Posted on July 24, 2014


By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

Paranormal phenomena provides various types of “spiritual experiences.” Here, the type of spiritual experience deals with the Preternatural, and not the Supernatural experience. In other words, a spiritual experience not associated to God; a pseudo-spiritual experience consisting of man-made deceit, or when genuine, through demonic manifestations. For the purposes of this article, “spiritual experience” refers strictly to this definition, unless otherwise noted. It is also used interchangeably with paranormal experience, and the Preternatural.

What is essential to understanding any type of spiritual experience is spiritual discernment, or as it is properly known, spirit discernment. It involves both an introspective and extrospective means of examining spirituality. It is impossible to attain spiritual discernment through paranormal events alone. The Ontario Catholic Paranormal Research Society has found most paranormal experiences to be ambiguous in their nature. They also invoke ambivalence, speaking only to the sensations of the carnal minded, who in turn, depend on external stimulation to pacify their spiritual needs. Sometimes, the ambivalence of paranormal phenomena often speaks to the imagination, provoked by emotional confusion. What should be stressed here, is that the paranormal experience does not speak to the human spirit (the higher faculty of the soul, or in the case of Psychology, to reason).

There are many paranormal enthusiasts who would disagree with the OCPRS, especially due to the psychical qualities of paranormal phenomena. Yet, what they – as proponents of the paranormal world – have failed to recognize is that those psychical qualities often occur between the body and soul, but not in the spirit of human nature. At best, the psychical qualities are intuitive, built on the foundations of the imagination. This does not mean that intuition is non-existent in terms of perception, but it requires the faculties of the mind and body.

Intuition can be a form of discernment. Dr. Carl Gustav Jung explains intuition in the following way:

“Intuition is more like a sense-perception, which is an irrational event in so far as it depends upon objective stimuli, which owe their existence to physical and not mental causes”
(Man and His Symbols).

Jung’s view is based on his Analytical Psychology, and like most disciplines of Psychology, define human nature as consisting of mind and body. In terms of discernment, intuition is identified as requiring an “objective stimuli” owing its abilities to perceptions of physical qualities. This is not much different from what was previously described regarding the psychical aspects of paranormal events. Of course, a significant difference exists between what Jung believed, and what the OCPRS identifies to the higher faculty of the soul, which is known as spirit.

Although it is true that some paranormal experiences include a psychical quality, the intuitive imagination does not permit a person to perceive in the wholeness of their being; of the spirit, soul, and body. Instead, the psychical aspect of the paranormal experience is perceived through the body and soul. This is similar to what psychology believes are the defining aspects of humanity; of mind and body. The traditional Christian perspective of spiritual discernment requires the wholeness of human nature, which is comprised of spirit, soul, and body. Likewise, Psychology requires the wholeness of mind and body.

Discernment is the ability to perceive and comprehend what is not always evident. From The Counsels from the Holy Mountain, by Elder Ephraim, discernment is explained as:

“…a spiritual gift pertaining to the nous. Through discernment, one discerns the inner states of spiritual life, distinguishing between uncreated and created things: between the energy of God and the energy of the devil. Through discernment, one is also able to distinguish between the energies of God and the psychosomatic energies of man, thereby distinguishing emotional states from spiritual experiences.”

What is defined here, according to Elder Ephraim, concerns the spiritual gift of discernment. It is the ability to recognize virtue from vice, between God and Satan. Special attention should be given to what Elder Ephraim identifies as “distinguishing emotional states from spiritual experiences.” It should be noted that Elder Ephraim is not using “spiritual experiences” in the same context found here within this article. He is refering to genuine spiritual experiences, and the emotional states are the pseudo-spiritual experiences identified at the outset of the article. To continue, paranormal experiences have a tendency to provoke emotional states of mind, generating awe, fear, and other powerful emotions. Sometimes those emotional states are very pleasurable. Emotional responses to paranormal experiences can be confused for spiritual experiences, or thought to be a dominant feature of the spiritual experience. Unfortunately, this problem also occurs within various spiritual experiences of the Church. Any discernment applied to the emotional responses – occurring in response to paranormal phenomena – are not reliable for measuring or distinguishing between supernatural and preternatural sources.

The Church provides the truest meaning of what the gift of discernment truly is, and why it is necessary. Only when a person lives in Christ, can such a gift be bestowed by the grace of God. However, Psychology can be beneficial in certain circumstances, and serve alongside spiritual discernment, and as a means of discernment itself. Much like the teachings of the Church, Psychology can provide its own basic understanding of discernment, at least where the mind and body are concerned. Both the teachings of the Church and Psychology can provide some foundations from which discernment can be utilized in a specialized way. Although this is an option, discernment can be problematic if approached strictly through intellect alone. In terms of Psychological discernment, there may be limitations owed to bias and subjectivity. What is being stressed here is not strictly an application of spiritual discernment. It is important to be capable of discerning between explainable phenomena and phenomena not yet explained by science. Furthermore, spiritual discernment is necessary even when explainable phenomena are present. The possibility that something paranormal is also occurring through explainable phenomena should never be ignored. The obstacle to such circumstances is not found in the type of phenomena encountered, but how that phenomena is understood or classified.

The term Paranormal is really nothing more than a substitution term, describing phenomena which should really be identified as preternatural. The term Paranormal was introduced during the early 20th century to describe events and circumstances not explained by science. On one hand, the term, Paranormal, acquired a mythic connotation. On the other hand, the Paranormal represents what science has yet to explain. As part of its definition, the Paranormal does not distinguish between phenomena owed to God and phenomena owed to demons. In fact, the term Paranormal reduces God, angels, and miracles, etc., to a system of thought known as Relativism, and equates the events owed to God, with events perpetrated by the Devil. This form of objectivity is not objective at all, and leads discernment down the wrong path. The supernatural and preternatural are not the same, but the term Paranormal treats both with equal disregard. To some extent, the term Preternatural accomplishes a similar result.

When used in a scientific context, Preternatural refers to events and circumstances believed to be natural, which do not yet have rational explanations. In other words, any unexplainable phenomena not presently having a natural explanation is still owed to unknown natural causes. It excludes other possibilities associated to the paranormal. However, the scientific context of Preternatural also excludes the beliefs and perspectives of the Church. From a Christian perspective, Preternatural identifies phenomena owed to demonic influence or sources. Preternatural phenomena is distinguished from events produced by God, which exceed what is natural. The Church recognizes events produced by God as supernatural, and occurs in order to elevate humanities attentions onto its relationship with God. The Preternatural does not do this. Likewise, neither does the word Paranormal.

Discernment can be limited based on how something is evaluated, and words assist in the evaluation process of human perception. When evaluating an event as Preternatural, according to the scientific context, the limitation is the exclusion of demons as a potential cause. A similar outcome may occur if the theological definition is applied, overlooking the possibility of unknown natural causes. What is being stressed here is a warning in order to avoid predetermined conclusions. True discernment is not an adherence to definitions. It is an ability to perceive with the intent of approaching truth. It is knowledge properly applied; it is wisdom.

Having examined some of the more interesting qualities of discernment it now becomes necessary to explore events believed to be paranormal, or more accurately, Preternatural. In terms of discernment, explanations provided through Psychology and the Church will help to provide a broader range of possibilities available to people. However, this approach may also impair discernment if applied incorrectly. Therefore, the following examples should be open to further discussion and debate. Before any examples of discernment between Psychology and the paranormal can be considered here, it is also important to focus all attentions onto the phenomena of Perception.

Perception is both a mental and physiological operation. It is a variety of processes taking place between the physiological senses – vision, olfactory, touch, etc. – and their corresponding mental processes within the brain. This involves memory, emotions, and reason, etc. It is how the mind and the body engage reality. The paranormal experience can confuse or disturb perception because it does not frequently engage the senses or mind. In other words, perception helps to recognize reality, but the paranormal experience is an event intruding on the perception of reality. Perception may therefore also include the qualities of recognizing abnormal conditions to reality. Psychology has many things to say about perception in regards to the paranormal. There are occasions whereby people experience misperception of an event, thereby confusing what they see, feel, or hear, etc. Sensations can be wrongly interpreted within the mind. When such misperceptions occur frequently, the problem may be due to a psychological disorder or physiological cause. However, there are misperceptions frequently experienced, which are not owed to disorders and diseases of the mind.

Many people have experienced a type of misperception Psychology has identified as Pareidolia. It involves a vague or obscure stimulus, which is perceived as meaningful or significant. An example of Pareidolia is seeing faces in objects like trees, rock formations, or clouds. Many natural formations are not actual faces, but the mind is instinctively conditioned to process facial images in order to understand what the senses have detected as a response to a potential threat. Pareidolia can be compared to cognitive illusions like those used in Gestalt Psychology, which examine perceptual phenomena. However, Pareidolia also occurs through the sense of hearing. Much like a vague or obscure stimulus described to the sense of sight, a misperception of sound may also occur. An example of audio Pareidolia can be the sound of voices or music produced by rainfall, the wind moving through trees, etc. Naturally occurring and random noise which is misperceived as meaningful information. There are a variety of paranormal examples, whereby Pareidolia occurs, especially through what is known as “Spirit” Photography and Electronic Voice Phenomenon (or EVP).

In 1976, the Viking 1 Orbiter captured a face-like image on the geographical landscape of the planet Mars. The “Face on Mars,” as it is known, proliferated many wild ideas and beliefs about extraterrestrials and UFO phenomena. The image itself did appear to be a face. Many conspiracy theorists and paranormal enthusiasts alike claimed that the face was a constructed monument formed by extraterrestrials, or possibly a Martian civilization. However, further images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor (2001) provided a clearer image of the so-called “Face on Mars.” It wasn’t a face at all, but due to the poorer quality of the previous image, shadows, etc., the image contained the necessary stimuli for people to instinctively recognize a facial pattern.

There are numerous photographs and videos of ghostly and extraterrestrial faces, presented as paranormal evidence. Many of these images are obscure, or present vague shapes and outlines of ghosts, demons, angels, and aliens. From the OCPRS’s own experiences, Pareidolia has been considered on many occasions. The Mount Pleasant cemetery investigation provided two possible cases of Pareidolia, involving a photograph of a ghostly face, and an EVP, which the OCPRS believes may be demonic. Regardless of what the OCPRS believes, the data provided vague stimuli, and does meet the conditions of Pareidolia. This does not mean that the data is conclusively psychological, but it also means it is not strictly paranormal. As compelling as some evidence may seem, the rational mind must concede to reality.

Pareidolia should not be confused with Hallucinations, which do not involve a stimulus for the for the senses and mind, to perceive. Hallucinations are perceptual experiences, which occur without the benefit of a stimulus, but are perceived nonetheless. The variety of Hallucinations can involve one or more sensory events, such as visual and auditory events. It is important to distinguish Hallucinations from delusions. For example, delusional perceptions involve a stimulus, which is correctly sensed, but is given unrelated significance. In other words, the stimulus is real, but the interpretation of the stimulus is not supported by reality.

Hallucinations are not necessarily symptomatic of mental disorders, like schizophrenia. They may also occur as a result of fatigue, drug abuse, sensory deprivation, sensory disabilities, physical illness, or trauma, etc. It is impossible to explain every type of Hallucination here in this article. Instead, only those types, which are often associated to paranormal experiences will be explored. One particular type of Hallucination which is important to the discernment of preternatural phenomena is the Apparitional Experience. What distinguishes the Apparitional Experience apart from other types of Hallucinations is the context applied to the circumstances. It is the preferred description of perceptual events involving ghost phenomena. The Apparitional Experience is a presumption, which excludes the notion of an afterlife associated to ghost phenomena. Unfortunately, the context of the Apparitional Experience avoids spirituality, and reduces any such experience to a psychological disturbance, or as a symptom measuring a degree of proneness to psychosis. An Apparitional Experience does not exclusively serve as a warning sign for psychosis. In fact, it is a term applied to situations whereby a person does not present any mental disorder or other forms of stress, which could otherwise produce such a hallucinatory experience. However, like other types of Hallucinations, it may involve emotional consequences, such as fear, anxiety, paranoia, and despair. The emphasis here is on the state of mind, and not really the preternatural phenomena.

In terms of the preternatural phenomena encountered, the Apparitional Experience attempts to define circumstances with a sense of scientific objectivity. Discernment is best initiated with objectivity in mind, but it must conform to changes made throughout the course of the preternatural phenomena. In other words, if the Apparitional Experience is used to mimimalize the preternatural event, its purpose remains consistent with the intent of understanding only the state of mind, and not the phenomena perceived. The term, Apparitional Experience, may be the preferred label when examining preternatural conditions, but those conditions are not limited to the scientific context previously discussed. The fact that this term is applied to incidents of ghost phenomena requires a much more open context involving the theological context as well. To sway to either extreme at the outset of an investigation is neither objective or useful. What is inherently wrong here is how Psychology attempts to engage itself to aspects of human nature it neither recognizes or wishes to accept as a part of its science. On its own, any such perspective is limiting.

The Apparitional Experience is not only applied to preternatural phenomena involving “ghosts,” but is also applied to supernatural events involving Christian apparitions (e.g. Apparitions of Saints or of the Virgin Mary). Despite the fact that there is a distinction between preternatural and supernatural, the Apparitional Experience seeks to explore only the state of mind, and not necessarily the phenomena itself. It is important to remember this. However, does it involve the phenomena, even remotely? Or is the mind the phenomena? Indeed, Psychology has produced a variety of interesting terms and stimulating questions. From a Christian perspective, this can lead to disbelief and is not objectively allowing the facts to speak for themselves. There is little effort made on behalf of Psychology to distinguish religious experiences from preternatural phenomena. This is partly owed to the objectives and motivations of each discipline within Psychology. As a phenomena describing a state of mind, the Apparitional Experience is not interested in exploring external causes, and instead believes that the perceptual aberrations are internally found within the mind, possibly the imagination.

Applied to an otherwise healthy mind and body, the Apparitional Experience is not necessarily identifying mental illness, but is attempting to recognize a proneness to psychosis. In other words, a means of detecting early signs to possible cases of psychosis. This is a very strong aspect of the Apparitional Experience. Magical Thinking/Ideation is an outcome of such perspectives associated to preternatural phenomena. It identifies beliefs and practices associated to causal relationships – between actions and events – which are not supported by science or reality. In other words, superstition.

As far as perceptual experiences are concerned, Magical Thinking/Ideation is used to measure how prone a person may be to experiencing a preternatural event. What this really amounts to is that preternatural events are thought of as occurring as a result of the condition and frame of mind. It identifies the level of susceptability to superstition, and may be indicative of a pre-disposition for mental health issues. Keeping in mind, there is some agreement between Psychology and the Church on this issue of proneness to mental disorder, or at the very least, a concern for the health and well being found in spirituality. According to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2110-2111):

“Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion […] Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand…”

When compared to Magical Thinking/Ideation, it is clear that there is a concern for mental health when certain events may influence the well being of the mind, or in the case of the Church, the soul. The Apparitional Experience, which places an emphasis on how perceptual aberrations occur within a healthy mind, rather than the phenomena perceived, helps to remove the superstitious qualities of the overall preternatural event. Likewise the Church recognizes the dangers of superstition existing within spirituality, and how easily it may confuse the state of mind. Despite this common ground, the Church does distinguish the importance between external causes and influences, and the preternatural phenomena is not simply a state of mind in all cases. There is, however, something worth considering to this relationship between Psychology and the paranormal.

The objective of Psychology in this case is perception, and not necessarily the discernment of those things perceived. In some ways discernment begins with why perception occurs. The Church perspective on discernment doesn’t necessarily pay strict attention to what is perceived, but why is there such perception in the first place. What purpose does a preternatural event serve in regards to the soul? Why does it occur? The discernment of spirits cannot be reduced to a state of mind, but in many ways it reveals the condition of the mind, or in the case of the Church, the soul. Here, Psychology can help play an important role in limiting attentions on events, and focusing on the individual’s well being in relation to their reality (spiritually or otherwise). Psychology is not a science of spiritual discernment, but it does offer many insights into how and why people perceive spiritual experiences. As a weapon against superstition, even the Church is not adverse to utilizing Psychology. The Church also acknowledges the value of Psychology in matters of discernment. When preternatural phenomena arises, Psychology is one of the many considerations made when examining ghost phenomena, demonic possession, apparitions of Saints, etc. Psychology acknowledges preternatural events as a form of Hallucination, and how these particular circumstances require a distinction apart from those recognized to mental disorders. The Apparitional Experience implicitly – rather than explicitly – addresses these perceptual aberrations. Limited in one way, the Apparitional Experience is capable of focusing its attentions onto the more materially important qualities of most preternatural experiences.

When the Christian perspectives of preternatural and supernatural events are not applicable, Psychology may be the best alternative. However, when circumstances include explainable events tied to preternatural events, discernment can become much more difficult. Over the past few years, the OCPRS has identified certain qualities recognized to a variety of paranormal experiences. The first quality is ambivalence. Paranormal experiences can stir mixed emotional reactions: excitement, awe, fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, etc. Any combination of emotions may emerge through a paranormal experience, thereby imparting a sense of emotional ambivalence. Most often, the stimulus involved in paranormal experiences are ambiguous. This is another quality of the paranormal experience, a vague or ambiguous stimuli. The uncertainty of paranormal phenomena serves to entertain the mind. Together, these qualities weaken and stupify discernment.

At the outset of this article Dr. Jung’s explanation of intuition was described as a type of discernment. Indeed, intuition has many similarities to spiritual discernment. However, discernment is not intuition. Instead, intuition is one of the faculties of the soul, but so too is reason. The Apostle Paul does identify discernment as one of the charismata – gifts – found in 1 Corinthians 12:10, “…to another discerning spirits…” Here, the idea of discernment seems almost like an external quality perceived from outside human nature. In this externalized sense of discernment, it can also be acquired through the study of Scriptures, the guidance of Elders, and by living in Christ. However,
according to St. John Cassian, discernment begins with an important virtue. From his Conferences, St. John Cassian states,

“True discretion [discernment], said he, is only secured by true humility.”

The virtue of humility allows a person to understand their own faults, to be obedient to God, and to never exalt themselves over and above others. What St. John Cassian is saying here is that discernment begins with the understanding of the self. If a person is unable to recognize the movements of the Passions within themselves, how could such a person discern the spirits – the preternatural – in their external reality? Here is where true discernment begins, and Psychology would agree that understanding the self is necessary in terms of understanding the external reality. Perception is a strong component of discernment. Both Psychology and the Church can agree that even preternatural phenomena can be influenced and influencing in terms of how an individual perceives.

Many people have contacted the OCPRS, expressing an interest to learn about Christian Demonology, becoming an exorcist, and how to discern the spirits. In response to all such interests, the OCPRS has given the same reply – live in Christ! Psychology teaches a similar lesson, and helps people understand the “self” in relation to others, and the world in which people live. Both Psychology and the Church believe in the psychosomatic nature of human health. Paranormal phenomena disturbs and distorts human nature; the ability to understand the fullness of personhood.

Spiritual discernment begins with the self.