Liminal States with Greg Taylor
Greg Taylor is editor of the alternative culture website The Daily Grail, which has been offering news and information about alternative science, cryptozoology, occultism, politics, and various “new paradigm” topics for almost ten years. I recently caught up with Greg via email while he was in Australia.
TG: What would you say is the mission and modus operandi of The Daily Grail?
GT: The Daily Grail started way back in 1998. At that stage it was intended as a news source for people interested in alternative views on science and history. Since that time, as the Net has grown into more of a blog and user-centric space, the Grail has evolved into more of a community meeting point – although we certainly retain our original focus, being well-known for our daily (some say "relentless") news updates.
We also try to provide some balance to the controversial subjects we discuss. There are far too many sites out there that promote new paradigm topics uncritically, when in reality 90% of the subject matter is, basically, crap. On the other hand, modern 'skepticism' – CSI, James Randi, Michael Shermer, etc. – is a dogmatic belief system (based on physicalist science) which really contributes very little to serious debate on these topics. So we try to navigate between the two polarities, exploring liminal topics without falling off the edge, so to speak. That doesn't make us popular with just about everyone (someone once told me we are the "excluded middle"), because we're challenging all beliefs, both skeptical and new paradigm. But I think it's the right thing to do.
If you were to delve into your article database and dredge up three of your all-time favorites, what would they be?
Three articles from nine years? You're being a bit tough on me, so I'll have to exceed the limit a little – apologies! Two interviews were real thrills for me – with Jacques Vallee and Michael Grosso. Both are individuals that I have always looked up to. In the case of Vallee, he came up with ideas in the 1960s which are only just now coming into the public consciousness – questioning reality, and the origins of anomalous phenomena such as UFOs and contact with entities. And yet he retains a cautious and skeptical attitude.
I came across the work of Michael Grosso continually when I first became interested in the topic of "survival of death" – every second paper I read, his name was referenced. He's one of the great modern thinkers on anomalous phenomena. Michael's body of work is hugely overlooked, an absolute crime.
Beyond Jacques Vallee and Michael Grosso, two of my other favorite interviews thus far have been with author Graham Hancock and Reality Sandwich's own Daniel Pinchbeck. Both are unbelievably eloquent, which makes my job extremely easy. And both are favorite authors of mine as well not just their writing style, but also for the topics they cover. And I did a recent interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Deborah Blum, which I really enjoyed as it became more of a two-way discussion about the limits of science and the possibility of an afterlife, rather than the more standard one-sided interview.
A couple of personal articles I have written stand out to me. Back in 1999 I made what is – in my opinion – a revealing discovery about ancient depictions of certain gods. I wrote about it in an essay titled "The God with the Upraised Arm". Although it's something I'm very proud of, I simply don't have the time or will to try and get it published academically – so if anyone wants to pick up the ball and run with it, go for it! And I have just finished a new research essay on a completely different topic, the sounds heard during "border states" (UFO, near-death, psychedelic experiences, etc.). It is published in the Daily Grail's new print anthology, Darklore, and also I've made it available freely on the Net as a PDF file, at the Darklore website (http://darklore.dailygrail.com).
Let's leap right out into the middle of uncharted depths of weirdness... cryptozoology. Occasionally I like to visit sites like Fortean Times which discuss peoples' encounters with strange creatures like sex crazed bat demons and elusive tundra yetis. Do you think the study of cryptozoology is mainly based in a curiosity about biological anomalies, or is there something more to it?
Firstly, there are two sides to cryptozoology, one more respectable than the other. There is the legitimate search for unknown animals – a field in which discoveries are constantly made. For instance last year in South-East Asia a number of new species were found. Orthodox scientists disapprove of some of the more speculative searches out there – such as the quest to find the large, humanoid species we know as "Bigfoot." But there is no real reason why this should not be considered a part of modern science. And some scientists, such as well-known primatologist/anthropologist Jane Goodall, are very open to these possibilities.
Considered less respectable (to orthodox science, not to me – I love to slum it at this end of town!) are those who search for creatures which are considered more "monster" than "unknown species." It is in this area that we find cryptids such as Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster... There is some crossover here with ufology and the paranormal, at least for those (like me) who see common elements pointing at some explanation beyond consensus reality.
Overall, I think the fascination with cryptozoology is mainly in searching for the unknown. Beyond that though, I also think the paranormal aspects of cryptozoology fascinate us because it hints at something beyond everyday reality. And perhaps because we just like a good scare sometimes....
Another topic covered by your site is the study often referred to as “alternative archaeology.” Lumped into this broad category are any archaeological interpretations that contradict traditional views about history. For example, I recently watched a Discovery Chanel documentary about a site of underwater ruins outside the Japanese island of Yonaguni. Some scholars who have studied these ruins believe that they may be evidence of an ancient society probably dating back more than 11,000 years to the time when the area was above sea level. The precise right-angles in the stone may indicate that they were made by humans. If this is true, many concepts in modern archaeology and ancient history would need to be revised. Why do you think mainstream scholars seem to ignore potentially ground-breaking discoveries such as this one?
I think it's just the standard way that modern science operates – and is part of what makes science such a formidable tool for mapping physical reality. The paradigm remains a necessary consistency, until it can no longer ignore the new evidence. On the other hand, it can also be rather painful to see an exciting discovery ignored by those with the knowledge and tools to investigate further. Reincarnation researcher Ian Stevenson – another to have his evidence for an alternate paradigm consistently ignored by scholars – once said "science changes one funeral at a time."
So, it is up to independent researchers to continue exploring and documenting anomalies, to see whether they will stand up to the harsh scrutiny of modern science. In the case of Yonaguni, for example, geologist Robert Schoch – well known for advancing an earlier construction date for the Great Sphinx in Egypt – has expressed his opinion that Yonaguni is a natural structure. To quote Robert, from an interview I did with him a couple of years ago:
"I believe that the Yonaguni structure is natural, with the slight possibility of some human use and possible subtle human modification of what is primarily a natural feature. There is independent evidence of ancient human habitation on Yonaguni Island, but that is a far cry from 'proving' that the so-called Yonaguni Monument is an artificial human-made construct."
Considering Robert is a geologist, has dived the site, and is open to alternative ideas of history – that certainly throws some doubt on the Yonaguni claims. However, it's certainly not the final word, and I look forward to seeing further evidence and more opinions from other experts.
This leads me to a separate but related topic in alternative archaeology, the legendary civilization of Atlantis. I am fascinated by the multitude of stories and research about Atlantis. What are your thoughts about the possibility of a technologically and spiritually advanced ancient civilization? Are you familiar with the theory that after the destruction of Atlantis, surviving Atlanteans traveled to various places in the world and left the imprint of their culture there? Some scholars have stated that similarities in worship of divinities and the construction of pyramids in both Egyptian and South American societies on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean may indicate that these cultures emerged from the same pre-existing cultural source.
I am open to the idea of a previous advanced culture, though it's certainly a topic shrouded by a lot of wishful thinking and specious claims. There is certainly some fascinating evidence for hyperdiffusionist ideas, and not just restricted to pyramids (after all, gravity dictates that the best building gets smaller at the top). There are some quite obvious similarities in certain iconography between New and Old World cultures, something I'd like to write about in the future. There is an old (19th century), largely forgotten book, called The Migration of Symbols, which explores this topic specifically.
Personally, however, I sometimes wonder why people are so interested in seeing this "mother culture" as technologically advanced. While it provides an interesting scenario, ultimately I don't think it would offer us – as a culture – anything in particular. I am far more interested in what this culture could offer spiritually, and lifestyle-wise. Because I think we're in need of a little help at this stage of our development!
Expanding on that, my great annoyance is the focus on seeking some lost ancient culture, when the ancient cultures we know have so much to offer, and yet themselves will soon be "lost." Anthropologist Wade Davis has documented the depressingly fast rate of "ethno-extinction," where indigenous cultures and language are disappearing forever from the face of the Earth. Not only is this a tragic event for these cultures, but also for us. Many of these cultures have deep knowledge of the natural world, and also perhaps the spiritual realms (in the various guises of shamanism), which we could be learning from. Instead our apathetic world stands by and watches one of the great tragedies unfold.
I agree with your point about paying attention to the wisdom of existing indigenous and non-indigenous cultures in the world. Much culturally-specific knowledge is being lost at an alarming rate as our cultures dissolve into globalization and the syphon of homogenous "consensus reality" media.
Speaking of knowledge, let's talk about the occult. I recently re-read parts of Aleister Crowley's “The Vision and the Voice” which describes Crowley's journey through the Enochian Æthyrs of John Dee and Edward Kelly. As an uninitiated outsider reading these type of texts I must confess that they are mostly indecipherable to me. What do you think is the modern relevance of magical texts such as “The Vision and the Voice” or Luigi Serafini's “Codex Seraphinianvs”?
Magick to me is exceedingly relevant, as it is basically the modern Western world's version of shamanism. True magick (as opposed to the use of magick as a cultural fashion accessory) is a method of entering altered states to converse with "the other." Whether this is a true alternate reality that we enter, or simply the realm of our own unconscious, I can't say for sure. But either way, it is a refined tool for effecting change in our own reality.
I think Serafini's codex is not so much magick as surrealism – although that too can be a potent tool for unsettling the conscious mind from its usual routines, and creating altered states. Now, more than ever, the imagination needs liberation from the rational mind. While I highly value rational, logical thought, and the scientific process, I also believe we need to balance that with a hearty serving of creative thought, emotion and intuition – ways of thinking which in modern culture are wrongly devalued. There's a lyric by Maynard James Keenan from Tool which resonates strongly with me: "Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind. Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind" – that's from the song "Lateralus".
It's interesting that André Breton and other early surrealists also explored automatic writing back in the 1920s, which at the time was most widely used by the Spiritualists for apparent contact with dead souls. So, in its own way, I guess surrealism shares many goals with shamanic and magical practice.
It seems that surrealism and magic are closely inter-related. There is an element of blending and shifting reality which is present in both surrealist art and magickal texts. You mentioned that you view Occultism as a Westernized type of shamanism. Can you elaborate on that some? What do see as the parallels and the divergences between shamanic practices and contemporary occult ritual?
Well, in my opinion, they're both tools for altering consciousness – as is the Eastern version, Yoga. All have been refined over many centuries, to the point where knowledgable practitioners basically have a roadmap to the "other."
I think modern magick, as opposed to shamanism, reflects much of how our cultures have changed through the millennia – while the shaman acted on behalf of his community, modern magick is practiced more for the benefit of the occultist themselves, rather than their community.
Also, shamanism often used external tools to get to the altered state (entheogens, sonic driving, sweat lodges, etc), and the shaman's training was mostly aimed at understanding the "other." Modern magick is more of a tool unto itself for reaching the altered state – and while it also provides somewhat of a map, I'm not sure we have the understanding that indigenous shamen do. When you watch the Amazonian ayahuasceros employ the icaros to guide neophytes through their visions – that's understanding!
I got a chance to read your article in Darklore titled, "Her Sweet Murmur: exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences". As a musician trying to expand my musical knowledge I've been researching the physiological and neurological effects of sound in shamanic music and trance states. I found it very interesting how you analyzed the sounds that people hear in near-death and mystical experiences. Common sounds heard in these experiences including buzzing, humming, whirs, rushing wind, bells, thunder, and chorus of voices, and various others. It's interesting that these type of sounds are also commonly heard during DMT trips and ayahuasca sessions, during dreams, and in the early stages of meditation.
In your article you reference a few yogic texts that mention these type of sounds being heard in Kundalini and other yogic practice. According to the Bengali yogi Purnanada in a book on Kundalini written five hundred years ago, “The sleeping kundalini is extremely fine, like the fiber of a lotus stalk. She is the world-bewilderer, gently covering the 'door' to the central Great Axis. Like the spiral of a conch shell, her shiny snake-like form is curled around three and a half times; her luster is like a strong flash of lightning; her sweet murmur is like an indistinct hum of swarms of love-mad bees.” You also quote a treatise on Hatha Yoga called Shiva Samhita which categories a sort of hierarchy of these strange sounds which may be heard in the process of meditating, “The first sound is like the hum of the honey-intoxicated bee, next that of a flute, then of a harp; after this, by the gradual practice of Yoga, the destroyer of the darkness of the world, he hears the sound of the ringing bells, then sounds like roars of thunder."
Reading this reminded me of a mystical experience I had about three years ago when I was hiking with my friend in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. We went into a trance state and eventually we began to hear a sort of music and we both lay down in a small canyon. For an indefinite amount of time we both listened to something that was like a symphony of ethereal machines. It sounded like a chorus of bees buzzing, or the hum of a thousand motorcycles all modulating pitch up and down. At some point we stood up and started walking again, and it wasn't until later when we were resting on a rock that I said, "Oh, the music stopped," and my friend said, "Yes." It was only then that I found out that we had both been hearing the same thing.
This was a transcendental experience for me – it seemed apart from time in some sense. Thinking back on it later, I realized that nothing outside of me could have been making the noise (we were in a rather remote area of the desert with no people in sight at all). I have sometimes heard a similar buzzing noise or something like a chorus of ethereal voices in altered states of consciousness. I've also been in the presence of other people who were hearing a strange kind of pseudo-real ethereal music that I could not directly hear. In your article you also make a connection between these types of sounds and near-death experiences, and a variety of paranormal phenomena. Personally I think these sounds may represent a sort of communication, an attunement to a harmony from the “other side”... what may be called the spirit world, or another dimension of reality, or the nuances of the inner self that is experienced during meditation. Are there consistent characteristics in the circumstances surrounding people who have these experiences? Where do the sounds come from?
Okay, the following may sound a bit weird unless you're familiar with my article, but here goes!
There are aspects of these sounds heard during paranormal/border phenomena that certainly seem like communication – for instance, witnesses to the "Virgin Mary" apparitions at Fatima heard a buzzing sound, which was 'heard' by the main seer Lucia as actual words. Also, Mohammed, the founder of Islam, heard a "tinkling of bells" in which he could apparently distinguish the words of the archangel Gabriel.
But then there is also the aspect in which the sounds heard are simply "environmental noise" of the spirit realms. The ancient Sanskrit word "nad," used to describe these sounds, refers to the "base sound of the Universe," in the words of researcher Scott Rogo. Other cultures have described a similar concept, such as the "music of the spheres," or "celestial music." It may be even be the origin of the depictions of angels playing harps in heaven.
Rogo also suggests that earthly music may be an attempt to replicate this celestial music. He points out that the early Christian Byzantine community believed that human-made music was an attempt to imitate the divine songs of praise sung by the angels, usually inaudible to mortal ears.
So I'm not sure whether there are two aspects to the sounds heard, or whether the "environmental noise" of these celestial realms actually is communication. As an analogy, when we look at the almost-ubiquitous nature of "glyphs" seen during DMT trips, we see a similar thing – the glyphs seem to be an attempt at "communication," but at the same time experiencers are often told that the glyphs are actually how reality is created. So it may be with these sounds.
I still don't know though. The essay, at this stage, is meant to show some very strange correspondences that people seem to have missed to this point. I look forward to hearing other people's theories on this!
Another topic of esoteric interest discussed on your site is secret societies. Groups like the Skull and Bones, the Knights Templar, Opus Dei, the Bohemian Club, and the Freemasons have been shrouded in mystery and rumor throughout history. I've heard some bizarre stories involving secret rites and rituals, for example the Skull and Bonesmen who are forced to masturbate publicly in coffins as part of their initiation, and the Freemasons reciting the gruesome manner in which they will be ritualistically murdered and dismembered if they betray their oath to the group. What are we to think of stories like these? Can it be said that there is a definite occult dimension in these rituals?
I think most "secret societies" that we know today are really just glorified men's clubs, although some have their basis in original occult practices. The resurrection rites of the Masons have parallels in many cultures, and are to some degree a magickal rite (on a slight tangent – if you analyze the Catholic Mass you'll find it too is pretty much a magickal rite aimed at altering consciousness). But overall, it would seem to me that these societies have lost their past, and are basically just "going through the motions."
I think the real question about modern secret societies is their influence on politics. It still bewilders me that more was not made in the last U.S. presidential election about the fact that both Dubya Bush and John Kerry were members of the same secret society, Skull and Bones. A society with only (roughly) 800 living members, who refuse to reveal anything about the society and their relationship with it, manage to have "control" of the two candidates to lead 300 million people and the world's most powerful nation? That doesn't sound like democratic choice to me.
Additionally, the world's economic bodies seem to be becoming the new "secret societies." Important decisions affecting billions of people are made behind closed doors, by a very small cartel.
Few topics in public dialog illicit such a superficial and knee-jerk response as UFO's. Many people proclaim UFOs to be fake without doing a critical study of the evidence. However, despite popular derision, many world governments have shown a surreptitious interest in studying UFOs. Last year the government of France opened their previously secret case files on UFOs, which include information from the past fifty years on over 2,200 different cases, including about 6,000 eyewitness accounts. Personally I find it difficult to believe that any government would spend many decades and tax dollars documenting a phenomenon that isn't real. Indeed, if the UFO phenomenon were nothing more than a hallucination or psychological fantasy as some have claimed, then it would probably constitute the most widespread and sustained mass-hallucination of all time. If the UFO is not merely a mass-hallucination, well... then there are a lot of questions people should be asking.
Indeed, the authorities have done a great job of making the topic of UFOs one of humour, a side-joke about what crazy people see. In reality, there is a huge catalogue of sightings and experiences. And if we take a look at government and military involvement in the subject, it's quite obvious that they take great interest in the topic.
One of the great difficulties in investigating UFO sightings and entity contacts is the trickster element. Not only is this an implicit element of the UFO phenomenon – in that the UFOs/entities seem intent on playing with us (to quote Charles Fort, "I think we're property") – but the investigator must also deal with both the "nutters" and those who would obfuscate the truth. It is not widely known by the general public, but the U.S. military is actively engaged in spreading disinformation about UFOs, staging hoaxes and more. Whether this is to hide some greater truth is hard to say. It could be simply that the military uses ufology as a method of testing information dissemination and intelligence networks. Either way, it certainly muddies the waters for those seeking the truth.
Further, we still don't know what we are actually dealing with. Personally, I see a lot of merit in Jacques Vallee's proposal that the UFO phenomenon may be some sort of incursion from an alternate reality – which he describes as being with us throughout history, as evident in fairy sightings, etc. – and that it may well be a control system of some type.
From my own personal research (again, see my essay on the Darklore website), I think genuine UFOs (as opposed to experimental government aircraft, etc.) are related to altered states of consciousness. Dr. Rick Strassman has noted the similarities between DMT entities and the "abducting" aliens. Perhaps altered states of consciousness (through psychedelics, magick, environmental influences, or whatever) facilitate interaction with other aspects of existence. Aldous Huxley spoke of the reducing valve of the mind – perhaps UFO experiencers just had the valve opened fully for a few minutes...
Another phenomenon sometimes associated with UFOs are the mysterious balls of light that people have often witnessed. Many sightings of these balls of light occur near freshly-made crop circles, leading some to wonder how they are related to the crop circle patterns. People who have witnessed them often describe a sensation of communicating with these balls of light, as though they are conscious entities. Your site has recently hosted some articles about these things. Any ideas?
Well, I have to state, on the record, that I think the crop circle phenomenon is human-related. And the groups involved in the circle-making are largely in it for firstly the art, and secondly the artifice. So while I'm interested in the balls of light reports, I'm also wary of their providence.
But the "earth light" phenomenon is certainly not restricted to crop circles. UK author Paul Devereux has written some excellent books on the topic which are worth checking out. Some suggest that these balls of light are simply physical products of the Earth (piezoelectrics, gases, electromagnetism). Further, some scientists – such as Laurentian University's Michael Persinger – also suggest that the electromagnetism of these earth lights may affect our brain (temporal lobe), inducing high strangeness cases in which witnesses see UFOs, aliens, entities, etc.
However, other researchers believe that there seems to be some sort of intelligence behind the lights, that they interact with witnesses. I'd love to witness them myself – perhaps I should start making crop circles...
You're releasing a book of essays soon. Tell me some about Darklore.
We have just released the paperback actually, with the limited edition hardcover selling out within a week. Darklore aims at covering pretty much all of the alternative science and history topics, from hidden history to UFOs, consciousness and the occult to evidence for an afterlife. And we've assembled only the best researchers and writers out there on these topics as contributors, which makes for a really high quality read.
I'm really proud of this project, as it's an attempt wrest control from the archaic publishing system and put it back in the hands of the writers/researchers who actually made the book! By using print-on-demand technology, and an exclusively online marketing model (using Amazon.com, the one corporation we couldn't avoid), we can cut out the huge expenses incurred in distribution/retail, and put all the profits back into the hands of the contributors.
If we can get achieve moderate success, we could then contemplate moving to a subscription-based system which would bypass Amazon as well, and put complete control in the hands of the creative forces behind the book. I hope our readers understand the importance of supporting such an effort. I'm sure it's a project philosophy that many Reality Sandwich readers would agree with.
For more information – including three sample articles from the first volume – head to the Darklore website. My own essay on the sounds heard during altered states/border phenomena is definitely one your readers will find interesting.
Alternative culture websites like Daily Grail and Reality Sandwich tend to exist on the fringes of modern intellectual techno-consciousness. Yet despite the underground “word-of-mouth” nature of these sites, communities often form and people come to get independent perspectives and new contexts for thinking about the world. More and more it seems that many people are realizing that corporate media is trying to brainwash them with a worldview that places value almost entirely on physical appearances and expensive consumer products. Many people have become dissatisfied with the superficiality of this commodified reality, and are seeking alternatives that are more aligned with their own evolving spiritual values. What do you think is the future of sites like ours? With the ominous threat of the end of Net neutrality and the institution of stricter information controls on the part of corporate agents, do you think sites like ours are in danger? Or do you believe that corporations will never be able to fully control the Internet, and a revolutionary spark of vitality and truth will always exist glimmering underneath the shallow media facade of consumption culture?
I think the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and the corporate media/government controllers are scared as hell. But that's not to say we don't have to be on our guard. Search engines are the greatest boon to intelligence gathering ever, and if anyone thinks the CIA/NSA/alphabet soup agency of your choice don't have their hooks in the major search engines, you haven't read enough on the history of these organizations. And as you mentioned, Net neutrality is a major issue – though you wouldn't know it watching the mainstream media (of course, as they have a vested interest!).
When I first got on the Net, back in 1994/95, you could search for help on a topic, and there would be pages of free advice. Try now, and you end up with commercial page after commercial page. So we need to keep pushing to use the Internet as it should be. People often tell me, when I'm down to my last two cents and working till 3 a.m., that I need to make people pay to visit the Daily Grail. But it goes against everything I believe in, in terms of providing free information.
Having said that, I do have a family to try and look after, so it's not easy. And I see it time after time – people have a great idea for a website project, they get it running, but then the money runs out, enthusiasm drops, and the website is gone within two years. I'm pretty proud to be entering my tenth year with the Daily Grail. Website readers need to understand that if they want this free information, roots community, corporate-less influence etc. – they need to contribute. Either by helping out with the site by writing, or spreading word to others, or by supporting the sponsor of the site (if it has one), or however else that website attempts to keep its head above water. The old adage "you get what you pay for" rings true – however you want to define 'pay'.
Unfortunately, all I see is a growing apathy... almost like a pillaging of the crops without resowing the field... which makes me – unfortunately – pessimistic. There will still be great sites, but they won't last. Hopefully something changes in future. But for now, the vast proportion of the population want to see what happens when you drink Diet Coke with a Mentos in your mouth. So much for the imminent noosphere!Tweet