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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

PARA-PSYCHOLOGY

Para-Psychology is the study of the ability of the mind to perform psychic acts.   Psychic phenomena, as the term is applied to the human mind, generally fall into two broad categories: Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK), or Psi, as both are collectively known.   Para-Psychology is an outgrowth of the Spiritualism movement in the late 1800s in Great Britain and the United States.

The British Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1882, and the American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1885, both sought to establish whether mediums who conducted spiritualistic seances actually contacted the dead or were merely fakes.   Much of the early evidence cited by Psychic societies and others for the existence of psychic phenomena was highly unscientific and anecdotal in nature.   They included reports of premonitions and dreams, newspaper stories of spiritualistic levitation, written accounts of Ghost sightings, and so on.

More scientifically rigorous investigation using controlled laboratory experiments began in America in 1927, pioneered by the psychologist I. B. Rhine of Duke University in North Carolina.   Rhine eventually split with the university psychology department and was allowed to form the first parapsychological laboratory in the country in 1935.   Although Rhine was not the first worker in the field to use statistical methods in his investigations, his methodology was regarded as more rigorous and sophisticated than those of earlier investigators.   Test subjects were ordinary people, mostly volunteers, not mediums.

In a typical Clairvoyance experiment, Rhine would seat the test subject in one building and the experimenter in another.   The experimenter would shuille a deck of Zener cards (a specially designed ESP testing deck, each card having one of five boldly printed symbols - star, square, circle, plus sign, and three wavy lines).   Then the experimenter would draw a card and place it face down on the table.   After a minute the experimenter would repeat the procedure.   The subject, who had earlier synchronised watches with the experimenter, would try to guess, minute by minute, which card was lying on the table.

Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of trials would be made and the results tabulated.   Rhine's claims of statistically significant results were controversial, and the experiments often proved unrepeatable - repeatability of results being a benchmark of scientific validity.   Nevertheless, Rhine's groundbreaking experiments stimulated others to develop more sophisticated testing procedures, and many of the researchers he trained are still active in the field today, mainly in the United States and Britain.

In the 1960s and 1970s interest focused on the psychological processes involved in Psi, with researchers attempting to uncover qualitative information about the psychological state of subjects who supposedly perform well on ESP and PK tests.   They claim that subjects who believe in Para-Psychological phenomena tend to do better on the tests, as do subjects who are given immediate feedback after each guess.   Work has also been performed on subjects in 'altered states of consciousness', such as under hypnosis or under the influence of drugs or in a sensory-deprivation condition called the 'ganzfeld' (see GANZFELD STIMULATION).

Other research has focused on the phenomena of Remote Viewing, the perception of distant objects clairvoyandy or by out-of-body travel.   Most scientists outside the Para-Psychological field do not accept the existence of psychic phenomena, although some universities teach Para-Psychology courses and in 1985 a chair of Para-Psychology was established at Edinburgh University, funded in part by a bequest from the author Arthur Koesder (1905-83).

Para-Psychological research has often been attacked by conventional scientists as fraudulent.   Rhine himself once discovered that one of his senior re-searchers had been faking results and dismissed him.   A more serious charge is that Para-Psychologists are not well enough trained to be able to tell when a subject is committing a fraud against them.   Para-Psychologists claim that such fraud occurs only in an insignificant number of cases.

Other critics have charged that in many Para-Psychological research projects, statistical inferences have been made, experimental design has been shoddy, and data has been misread.

A 1988 study by the National Research Council in the United States found that no scientific research conducted in the previous 130 years had proven the existence of Para-Psychological phenomena, although the council did find probabilistic anomalies in some experiments that could not readily be explained.   Para-Psychologists have countered that the study was unfair because the members of the study committee were prejudiced against Para-Psychology.   A final criticism is that for phenomena such as ESP and Psychokinesis to be true, fundamental physical laws would have to be broken.

Some Para-Psychologists adopt the view that psychic phenomena are outside the realm of science, whereas others believe that breakthroughs in quantum physics may one day provide explanations for such phenomena.


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PLEASE NOTE:
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc



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