Thursday, June 18, 2015

What I saw (and heard) at the trance mediumship demonstration



I recently attended a four-day conference of the Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (of which I am a member), held at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There were so many presenters that some time slots had to be triple-booked, based on loosely defined subject categories. The common denominator was that all involved paranormal phenomena related to spiritual growth, healing, or a mixture of the two.

It would be futile to summarize the whole conference, and even capsule accounts of several presentations would make this post way too long. So I'll concentrate on a single event that made quite an impression, very likely, on just about everyone who witnessed it.

The session -- added to the schedule almost just before the conference and taking place late in the evening of the first full day -- was a demonstration of trance mediumship.

You know what that means, right? A medium is a person who acts as a link between spirits not physically present on earth and a group of observers, often called sitters in a small group or séance. This was not a small assembly, however, but nearly everyone present for the conference. Some mediums transmit messages from spirits while in an otherwise normal state of consciousness; some under hypnosis or self-induced trance; a few while unconscious and oblivious to the here-and-now world.

Since the medium at the ASCS demo is completely open about her ability and has written books about what she does and related topics, there is no reason to conceal her identity. Her name is Suzanne Giesemann.

For a medium, her background is as unlikely as you could make up. Her previous career was in the U.S. Navy, where she held the rank of commander, and was at one time an aide de camp to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She is married to the captain of a destroyer. It can safely be assumed that she did not go through a Flower Child or New Age unicorns-and-butterflies period. Suzanne acknowledges that if anyone had predicted, years ago, that she would be doing what she is doing these days, she would have thought the idea mad.

Before sitting down to begin the mediumistic segment, she spoke as her normal self about what those of us (including myself) who had never been at one of her inter-world transmissions might expect. The entity she would "bring through" is a guiding spirit known as Sanaya. Actually, Sanaya is said to be a collective consciousness rather than an individual spirit. Adopting a single name for a discarnate crew may be to keep embodied audiences from being distracted by seemingly different entities. Also, we are told, spirits don't attach much importance to names, since they know one another intimately by thought.

Suzanne's manner during her introduction was lively and vivacious, but content aside, no different from many practiced speakers on any subject. She seated herself; some recorded inspirational music (which I thought cloyingly awful, but chacun à son goût) was played; and she then sat quietly for about two minutes, almost motionless except for some deep breaths.
Then Suzanne was no longer there. Someone else had taken her place.

Now that sounds extravagant, maybe ridiculous. Of course I don't mean that her body disappeared and a completely different one inhabited the space. But a new personality took over. 

I can't honestly say how much the actual tone of her voice, its timbre, differed from that she'd been using before going into a trance; I was too focused on the transformation of her speech pattern and gestures.

First, in place of the animated manner Suzanne had displayed when "herself," she now spoke slowly and solemnly. Okay, no big deal. Anyone could do that, and I mention it only to fill out the account that follows.

She -- might as well call her Sanaya -- spoke English, but in an extraordinary accent. It was not hard to understand her words, but the accent was unlike anything I've ever heard. It comes as near as matters to being indescribable, but here's a very rough idea. Try to imagine a cross between the pronunciation of an Irish person and an East Indian, with a few additional odd twists.

I don't think there could be any such blend in our world. Even if a person grew up in India and moved to Ireland at a young age, I doubt that a similar pattern would emerge. For one thing, accents are strongly shaped by the first influence. People raised in the U.S. deep South still talk like southerners even if they've lived in Boston for 40 years, and if the original accent is modified it is only partly so -- you don't get a 50-50 balance.

Mark you, I'm not saying Sanaya spoke in a mixture of Irish and Indian, with some other flavoring rounding it out, just trying to suggest its utter strangeness. So strange that any person in the audience might give a different description.

Beyond the way Sanaya shaped her vowels and consonants, the syllables emphasized were often different from those of someone speaking any variety of English (and often, it seemed, the stress was on the final syllable). I didn't write down any particulars (or take notes at all, being too absorbed in what was happening). But, for a made-up example, the word undoubtedly might have sounded like "und-out-ed-ly."

She spoke with great dignity.

Suzanne's gestures while speaking were large, dramatic, extraverted. Sanaya moved her hands slowly and gracefully, like a ballerina. 

Why all this description? What about the content of Sanaya's "talk" and the answers to questions put to her by audience members?

As you can gather, I was too caught up in studying the style to fully pay attention to the content. The meaning I did take in was warm and elevated, but perhaps offered no particular evidence that it came from a disembodied source. In a printed transcript, it might not be unlike much you've already read.

Sanaya replied to audience questions. Suzanne in her warm-up talk had urged us to limit ourselves to inquiries of importance to everyone, not about personal issues, and everyone honored the request. So there was no possibility of "cold reading," or fishing for clues from the questioner. Following the question period, the transformation from Suzanne to Sonaya was reversed, and Suzanne was back with us, indistinguishable from herself earlier in the evening.

If I seem to have attached more importance to style than substance, it was because of looking for clues to establish Sanaya's reality as distinct from Suzanne's.

Skeptics of mediumship often ascribe the phenomenon to a secondary, unconscious part of the medium's own mind that is released in the trance state. That is probably true in some cases. As a general explanation of mediumship, the theory has a number of problems, which I won't go into here because of the lengthy discussion they would need.

With Sanaya, I could not take seriously the idea that Suzanne was putting on an act unconsciously, let alone consciously.

I give a lot of weight to Sanaya's speech mannerisms. Accents are hard even for some good actors to pull off, and as far as I know Suzanne had no theatrical training. A few actors (Meryl Streep for instance) are well known for their ability to put a different background on their tongue. With a couple of hours of practice, I'm sure Laurence Olivier could have convinced you he had spent his life in Brooklyn. John Gielgud, I don't think so.

But there we're talking about "normal" accents, which people actually speak, and that can be studied via recordings and with the aid of voice coaches. It's hard to conceive of anyone inventing an accent and using it consistently for even the 10 or 15 minutes Sanaya was "onstage." (There were no slips into conventional pronunciation, and I was listening carefully for them.)

Even given the highly unlikely possibility that someone could memorize an exotic speech with exotic gestures, the fact that Sanaya was responsive -- answering questions she could not have anticipated, and in the same mode -- puts paid to any suspicion of fakery, in my view.

So what to conclude from this demonstration? Well, it doesn't prove that dematerialized spirits can communicate with us on the earth plane through certain people with specialized abilities. But the history of science shows that nothing can be finally proven outside the realm of mathematics. For psychical research questions, only the preponderance of evidence as a whole offers tentative answers. For me, Sanaya counts strongly in aid of the spirit hypothesis.

Anyway, I'm glad to have "met" Sanaya. And thank you, Suzanne Giesemann, for generously lending your time to enable us to see a little beyond the veil.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Classical beauty, edition 3


I was under the impression that I had written more on this subject, but maybe its importance in my scheme of things had magnified it. Anyway, previous takes are here and here.

You understand, in my appreciation of these lasses my point is that beauty is beauty, whether in performance or the performer's looks, and especially inspiring when the two are combined. It's probably quixotic to imagine, but maybe someone of Generation Y or Generation Z or whatever we're up to will look at this and note that classical musicians can be glamourous, more even than the latest hyped pop stars.



Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter (above). I have an album in which she plays Chopin, including the Sonata no. 3, Ballade no. 4, and other works of the Romantic master. There is no doubt that she commands the keyboard. Moments of exaltation can be found here. Still, there is something slightly distant and objective that seems wrong for the album's repertory. This is Chopin: what happened to the poetry?



Violinist Janine Jansen. Words will not assemble themselves. Here she is in concert:




Moving right along, next up is Alina Ibragimova, another cracking violinist. I have one of the recordings she made with her frequent musical partner, pianist Cédric Tiberghien. It's a live performance from London's Wigmore Hall, on the Hall's own label.




The violinist par excellence, Chloë Hanslip, has introduced some of us to obscure composers such as Antonio Bazzini and Benjamin Godard:



Pianist Simone Dinnerstein returns for another curtain call. She and cellist Zuill Bailey have collaborated on a complete set of Beethoven's sonatas. Lots of first-class musicians (e.g., Richter and Rostropovich) have had a go at these; Dinnerstein and Bailey are among the most compelling I've heard. And they're recorded in truthful Telarc sound.



It's a tradition by now to close these Classical Beauty posts with Hilary Hahn. In her recent photos, she has lost some of the earlier sensuous pixie look; in her mid-30s, she is very much the woman, and still exceptional.






* * * * *

I will include no new pictures of Yuja Wang. She is starting to annoy me. Not musically -- I treasure her Rachmaninov disc with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra luminously conducted by the late Claudio Abbado. But those short, tight skirts and plunging necklines border on bad taste. Yes, with so many excellent musicians around, a young player is tempted to go to extremes to stand out from the crowd. But Wang is a recognized star these days. If she wants to pose for cheesecake shots as a "civilian," outside the classical milieu, that would perhaps add to the sum of human happiness. On the stage of a concert hall, the tart look is unbecoming.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the author and for entertainment purposes only. He is not a Certified Classical Beauty Adviser (CCBS™). Please do your own due diligence and consult your  qualified adviser before any appreciation of the persons mentioned. This post has not been approved by the Anti-Sexism Unit of the Federal Speech Control Department.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

All along the Apple Watchtower



I've got a mind to give up living
And go shopping instead
I've got a mind to give up living
And go shopping instead
Pick me up a tombstone
And be pronounced dead

— Variously attributed; performed by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band  


Living is uncool. What matters now, for those who can or imagine they can afford it, is showing your up-to-the-second personal technology.

Steve Jobs's last words were said to be, "Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!" Not quite as elegant as Goethe's "More light," but perhaps his first glimpse into the life following death. I don't think he was looking down the tunnel to the Apple Watch.


No doubt, the Apple Watch — which has the world gaga — is capable of wonders, practical and pointless. I haven't bothered to learn all about it. Yours truly (as people used to sign letters), but I won't be yours in Apple blossom time. There seem to be three basic models, keyed to your socio-economic class, and loads of designs. Doubtless there are a billion aps, and it can do everything but spit nickels. Watch Ben-Hur on your wrist!

Throw in a Tesla to your instrumentarium and you're in the Elysian Fields without even bothering to cross over like Steve Jobs.


"The Apple Watch Will Create Its Own Market Based On Emotional Needs," writes a commentator who styles himself Clinically Sound Investor on Seeking Alpha. He's right.
The Apple Watch pre-orders totaled over $600 million. One thing people can take for granted and Apple doesn't have a problem with is heightened public awareness. The TV spots, the live demos at Apple Stores since April 24, as well as Guided Tours online, all have people thinking about the Watch even before they develop an interest. Once the Watch is out on the street and people see them on others, if there was thought of a "lack" before, it will feel more real. ...
The ability to send virtual taps, heartbeats, and drawings through Digital Touch actively reminds owners, "Great, I have the Watch," for staying connected to their community. ... For younger users, who grew up in an age where online contact with their social network is as pervasive as face-to-face time with their friends, the demand for the Watch may be even greater. The best way to stay connected is through instant sharing of emotions and ideas, which is more conveniently done with the Watch's texting and iMessage capabilities than finding your phone. 
In other words, "the Watch" enables people (especially the young, whom many from older generations now emulate) to find virtual meaning in their lives, often without interacting in "meat space."


You can argue that in principle there's nothing about wearing an Apple Watch that differs from the jewelry and decorative clothes that women and men have worn since the beginning of history (and probably before): it's a high-tech version of an aborigine's bone necklace. Right enough, it's human to want to be stylish, and if a gyroscopic sundial could have been made small enough, Egyptians of the XVIII Dynasty might have worn them or endowed their animal-headed gods with them.

I myself used to collect watches of eccentric or unusual appearance. They included a Sekonda whose face noted in microscopic letters, "Made in the U.S.S.R." My timepieces were admittedly intended to attract attention and show how hip I was. I still have them but no longer wear a watch, except occasionally on trips, because there are readouts all around on computers, car dashboards, TV screens, even electric ranges.

My watches were cheap, though, and nobody would have assumed that I'd paid any more for one than for a Timex. Style aside, all they did was tell the hour and minute. You even had to adjust them if you went to a different time zone.

There's a different and, to me, distasteful vibe about the Apple Watch. To judge from photos, some of the variations might be visually attractive, but the bragging rights they give the owner cross a line that ought not to be crossed. It's impossible to define where that line is exactly, but it has something to do with the biblical admonition that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Traditional Christianity doesn't much appeal to me, but it deserves credit for ceaseless analysis of human motives and the inner drives that can seize the soul and turn it away from the moral and spiritual. The Seven Deadly Sins are deadly precisely because they are tempting and often pleasurable. If we must derive and then satisfy an "emotional need" from a fancy science-fiction watch, we will deserve what we get.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's only sleeping


... I think.

It's getting on for a month since the last post. Partly your blogger has been overtaxed (and not only by the gangsters in Washington) and under-energized. Reflecting Light hasn't been reflecting much light or anything else lately. It is going through something of an identity crisis.

In its nearly decade-long existence, the blog has devoted a lot of electrons to lampooning politicians and politically correct lunacy. Mostly that's been fun for me and, I hope, for readers. But it implicitly assumed that in some small way, such posts might warn of a road washed out ahead. 


But my efforts -- and those of hundreds of bloggers more knowledgeable and influential than I -- have had, as far as I can see, zero payoff. Let's be honest with ourselves. The Left has won the political game not only in the U.S. but every major country in what was once called, with some validity, the Free World.

You've read about the two Muslim assassins who tried to put bullets through who knows how many people for daring to attend an event satirizing The Prophet. Half the commentariat blames the trouble on Pamela Geller, its organizer, not the would-be killers or their ideology. We read that before the recent election in the U.K., the candidate of the Labour Party said that if the voters in their wisdom installed him at 10 Downing, his government would outlaw Islamophobia.
"We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime,” [Labour leader] Miliband told the Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi in a wide ranging exclusive interview.

“We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” he said.
While they're at it, the Labour Party would "strengthen the law on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime." That is, thought crimes and speech crimes by anyone who offends a protected group or member thereof.


I have no doubt the empty vessel occupying the White House would love to do the same. Maybe he'll give it a shot via executive order between now and when he can fully devote himself to speechmaking and golf in January 2017. It matters not if lots of people criticize or complain; they are powerless versus the strange oligarchy of cultural Marxists and big corporations that actually do the heavy lifting.

Anybody who still belongs to The Resistance has my blessing, but to me it's a lost cause and I'm too old to waste time on lost causes. There are other important (or at least interesting) things, some maybe even more important than politics. When and if Reflecting Light wakes up, those are what it will mainly reflect on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

L'Avventura



Of the two Italian filmmakers who came to prominence in the '60s -- Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni -- the former seems to be today's popular and critical favorite. Antonioni has mostly been relegated to the status of "important" (a kiss of death) or the product of his time.

Criterion, the company that does superb restorations of older films, has worked their magic on Antonioni's L'Avventura (1961). The movie is now on Blu-ray disc in a dazzling transfer. The image is crisper than you would have experienced it in most theaters when it was initially released, and the sound has probably been upgraded as well. 

If you've only seen L'Avventura in ill-focused, scratchy prints but found it worthwhile, you owe it to yourself to watch the Criterion Blu-ray version. The musical score doesn't strike me as particularly important in this work, but the black-and-white photography is a celebration of tones. And you get a good impression of Sicily more than half a century ago.

The knock on L'Avventura is that it's too long and under-dramatized. Long it is, about two-and-a-half hours, but except for a scene or two I found it captivating. The editing is more leisurely than is the norm nowadays, but the film is dramatic in its own idiosyncratic way. (And at least you can follow the story, which is more than can be said for many contemporary movies.)


The external action isn't particularly complicated, although what is going on beneath the surface is sometimes hard to fathom. A group of rich Romans go on a yacht trip in the sea off Sicily. Among them are Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti); his maybe-fiancée Anna (Lea Massari); and Anna's close friend, Claudia (Monica Vitti). They explore a volcanic island. When it's time to leave, Anna has gone missing. After calling in the coast guard to no avail, all except Sandro and Claudia return to Sicily, and they soon follow.

The rest of the picture focuses almost exclusively on Sandro and Claudia. He seems unconcerned about Anna, but strongly attracted to Claudia. At first Claudia resists Sandro's attentions, then discovers a passion for her missing friend's suitor.

The movie is somewhat disjointed, like a puzzle where certain pieces don't fit. For instance, the transition between Claudia's rejection and acceptance of Sandro is abrupt. Maybe she has fancied him all along, but I didn't notice any signs of it. Whatever isn't entirely clear, though, this is a movie about grown-ups with grown-up emotions, not the adolescents of all ages that predominate in American films today.


Antonioni at this point in his cinematic career had his own style, far from that of the visionary Fellini. Antonioni was more subtle, but most of his film is beautifully composed without calling undue attention its its director. L'Avventura is replete with knowingly framed shots and backgrounds that offer value added.

(I suspect this artist envied the greater attention given to Fellini, and later let himself be "influenced," partly successfully in Blow-Up, disastrously in Zabriskie Point. His last major film, The Passenger, was a recovery that played to his strengths.)

The central characters are strongly acted. And Monica Vitti -- oh, my. An almond-eyed Byzantine Madonna with wild locks of golden hair.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Constant non-comment



My counter doesn't indicate any notable drop-off in readership.

How come hardly any comments anymore? Have I become too uncontroversial? I'm not trying to stir up argument, but it would be nice to get a few reactions.

Regular programming will resume shortly.