Even Stranger Things

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October 28, 2017

Did you know that U.S. military intelligence has a long history of working with psychics to try to discover enemy secrets? We examine this remarkable history, and take a deep dive into the paranormal - the scholars who study weird, uncanny experiences; and we'll even hear a couple ghost stories. Also, what a "ghost tour" in Savannah, Georgia tells us about the history of slavery.

"Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis" book cover

Joe McMoneagle was a "remote viewer" for the U.S. military. Using ESP — or was it a clever magic trick? — he identified the Soviet's secret Shark submarine. McMoneagle and journalist Annie Jacobsen recount this history of government psychics.


Steve Paulson's family has lots of stories of the paranormal, but Steve is the family skeptic. So he did his own investigation, talking with skeptic Michael Shermer, religion scholars Tanya Luhrmann and Jeff Kripal, channeler Paul Selig, and his Aunt Marge Bradley.

A house in Savannah, Georgia — one of America's most haunted cities.

The Sorrel-Weed House has been called the “most haunted house” in Savannah, Georgia, and its “ghost tour” is a big tourist attraction. But historian Tiya Miles found another story of slavery and racial stereotypes buried in this history.


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October 28, 2017
October 27, 2018
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October 31, 2020
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Full Transcript 📄

- [Anne] It's "To the Best Of Our Knowledge. I'm Anne Strainchamps. Do you think some people have extra powers?

- [Annie] Joe McMoneagle had this uncanny ability to see things at a distance through means other than the five known senses.

- [Anne] That's journalist Annie Jacobsen and this is Joseph McMoneagle, who spent 22 years working for the military as a psychic.

- [Joe] I'm a retired chief warrant officer and a remote fueler, Remote Viewer 001.

- [Speaker] So many trips across the board.

- [Annie] We're in 1979, it's the height of the Cold War. The CIA's KH-9 satellite system notices this beehive of activity.

- [Joe] The National Security Council had been working, targeting a building in Russia, north of the Arctic Circle. So we were taking lots of materials in and the train cars are coming out empty.

- [Annie] And they see all this activity and they have no idea what the Russians are doing.

- [Joe] So they decided to finally test our group by bringing it to us as a target.

- [Annie] It was a classified program within a classified program. They take him into a remote viewing room. They give him these satellite photos hidden inside of a manila envelope so he can't see them.

- [Joe] They actually cut a one square inch piece of the photograph out was presented to me in a sealed envelope.

- [Annie] It sat down between him and his, you know, handler says, "What's in the envelope?" It's a very intense session.

- [Joe] I started getting images of very bright lights, chambers of water and ozone smells and noises and sounds.

- [Annie] And a coffin, a giant coffin.

- [Joe] It was made up of metal panels and-

- [Annie] Fins.

- [Joe] A fin on the top and two smaller fins on the side.

- [Annie] At the end of it, he begins to talk about. Sharks.

- Sharks. My first impressions were sharks.

- [Annie] Fins and sharks and fins. And here you have a guy sitting in a room essentially using psychic means to tell them what that image actually means. And that freaked a lot of people out.

- [Anne] It freaks out even more people to learn that the US government conducted paranormal research and trained teams of psychic soldiers for more than 40 years. Joe McMoneagle was one of them. And so what did he find? It was a submarine. Bigger and more dangerous than anyone had ever seen. Annie Jacobson has the story.

- [Annie] What Joe McMoneagle saw was indeed the prototype submarine with its Soviet classified name of Shark. The NATO reporting name was Typhoon. And that submarine was what Tom Clancy would later make famous in "The Hunt for Red October."

- [Anne] That was one of the most feared weapons of the Cold War.

- [Annie] It was a nuclear submarine with ICBMs that could break through polar ice. Joe McMoneagle provided the defense department with the intelligence first.

- [Joe] Well, we sent this to the National Security Council. In fact, it was delivered there by Admiral Stewart. And the admiral came back very shortly afterwards and he said, "They believe that this is just a fantasy, that this is something you're inventing in your mind." So I told the admiral, I said, "Well, go back and tell him my fantasy will be launched in 112 days."

- [Annie] Well, CIA came to the conclusion that ESP does exist as a real phenomenon. I mean, that is a quote from a now declassified document. And they couldn't explain it. They didn't need to explain it. They just simply wanted to exploit it for intelligence collection.

- [Joe] We were tasked for 20 years by the CIA, DIA, SNA, CIA, Secret Service. All the agencies of the DoD. Everybody wanted us to give them information on targets that they couldn't solve, problems that they couldn't solve. Their only difficulty in the first year, it came up in fact, was people realized there was no defense against it. They were worried about the Russians doing the same thing to us.

- [Anne] And it turned out they were right. The Russians were investigating some of this stuff. Didn't the Russians at one point, have a psychic who said she could stop a frog's beating heart with her mind?

- [Anne] The very famous Nina Kulagina you're talking about. And yes, this freaked a lot of people out in the Defense Department. And for two reasons, mind you. One, part of the groups, the sort of rationalists at the CIA and at the Pentagon said, "That is black propaganda. That is absolutely false information." That the Soviets are trying to get us to think is true. And the other half said, "Nina Kulagina can stop the beating heart of a frog. My God, she could kill a senator." I mean, that is a literal quote from a defense department document.

- [Annie] I think a lot of people don't realize that the DoD employed a team of psychics and remote viewers during the Iran hostage crisis.

- [Reporter] Good evening. The American Embassy in Tehran is in the hands of Muslim students tonight spurred on by an anti-American speech by the Ayatollah Khomeini. They stormed the embassy-

- [Joe] The embassy was taken over on a Sunday. So they had no idea who was at work and who wasn't. Problem is if you have a hostage taken and you don't go back to that country and say, "We know you're holding so and so," they can disappear them, and you'll never know what happened to them. And another officer were taken to a conference room and asked to sort through about 500 photographs, just this huge pile of pictures. And as we thumbed through the pictures, we were trying to determine which ones were hostages and which weren't. Well, we were eventually able to identify most of the hostages.

- [Reporter] But throughout this night in Washington, officials will continue their search for some way to negotiate the hostages freedom. That search was not successful today.

- [Annie] Remarkable story. I mean, you know, again, a black program inside of a classified black program. They had the remote viewers in a hotel room. Quarantined, they couldn't see the news. It was almost like you know, a big trial. And they were watching what was going on during the failed hostage rescue attempt. You know-

- [Anne] What do you mean watching though? If they couldn't see anything?

- [Annie] Watching in their own minds where you have a remote viewer where their eyes closed describing what they're seeing.

- [Anne] The hostage rescue crisis went bad. This is supposedly why Jimmy Carter lost the election. So did the psychics fail?

- [Annie] Well, the psychics were not asked to predict. That's what's interesting. The psychics were simply asked to remote view the situation in real time. And the descriptions of what they were seeing in real time in a spooky way line up with some of the unfolding of those exact events. They saw people die in the helicopter crash in the desert.

- [Anne] What was the fallout in the larger defense community? 'Cause President Carter was briefed, right? On this operation?

- [Annie] He absolutely was. I mean, there were so many arrows coming in from so many directions. The public learned about a lot of these programs in the middle of the 1990s when they were made public in a sort of very splashy, sarcastic way.

- [Anne] Oh yeah. Didn't the AP ran a story called UN Enlists Psychic Firm to Find Iraq's weapons sites?

- [Annie] Exactly. You know, it was sensationalized and there was a lot of sarcasm. And lo and behold, here we are now in the 21st century, and I have found that this story continues today. The defense department and the intelligence community continue to use extrasensory perception as a means of intelligence collection.

- [Anne] Wow.

- [Annie] We're talking about anomalous mental cognition, advanced perception. The Office of Naval Research is spending millions of dollars trying to work with certain soldiers who can predict where an IED might be buried in a road.

- [Anne] The Office of Naval Research is teaching soldiers to develop their spidey sense?

- [Annie] Spidey sense. They even call it "the sixth sense" in some of their literature. And it's this idea or actually real time events of soldiers on the battlefield who are able to say, you know, "Don't go down that road. There's an IED buried there." And in one instance, the Pentagon sends in a robot to search for an IED where this soldier said, "I sense an IED." And lo and behold, the thing blows up. Now that soldier becomes interesting to the Defense Department and he's taken back to the states and his brain is examined for the physiology of what that functioning is that allowed him to see something preemptively.

- [Anne] Do you know anything about what they found? I mean, have they found the part of the brain that lets some people have ESP?

- [Annie] Defense department's work in this area is you guessed it, classified. So those results are not made known to the public. But what I found remarkable is moving over into the private sector. These CIA scientists, they've continued their research. And these are men who are now in their late 70s, early 80s. And they've teamed up with scientists specifically at Stanford. And they're using these large scale mapping systems, computer systems to examine human cells, human DNA at an unprecedented level of detail. And what they are searching for is what they call the gene for the paranormal. And they believe if they can find it, science will change.

- [Anne] I just find it so stunning that I thought this was going to be a story about the wacky things the Defense Department used to do during the Cold War at the age of voodoo scientists. And it turns out it's all still current.

- [Annie] We share that fascination.

- [Anne] Annie, what are your personal views? Were you ever a skeptic? Are you still? Do you believe ESP exists and other paranormal abilities?

- [Annie] I remain neutral. I do absolutely know in my heart that these scientists who are, you know, former CIA scientists, former defense department scientists, they're serious people. And I also, am always amazed when people, scientists in particular are willing to go against the status quo. And I interviewed the skeptics too, and they do not mince words when it comes to essentially making fun of anyone who would believe such a thing. And so I'm always for the person who is willing to continue their efforts despite what other people think.

- [Anne] Annie Jacobsen, she's an investigative journalist and she tells the story of the secret history of the US government's investigations into ESP in a book called "Phenomena." And coming up, you can dismiss the paranormal as a pile of BS, but what if it runs in your family? Steve Paulson tests the limits of his skepticism after this. I'm Anne Strainchamps. It's "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" from Wisconsin Public Radio. NPRX. Every family has stories about the uncanny. Ghost stories, premonitions, weird dreams people have had. Steve Paulson's family is swimming in them.

- [Steve] Yup, I grew up listening to these kinds of stories. I mean, there are stories of exorcisms, of bizarre coincidences of, yeah. Just truly uncanny things that happened.

- [Anne] Here's one.

- [Marge] I don't know if I believe in ghosts, but that's a story of the ghost of William Joseph Bradley.

- [Anne] This is your Aunt Marge?

- [Steve] Mm-hmm.

- [Anne] And she's talking about her father?

- [Marge] My father died when he was 80 in 1983.

- [Steve] It's about her father's ghost and how he appeared in the house they grew up in in Michigan.

- [Marge] We kept the house for the first year after my mother went to assisted living, and then we sold it. And in 1990, no, I'm sorry, it would've been 1995, I took a walk down the street where I grew up and the man who had bought the house and remodeled it, asked me if I wanted to see it, and I said yes. So he introduced me to his wife and I went into the house and she was telling me about how they expanded it. And she said, "Your father's ghost has been here." And I looked at her like she was a little wacko. And she said they were remodeling the first part of the house and this vision or man or figure appeared. And she went running out of the house and to her husband and said, "There's a man in the house." And she described what she saw and the neighbor across the street was talking to her husband. And he said, "Sounds like Bill Bradley." Several months later, her husband was downstairs in the basement doing some electrical work. And the same person or whatever, vision appeared. And she went running downstairs to say, "He's back" and found out her husband had electrocuted himself. And she ran upstairs, called 911 and they came and treated her husband or whatever it was they do. I feel that dad saved him. So when I got back to Michigan, I found a picture of my father in his 30s, a picture of my father in his 60s. And I sent those pictures to her and she wrote back and she said, "My ghost is your father."

- [Anne] So I would say that your Aunt Marge is actually one of the more skeptical members of your family?

- [Steve] I would say that's true, yes.

- [Anne] I mean, I've heard wilder stories.

- Oh yeah. I mean, there are stories of exorcism after spirit possession. Bizarre coincidences that just-

- [Anne] Your mom was a ghost hunter.

- [Steve] My mom was a ghost hunter in Milwaukee for a while. I grew up with this stuff.

- [Anne] But you're the family straight arrow.

- [Steve] I've been around a lot of true believers and I am not one, and it's probably not an accident that I became a journalist.

- [Anne] And yet this stuff, the uncanny, the paranormal, you read about this stuff all the time. Why?

- [Steve] There are some serious questions, intellectual questions about what is real without throwing your intellect out the window, your rationality out the window. What do you make of that story without just saying, "Oh, that's impossible. You know, there's no way." One of the most interesting people I talked to was Michael Shermer, the poster boy of skepticism.

- [Anne] Who is Michael Shermer?

- [Steve] He is a scientist, an atheist, a regular columnist for Scientific American. He's the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine. He's the guy you go to if you wanna, you know, have someone throw cold water on these crazy paranormal stories. The strange thing is, he has his own story.

- [Michael] Well, so my wife's from Cologne, Germany. She was raised by a single mom and her grandfather, and her and her grandfather had this radio, this little Phillips transistor radio from 1977 or so. They used to listen to music together on, so it had meaningful meaning to her. And when he died, she got the little radio and kept it and it stopped working, you know, long ago. Anyway, when we met and fell in love and so on, she moved to Los Angeles to be with me. She shipped her belongings out ahead of time, including this radio. And I tried to get her working for her 'cause I knew it was meaningful to her, and I couldn't put new batteries in and check the wires and slapped it on the table firmly and all the things you're supposed to do to get electronic equipment to work. And I couldn't, and so we gave up and I just tossed it in the back of a drawer in the bedroom and I didn't think about it for months. And then, you know, on the day of our wedding, just a particular moment when she was feeling rather sad that there was nobody there from her family and friends long way from home, you know, we heard music playing in the back of the house. It was like, "What was that?" You know? And I thought, "Well, I must have left my iPhone on, or my laptop with iTunes or maybe the next door neighbors playing music." It was none of that. And then, anyway, so we opened the drawer beneath the fax machine and there's the radio. It's playing, it's playing this love song perfectly, you know, perfectly tuned to a station for us, particularly for my wife. This was a very deeply emotional experience. I mean, it meant something to her. It felt to her symbolically anyway, like her grandfather was there with us on the day of our wedding and make her feel good, and it did. It played the rest of the day and night. We fell asleep listening to music on this little radio and it went dead the next morning. And it's been dead ever since. Even though I tried to get it to work and still won't work, it's still dead.

- [Anne] So does Shermer think that was anything more than just a bizarre coincidence?

- [Steve] Not really, but it kinda, it shook him.

- [Michael] It was like, "Whoa, man, okay, Shermer, come on, calm down. Calm. It's okay." Yeah, a little bit. But that also is insightful to me. When I talk to other people that have had these experiences, it makes me more open to what they're talking about or more sympathetic like, "Yeah, I get it. I totally understand. I had, you know, something similar."

- [Steve] He didn't have to write about this. And I mean, that's actually one of the things that I think is great about what he did is this goes against his sort of ideology of skepticism.

- [Michael] What does it mean? I don't know. You know, I wrote about this in Scientific American just to say, you know what? Weird things happen. You know, my friends, not religious friends, but people like Deepak Chopra that think that there's a, you know, sort of a quantum field that interconnects all of this in a quantum consciousness way. He thinks that's a sign. You know, okay, maybe, but you know, again, why are the effects so weak? My wife's had numerous experiences in the last year and a half where she felt sad or was missing home and the radio didn't come on. How come?

- [Steve] But this was your wedding day.

- [Michael] Well, it was, yes.

- [Steve] I mean, there was something a little unusual because I mean, there is another, I mean, what some people who study mystical experiences say is that the most profound experiences are often once in a lifetime. I mean, they're not replicable. There's heightened emotion for whatever reason, there's something extraordinary happens and it'll never happen again.

- [Michael] That's possible. And it could be, you know, that science is limited in the sense that we really, really need replicable, you know, lab tested or some kind of way of getting the experience again. And those kinda one-off events don't fit that. And it could be they are real and we just are limited in how we can study them.

- Well, I don't think that science can answer the question of what's ultimately true about the supernatural. The nature of the supernatural is that it is beyond the natural. And I think science studies the natural. Okay, so this is the Stanford anthropologist, Tanya Luhrmann.

- [Tanya] So I'm the kind of person that people come up to at cocktail parties. And you know, I haven't told anybody this, but my goodness, I was in the hospital and I found myself up in the corner of the room looking down at my body. People see things that other people don't see or couldn't see. They hear things that other people couldn't hear. They sometimes feel their mind leaving their body and whizzing around. I mean, these experiences happen to people. And in fact, I think they're pretty common.

- [Steve] So she has spent her career studying religion, sort of trying to understand religious belief. Why do people have these beliefs? And when she was a grad student in England, she was really interested in the pagan community practitioners of magic. And she joined in.

- [Tanya] So as an anthropologist, you do what the field that you've come to study does. No, I mean, I cast spells. I was part of groups of people who were conjuring up power. I learned to read tarot cards. I learned to a little bit about astrology, a lot about Kabbalah, and participated in these different groups as they met to carry out their ritual magic.

- [Steve] Did it become real for you? Or at least at times?

- [Tanya] One of the things I could see was that people experienced the magic as real. And so, I put to the side the question of whether magical force really existed. What I could see and what I came to experience is that if you spend time in this world and you did the kinds of things that people did to raise and manipulate magical power, you would feel this force moving through you.

- [Steve] And that happened to you.

- [Tanya] And it did, it did. My favorite story about this, Ashley, is something that happened pretty soon. And in my involvement in these groups, I was cycled to the train station at Cambridge. I wasn't then living in London, you know, and at the time, you had these bicycle lights that you'd sort of snap onto your bike. And so I cycled to the station. And then because people would steal these lights, I took them off and tossed them into my backpack. And I was sitting on the train, lasted about an hour. And I was reading this book by the man I was going to meet. Somebody who was described by others as an adapt or a magician. And his book was describing these forces that you could come to experience and would do things in the world. And as I was sitting there on the train, I was really trying to wrap my mind around his words. I really felt this current running through me. I felt fabulous. I felt utterly alive. I felt really different. And as I did that, as I was aware of this, I also looked over to my backpack. And the thing that I can't understand to this day is that one of the bicycle lights was actually melting. One of the batteries in the lights was actually smoking. So there was a smoke coming out through my backpack as I was having this intense adrenaline rush. These are the kinds of things that people reported in this world. People were pretty clear that if you wanted to do magic, you needed to practice. And there were these practices people did, which basically involved this intense attention to your inner imaginative or imaginal world is a better word to describe it. A world where you have to use your imagination. And what I could see was that people who were good at this would also report these odd experiences. See, I actually agree with her. I think that if you're curious about or interested in whether there are other forms of reality, whether our minds can do more than we think or whether reality is something different, you can't just read about it. You have to try it, experience it, you know. That's why, I mean, maybe you think I'm crazy, but that's why I've consulted psychics from time to time and energy healers. That's why you're reading some dense philosophical tone at night, and I'm reading a channel text. I mean, what I don't understand is if you're so interested in this stuff, why don't you try practicing it?

- [Steve] There's part of me that just sort of can't go there. It's just like there's... Well, it's funny that you say that because Tanya Luhrmann wrote a column in the New York Times not that long ago on what's been called the bogle threshold.

- [Anne] So the bogle threshold is the point at which you bogle, I can't go there. I was thinking about this because I'd been part of this discussion and somebody in the group who was comfortable with the idea of UFOs. But you know, he said, "Crop circles? Crop circles, I can't go there. That's not, that's obviously." And it just seems to me that I talk to a lot of people who are comfortable with the idea of the supernatural, but they tend to differ. So for me, I can imagine ways in which different supernatural things might be real, but UFOs? You know, UFOs are like, for me, it's like, I can't, I have a hard time just going there. And I think that's true for a lot of people. They draw the line at some point. And that's just quite fascinating 'cause it suggests that everybody's got a line. It's just determined by some very complex things that might have a complicated relationship with what's real. So Tanya Luhrmann says her bogle threshold hits a wall when it comes to UFOs. But Steve, I know that one of your favorite academics really loves UFOs and even alien abductions.

- [Steve] That's true, Jeff Kriebel, who is a religion professor at Rice University, one of the most provocative scholars I know, he's written a lot about the paranormal and he takes UFO sightings really seriously.

- [Anne] Right. To the point that, didn't he write a book with, what's that guy's name? Whitley Strieber, the guy who said he was abducted by aliens or something?

- [Steve] Yes, he wrote that book, "Communion" decades ago. It really launched sort of the modern phenomenon of at least of stories about alien abductions.

- [Anne] I'm sorry, nobody takes that stuff seriously.

- [Steve] No, some people do, and Jeff is one of them. And he has a really interesting take on this 'cause he says, you have to listen to the stories themselves and see what they tell us.

- [Jeff] I'm essentially an empiricist. But what I consider to be empirical is much broader and much more robust than what a materialist does. A materialist will only consider something empirical if he or she can reproduce it in a scientific method. And for me, something's empirical if it happens. And I see no reason to lop off UFOs. If people report UFOs, then UFOs are part of our empirical world. And we know they are. It's not a question. There was a story in the New York Times last December about fighter jet pilots tracking them on radar. And you could watch the radar for yourself. There are UFOs. Now what they are, we don't know. That's a whole nother question.

- [Steve] There are a couple of different theories about what's happening here. I mean, one is that there are actually spaceships, alien ships that have flown from some other distant galaxy or planet and have entered into earth's atmosphere. There's sort of another way of interpreting these is that actually, that's way too literal in interpretation. It's happening more at a psychic level.

- [Jeff] You can find evidence for both of those interpretations. And what fascinates me about the UFO is it doesn't behave, it violates both of those theories. You can watch radar reports again on the New York Times last December, which suggests some kind of object flying in space. But you can also read UFO encounters or abduction events in which dead loved ones appear, and in which the UFO is essentially a soul, a kind of conscious plasma. So again, I don't know what the correct interpretation is, Steve. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that these phenomena happen, they're real, they're a part of our world. They clearly carry religious dimensions, often, not always, and that we should be interested in them. We should be fascinated by them and not be mocking people who express interest.

- [Steve] They carry religious implications for what reason?

- [Jeff] Well, the gods have always come from the sky. The gods have always come from the sky or the heavens. They've always been messing with human beings. They've always been having sex with human beings. They've always been granting human beings a knowledge of technology or agriculture or something. And this is how these things behave in the modern world. They're weird beings that come out of the sky, interact with human beings, have sex with human beings, grant them new technologies, warn them about nuclear warfare, warn them about the environment. I mean, this is classic, classic religious behavior. And just because it's framed in modern techno gar, but kinda occult science fiction doesn't mean it's not religious. It just means it's speaking to us in the only frame we could hear today.

- [Anne] Steve, has your bogle threshold shifted over the years? I mean, you've done a lot of this kind of interview. These are just two.

- [Steve] Yeah, I would say it has. I'm more open to the possibility of some of these kinds of experiences and the intellectual place that I've come to. I've sort of, I've become much more, not even just willing, but sort of like, I sort of think there's a need to say, we don't know, there's mystery out there. We don't know, maybe we can't explain it, but that doesn't mean it's not real.

- [Anne] So that's why you wound up interviewing a channeler?

- [Steve] I was intensely curious, let's say. So Paul Selig, who is one of the best known channelers and channeler means that he says he is channeling guides, spirit guides from another world. It sounds totally crazy, but I don't need to be telling you this. I mean, you've read Paul Selig's book.

- [Anne] Yeah, I have read Paul Selig's channel texts.

- [Steve] So what do you think.

- [Anne] When I read stuff like this, I don't bring the same expectations to it that I do if I'm gonna read, I don't know, something in the New York Times. And honestly, I read this stuff 'cause of how it makes me feel. It makes me feel better. I guess I don't think belief has anything to do with reality.

- [Steve] Wow. I have to think about that. You are far from alone. I mean, because Paul Selig does workshops and talks all around the world, and a lot of people have that experience. And he came into Madison recently and we got a chance to talk.

- [Paul] I'm a conscious channel. I take dictation from guides that work through me and actually dictate entire books through me that require no editing. So I'm primarily known as a conscious channel. And I also work as an empath, which is a psychic ability. I have this odd ability to step into other people, the living, and begin to resemble and become them without having met them or seen them. And I'm kind of like a human radio, I think that's the way to look at me.

- [Steve] And who are you channeling?

- [Paul] I have these guides that work with me. They say that they're teachers. They say that they're operating at a different level of consciousness than we are at a higher level of consciousness, a higher octave. There's a name that they use occasionally, which I'm always a little uncomfortable with names because that seems to bring in ideas of lineage and history that I-

- [Steve] You mean, so in other words, you can distinguish between different guides? They have different personalities?

- [Paul] It's a collective. I work with a collective, but yeah, there's personality that comes through, certainly when I work, but I don't really see them. I mean, for me, the experience is very physical and very auditory. I've seen a couple of them in meditation.

- [Steve] What do they look like?

- [Paul] The one that I've seen that I'm able to distinguish clearly. And I only saw him because I was hypnotized and somebody said, "We'd like to bring your guides through." And I was quite surprised when somebody showed up and sat down. He was, you know, quite lovely to look at. He was older, he wore a large hat and it sort of went up, up, up and up. And there was something sort of flat at the top. It was sort of a little bit like you'd imagine, I suppose a Greek Orthodox priest would wear. And he held a scepter, which was very odd. It was embossed. The lettering was raised and it was hieroglyphics and I didn't know what any of it meant at the time. And he had blue eyes, very blue eyes, and a long beard. And he had a purple robe of some kind.

- [Steve] So when you have that image, I mean, do you take that literally? Do you think this is what this guide really looks like?

- [Paul] I think that's how he presented himself for me.

- [Steve] So this all sounds kind of crazy, right? And I can imagine maybe when you first started having these experiences, it might have felt like too much. But I mean, did you ever feel like you were growing crazy?

- [Paul] No, not really. I didn't start off believing in any of this stuff. I was raised an atheist, you know, and I didn't have a great interest in the paranormal, certainly.

- [Steve] So you were not, you did not come out of a religious family?

- [Paul] No, not at all. I grew up in the upper West side of Manhattan, and we sort of snickered at people who believed in things. It was a convenient agnosticism, I suppose. When I was 25, I was a year out of graduate school at Yale, I'd had a list of things that I had to have achieved in the world that I thought would make me okay. And I got the whole list and I wasn't okay. That's really what happened. And I began to pray or to embark on what I now know as the beginning of a spiritual path. And things began to happen as a result of that.

- [Steve] What started happening?

- [Paul] Well, the first thing was I heard a voice telling me to get my act together, and I was so surprised that I heard that voice. And when I hear a voice, it's like a thought comes in and drowns out all of your other thoughts, and it's not your thought. It's the only way that I can explain it. And I had a bit of an experience, and the experience may well have been hyperventilating. I really, I may never know what it was, but it was an experience of energy moving through my body and out through the top of my head. And then as a result of that, I started seeing lights around people. Or maybe not as a result of that, but shortly thereafter, I started seeing these things, these flashes starting, you know, going off.

- [Steve] So when you say seeing lights around people, what do they look like?

- [Paul] Well, fireflies sparks, little blue lights over the top of the head. So I ended up studying a form of energy healing as a way to get a context for this.

- [Steve] I'm sure a lot of people who are listening to us right now are deeply skeptical.

- [Paul] Sure.

- [Steve] You know, they might be thinking, you know, "You're making it all up or even if you're not, you're delusional." Do you care about that kind of skepticism?

- [Paul] Not in the way that I used to, I can't. You know, I had a life as an academic for a very long time. I was at NYU for 25 years.

- Teaching creative writing?

- Playwriting, yeah. I taught playwriting for a very long time. And you know, initially, I was very concerned about what people thought, and I kept a very low profile with this. But once the first book came out, I had to begin to own it a bit more. And that was a challenge.

- [Steve] So you're not teaching creative writing anymore?

- [Paul] No, I'm not. I'm traveling around the world, sitting in a chair, closing my eyes and waiting for this transmission to come through and speaking what I'm hearing, and then all of this energy comes in and fills the room. And people who come are having an experience with it. You know, I'm not a spiritual teacher, I'm not a guru. I'm not a psychic who's gonna connect you with your dead relatives, and I don't like doing predictive work. But if you're actually having problems in your relationship and you give me your spouse's name, I can step into your spouse, begin to look like her, and possibly hear what's going on in the dynamic. And that's been proven out and filmed. When I'm channeling, I'm really just operating as a radio. So I'm just sitting in the chair and letting the dial turn to the station that wants to come through and then being receptive to take the dictation.

- [Steve] So play that out for me. Explain that for me, if you can, when you say you're like a radio, you know, you gotta sort of tune into the right channel and then the guides will speak through you. How does that work? I mean, where are you in that? Where is Paul Selig during that process?

- [Paul] I'm receded, I'm present, but I'm receded.

- [Steve] Are you sort of in an altered state of consciousness?

- [Paul] I think I'm in a light trance. It's light enough that I can interrupt and say, "Hey, wait a minute. This doesn't make any sense," which I've been known to do. And the rule with all of the books is that they can't be edited. So all of the books are the unedited transcripts of these sessions.

- [Steve] Wait, so really? I mean you're not going at, you know, sort of cleaning up the language?

- [Paul] No.

- [Steve] You're saying these books, they're not written by you.

- [Paul] They're not written-

- [Steve] It's like automatic writing?

- [Paul] No, no, no. They're spoken. These are oral teachings that are transcribed.

- [Steve] Do you think about the metaphysics of all of this? Okay, what's the architecture of this universe that you are describing here?

- [Paul] I do, and I don't, I think I only do when I'm sitting with somebody who asks those questions. _ [Steve] Okay. Well you're sitting with one right now.

- [Paul] But you see, I'm not gonna access it myself because I actually don't know. And I would have to recede and begin channeling on your show. And I think what's already, the way we started off this conversation was so far out to begin with. Everybody's still listening. I'm absolutely thrilled. You know, honestly, when I first started doing this stuff, I didn't wanna record it. I wasn't looking to be known for it, that's for sure. I was really hiding out. I did a group in my apartment that met for 18 years with about 10 people who would show up the most every week. And we would sit in a circle and the guides would talk and they would bring this energy through and we would all feel it.

- [Steve] What are the guides saying?

- [Paul] Oh boy.

- [Steve] I mean, you've written, you know, multiple books now or they have through you, but is there sort of a common message?

- [Paul] Yeah, I think that who we truly are is not what we think we are in the least. And I really talk about humanity being at a transitional point in its evolution right now. And that the opportunity really is here for us to reclaim what they would say is, I think our true identity and how you've identified yourself in your life is primarily based in a lot of collective agreements. What it means to be a man. Whatever culture you were brought up in. What it means to be a success, what beauty is, all of these things that we collectively ascribe great value to is really inherited information. And it's actually, in most cases, operating at a cost. This is what they've said. They've said that humanity is a time of reckoning. And a reckoning is a facing of oneself and all of one's creations. And what's been created in fear needs to be recreated in a higher way.

- [Steve] Has anything changed in your own life as a result of all this? I mean, obviously you, what you're doing day to day, you know, the workshops that you give, the talks that you give, that's different. You're not the university teacher anymore, but in terms of, I don't know, how you think what your values are.

- [Paul] Yeah, I think it's all different. It's all different. I'm a lot less afraid than I was. And I have to say that. And I was a very frightened person throughout much of my life.

- [Steve] Afraid of what? New things? Life?

- Yeah, life. You know, I was a sensitive kid, you know, and I grew up wary, consequently, and I suppose in some ways, maybe I still am. You know, there's a quote from Helen Schucman the woman who was the channel for "A Course in Miracles." She said, "I don't believe it, but I know it's true." And I can get behind that. I understand that. I don't believe it either, but I know it's true.

- [Steve] What do you mean you don't believe it? You must believe it.

- [Paul] I don't, I know that it's happening. I don't know how it's happening. I don't know how I do what I do. I'm very happy to be able to be part of this, but I'm still challenged by the whole experience.

- [Anne] That's Paul Selig. He's published five channel texts. Steve, we started earlier talking about your family and all the stories of family ghosts and the paranormal. Has doing all these interviews changed how you feel about your family's experiences and stories?

- [Steve] Yeah, it has. It has. Yeah, I take them more seriously. We have really good conversations when the family gets together. 'Cause you know, we have these mutual interests and we come at it very differently. And I'm a seeker and you know, I have my own way of doing it, and they are seekers too. Yeah, there's something in common there. And it's this shared bond.

- [Anne] Steve Paulson my partner in life and work. And so what do you think? The paranormal, ghosts, psychic abilities, is this all Halloween make believe or evidence of another reality? Join the conversation on our Facebook page. I'm Anne Strainchamps. It's "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" from Wisconsin Public Radio and PRX. Some ghost stories are about more than just ghosts.

- [Speaker] Our tour company founder had a bizarre encounter involving this house.

- [Anne] Savannah, Georgia has a reputation as the most haunted city in America and the most haunted house there is one of the city's great historic homes, the Sorrel-Weed House. It's a big stop on local ghost tours. But when historian Tiya Miles went to visit, she realized that there's another story buried in this history. A story of racial stereotypes and the unacknowledged history of slavery.

- [Tiya] The Sorrel-Weed House is a home in the historic landmark district of Savannah. It's a beautiful 19th century home built in 1838 to '40, and it's famous in Savannah for being haunted. The story is quite a complicated one and quite a disturbing one. It has to do with the home builder, the homeowner, Francis Sorrel and his supposed relationship with an enslaved woman on his property. Francis Sorrel was a merchant and he did build his wealth on business, but he still kept a number of slaves. on the Sorrel property and they lived in the carriage house. So this is a picture of slavery, that's not the rural vision that we tend to think of. It's not a large plantation with tens to 100 or more African Americans working along rows. Instead, it is an urban slavery situation in which Francis Sorrel has this beautiful Greek revival stucco manor house. And he has a courtyard separating the house in his carriage house. And he has enslaved blacks living in that carriage house. So the way the story goes, Francis Sorrel supposedly was having an intimate relationship with an enslaved woman in his household. And his wife, Matilda Sorrel supposedly found out about what is termed as an affair by the tour guides at the home. And she was so distraught at Francis's betrayal that she jumped off of the balcony of this home and landed on the courtyard below and died. So Matilda is said to hunt this house. About a week later, according to the story, the enslaved woman, whose name is Molly, is said to have been found hanging from the rope in the center of the ceiling of the room where she and Francis Sorrel supposedly carried out this relationship. And the story goes that it's not clear who may have murdered Molly. It could have been Francis Sorrel himself trying to hide his misdeeds, but it could have been someone else in the household, perhaps a slave, perhaps one of Francis' own children who was trying to get revenge for the death of Matilda. So Molly is also said to be haunting that house. The whole story about Molly and Francis being involved with one another cannot be verified. Matilda Sorrel did commit suicide. However, the question of motivations and secret relationships cannot be verified by any of the evidence. So this story seems to be in large part, myth. On the day that I visited the Sorrel-Weed House, people can actually go into the slave quarters of the home. So the evening tour starts in the slave quarters and a video is played of the sci-fi channels visit. And you get to see their ghost investigators encountering different kinds of experiences there. And you get to hear that the sci-fi channel thinks that this house really is haunted. And they play as a part of that video, the sounds of the enslaved woman, Molly, screaming and begging for her life as she is being murdered according to the story. There could be many options we could imagine for, thinking of a story that has to do with ghosts and for attaching a sense of haunting to a house. And yet, the choice here was to talk about an enslaved Black girl or woman who is in a situation of sexual exploitation, who is then violently murdered. And also a white woman who's in a position of privilege in the household and yet, is still subject to her husband's power and a patriarchal situation and chooses to end her own life because she feels betrayed by her husband's actions. To me, this story is all about violence against women and suffering of women. And it concerns me deeply that this is a story that was created to boost visits to a historic home. The tour guides that I had were white men. The owners of the home are white men. A lot of this tourist industry is really being run and controlled by white men. The same category of people who would've controlled that city in the 19th century. And I have to say, these kinds of stories and these kinds of experiences do two things at once. They submerge the actual violence of the period of slavery. At the same time that they actually make a profit off of stories of people who suffered through slavery. And I think it's an amazing trick to be able to pull off both those things at the same time, but it is happening at a site like this and at other sites. Even though every region of this country has its histories of trauma, for me, this house stands out because it has so many layers and such old layers of violence and land theft targeted toward specific groups of people. So Native American slavery in the South, the seizure of Native American lands in the South, African American chattel in the South on a large scale. To me, this makes the south the kind of place that is always going to be haunted.

- [Anne] That's Tiya Miles. She's a historian at the University of Michigan and the author of "Tales from the Haunted South" and "The Dawn of Detroit." And that's it for our show today. There's always more in our podcast feed. To sign up, visit iTunes or Stitcher or check out our website at ttbook.org. "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" comes to you from Madison and the studios of Wisconsin Public Radio, haunted by ghosts of engineers and producers past. Steve Paulson conjured up today's show with help from Charles Monroe-Kane, Doug Gordon, and Mark Rickers. Audio designer Joe Hartke channeled the spooky sounds. I'm Anne Strainchamps, happy haunting.

- [Announcer] PRX.

Last modified: 
October 16, 2023