22.5.12

LIFE BEFORE DEATH

Raymond Moody with Paul Perry. Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of an Afterlife. Rider, 2012.

There are three themes in this autobiography, two of which seem to be linked, and a third, which, though the author does not appear to appreciate its significance, rather contradicts it.
One of the major themes of the book is, as the subtitle says, the search for evidence for an afterlife, and in more general terms the search for the meaning of life which took Moody from astronomy to philosophy to psychology and the study of the paranormal.

Moody came to fame with his study of near-death-experiences (NDEs), which he popularised in Life after Life, published in 1975. Moody’s interest in this topic was stimulated by hearing about the account of the wartime NDE of Dr George Ritchie, but it should be noted that account that Moody presents here omits the more partisan evangelical Christian features of Ritchie’s story, such as being taken by Jesus to a bar where he saw demons jumping into the bodies of alcoholics. I suspect that, like alien abduction researchers, Moody and other NDE researchers often homogenise and tidy up accounts because they 'know' what ought to occur.

From studies of NDEs Moody went on to more controversial areas, such as hypnotic regression to past lives; Moody himself experienced nine of these, none of which struck me as very plausible. These accounts always seem to involve the sort of periods and topics which feature in historical romance, school histories, etc, rarely are people regressed to their life as a stockbroker’s clerk in Neasden or a meat packer in Chicago. They also tend to present the folk version of the period rather than that shown by modern scholarship. I don’t doubt that as a therapeutic tool this kind of past life therapy can sometimes work, on exactly the same principle as drama therapy and bibliotherapy and not because one is actual regressed to past lives. Moody is sensible in remaining agnostic about this.

Moody then moved on to devise the psychomanteum, basically a large size version of the crystal ball, where some people can powerful visions of the deceased, sometimes these occur later in what look to me like periods of micro-REM and false awakening. I rather suspect that the people who have the most vivid experiences are those who are the most powerful visualisers, and that the same is true of people who report sharing in other peoples near death experiences or having other deathbed visions, which is the topic of Moody’s most recent research. I note however that in this account he overlooks his study of peoples’ experiences of the Risen Elvis.

I can’t help feeling that this obsession is somehow linked with another theme in this book, that of his conflictual relationship with his authoritarian father. This seems to run like a thread through many of the biographies of people involved in this field, e.g. Budd Hopkins, James MacDonald and of course Charles Fort. Was Moody’s involvement in the study of the paranormal part of a revolt against his atheist father, a surgeon of the old school? I have previously commented on how some of the imagery of tunnels etc. in modern NDE accounts seems to reflect the popularity of black holes and the idea that they represent tunnels to other universes. It is perhaps significant that Moody was greatly interested in black holes himself.

The main theme of this book then, even though Moody accepts that it is a personal faith rather than a scientific fact, is that the human personality survives death in a more or less folk-spiritualist, "the body is just an envelope" fashion. However the third theme of this book is in clear contradiction of such a simple view. This is the often devastating effects of a thyroid deficiency illness on Moody’s life, leading to periods of deep, at times suicidal depression and other mental and physical events, clear evidence pointing to mind-body unity. The irony seems lost on Moody. - Peter Rogerson.

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