Near-Death Experiences—What Would You Do?

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(from Varieties of Religious Experience, New York Times, December 24, 2016)

‘It’s Christmas; indulge me.

One of my hobbies is collecting what you might call nonconversion stories — stories about secular moderns who have supernatural-seeming experiences without being propelled into any specific religious faith. In some ways these stories are more intriguing than mystical experiences that confirm or inspire strong religious belief, because they come to us unmediated by any theological apparatus. They are more like raw data, raw material, the stuff that shows how spiritual experiences would continue if every institutional faith disappeared tomorrow.

Here are some public cases. Three decades ago A. J. Ayer, the British logical positivist and scourge of all religion, died and was resuscitated at the age of 77. Afterward, he reported a near-death encounter that included repeated attempts to cross a river and “a red light, exceedingly bright, and also very painful … responsible for the government of the universe.” Ayer retained his atheism, but declared that the experience had “slightly weakened” his conviction that death “will be the end of me.”

As a young man in the 1960s, the filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, of “RoboCop” and “Showgirls” fame, wandered into a Pentecostal church and suddenly felt “the Holy Ghost descending … as if a laser beam was cutting through my head and my heart was on fire.” He was in the midst of dealing with his then-girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy; after they procured an abortion, he had a terrifying, avenging-angel vision during a screening of “King Kong.” The combined experience actively propelled him away from anything metaphysical; the raw carnality of his most famous films, he suggested later, was an attempt to keep the numinous and destabilizing at bay.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the left-wing essayist and atheist, had shocking, unlooked-for experiences of spiritual rapture as a teenager, which she wrote about in 2014’s don’t-call-it-religious memoir, “Living With a Wild God.” The “wild” part is key: Ehrenreich rejects the God of monotheism because the Being she encountered seemed stranger, less benign and more amoral than the God she thinks that most religions worship.

Lisa Chase, the wife of the late New York journalistic icon Peter Kaplan, wrote an essay for Elle Magazine last year about her experiences communicating, on her own and through a medium, with her husband after his 2013 death. There is no organized religion in her story whatsoever. But if you read the essay carefully, it’s clear that her quest was shaped by the fact that more than a few highly educated liberal Manhattan professionals have also had experiences like hers.

William Friedkin, the director of “The Exorcist,” had never seen an exorcism when he made his famous film. A professed agnostic, he decided recently to “complete the circle” and spent some time shadowing the Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, just before Amorth’s passing at the age of 91. Friedkin recounted his experience in Vanity Fair this fall; it did not make him a Catholic believer, but it did seem to scare the Hades out of him.

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New Receptors Found in Human Retina Are the Cause of Seasonal Depression (SAD)

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Just in Time for the Winter Solstice—Great Piece on Seasonal Depression and the Brain

from NPR:

Just in time for the winter solstice, scientists may have figured out how short days can lead to dark moods.

Two recent studies suggest the culprit is a brain circuit that connects special light-sensing cells in the retina with brain areas that affect whether you are happy or sad.

When these cells detect shorter days, they appear to use this pathway to send signals to the brain that can make a person feel glum or even depressed.

“It’s very likely that things like seasonal affective disorder involve this pathway,” says Jerome Sanes, a professor of neuroscience at Brown University.

Sanes was part of a team that found evidence of the brain circuit in people. The scientists presented their research in November at the Society for Neuroscience meeting. The work hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, but the researchers plan to submit it.

A few weeks earlier, a different team published a study suggesting a very similar circuit in mice.

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What Happened to George Washington’s Home During the US Civil War?

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Mount Vernon Today (MountVernon.org)


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Military pass signed by General Winfield Scott for Sarah Tracy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The document enables her to pass “through the United States lines” to get to Mount Vernon during the Civil War; dated October 2, 1861.


The outbreak of the Civil War provided significant challenges to the preservation of George Wagington’s home at Mount Vernon, as the sectional crisis occurred during the infancy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The violent nature of the conflict could have destroyed Mount Vernon as a physical structure while also tearing up the personal threads that bound the nascent Association. Despite the challenges, the Association was able to keep the property protected and open to the public during the war.

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An early image of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association—the group that singlehandedly saved the home of George Washington for posterity.


The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took over operation of the estate in 1860 in an effort to stabilize and restore the mansion. As restoration efforts progressed, the political situation in the United States deteriorated. Mount Vernon, as a result, was in a precarious position. At the same time, Ann Pamela Cunningham was forced to return to her family home in South Carolina in the fall of 1860 to help run the family plantation following her father’s death.

Above: George and Martha Washington’s bed chambers at Mount Vernon.

With the conflict making travel difficult for Cunningham, the estate was managed by two staff members during the Civil War; a Northerner and a Southerner. Cunningham’s secretary, Sarah C. Tracy and Upton H. Herbert, Mount Vernon’s first Resident Superintendent, managed the estate through the war years. There were also free African-American employees working at the estate, including Emily the cook, Priscilla the chambermaid, Frances, a maid, and George, the coachman and general assistant.1

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Sarah Tracy, pictured above in an image taken in 1859, watched over the Mount Vernon estate during the six-year-long Civil War—her efforts ensured its safety as a piece of American history.


Cunningham believed that it was imperative that no military outposts were placed within the borders of the estate in order to physically protect the property. After a visit from Tracy, on July 31, 1861 General Winfield Scott issued Order Number 13, declaring the estate’s status as non-partisan. A large proportion of the visitors during the war were still soldiers, though without military aims. Soldiers who visited the estate were requested to be neither armed nor dressed in military uniform. Such actions ensured that Mount Vernon remained neutral, respected grounds.

Above, left: Mount Vernon’s 8’1” high cupola; above, right: the Washington’s dining room.

The end of the conflict had an immediate positive impact on the preservation of Mount Vernon. In November 1866 Cunningham was able to travel to meet with her Vice Regents and staff for the first time in six years. The Ladies’ Association passed a resolution reflecting a new post-war optimism, expressing their “unqualified approval of the manner in which the Superintendent and the Secretary had discharged the arduous duties committed to their charge. . .under difficult circumstances, the Mansion and grounds under their charge have been so well preserved and protected.”2 Despite the challenges, Mount Vernon remained safe and open throughout the war.

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The piazza at Mount Vernon faces the Potomac River.


Notes

1. “Mollie ______ to Caroline L. Rees, 21 October 186[1-4],” Kirby Rees Collection, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia; typescript, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

2. Quoted in Dorothy Troth Muir, Presence of a Lady: Mount Vernon, 1861-1868 (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 1975), 86.

Source: https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/the-civil-war-years/

Read more, here:

https://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/mount-vernon-ladies-association/early-history-of-the-mount-vernon-ladies-association/#g-1160_m-everett2

https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/the-mansion/the-mansion-room-by-room/#-

https://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/the-mansion/the-mansion-basement/

President Trump Just Called Himself a ‘Nationalist.’ Here’s What That Means—and Why It’s So Dangerous.

Nationalism is not patriotism. Just ask George Orwell.

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Normally, there’s a kind of catharsis in watching someone finally admit to themselves and the world who they truly are. Not here. It has never been much of a secret that Donald Trump, American president, is a nationalist. The debate is more often over what adjective might go in front. And yet it was singularly unnerving on Tuesday—in the context of a midterm election campaign in which he and his Republican allies are appealing to racism and anti-immigrant sentiment and fear in a strategy so explicit that The New York Times felt comfortable calling it out—to hear him declare, loudly and proudly, that he is “a nationalist, OK?”

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The juxtaposition here between “globalist” and “nationalist” is a Steve Bannon joint—a nice hat-tip to the guy on a day where he could be found playing a near-empty conference room on Staten Island. It’s the kind of binary nonsense that authoritarian types feed on, an us-or-them formulation where the United States can succeed, or the wider world can succeed, but you can’t have both. In the context of a globalized, entirely interconnected world—a development Trump is powerless to reverse—it is fantasy. But it gets the people going.

Now that the President of the United States has embraced it as his own, it’s worth digging into what the term “nationalist” actually means and the historical baggage it carries. For this, we can turn once again to George Orwell, the legendary British theorist who, more recently, has become a prop for diaper-wearing right-wing propagandists who looked him up on brainy quote dot com. The essential point, also made eloquently by Charles de Gaulle, is that not only are nationalism and patriotism not the same, the gap between them is not some difference of degree. They are often wholly contrasting emotional forces, as Orwell writes in his Notes on Nationalism:

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“Hunters in the Snow”—A Short Story by Tobias Wolff, 1981

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Hunters in the Snow

Tobias Wolff, 1981


Tub had been waiting for an hour in the falling snow. He paced the sidewalk to keep warm and stuck his head out over the curb whenever he saw lights approaching. One driver stopped for him, but before Tub could wave the man on he saw the rifle on Tub’s back and hit the gas. The tires spun on the ice.

The fall of snow thickened. Tub stood below the overhang of a building. Across the road the clouds whitened just above the rooftops, and the streetlights went out. He shifted the rifle strap to his other shoulder. The whiteness seeped up the sky.

A truck slid around the corner, horn blaring, rear end sashaying. Tub moved to the sidewalk and held up his hand. The truck jumped the curb and kept coming, half on the street and half on the sidewalk. It wasn’t slowing down at all. Tub stood for a moment, still holding up his hand, then jumped back. His rifle slipped off his shoulder and clattered on the ice; a sandwich fell out of his pocket. He ran for the steps of the building. Another sandwich and a package of cookies tumbled onto the new snow. He made the steps and looked back.

The truck had stopped several feet beyond where Tub had been standing. He picked up his sandwiches and his cookies and slung the rifle and went to the driver’s window. The driver was bent against the steering wheel, slapping his knees and drumming his feet on the floorboards. He looked like a cartoon of a person laughing, except that his eyes watched the man on the seat beside him.

“You ought to see yourself,” said the driver. “He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he, Frank?”

The man beside him smiled and looked off.

“You almost ran me down,” said Tub. “You could’ve killed me.”

“Come on, Tub,” said the man beside the driver. “Be mellow, Kenny was just messing around.” He opened the door and slid over to the middle of the seat.

Tub took the bolt out of his rifle and climbed in beside him. “I waited an hour,” he said. “If you meant ten o’clock, why didn’t you say ten o’clock?”

“Tub, you haven’t done anything but complain since we got here,”

said the man in the middle. “If you want to piss and moan all day you might as well go home and bitch at your kids. Take your pick.” When Tub didn’t say anything, he turned to the driver. “O.K., Kenny, let’s hit the road.”

Some juvenile delinquents had heaved a brick through the windshield on the driver’s side, so the cold and snow tunneled right into the cab. The heater didn’t work. They covered themselves with a couple of blankets Kenny had brought along and pulled down the muffs on their caps. Tub tried to keep his hands warm by rubbing them under the blanket, but Frank made him stop.

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Tonight’s Read: Gaslight Gothic—An Anthology of Strange Stories of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by Charles Prepolec & J R Campbell (EDGE-Lite 2018)

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Table of Contents

Publisher’s Note
Books in the Gaslight Series
Introduction
It Is Not the Cold Which Makes Me Shiver by Charles Prepolec
The Cuckoo’s Hour by Mark A. Latham
The Spirit of Death by David Stuart Davies
Father of the Man by Stephen Volk
The Strange Case of Dr. Sacker and Mr. Hope by James Lovegrove
The Ignoble Sportsmen by Josh Reynolds
The Strange Adventure of Mary Holder by Nancy Holder
The Lizard Lady of Pemberton Grange by Mark Morris
The Magic of Africa by Kevin P. Thornton
A Matter of Light by Angela Slatter
The Song of a Want b Lyndsay Faye
About the Editors
About the Cover Artist
Need something New to Read
Detail

Link

“The Screaming Skull”—A Vintage Ghost Story by F. Marion Crawford, 1908

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Art by Devin Francisco (deviantart.com).

The Screaming Skull

F. Marion Crawford, 1908


Below: “The Screaming Skull originally appeared in Volume 41 of Collier’s National Weekly Magazine—in two parts—in the July 11 and July 18, 1908 issues. (Click thumbnails to enlarge.)

Top-left: The 1911 book cover for F. Marion Crawford’s story collection Wandering Ghosts, which included “The Screaming Skull”; and top-right: Original story illustration for the 1911 edition (caption reads: “What? . . . It’s gone, man, the Skull is gone!!”); artist unknown. (Images: Wiki; Pinterest; Haithi Trust; Public Domain.)

I have often heard it scream. No, I am not nervous, I am not imaginative, and I have never believed in ghosts, unless that thing is one. Whatever it is, it hates me almost as much as it hated Luke Pratt, and it screams at me.

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest. I have always blamed myself for Mrs Pratt’s death, and I suppose I was responsible for it in a way, though heaven knows I never wished her anything but long life and happiness. If I had not told that story she might be alive yet. That is why the thing screams at me, I fancy.

She was a good little woman, with a sweet temper, all things considered, and a nice gentle voice; but I remember hearing her shriek once when she thought her little boy was killed by a pistol that went off, though everyone was sure that it was not loaded.

It was the same scream; exactly the same, with a sort of rising quaver at the end; do you know what I mean? Unmistakable.

The truth is, I had not realized that the doctor and his wife were not on good terms. They used to bicker a bit now and then when I was here, and I often noticed that little Mrs Pratt got very red and bit her lip hard to keep her temper, while Luke grew pale and said the most offensive things. He was that sort when he was in the nursery, I remember and afterward at school. He was my cousin, you know; that is how I came by this house; after he died, and his boy Charley was killed in South Africa, there were no relations left. Yes, it’s a pretty little property, just the sort of thing for an old sailor like me who has taken to gardening.

One always remembers one’s mistakes much more vividly than one’s cleverest things, doesn’t one? I’ve often noticed it. I was dining with the Pratts one night, when I told them the story that afterwards made so much difference. It was a wet night in November, and the sea was moaning. Hush! – if you don’t speak you will hear it now…

Do you hear the tide? Gloomy sound, isn’t it? Sometimes, about this time of year – hallo! – there it is! Don’t be frightened, man – it won’t eat you – it’s only a noise, after all! But I’m glad you’ve heard it, because there are always people who think it’s the wind, or my imagination, or something. You won’t hear it again tonight, I fancy, for it doesn’t often come more than once. Yes – that’s right. Put another stick on the fire, and a little more stuff into that weak mixture you’re so fond of. Do you remember old Blauklot the carpenter, on that German ship that picked us up when the Clontarf went to the bottom? We were hove to in a howling gale one night, as snug as you please, with no land within five hundred miles, and the ship coming up and falling off as regularly as clockwork – ‘Biddy te boor beebles ashore tis night, poys!’ old Blauklot sang out, as he went off to his quarters with the sail-maker. I often think of that, now that I’m ashore for good and all.

Yes, it was on a night like this, when I was at home for a spell, waiting to take the Olympia out on her first trip – it was on the next voyage that she broke the record, you remember – but that dates it. Ninety-two was the year, early in November.

The weather was dirty, Pratt was out of temper, and the dinner was bad, very bad indeed, which didn’t improve matters, and cold, which made it worse. The poor little lady was very unhappy about it, and insisted on making a Welsh rarebit on the table to counteract the raw turnips and the half-boiled mutton. Pratt must have had a hard day. Perhaps he had lost a patient. At all events, he was in a nasty temper.

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