Has the supernatural world touched you today? It likely has
and you didn't know it. According to George P. Hansen, author, magician, theologian and parapsychologist, the supernatural
holds enormous power over our lives – influencing entire cultures. He warns that we ignore it at our peril.
Despite marginal notoriety in modern culture, Hansen explains
that supernatural phenomena are frequently portrayed in the world's greatest art and literature, and most of us
believe in them. It has fostered history's most important cultural transformations, including the miracles
of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. In the same vein of Edgar Cayce's tenets that “thoughts are things”, Hansen shows
us in his new book, “The Trickster and the Paranormal” that the ubiquitous and very real supernatural demonstrates
that our thoughts move of their own accord and influence the physical world.
In “Trickster”, Hansen finds significant consequences in the
interaction of seemingly unrelated and obscure phenomenon about which we often disregard. He includes fortune telling,
the occult, magic, telepathy, psychokinesis, miracles, the power of prayer, clairvoyance, UFO’s and communication
with the dead. Although this phenomena is controversial and irrational, it is precisely for this reason that Hansen
urges us to reach out beyond the limits of our “rational” way of thinking and grasp its significance before we
become victims of our reckless assumptions.
Earlier cultures knew the supernatural to be dangerous and surrounded
by taboos, but because we tend to refer to it as more of an anomaly – as something outside of mainstream science,
we have no understanding of the awesome power to which we are vulnerable. Essentially, our grasp of a structured
and routine world is continually elusive due to disruptive interruptions that destabilize our psyche and subtly
influence the way we live. By allowing these forces to influence us unconsciously, we may likely, according
to our rational perspective, become uncivilized. Hansen embodies the attributes of the supernatural under a common
and well-known, but little understood figure – the Trickster. By familiarizing ourselves with the trickster, we
can understand the chaos that enters into our lives and learn to master our fears of it.
In many tribal cultures, trickster tales are not merely literary
creations; the tales are sacred; they are descriptions of the world. It is a character type found in mythology,
folklore, and in literature around the world. Tricksters appear as animals, humans and gods and have a number of
common characteristics. Some of their most salient qualities are disruption, unrestrained sexuality, disorder and
non-conformity to the establishment. They are typically male and can be endearingly clever or disgustingly stupid.
Their stories are irrational and often difficult to understand.
Hansen’s research on the Trickster shows how its attributes
blurs the distinction between imagination and reality and how we are consequently challenged in the face of subjective,
nonrational beliefs to separate fiction from reality.
Hansen says that it
is a fact that the trickster's traits of uncertainty, ambiguity, instability, the void and the abyss are neither
patternless, nor without power. They often hide within the realm of the supernatural and the irrational, a place
beyond the limits of reason. He warns that if we choose to ignore their existence, they become exceedingly dangerous.
If, on the other hand,
we acquaint ourselves with the attributes of the trickster and the neglected aspects of the paranormal, we can
more readily adjust to and incorporate destabilizing factors that would strengthen us rather than turn our world
upside down. The trickster's attributes and their relevance to the paranormal as well as our responses to them
are complex. Therefore, we must heed the signs that expose the trickster for what it is.
Hansen explains the
trickster as an embodiment of an archetype. It is a “personification of a group of abstract qualities that appear
in a variety of circumstances.” This aspect of the trickster is abundant throughout the world's writings. For example,
Wakdjunkaga of the Winnebago, a formless, selfish buffoon plays tricks, is deceptive, and sexually insatiable.
The trickster of the Greeks known as Hermes or Mercury, is a charming sociopath that “fleeces” his victims and
yet, psychologically speaking, assists communication between the conscious mental world of mind and intellect (earth)
and the collective unconscious (underworld). And, the trickster figure of Mercurious described by Carl Jung, mediates
between the lower material world and the higher spiritual one.
The above tricksters,
along with countless others, engage in deceit throughout social and historical progression in order to destabilize
structures and dominate transitions. They are misfits that embody paradox, contradiction, and ambiguity. They are
marginal characters with uncertain, ambiguous statuses. Some traditions believe that their function for disruption
is to stimulate change or transform the social order.
How do we cope with
these obscure creatures that warp our Aristotelian world with subversive activities and meddle in our civilized
Hansen answers that
the concept of marginality for the trickster is important for us to consider and continues to explain the importance
of “boundary” and “structure” that we use to define our place in the world.
The issue of boundaries
is central to understanding the trickster. Hansen targets the psychological research of Earnest Hartmann, a psychiatrist
at the Tufts University School of Medicine and author of Boundaries in the Mind (1991), to illustrate the concept of boundaries as a useful framework for understanding
personality and its relationship to psychic phenomena.
Throughout extensive studies with sleep disorders, Hartmann
noticed that some people were more prone to freely reveal their innermost secrets and behave fluidly while others
appeared more organized and revealed rigid psychological defense mechanisms. This discovery led Hartmann to create
“thick” and “thin” boundary personality types. Thick-boundary people tend to fixate on definitive goals and anchor
themselves to the sensory world. Conversely, thin-boundary people act with apparent detachment. Corporate managers
are likely to have thick boundaries, and artists, writers and musicians tend to have thinner ones. Thin-boundary
types also tested significantly higher for clairvoyance; thus supporting connections between thin boundaries and
Hansen finds that
the thin-boundary personality types have much in common with those characteristics found in the Greek trickster,
Hermes, who is also a god of boundaries. Some of these shared attributes are instability, unpredictability, rebelliousness,
unreliability, and spontaneity. However, personality characteristics of individuals only partly explain trickster
manifestations. The following theories from anthropology expand upon the significance of boundaries.
examine a wide range of cultures and typically observe the extremes of the human condition, Hansen stresses the
theories of anthropologists Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner to further explore the issues central to Trickster – change, transition and instability. Van Gennep
and Turner were particularly well known for their instructive insights on rites and rituals in religion, literature,
folklore and psychology. They studied relatively simple societies, but through comparative methodology they could
use concrete examples to discern complex patterns in higher order civilizations that traditional systems of cause
and effect scientific inquiry might miss.
Of particular relevance
in the study of the trickster is van Gennep and Turner’s focus on social status and social structure. Turner opined
that a social structure consists of a system of social positions, and “the units of social structure are relationships
between statuses, roles and offices.” Organized culture and civilization require differentiation, roles and structure.
Roles define continuity; they designate positions and statuses in the structure of society. Consequently, structure
produces social distance and inequality that subtly leads to alienation beyond conscious recognition. We erroneously
tend to see others as a collection of individuals with discrete differences, and assume that the character of the
group can be derived from those of the individuals... much like having a bird of a feather kind of mentality. Hansen
says this fundamentally wrong assumption robs us of the understanding that we are being victimized by a social
structure that rules over us practically invisibly and without our knowledge of its effects upon us.
Van Gennep described
three major stages of the overarching social structure that is typically found in many cultures. Essentially, most
cultures have important transitions, such as puberty, marriage, change in leadership, and death. During these transitions
people often experience emotional stress involving separation (dissolution), transition (a period of adjusting
to new experiences), and incorporation (combining the new experiences with the familiar in the maturation process).
These three passages involve revisions in structural positions that involve an entire group and not just an individual.
Van Gennep and Turner call these passages liminality, communitas, and anti-structure.
Liminality, a term
referring to the physical separation of an individual from the rest of the populace during initiatory rites of
passage, is known in a variety of contexts involving transitions. Van
Gennep included matters such as initiations, vision quests, retreats into hideaways, sacred contexts and territorial
passage. Turner expanded upon the idea to illustrate that court jesters, good Samaritans and even small nations
shared common characteristics that “fall into the interstices of social structure”. Fundamentally, liminality describes
a process whereby the initiate seeks novel ways of seeing the world by exploring new aspects in the familiar; the
essence of creativity. For example, shamans often undergo a crisis to meet their calling. They roam forests, see
visions and act seemingly peculiar. Yet by the end of the crisis, the shaman has new abilities and becomes an important
member of society. Hansen
cautions that we miss the benefits of liminality as the source of rejuvenation and creativity because we discredit
the value of marginality and withdrawal.
The second passage,
communitas, is a Latin term to describe a feeling of fellowship. In communitas, persons drop their normal roles
and statuses and become absorbed into the social structure – what Turner describes as “a sense of a generic social
bond between all members of society regardless of their traditional affiliations.” In our culture, the Marine Corps
boot camp is an example. The new recruits undergo rigorous training that upset the patterns of their familiar existence
and they become strongly bonded with their buddies and the Corps in general. If they survive, they emerge transformed,
with self-confidence, new abilities, and a new identity. Communitas is linked with humility and at least an interim
loss of status to emphasize our frail human condition. It cannot last for long periods and has the potential for
disorder without supervision. Yet, communitas is believed to be essential for rebirth and regeneration. Turner
notes, “man is both a structural and an anti-structural entity, who grows through anti-structure and conserves
Like liminality and
communitas, the third passage of anti-structure evokes ideas of disruption, a primary trickster quality. It's blurring
of distinctions and oppositions such as life-death, male-female, and food-excrement are associated with the characteristics
of the trickster as a mediator between binary oppositions. One of Turner's students and literary theorist, Barbara
Babcock, illustrates why it is instructive to study the anti-structural traits of the trickster.
16 characteristics of tricksters and their six functions in society, Babcock says that trickster tales help us
become conscious of aspects of life and culture that might otherwise be neglected. She further describes the trickster's
congruence to creativity, saying: “In contrast to routine thinking, the creative act of thought is always ‘double-minded,
i.e., a transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both thought and emotion is disturbed.’
Hansen says that if we selectively cherish our own beliefs and values while avoiding others, we build a
structured life that stifles creativity. Meanwhile, the trickster traits of anti-structure subtly steer us towards
a re-vision of our fixed notions by upsetting our customary habits. The more rigidly we hold onto our slice of
the world, the more we resist change, and the greater our anguish when novel circumstances requires adaptation.
The agony of dissonance reduces when we incorporate the new experiences with the old. Think of the private giving
the master sergeant a piece of his mind. He may lose his ‘peace’ of mind if he doesn't adjust to his new surroundings!
Turner notes that “liminal situations and roles are almost
everywhere attributed with magico-religious properties that are often regarded as dangerous, inauspicious, or polluting
to persons, objects and relationships that have not been properly inducted into the liminal context.” Such people
as diviners, witches, prophets and rainmakers dwell within ambiguous circumstances and are often viewed as having
supernatural power. They occupy the middle ground of binary opposites between God and man. This middle ground is
abnormal, non-natural, and holy. It is the liminal, the interstitial, the anti-structural; it provides contact
with the supernatural realm. It is the domain of the trickster and the netherworld of spirits whose existence blurs
the separation between life and death. Mortal trespass into this world and supernatural intrusion are mediated
by sacred rules or taboos that are intended to “protect divinity from profanation and to protect the profane from
divinity.” Violations of taboos are often deliberately rendered through ritual in the expectation of obtaining
powers and truths that can not be reached by conscious effort. The enabling ritual invites disorder from whence
power comes. Hansen warns that disorder without understanding the contradictions inherent when forbidden acts are
committed for the same reasons they are forbidden brings peril.
As liminality is related to mystical power, anti-structure
is closely affiliated with the paranormal. The vision quests of shamans and the lives of mystics tell of frequent
meetings with supernatural beings and demonstrations of psychic abilities. These people typically cultivate altered
states of consciousness, which verifiably demonstrate the occurrence of psychic phenomena. Furthermore, these and
other people who tend to be liminal and live marginal lives “strive with passionate sincerity to rid themselves
of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role playing”, according to Hansen. In our own society,
marginal, low status groups and individuals that are closely aligned with anti-structure keep paranormal ideas
and practices alive.
One example of perpetual liminality is the life of the mystic.
However, this not an ordinary illustration of passage and transition. Rather, the mystic's strong, disruptive and
sometimes, grotesque anti-structural qualities reflect permanent immersion in trickster phenomenon. The intervention
of the supernatural into the rational world is often profoundly unsettling and the latter often consider the mystic
to be deviant or psychotic. Hansen remarks that it is no accident that the mystic is often cloistered and has therefore
shielded divinity's contact with the larger world. Having lost this understanding we continue to question whether
God exists when what we might instead wonder in the face of mysticism, “Is God sane”?
Hansen claims that history is filled with stories of “fools
for God.” Many famous mystics and saints disrupted social order and upset people, were persecuted as heretics and
often imprisoned or killed. They often mirrored the most common trickster traits, making it difficult to tell the
difference between a holy man and a con artist. Never the less, mystics established important religious traditions.
They have also demonstrated powerful psychic phenomena, including instantaneous healing, immunity to fire, and
One popular saint, Francis of Assisi (1182)-1226), was renowned
for communion with nature, particularly with birds. Tricksters and liminality also share this feature. St. Francis
reportedly tried to maintain a permanent liminal state. He spoke in parables and levitated during prayer. His stigmata
not only included bleeding, but also black nail-like protuberances formed from his flesh making it difficult for
him to walk. Another saint, Lydwine of Schiedam (1380-1433), is a more exotic example of liminal and trickster
characteristics. She spent extended periods in mystical, ecstatic trance, prophesying, performing miraculous healing,
making trips to purgatory and escorting souls to heaven. And yet for these extraordinary deeds she lived a tortured
life with stigmata and perpetually putrefying flesh.
The common thread among mystics and saints, Hansen’s sources
affirm, is that their spiritual fervor and extreme asceticism made an impact on their communities, if only by provoking
disapproval and mockery. Their unconventional actions were purportedly intended to shock their community into reacting
against traditional beliefs. Their self-styled spiritually enhanced mode of life was an implicit criticism of the
secular life-style. Their miracles, as signs from God, gave them legitimacy to challenge the established religious
The lives of the mystics personify troubling philosophical
questions that are not easily resolved. Although some may commune with heavenly figures, have ecstatic visions
of heaven, and display grace through miraculous powers of healing and clairvoyance, they themselves often endure
severe physical suffering, battle demons and undergo mental breakdowns. Carl Jung’s “Answer to Job” highlights
their sacred dilemma and begs the question of whether God is merciful and just. Such trauma remains ambiguous as
traditional societies scorn the chaotic anti-structure of the mystics rather than explore it.
Still another exemplar of the trickster is the Shaman. Shamans
were the sacred technicians of tribal rituals and healing. Like mystics, they existed outside of the social order,
forsaking conventional ways of life in order to bridge the living with the spirit world. Invariably, shamans were
artists of deception. For example, Hansen cites American pilgrimages in the 1980’s to the Philippines for treatment
by psychic surgeons who seemed to extract diseased tissues without leaving a scar. The “extracted” materials were
later found to be from pigs, cows and decomposed human tissue but not from the patients. Whether their trickery
aided healing via placebo effects or enhanced their power to compel obedience, Hansen points out that the more
significant aspects of trickster liminality and cunning found in shamanism convincingly mirror the mysterious magico-religious
aspects of the paranormal. Tribal peoples accepted trickery and paranormal events as mutually inclusive and believed
that they could exist side by side. The shaman thus became the subject of respect and ridicule. This unusual complexity
defines the trickster constellation as it applies to the life of many shamans.
The examples of mystics and shamans heretofore illustrate
a psychological perspective of supernatural/trickster traits, as they are manifest at an individual level. However,
the depth of power in the paranormal is much more insidious at the sociological level where social processes shape
our thoughts unconsciously. Hansen warns that we must know this process if we are to learn where are own thoughts
come from. This is especially true in regard to magic, religion, and the paranormal. Consequently, Hansen looks
to cultural transformations and the research of prominent anthropologists, Winkelman, Weber and Wallace in order
to demonstrate supernatural influences underlying human evolution.
Through Winkelman and his cross-cultural studies of people
who use supernatural powers, Hansen connects the status of the mystic or shaman with the complexity of the society
within which they function. Winkelman determined that the least complex societies, typified by hunting and gathering
cultures have shamans with a greater command of paranormal powers than their agricultural counterparts who represent
a more complex social stratification and political sophistication.
The hunter-gatherers relied upon the vagaries of nature, requiring
mobility, spontaneity, and more intimacy with the wilderness. Whereas, their agricultural counterparts were further
removed from nature and exerted their political will to control it through planning and stockpiling rather than
risk the potential for famine. The hunter-gatherer shaman was therefore regarded as significant, charismatic leader
who commanded the spirits through altered states of consciousness in order to heal, find game and give counsel.
Where societies became more complex and further removed from nature, the shaman was more or less regarded as a
medium and one controlled by spirits.
Hansen finds in Winkelman that more complex societies lose
touch with supernatural powers and experiences because the beliefs and practices that were typical of the hunter-gatherer
shaman are displaced and repressed. The practices and beliefs in simpler societies made the most use of psi phenomenon.
Hence, the cultivation of psychic functioning is absent in the higher status social structures of Western culture.
The institutions of science and medicine marginalize those who attempt to engage it. Under these influences modern
societies have become antagonistic towards parapsychology and are fundamentally unconscious of its subtle effects
Hansen believes that Max Weber’s concepts of charisma,
rationalization, and disenchantment are critical components to
the structure and stability of societies. Charisma is central to
Weber’s theories of authority, power, and domination. He
explains that pure charisma requires the presence of miracles,
including prophesy, telepathy, and weather control.
cultures become more rationalized, miracles and magic (e.g.,
overt control over paranormal and supernatural powers) are
suppressed and charisma becomes neutralized.
our modern societies grow increasingly dependent upon a
predictable future, bound by rules and regulations, and forged
by standardization, regimentation and specialization. Hansen
muses, “We are the bureaucratic culture that guarantees
careers, advancement, and organized evolution. Our increasing
depth of intellectually
analyzable rules leads to rigid thinking and stifles
and miracles are never eliminated; rather our conscious
awareness of them is diminished. We tend to view them as fiction
according to the way they are institutionalized by contemporary
academic and media bureaucracies as well as most exoteric
Weber, charisma was the primordial source of authority.
Bureaucracy was directly opposed to it. Therefore, those who
directly employ psychic powers do so outside the purview of
bureaucratic institutions. In times of cultural transitions,
when such institutions undergo instability as traditional values
are challenged, the trickster, the paragon of marginality and of
transition, becomes publicly prominent through charismatic
all civilizations are prone to disruptive transitions from the
old familiar traditions toward the establishment of new ones.
Whether dramatic and full blown, or relatively mild and limited,
cultural change and revitalization are complex processes, but
they have commonalities. Revitalization, in the works of
University of Pennsylvania anthropologist F. C. Wallace, runs a
structured course similar to that of Van Genep’s work on rites
of passage. Wallace describes the movement from stability to
chaos and finally, to re-stabilization, in five overlapping
stages: 1) Steady State; 2) Period of
Stress; 3) Period of Cultural Distortion; 4) Period of
Revitalization (in which behavior modification, communication,
adaptation, cultural transformation, and
and finally, 5) New Steady State. This movement reiterates the
theme of the mythical ‘Heroes Journey’, whereby disturbing
changes occasionally challenge our lives and we must reconcile
with inner demons (e.g., old habits) in order to emerge with new
is at this time of cultural change that the trickster and
anti-structural manifestations are particularly apparent, and
the supernatural is an important part of them. For as a
person’s picture of his or her existence undergoes changes,
the normal patterns of life that we imagine as having some sort
of boundary have suddenly become permeable and perhaps
collapsible. Wallace sees society as organic, so that if one
member of a group becomes dysfunctional the group will, as a
whole, make adjustments in an effort to ameliorate the problem
and maintain the status quo.
varied responses to cope may invite further chaos and distortion
to where a pronounced deterioration can potentially lead to the
death of a society. During this process of demolition and
rebuilding of a ‘world view’, it is not uncommon for
stressed individuals to find solace in other worldly phenomena,
e.g., religious visionary experiences, and rebound with a more
active and purposeful way of life. Thus a religious leader, for
example, derives power from outside of the traditional authority
structure ascribed by society (e.g., via anti-structure) and
gains legitimacy by paranormal manifestations. Revitalization
can be constructive or destructive, but it always occurs in
periods of cultural transitions.
asserts that the trickster is ubiquitous during this time with
deception, loss of status, disregard for moral boundaries,
general disruption and a highly visible presence of the
Hansen paints relatively abstract portraits of the trickster to
help us appreciate its elusive qualities. From this point
forward, Hansen illustrates concrete, modern examples of the
trickster’s presence. These include: phony psychics, UFO’s,
magic tricks, hypnosis, supernatural hoaxes, witchcraft,
government disinformation, and more.
is pervasively associated with all of the above.
finds that psychic individuals harbor one of the more publicly
known forms of trickery in the context of the supernatural. They
tend to influence public perception of the paranormal with
bizarre beliefs, odd behaviors, and sometimes cult-like
teachings. They are often colorful, charismatic, and invite
allegations of fraud with sleight-of-hand activities.
Ironically, their popularity is not only supported by devoted
followers, but by debunkers who keep the psychic’s name alive
through pragmatic disclaimers. Whether or not they produce
convincing evidence of psi, Hansen feels that their power to
shape public perception of paranormal phenomena merits scrutiny.
illustrating several successful spiritualists and mediums, such
as Helena P.
Arthur Ford, don Juan Mateas and Sathy Sai Baba, to name a few,
Hansen observes that most of them engaged in trickery to seduce
their audience. Investigators exposed some. Others later
confessed their faults. Notwithstanding the merits of their
gifts, Hansen says the trickster traits amongst them are
blatant. Blavatsky, for example, was known for exotic psychic
feats in materialization and levitation. She lived a tumultuous
existence with an obscure reputation for sexual promiscuity,
compulsive lying, and political espionage.
famous medium, Aurthur Ford, gained notoriety in 1929 for
cracking a secret code that Houdini had left with his wife. The
code was designed by Houdini to prove that its discovery could
only mean that Houdini was speaking from his grave. Later, it
was discovered that Ford and Bess were romantically involved and
the stunt was a hoax.
successful at his craft, Ford battled alcoholism and engaged in
Ford and the other prominent psychics under Hansen’s pen
exemplified liminal and anti-structural patterns of existence
through socially deviant lifestyles and high visibility. They
were highly successful in drawing attention to themselves and
stimulated discussion about their experiences. At the same time,
their antics and deceptions motivated status-conscious
scientists to ignore them and marginalize their credibility.
Hansen claims it is a cultural fact that the Trickster rules the
lives of the psychics.
world of magic is another popular forum for the trickster.
Marginality, solitariness, and travel, all associated with the
trickster, resonate with deception and the paranormal in the art
of creating illusions. The magician craftily plies his trade to
take advantage of people’s assumptions. Hansen declares that
assumptions are simply abstractions and representations of the
world that can perpetuate ignorance and allow deception to
penetrate virtually unnoticed.
the practice of conjuring has been around for centuries, it has
a comparatively low status with other arts such as music,
painting and drama that enjoy a wider variety of public
exposure. It is a hobby that stimulates fraternal camaraderie,
but because of the secretive nature of magic, much of the trade
is cloaked to outsiders.
relationship between the trickster character-type and the
magician seems obvious, according to Hansen. Yet, few if any
have explored it. In order to illustrate the presence of liminal
and anti-structural qualities of the trickster in the world of
notes that most practitioners lead unusual lives. None have held
long-term, prominent positions in structured institutions. Their
achievements are self-serving rather than for public benefit.
And they are usually well known for curious sexual activity.
When exploring the realm of the magician the subject of
deception is difficult to ascertain. Hansen points out that the
debate continues as to whether psychics are only magicians, or
conversely, whether conjurers have psychic powers. Even
magicians argue amongst themselves over the validity of psi.
This instability among the practitioners reinforces Hansen’s
convictions that the trickster lives within the magician.
the trickster manifests with opponents of the supernatural. The
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal (CSICOP) is the most aggressive antagonist of the
paranormal today. Hansen targets this organization for trickster
qualities simply because it cannot escape its influence when
directly confronting paranormal issues. CSICOP’s eclectic
membership of writers, scientists, philosophers,
anthropologists, some magicians, and so on, earnestly strive to
debunk psi phenomenon to such an extreme that it does not
conduct formal research for fear that such activity will give
the paranormal credibility. Nevertheless, CSICOP has expended
such great energy marginalizing paranormal activities that it
has elevated psi’s importance in Hansen’s opinion.
selects three issues that point to CSICOP’s association with
the trickster. The first issue concerns the overall
anti-religious sentiment pervasive in CSICOP and its strong
alliance with atheistic groups. This disposition apparently
serves to intensify efforts to ridicule the paranormal. Yet such
intensity suggests the presence of an energetic, unconscious,
archetypal process. Hansen says the trickster figure Prometheus
illuminates this, and he has much in common with the skeptics.
His titanic nature is filled with power-ridden ambition to
blackmail and destroy. Unlike Hermes who gives freely to the
all that he has stolen, Prometheus cheats and helps himself to
the very offerings: an anti-religious sentiment par
second issue shows CSICOP’s considerable efforts to assure its
status and respectability in the eyes of the scientific,
academic, and media elites. Therefore, its membership consists
of the most highly respected icons of hierarchical institutional
structures that are bestowed with positions of influence and
honors. These personalities often have great vested interests to
support the status quo and reinforce the beliefs of scientific
leaders. Its penchant for considerable status eclipses its
ability to conduct serious research against paranormal
activities. Instead it prefers to ridicule those who take
phenomenon seriously. Hansen claims that unlike other scientific
organizations such as the American Physical Society whose goals,
organizational structure, operations, and demographics are
dedicated to advancing issues in their field, CSICOP’s only
function appears to be self-ingratiating.
CSICOP’s penchant for rationalization quashes sensitivity to
mystical experiences. Its repression of portions of the human
experience poignantly shows the limits of science and
rationality. Hansen admits that there are valid reasons for
respecting taboos, prohibitions, and restrictions surrounding
the supernatural. However, denying the value of the supernatural
merely invokes self-destruction by the disbeliever. Hansen
opines that CSICOP is living proof.
trickster and anti-structural features are also abundant in
small groups. The groups worth noting share a common tendency to
elicit paranormal phenomena through one of the following
methods: séances, psychotronics, UFO telepathic communications,
and dowsing. Psi, disorder, lowered sexual inhibitions, and
deceptions are all present despite whether these groups have any
ability to induce real paranormal events.
writes that the members of the groups under study have typically
experienced a recent major transition (e.g., divorce, completion
of an education program, a geographical move). They are looking
for, or presently undergoing, change and reintegration and are
vulnerable to promises of hope. Consequently, they tend to
reinforce each other’s beliefs and expectations for the
paranormal. The trickster constellation strengthens and the
boundaries between real and imaginary, subjective and objective,
become less distinctive.
shows the tumultuous life of Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
who is internationally acclaimed for her pioneering work on
death and dying. Throughout her work with the dying she used séances
to seek the counsel of spirits. Accomplices often plied hoaxes
during the séance to gratify the seekers. She had not used any
scientific methodology to study the matter. Rather, she immersed
herself as an explorer of the life-death transition outside of
conventional wisdom. In spite of her sizable following and the
creation of the hospice movement and bereavement groups, Kubler-Ross
never established a long-lasting institution. Additionally, she
continued to blur the life-death binary opposition by asserting
there is no death. Hansen concludes that Kubler-Ross’s
life’s work reflects both the anti-structural and liminal
characteristics of tricksterism.
the groups selected by Hansen such as SORRAT (The Society for
and Telekinesis) and Psi Tech (a government sponsored
organization) bring discredit to themselves with bizarre claims
while engaged with paranormal powers and supernatural beings.
“The trickster appears, and marginality comes again and
there are three alternative religious movements in our culture
that share common elements, conflict with the establishment, and
demonstrate marginality and anti-structure.
movements, Spiritualism, New Age, and Witchcraft dabble in the
training and use of psychic abilities. None of them are
institutionalized in the manner of government, academe, or
mainline religion. Nor do they have any central authority;
control is local.
shamanism, Spiritualism relies upon altered states of
consciousness. Usually mediums went into a trance and allowed
spirits to speak through them. Their messages were often
punctuated by mysterious activities such as levitated tables
that gave them legitimacy. Darkened séances provided
opportunities for sexual liaisons. Overall, the mediumistic
trickery found in Spiritualism accents the trickster
characteristics of disruption, deception, lowering of sexual
inhibitions, and the display of paranormal powers.
New Age movement, as defined by Hansen, is a “loose network of
people and organizations involved with such causes as holistic
health, channeling, spiritual seeking,
religions, personal transformation, and ecological awareness,
among others.” It is more ambiguous than the other two
movements mentioned here and seemingly just as subversive to
established norms. Such notaries as Edgar Cayce, Ruth
(channeling Seth), and
Helen Schucman (A Course
in Miracles) fueled strong interest among thousands
searching for self-empowerment in a fluid, decentralized network
removed from structured hierarchies.
the New Age Movement, modern-day witchcraft and neo-paganism
rose to popularity in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hansen notes,
“A central figure of witchcraft and neo-paganism is the use of
ritual magic for practical ends, and as such, direct contact
with the supernatural is salient.” Hansen recognizes
anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann for her detailed commentary on
magical practices in her Persuasion
of the Witch’s Craft (1989).
discovers that witchcraft engages in imagery rather than in
is believed that in order to manipulate the subtle currents and
connections of the world conjurers must step outside the normal
ways that people think and communicate. They use techniques that
help them to avoid the subjective-objective perceptual barriers
that define the Western version of the self and world.
above three movements are strikingly similar where altered, or
de-structured, states of consciousness play a major role. None
recognize a central authority for their movement, and they
engage in no institution building. All of the movements are
considered subversive by the establishment; they court direct
involvement with paranormal and supernatural phenomena, and all
display elements of the trickster constellation.
phenomena and established institutions are generally
incompatible. The former thrives on anarchy while the latter
relies upon order and stability for self-preservation.
finds when studying relationships between institutions and the
paranormal that groups which form for the purpose of producing
paranormal phenomena generally divide into two classes: those
that maintain a focus on directly engaging the phenomena and
those that move away from it. The groups that eventually
institutionalize have shifted away from the training or display
of psychic abilities and emphasize “spiritual development”
and “personal growth”. The Association of Research and
(ARE) founded by Edgar Cayce in 1931 is an example. The ARE is
established with buildings, a professional staff and a
publishing facility for the purpose of education, a monument to
an earlier era where paranormal activities were more evident.
that prefer to engage the paranormal through some semblance of
incorporation seem to acquire a reputation for fraudulent
mediumship in an effort to please their clientele or to prey on
vulnerable people. Spiritualist camps, psychic hotlines, and
even the entertainment industry fabricate psychic themes for
self-serving agendas. Psychics that endeavor to provide a
legitimate service usually work privately and apart from any
institutionalized regime. Nevertheless, all of these types
connected closely with the paranormal dance in the shadows of
popular culture and appear to be odd or exotic; frequently with
a negative taint.
does not totally neglect the paranormal. However, like the
entertainment industry, it treats psi as fiction. This consigns
the paranormal to the realm of the imagination and subtly
reinforces the idea that it need not be taken seriously.
Students of various disciplines can study beliefs
about paranormal events, but must not attempt to verify
their reality. This implies to the students that the phenomena
are not real. Hansen comments “academe is a product of, and an
agent for, the rationalization and disenchantment of the world,
and that entails marginalizing the paranormal. It exerts its
influence more strongly through neglect, by ignoring, and what
is left unmentioned.”
the clash between the anti-structural nature of the paranormal
and the popular worldview, Hansen says it is unlikely that the
paranormal can be rationally explained.
it is unrealistic to expect the scientific establishment to
study the phenomena. Since the supernatural is marginalized, and
beyond the grasp of rationalization, he concludes that direct
investigation of paranormal phenomena must be dealt with on its
own level – “in the margins.”
investigations into the nature of psi are short lived. Hansen
finds that when groups attempt to study paranormal phenomena by
directly engaging and interacting with it, they self-destruct
through brushes with fraud and trickery and loss of
institutional affiliation and support. Their research activities
never produce sustainable growth. Some of the more notable
institutions such as, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR),
Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), the
and Psychophysics at Maimonides Medical Center, the American
for Psychical Research (ASPR), and the US government psychic
spying program are barely surviving or have perished due to
lackluster performances following dubious leadership, unstable
philanthropy, and soured morale.
a darling of the socially tumultuous 1960’s and early
1970’s, parapsychology catered to the idealism of the
baby-boomers coming of age. Counter cultures sought alternatives
in the midst of civil rights movements and unwanted wars and the
mystique of psi caught their eye. Movies (e.g. the Exorcist), TV
programs, books and adult education courses reflected its
popularity. Parapsychological research centers, although few,
enjoyed public approval. However, in the 1980’s the baby
boomers traded idealism for corporate greed. The promise of
success in business shifted their interest from the paranormal.
The “Me Generation” left parapsychology in the hands of the
older, greyer forebears and the research labs decayed along with
the consistency in the pattern of promising beginnings, rapid
initial growth, encounters with tricksters, internal conflict,
stagnation and decay, parapsychology faces an ill-fated future
for institutional longevity. Still, intense interest in psi and
the high percentage of people who report paranormal experiences
of the major fallouts of paranormal experiences is the
extraordinary blending of fantasy and reality. Paranormal events
are exotic and confusing, ill defined and unstructured, and many
invite more chaos beyond the known confines of the séance or
the research laboratory. The challenge for validation under
these circumstances is overwhelming, as researchers must cope
with obscure roles and the ambiguous identities of the
participants. Quite often they became entangled in the phenomena
of their study and lose their ability to remain objective.
Seemingly unrelated events such as Bigfoot sightings, cattle
mutilations and UFO panics obfuscate scientific investigation
through the common thread of disinformation and hoaxes. Like
paranormal events, Hansen finds that these too lie beyond our
comprehension because of their anti-structural characteristics
of the trickster.
with such events helped Hansen discover a significant concept.
Psi phenomena are “ideoplastic”. They respond to, and are
shaped by, the ideas, beliefs, and anxieties of the observers.
For example, one researcher spoke frequently with alleged UFO
abductees who reported receiving mental messages from flying
saucers. Soon, the researcher would unwittingly engage in
telepathic or pre-cognitive events with them. The situation
deteriorated to where the victims and the people associated with
them became “tainted”, looked upon as odd, different or
dangerous. Many developed paranoia. The researcher, upon
noticing his plight, recognized that UFO sightings are not
limited to a circumscribed time and place. It is not a discreet
event in isolation. Rather, the consequences last for weeks or
months, destabilizing the personal lives of those who become
enmeshed in the phenomena.
to the disorienting tendencies of supernatural phenomena, we try
to understand them in familiar terms, usually in one of two
ways. Either the phenomena are believed to be of a religious or
other worldly nature (e.g., from spirits, demons, gods, or
extra-terrestrials), or they are attributed to a human
conspiracy. Hansen remarks that such perceptions create a
misleading framework of structure and limits upon which we build
a premise for control, e.g., gods can be negotiated and
dangerous humans avoided. He cautions that psi phenomena have an
intelligence that addresses non-conscious entities. Our usual
frameworks for scientific bias do not work here. The subversive
activities of psi in the realm of anti-structure and liminality
are incomprehensible to the modern rationalistic mind.
Accordingly, the primitive mind “grasped the ideas of
‘participation’ and the contagion of taboo violation far
more than the scientific theories accepted today.”
to the congestion of subterfuge is the arena of government
cites several government agencies, notably the CIA, and their
murky connections with civilian organizations that dabble
particularly with UFO sightings and cattle mutilations. The CIA,
for example, monitors groups such as the Citizens Against UFO
(CAUS) and the National Investigations Committee on Arial
while at the same time it strives to confuse rather than clarify
UFO activities. In
the CIA recommended, “The National security Council debunk UFO
reports and institute a policy of public education to reassure
the public of the lack of evidence behind
that such private UFO groups as the Arial Phenomena Research
organization in Wisconsin and the Civilian Flying Saucer
Investigators in Los Angeles be watched for subversive
activities.” Reportedly, the CIA also deploys an Incident
Response Team to investigate UFO landings.
to the overt efforts of the CIA to dispel rumors of
extra-terrestrial visits on earth, the United States Armed
Forces went to great lengths to create them. Hansen cites
heavily documented cases where influential people in key
positions fabricated stories for public consumption. The
infamous Roswell incident, a 1947 hoax perpetuated by the Air
base near Roswell, New Mexico, told of a captured flying saucer.
The consequent supporting, albeit bogus, “ M-12” documents
and photographs boosted disinformation by con artists and
dishonest researchers for half a century to make the Roswell
saga one of the most celebrated UFO cases.
Roswell story and many related ones raise far more questions
than answers, but unlike in other sciences, Hansen doubts that
the questions will ever be resolved.
many groups that dabbled in paranormal phenomena became
little reason to think that secret government projects would
escape that fate.”
the various government and civilian agencies toy with the
paranormal they engage in supernatural powers that lead to
problems in distinguishing fantasy from reality and right from
wrong. Cloaked in secrecy and without critical review,
government disinformation complicates the paranormal experiences
with ambiguity. Consequently, institutionalized deception as
illustrated by Trickster earmarks
the trickster characteristics of boundary blurring, marginality,
and deceit mixed with supernatural and mythological themes.
Hansen laments that the ongoing feed of information of dubious
reliability from the selected government agencies not only
obfuscates paranormal phenomena, and in some cases fuels its
popularity, it also undermines public trust in the government.
upon Hansen’s observations, UFO stories fit the schema of
trickster characteristics because they have properties in common
with angels, spirits, fairies and demons. They are all remotely
separate from, yet somehow interconnected with, our perceptual
is an enchanted area where the rules of the rational do not
apply.” We tend to conceptualize ET phenomena as “flesh and
blood” humanoids traveling in “nuts and bolts” flying
saucers and apart from the supernatural. Because of this
warns that we misunderstand the nature of the phenomena and
become vulnerable to them.
compares the irrational behavior in Ufology with the mythical
and magical nature of role-playing. Often thought to be popular
during childhood as a natural part of human development,
role-playing shaped our lives for most of us as we mimicked role
models to learn who we are and how to behave. As adults we
continue to be fascinated with more exotic roles. The
large-scale, fantasy game of Dungeons and Dragons that emerged
is one example that nurtured adult fantasy role-playing where
players assume roles of characters such as monsters, wizards,
and other mythical creatures. They suspended their normal,
rational thoughts and shared a common fantasy within the
subculture created by the hundreds of variants that followed
fantasy role-playing games (FRPGs) resemble the trickster in
the participatory nature of drama, props and physical action,
the players have the opportunity for more intimate contact with
supernatural ideas. Liminal components emerge in the blurring of
fantasy and reality and the invocation of magical beings. The
players are frequently high school or college age – a
transitory stage, and usually unmarried. Games rules do not
cover all contingencies and are often transgressed.
is encouraged although there are no winners or losers. Another
liminal feature is the adoption of some New Age guided-imagery
exercises where magical beings are sought to resolve real-world
problems. Hansen remarks, “Fantasy role-playing taps
archetypal images that hold considerable psychological power.
Those images and ideas can become immensely attractive, even
addictive, to people playing the game.”
are like Ufology because they allow direct, immediate
involvement with powerful otherworld beings and mythological
motifs. Although participants in each event can become heavily
engrossed, FRPG players are able to successfully detach
themselves from the activity. Some become obsessed with the
“game” and have difficulty re-entering the real world.
However, UFO phenomena have far more serious problems than with
Ufology is more unstructured. Its boundaries are not as well
contained as that of an FRPG. In an FRPG, the time is set, the
players are known, and the Dungeon Master settles disputes.
There are fewer rules about what is or is not possible in
Ufology. UFO phenomena can happen without warning, at any time
or any place with any target. Paranoia is rampant with fear of
ETs and government conspiracy themes. Investigators of
topics enter an unbounded, liminal domain, unaware of its
dangers. They become especially susceptible to hoaxes. “Hoaxes
are liminal productions”, warns Hansen. They lower the
statuses of the victims, and loss of status is one of the
defining characteristics of liminal conditions. Marginality is
another trickster quality, and hoaxes marginalize not only the
victims but the whole field of ufology. Consequently, hoaxes
protect the paranormal from close examination.”
Western culture today, there are subtle taboos that restrict our
participation in the paranormal world. It threatens to
destabilize our world in shades of ambiguity, hoaxes,
and anti-structure. When the supernatural appears we often miss
the opportunity to understand it because it doesn’t fit within
our rationalistic worldview.
Hansen proposes several theoretical constructs to guide us.
to the elusive nature of psi phenomenon, Hansen uses an abstract
concept known as Reflexivity to clarify it. Reflexivity is
“the turning of some function or process back upon itself, as
if using awareness to learn about awareness or using logic to
popular example is Epimenides' paradox: "This statement is
false." If it is true, then it's false, and vice versa. The
distinction between the subject and object is blurred just as it
is in the liminal and paranormal circumstances explored earlier.
remarks that reflexivity can point to paranormal experiences
practically because we have an opportunity in some cases to
observe the results of its application. When reflexivity is
evident, some aspect of the paranormal frequently appears in the
for example, often facilitates psychic experiences. It is
reflexive in many cases because in its practice consciousness is
used to observe consciousness.
science to study science is another reflexive process. In the
practice of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK),
sociologists become participant-observers in scientific
research. SSK practitioners have demonstrated the subjective and
ambiguous aspects of science, much to the chagrin of many
scientists. Some of the most eminent
researchers have also been involved with parapsychology.
courts disruption, another trickster quality. It is antithetical
to order, structure, boundaries, classification, foundations and
limits. It is a source of paradox and ambiguity with problems
generally avoided by scholars. First, it poses problems in
scientific experiments, particularly when replicating them while
encountering the Rosenthal-Pygmalion Effect ~ experimenter
expectancies that thwart objective outcomes.
it exposes limits to logic, objectivity, knowledge,
communication, representation and so on.
it inverts social status of scientists who dare to chance their
reputations for applying science reflexively, using science to
study science. Finally, but not conclusively, it exposes
foundational assumptions, particularly religious issues, which
are usually veiled from conscious awareness.
life of Martin Gardner is an instructive example of the
trickster personified. Hansen spotlights his work in the fields
of mathematics, magic, literary criticism, the paranormal,
religion and paradox which, according to Hansen, “exemplifies
the cross-pollination and hybridization that accompanies
reflexivity.” Gardener often overlaps academic boundaries,
freely mixing the above areas of study while simultaneously
extolling the scientific method except when he attacks the
merits of religion and the paranormal.
an aggressive debunker of psi, he writes lucidly of its
Hansen shows how individuals can be interstitial or
anti-structural in character and living marginally on the fringe
of conventional civilization.
effect, Hansen writes, “Manifestations of reflexivity generate
ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty; they provoke feelings of
unease, worry, and even paranoia. The trickster does to. The
issue of limits is fundamental to the trickster, and reflexivity
Under the Microscope
common notion about psychic phenomena is that it violates
commonsense expectations about what is possible. By definition,
all normal alternative causes must be ruled out before psi is
acknowledged. Thus that which is excluded characterizes psi.
idea becomes vastly complicated when we detect and interpret our
world in myriad ways. Hansen notes that, “through
classification, social structure, rational thought, and many
other mechanisms, we bring order and intelligibility to our
world.” A clue to finding psi emerges when established
classifications and categories break down. It is within this
context that the recurring themes of boundaries and limits
become poignant when considering psi.
it is no surprise that psi, like other subjects of study, are
investigated in the laboratory where controlled conditions limit
and constrain extraneous influences in an artificial
environment. Notably, J. B. Rhine at Duke University in the
early 1930’s is credited with establishing effective methods
for studying psi phenomena. His card tests with the still famous
symbols: circle, cross, wavy lines, square and star, are
internationally recognized for detecting clairvoyance.
even controlled experiments fail to completely encompass the
psi into a comprehensive and predictable theory. Sometimes,
remote viewing transcends continents and history. Other times,
telepathy barely survives statistical significance across the
room. Sometimes it is doubtful as to whether the test results
reflected the scope of the research or psi mediated effects
originated from the experimenter. Hansen also probes other
mitigating factors such as retroactive PK, where effect precedes
the cause; disposition and conformance behavior, where random
events seem to align with a perceived need; and, task complexity
independence tests, where hidden targets and blind tasks make
information less available to sender/receiver subjects as well
as the data recorder/observer.
the possibility that subjects, experimenters, checkers, and
outside observers might all influence the outcome, Hansen
remarks, “it’s a wonder anyone can determine what caused the
psi effect in an experiment.”
progress in detecting psi has been made. Hansen cites research
that demonstrates a variety of factors that affects psi,
including: belief in ESP, personality traits, spontaneity, and
altered states of consciousness, to name a few. So far, psychic
phenomena can be influenced, if not fully controlled.
Undisputedly, psi violates common-sense assumptions.
consequence of the research is that psi experiments are found to
be a social process, involving complex interplay beyond the
exploration of the individual psyche. “ESP is not a mental
radio. Nor is it blocked by distance or time”, writes Hansen.
Occasionally, disturbing events change our outlook, destroying
old ideas and creating new ones. These are the conditions where
the trickster and psi manifest.
the presence and consequent influence of the trickster is just
as strong today as it ever was, Hansen laments that we fail to
regard it as seriously as our ancestor’s have.
their social customs, notably Totemism,
Hansen notes that primitive cultures were acutely aware of
the trickster’s existence. Citing works of Emile Durkheim,
William Wundt, Arnold,van Genep, Herbert Spencer, Marcel Mauss,
Hansen examines the various forms of totemism that are used to
preserve tribal civilization amidst tricksterism.
the primitive mind, totemism classifies items, structures
society, and organizes the world. When totemism breaks down
liminality and anti-structure surface. Therefore, the primitives
regarded liminal conditions as a danger that needed to be
fought. They used rituals to separate the elements of
oppositions and reinforce the order of the world. For example, a
tribe might be divided into a bear clan, an eagle clan, and
others. Each clan has different rights, responsibilities,
taboos, marriage restrictions, etc. Such arrangements included a
wide range of magical interconnections and blurred boundaries, a
life vastly different from our own. Hansen suggests that the
examples of totemism subtly signal the limits to Western
rationality and this difference is the key to its nature. For
instance, the life-death binary opposition for us is distinct
from each other. The primitive, on the other hand, not only
communicates with the deceased, but the dead can harm the living
opines from Max Weber’s view that modern academe and science
banish the mystical and the irrational in the “progressive
rationalization and disenchantment of the world”. Whereas the
primitives understood themselves as mystically connected to the
cosmos, the rational mind perceives objective reality through
fortifies the gulf between the human and the divine. The
irrational is shunted from consciousness. However, magic never
really disappears. Rationalization merely blocks conscious
awareness of it. Conversely, totemism incorporates magical
interconnections. And although we fail to grasp the significance
of totemism for coping with supernatural powers, Hansen notes
that the downplaying of miracles and mysticism through
rationalization reinforce the same need that the primitives had
to observe taboos against contact with the supernatural, though
in veiled form.
primitives knew that society could be torn apart if magical
power were released. This could be done inadvertently, or
intentionally with ritual protection. In either case, danger and
chaos were invited. Similarly, the trickster who is also
associated with the supernatural continues to thrive in
disruption, boundary crossing, paradox and ambiguity.
advises that we may better recognize the trickster when we
comprehend the significance of totemism, for both
“illuminate” each other.
the trickster lies at the heart of meaning, it even touches the
soul of literary criticism. Hansen points out that the term
hermeneutics (the study of interpretation) is derived from the
name Hermes, the trickster of the Greeks: “Meaning is the
explicit concern of literary criticism, an innately reflexive
discipline – it uses language to study language.” Since
literary critics have long pondered the limitations of language,
they have found critical insights about the trickster.
manifestations are more commonly evident in the smaller part of
literary criticism involving structuralism and its intellectual
descendants – deconstructionism and post-structuralism.
de Saussure, a Swiss linguist and forebear in the structuralism
camp showed language to have a betwixt
and between quality where thought and sound were separated
by a nether region and linguistics works “where the elements
of sound and thought combine.” Likewise, semiotics is the
study of signs and symbols – where binary opposites, the
signifier and the signified, produce meaning. Both structuralism
and semiotics show the relationships between literary ideas and
social structure. It is a system of communication used to study
patterns in order to clarify and organize.
psi experiments, meaning is ascribed to a relationship between a
random process in the outer world and a mental image,
impression, or intent inside a person. The person perceives a
relationship, but there is no physical cause for it. Psi is
inferred when meaning is found.
successor of structuralism, namely deconstructionism, attests
that the relationships between objects and the perception of
them are ambiguous and, consequently, the observer often implies
meaning inconsistent with that of other observers.
Deconstructionism, founded by French philosopher Jacques
Derrida, attempts to confront the issue of representation. But
it is also reflexive and leads to paradox. For if it is supposed
that no objective meaning can be found in any text, then that
applies to deconstructionism as well.
laments that the subtle detachment by deconstructionism not only
confuses the meaning of language, it further deludes our
awareness regarding the trickster’s presence.
archetype suppressed is not an archetype subdued; it erupts
elsewhere.” Hansen illustrates the life of Paul de Man as a
leading deconstructionist who exemplified the trickster: A
bigamist who abandoned his children and consorted with Nazis was
regarded as a charming, humorous, modest, and highly cultured
man. While at the same time, “swindling, forging, and lying
were second nature to him.” Literary criticism shares an
essential concern with the paranormal – interpretation,
particularly in ambiguous situations. In psi phenomena there are
layers of meaning, and they are not the same for everyone. Both
psi and meaning fall outside formal logic systems and both pose
profound challenges to rationality. When literary criticism
falters in its efforts for clarity and precision and slips to
ambiguity, chaos and disorganization, the domain of the
trickster, creep in.
often refers to the “betwixt and between” as the realm of
the imagination is an integral part of the trickster’s modus
psi interacts with the mind and the objective world with binary
oppositions such as internal-external, subjective-objective, and
fantasy-reality, Hansen maintains that its existence blends fact
and fiction through imagination.
primate behavior to religion to fiction, Hansen observes that
the imagination is often associated with paranormal experiences
in these areas. Remarkably, the imagination is more developed in
anti-structural conditions and persons. Sociologist John
(1989) attests that “persons in socially marginal positions
have an above average ability to take a sociological perspective
and understand patterns that are not immediately observable…
particularly when the established patterns of society begin to
shake and crumble.” Both marginality and periods of transition
are hallmarks of the paranormal, which in this case, underscore
anti-structural and liminal aspects of the imagination.
Hansen cites psychologist James Hillman that primitive
imagery-based perception thrives today in such areas as
Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Rosicrucianism, and
This points to significant commonalities that tie imagination to
tricksterism: lowered social status, pervasiveness of fantasy in
marginal groups, low imagery ability among the professional
elite, and the prevalence of sociological imagination during
claims that a comparative observation of the nuances of the
imagination helps to understand psychic phenomenon. “There are
deep evolutionary connections among mental representation,
imagination, awareness, simulation, pretending, and deceit…
Thus the imagined realm is a liminal area, and it is governed by
lesser-known link to paranormal phenomena is paranoia. Examples
include fear of being watched by ESP, witchcraft accusations,
ideas that occult societies rule the world, and conspiracy
theories of government cover-ups of UFOs. Hansen advocates that
the study of paranoia helps to explain fear of the paranormal
and opposition to psychic research.
Hansen explains, is not necessarily, or even primarily
pathological. It occurs in intermittent growth stages of
self-awareness – a period of confusion between self and other,
between dream and reality, and between internal and external.
The separation of the binary opposites -- of distinguishing
ourselves from others or finding a niche in society -- is a
liminal process, and fears naturally arise.
is commonly associated with anti-structural circumstances. The
third-party candidate for the 1992 U.S. presidential election,
Ross Perot, believed that conspiracies targeted him and included
threats against him and his family. While not necessarily
marginal, Perot’s existence outside the mainstream made him
vigilant to threats.
circumstances illustrated throughout Trickster
show social processes at work to curb the paranormal and
repress psychic awareness. When psi appears, paranoia poses
special problems for psychic research.
guides us through human evolution from the primitive, magical
mind to the modern, rational mind where logic and science
dominate reason and bottle up superstition. Hansen contends that
we perennially hone our intellect to cope with the physical
world and ignore other aspects of our relationship to the world.
The primitive mind regarded the supernatural as all
encompassing. It not only provided a ground for existence, it
was also feared as irrational and dangerous. Although the
supernatural has just as much impact upon our lives as it had
upon the lives of the primitives, modern academia leads us to
regard these ideas as nonsensical or neurotic. Earlier cultures
celebrated its presence. We consider it amusing, but of little
dominant cultural myth, according to Hansen, is that the world
is rational. This is underscored by sociologist Max Weber’s
explanations of our disenchantment with the ever-present
supernatural world through progressive social complexity and its
dependence upon authority and power. However those in power for
ordering our civilization scorn the existence of psi and are
consequently unaware of supernatural forces that nevertheless
cannot continue to disregard the existence of supernatural
forces just because we no longer understand them, Hansen warns.
The issues of marginality, binary oppositions, irrationality,
and rationalization permeate the history of civilization and the
trickster archetype lies behind them all.
anti-institutional nature of the trickster is witnessed in
marginal groups such as spiritualists, witchcraft practitioners,
parapsychologists, and loose confederations that often
misbehave. It cannot be explained in today’s rational terms.
Rather, it is more likely grasped in altered states of
consciousness such as in dreams or meditation. It is difficult
to measure and problematic for observers to determine its
source. The two major themes attached surrounding the trickster
are marginality and transition. Its presence accompanies
processes of change, flux and disorder that pervades all aspects
of life with examples ranging from social, to psychological, to
trickster is a collection of abstract properties that merge
together. Having no fixed shape, form or image, its primary
characteristics include disruption, deception, lowered sexual
inhibitions, psi phenomena, and marginality. The trickster is
found worldwide and central to many religious beliefs. It is
irrational and has many meanings that cannot be reduced to a
phenomenon and its personification through the trickster ought
not to be ignored. It both accompanies and stimulates change and
disorder. Today’s censures mirror the taboos of the primitives
– prohibitions to guard against paranormal phenomena are real
and necessary. But by the same token, Hansen fears that we
cannot ignore the enormous power it has over individuals and
collective societies. The clues of its existence are all around
us in times of confusion and doubt. We must re-vision
our limited world of rationalism and reacquaint ourselves
with the primitives understanding of how paranormal influences
move of their own accord to influence our physical world, or we
are doomed to blindly follow its reign of chaos.