souls are allegedly responsible for hauntings, obsessions and possessions.

An unofficial branch of Catholic thinking, expressed by author Michael Brown (Prayer of the Warrior), says homosexuality is in part caused by the influence of tramp souls. According to Brown, a deceased woman’s spirit influences a man’s sexual preference or a male spirit influences a woman’s. So for Brown, an opposite-sex spirit permeates the personality and an individual comes to identify with it over time.¹

The Hindu Yogananda has this to say:

There are, however, a few astral beings known as “tramp souls.” They are earthbound because of strong attachments to the world, and are desirous of entering a physical form for sense enjoyments. Such beings are usually unseen; and they have no power to affect the ordinary person. Tramp souls do occasionally succeed in entering and taking possession of someone’s body and mind, but only when such a person is mentally unstable or has weakened his mind by keeping it often blank or unthinking. It is like leaving a car unlocked with the key in the ignition,- some vagrant may get in and drive off. Tramp souls want a free ride in someone else’s physical-body vehicle—anyone’s—having lost their own that they were so attached to. It was in such cases of possession that Jesus exorcised the vagrant spirits. Tramp souls cannot stand the high vibration of spiritual thoughts and consciousness. Sincere seekers after God who practise scientific methods of prayer and meditation need never fear such beings. God is the Spirit of all spirits. No harm from negative spirits can come to one whose thoughts are on God.²

¹ Brown’s ultra-conservative book also sees the TV show Bewitched as a work of the devil. See Michael Brown, Prayer of the Warrior. Milford, OH: Faith Publishing Co., 1993, p. 103.

² See diccussion » Man’s eternal quest, in the chapter: “what are ghosts?”

Related Posts » Demons, Obsession, Possession, Transmigration

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Tertullian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traducianism is the doctrine, proposed by the Christian Father Tertullian (circa 160-225), that souls are inherited from parents, just as bodies are inherited from parents.

This runs counter to the more popular Christian belief in Creationism, where God apparently creates an entirely new soul at the moment of each person’s conception.