Doubt and the paranormal (Insights from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller)
Do you ever read a book so interesting that you gotta tell everyone about it? I recently read Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller and was struck by how much great information and advice it contained for paranormal investigators.
Do you ever read a book so interesting that you gotta tell everyone about it? I recently read Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller and was struck by how much great information and advice it contained for paranormal investigators. Though the book is ostensibly geared toward magickal practitioners, it might actually be the most helpful ghost hunting book that I've read so far.
So here are the insights and nuggets of wisdom that I found most illuminating from a paranormal investigation perspective. This episode will be focused on advice about how to stop doubting paranormal experiences, ways to think critically about encounters with spirits, how to be braver and take risks, and other cool insights.
- the perception/projection ratio
- a digression about neurodivergence
- how to be less afraid of the paranormal
- an exercise to look past the veil
Download the episode here or listen anywhere you get podcasts.
Script for Doubt and the paranormal (Insights from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller)
Note: This is an inedited script; there will be typos and some variation from the final episode.
In general, I try to build my episodes around a bunch of different sources, and I try to keep them focused more on my own research rather than just summarizing or paraphrasing a book. But I recently read Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller (2022) and I liked it so much that I wanted to spend a whole episode talking about it.
Though the book is geared toward magickal practitioners, it had a ton of great info for people who are interested in paranormal investigation. In this episode, I want to touch on the aspects of the book that felt most relevant to ghost hunting.
I've decided to split this episode into two parts, because I had a ton of notes and thoughts:
- This episode will focus more on doubt, psychic abilities, discernment, and the like.
- The next episode will hone in on more specific concepts, including communication with local and nature spirits, communication with cryptids (he's communicated with the Jersey Devil!), ley lines, and more.
There's plenty of information about more ceremonial magick in the book, including specific invocations and prayers addressed to specific named spirits or deities. I'm not experienced in magick, so I'm not going to touch on those aspects of the book much at all, but I wanted to be sure to mention that the book contains that information as well.
First, a disclaimer
I read the book through the lens of a paranormal investigator and researcher, so I've gathered and synthesized these notes in that spirit. Miller approaches all of this from a magickal perspective, which differs a bit from the one that I'm using. So it's very possible that he might disagree with some of my conclusions or applications of these concepts to ghost hunting. He is also very direct in saying that Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller (2022) should not be a person's first book about magick. I haven't included specific prayers or conjuring techniques in this episode, because they're a bit over my head and also because that seems irresponsible. But if you want to know about that stuff, pick up the book.
Whether you're interested in the more magickal side of things or the paranormal investigation side of things, you'll be able to glean a lot of interesting insights from Consorting with Spirits: Your Guide to Working with Invisible Allies by Jason Miller (2022). I recommend picking it up, so you can get the full picture.
But here are the highlights that felt most relevant to paranormal investigators.
Improving paranormal experiences
He has some valuable insight about how to have better and more effective experiences interacting with the paranormal.
When someone asked him about how to become better at seeing spirits, he talks about how it's important to:
- Avoid doubt. He says that you should only debunk yourself after the experience has occurred. If you try to question something while it’s happening, you’ll stop it from happening. That’s because when you start to debunk things, you’re turning off the parts of your brain that allow you to experience the unusual thing that is occurring.
- Meditate and try to learn to sit still. You need to be able to listen and do nothing.
- Look at the ways in which your senses and awareness of your physical environment work with your mind. Basically, he talks about how your eyes see things, but your brain is what adapts them and turns them into experiences that mean something. He said that the trick is to look at that, and then trace that process backwards in order to perceive new things via other types of input. (Like psychic types of input, different types of perception, etc.)
- He also references an inner heat practice that he talks about in the book Sex, Sorcery, and Spirit by Jason Miller, which he says is hard but not too hard, but has a big payoff. I haven’t read this book yet so I can’t really say much about that, if that sounds interesting to you, check that book out.
On "natural" psychic ability
He talks about how some people have many psychic experiences easily, while other people have very few.
Some people get into magic so they can experience spirits speaking to them, and others get into magic because they need to make the spirits shut up.
But having lots of psychic experiences isn't always a good thing.
If you close your eyes and see pictures or hear voices after every invocation, then you are getting a lot of fairly meaningless surface-level communication. What you need is a way to separate out the signal from the noise.
To do this, he says you need to develop your perception/projection ratio.
The perception/projection ratio is the split between your own perception of what really happened vs. the meaning you project onto it.
Projection happens in both mundane life and when having paranormal experiences. There have been plenty of studies about how different people perceive the same things very differently, like remembering conversations and events in wildly divergent ways.
If our perceptions of ordinary conversations and events are subject to this much distortion, how much more so are our spiritual experiences that are, by definition, even more subtle?
To help balance your perception/projection ratio, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is this actionable?
- Is this useful?
Even if the answer is no to both of them, that doesn't mean that you're imagining a paranormal experience. The questions are just a tool to balance yourself. It's important to keep these questions in mind, especially because it can help prevent self-aggrandizement and it helps people stay humble about their own spirit communications.
Critically analyzing paranormal experiences
In addition to the questions about actionability and usefulness that Miller suggests using, he also includes other helpful criteria for critically examining paranormal experiences:
After the communication is over, now it's time to be critical about your experience. I mean really ruthless. Put your experience through a checklist:
• Was there anything actionable that I got out of this?
•Does taking those actions make sense, or at least cause no harm?
•Did I learn anything verifiable?
•Was the spirit or vision something that strokes my
ego, or was it challenging?
This checklist would be useful in any ghost hunter's toolbox.
Meditation and idleness
He also talks about how meditation and idleness are critical to seeing spirits. He differentiates the two by saying that meditation is when you are focused on a single thing (your breath, a mantra, or something similar.) Idleness, on the other hand, isn't focus. It might look like going for a walk or doing a repetitive task. Your brain needs to be able to play.
Leaving the mind unoccupied allows for windows of clarity to appear amidst the normal patterns of thoughts and attachments.
. . . Your idle time will cultivate your ability to open the senses, and it gives spirits the room to communicate with you. Your meditation time will give you the tool to go back over what you receive and separate out real communication from fantasy.
This is interesting to me, because there's been so much great conversation lately about the idea of "laziness" and how that's just a concept that is meant to make people feel like they need to work constantly.
The book Laziness Does Not Exist by Dr. Devon Price is all about the subject; it's an excellent read, especially if you have trouble letting yourself relax and do nothing.
Price talked to NPR about his book in 2021, and I wanted to read a bit of it to give you a bit more of a taste of Price's argument:
A surprising influence helped author Devon Price understand what can be harmful about closely associating our worth with our work. His pet chinchilla, Dumptruck. "He's never been productive in his life," Price says. The social psychologist and author of Laziness Does Not Exist says Dumptruck is pretty much the opposite of productive, and frankly, rather destructive.
"I would never look at him and think of his life in terms of has he justified his right to exist? He's not paying rent. He's not performing any service. And it would be absurd to even think about his life in those terms," he says.
"I think animals help us remember that we shouldn't have to earn our right to exist. We're fine and beautiful and completely lovable when we're just sitting on the couch just breathing. And if we can feel that way about animals that we love and about, you know, relatives that we love, people in our lives who we never judged by their productive capacity, then we can start thinking of ourselves that way, too."
Just for myself, I notice that I need a lot of idle time. Not just so I can access paranormal experiences and greater creativity; I need slack time to exist at all as a "functional" human. I spent a lot of time playing solitaire, drawing, going for long walks, and staring into space.
I also need that decompression time when I've been overstimulated, which I talked about in my Sleep Paralysis in Scranton episode. In the NPR article, Price says "laziness is usually a warning sign from our bodies and our minds that something is not working. The human body is so incredible at signaling when it needs something. But we have all learned to ignore those signals as much as possible because they're a threat to our productivity and our focus at work."
All of this to say, there are many reasons why humans need idleness, both for mundane reasons and in order to better perceive and interact with the paranormal.
Prepare less, risk more
Miller says that it is important to not be afraid to try new things and practice communicating with spirits. Naturally, any action is a risk, but not acting is also a risk. And you will never learn by just reading books; you also have to learn by doing: "Prepare less, risk more. You will get further."
I felt called out by this; I'm someone who will completely submerge themself in research and reading, I have a terrible track record of prioritizing those things over actually seeking out paranormal experiences.
Miller has this advice to avoid fear when interacting with the paranormal:
- Consume less scary media. That means watching fewer horror movies. Basically, avoid narratives that have been crafted to make you feel fear when it comes to the paranormal. He points out how so many people have enough faith in their magickal abilities that they think that they can make something really scary happened, but not enough faith that they think that they can fix matters if things go sideways.
- Try to focus on the excitement that underlies your fear.
- Practice the stoic exercise: Look at the worst-case scenarios of what might happen if you do the thing you’re afraid of. Then turn it around and look at the things you might lose if you don’t do the thing you’re afraid of.
He says that it’s really important to practice magick often. He talks about how it’s important to take more risks and leave more to chance when working with magick and the paranormal. He says that there are very seldom massive, intense paranormal experiences that leave no room for doubt. Instead, we become convinced of the reality of the paranormal through a series of small unexplainable events that when taken altogether leave little room for doubt.
Use your discernment
Related to fear and the paranormal, Miller says to use critical thinking when interacting with the paranormal.
Don’t do things just because a spirit told you to. If a spirit is getting too controlling and unpleasant, then you should stop working with them.
You shouldn’t let a spirit (or another person) rule your life. You shouldn’t be afraid to tell an entity or spirit (or psychic) “no.” And you should use your head and your own discretion during any interaction with spirits.
The tl;dr here is: Don’t let something else control your life.
Am I making it up? Am I talking to a ghost or to myself?
Miller says that meditation is the best way to tell what is real spirit communication and what is just a message from your own ego. The idea is that meditation allows you to have a better grasp of what your mind looks like and feels like and how it works, so that way easier to see what is coming from your brain and what is coming from outside.
He also says to beware of communication that seems to be focused on stroking your ego and making you feel better about yourself, because that communication is more likely to be bogus and might even be delivered by someone who is trying to manipulate you (in the case of human mediums, for example.)
He talks about how real entities will tell you “no.” If you are regularly communicating with the spirit or an entity and you are never told “no,” then you’re just talking to yourself. He said that there can be a real danger in believing that you’re talking to real entity who's endorsing everything that you do, when really you’re just talking yourself into following the status quo and believing that nothing in your life needs to change.
That’s how you end up feeling stuck in your life and thinking that you shouldn't try to change or improve things. As comforting as that is, you’ll never really grow that way.
When interacting with the paranormal, Miller says the most important thing is to:
Engage the experience without doubt while it is happening. Analyze it critically after it is over.
All of his talk about doubt and just getting out there and doing things both really spoke to me and made me feel called out. I'm guilty of constantly doubting my own experiences, which is something I'm trying to work on.
If you listened to the most recent episode, then you know what I mean. During a solo paranormal investigation, I distinctly felt a breath on my neck. During the audio recording, you can hear me say, "eh, it's probably just the wind." But that evening, when I sat down and wrote out my impressions, I very clearly described the feeling as a breath. Because that's what I was feeling, I just didn't feel comfortable admitting it out loud in that moment.
Who knows what might have happened if I had been more willing to admit the reality of paranormal experiences while they're happening? According to Miller, the doubt that I felt might have actually shut down my ability to perceive and interact with the paranormal in those moments.
For a long time, I've been trying to work on doubting my own experiences less, just because it's somewhat irrational and sometimes I feel like I'm gaslighting myself. But this just gives me another reason to try to avoid doubt in the moment, because it can compromise my ability to perceive the paranormal.
One exercise to look past the veil
Throughout the book, Miller includes plenty of great, actionable things you can try to interact with the paranormal. So, in the spirit of preparing less, risking more, I wanted to share one particular exercise from the book that was simple and easy and that you can try right now.
Step 1: Look straight ahead. It doesn't matter what is in front of you—anything from a sprawling vista to a wall will do. Just look.
Step 2: Now imagine that everything in front of you is actually on a video screen. Pretend it's a two-dimensional representation of what you see. It looks the same, just as it would if you were looking at a high-definition screen that took up your whole view, but you know that it is just a screen.
Step 3: Consider what is on the other side of that screen. Listen closely. Reach out with your feelings. Can you sense it? Is there something on the other side?
The idea is that this exercise "collapse[s] our normal sensation of three dimensions of space down to two dimensions, which leaves a mental 'slot' open for us to perceive something we normally don't. "
He cautions that the exercise can make you feel slightly dizzy, nauseous, or panicked.