In a previous post I examined the concept of ontological flooding, a term coined by paranthropologist Dr. Jack Hunter. Paranthropology is an anthropological study of paranormal phenomena.
Ontological flooding is a crucial term (maybe the guiding term) for this site. At the end of the previous post I mentioned Hunter citing another term relevant to our discussion, one coined by the godfather of ontological flooding Charles Fort: intermediatism.
Intermediatism holds that all arising phenomena exist on something of a spectrum between real and unreal.
There are, in other words, intermediate kinds of realities. In so doing Fort critiqued both mainstream materialistic science as well as much occult studies. To the former he was saying that there are indeed things not accessed solely by materialistic or scientistic assumptions. Things could be “more real” (or at least more intensely experienced) than conventional experience. Hunter’s Ph.D thesis was on spirit mediumship for example. On the other hand, Fort was not saying that the strange, the occult, the paranormal are the most ultimate real either. They too exist on in the intermediate spectrum.
In fact, as I wrote in a footnote to the end of my piece reviewing the recent Ghostbusters movie and its depiction of the astral plane, the very term paranormal itself should be in scare quotes because:
the concept of the paranormal is itself ideological and riven by scientistic presuppositions. Para means "next to" or "alongside of", so paranormal is that which is "next to or alongside of" the presumed normal, that is to say the "regular" world described by mainstream science. I prefer the notion of super natural as described by Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Streiber.
By super natural Kripal & Streiber mean that phenomena like astral projection, energy healing, synchronicities, high strangeness, and the occult are simply a part of nature. They are not above nature (as in supernatural). These phenomena are an intensified form of natural experience—they are super natural. That perspective very much jives with the Fortean notion of intermediatism. I ended that piece by suggesting that intermediatism is a very helpful frame to begin to approach the concept of discernment (and also related notions of aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology that take into account the so-called paranormal.)
Having reviewed those key concepts we can transition into the topic for this post: the relationship of ontological flooding & intermediatism (aka the super natural) to trauma.
The link here comes again via Kripal and Streiber’s book. In that text Prof. Kripal has a chapter on trauma and its core intersection with mystical experience throughout human spiritual history. Trauma is a central motif in mystical and spiritual traditions worldwide.
The earliest form of human spiritual experience is learning to travel between worlds—what is typically known nowadays as shamanism. The most prevalent form of shamanic calling is deep traumatic experience. Shamans often receive their calling by going through an actual near death experience, some other form of brutal trauma, or a mystical form of trauma known as dismemberment.
In dismemberment the initiate experiences being ripped apart limb from limb psychically. Usually this occurs from being devoured by a wild and/or magical creature: e.g. a bear, a dragon, a lion, etc. The shamanic initiate may experience a sensation of their flesh being eaten or boiled in oil until they are reduced down to bones (typically). The bones are then re-membered and they are re-built, like the Six Million Dollar Man or the vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, piece by piece. In this re-memberment they are given gifts of insight and healing and power with which to bring medicine into this world.
That experience can be read in many ways on many levels but it is clearly deeply traumatizing. Now here is the one potential danger (or at least caution) around the term ontological flooding. In trauma work “flooding” would indicate overwhelm and dysregulation of a nervous system. Titration—one of, if not the, core practice of trauma regulation work—exists precisely to prevent “flooding” of the nervous system. In titration the point is to slow experience way down in order to be able to digest and metabolize it one bite at a time. If we’re going to keep with the water imagery we don’t want to be flooded but rather immersed by the waters of an intensified super natural ontology. We want to be able to dip our toes in the water and acclimate and then very gently sink a bit further into the waters at a gentle, safe pace.
Flooding means drowning. Flooding means overwhelm. Flooding means traumatization. That’s why I would prefer to speak of “ontological immersion” rather than flooding. Hunter is right that the ontological bracket prevents much experience of the wildness and the weird. But opening to those experiences is only the first step. The next step is how best to navigate, assimilate, and integrate those experiences into the rest of our experience (aka "the normal" as compared to the paranormal). Done incorrectly more intense anomalous or high strangeness experiences can lead to all manner of traumatizations. Examples would include bad psychedelic trips, kundalini energetic awakenings that fry a person's nervous system, a meditation practices that ends up teaching spiritual bypassing and emotional dissociation. The list of such examples could be enormous.
While anomalous, high strangeness, and mystical experiences of the weird, super natural though they may be, both real and unreal as Fort would say, are ultimately no different from a nervous system point of view than any other type of experience. They might be more intensified yes but like an experience they need to be properly digested.
If trauma is defined as any experience that is happening too fast to be comprehend and properly embedded by the nervous system, then the high speed, high intensity nature of high strangeness/the weird makes it even more likely to be potentially traumatizing. Here, if anywhere, the process of learning to regulate oneself is crucial to prevent traumatization.
In trauma work there are two extremes to avoid: repression and unconscious expression/overwhelm/dysregulation. The ontological bracket is an ontological form of repression, screening out the possibility of anomalous or non-ordinary experiences. There’s a caution however in making the opposite mistake in reverse by ontological flooding—that is opening oneself up too widely, too quickly, to the uncanny world of high strangeness. That can easily lead to overwhelm, collapse, and dysregulation.
The middle path is conscious expression—breaking things down into digestible, doable amounts. To ontological immerse oneself as it were.
In other words, regulation is a core human practice that’s necessary for dealing with life across its various manifestations, whether that’s navigating the horrifically disorienting effects of social media, contemporary gender and culture wars, occult experience, or simply the ordinary day to day grind under the shadow of the global spider web.
Bringing in a trauma lens allows us to connect multiple seemingly disparate movements into a deeper unified flow. I've explored elsewhere on this site how trauma and lack of proper emotional regulation is core to the rise of SJWs vs. the alt-right and the cultural war writ large as well as negative feedback loop of social media and trauma whereby social media mediates traumatic experience which in turn further degrades the social media ecosystem leading to further traumatization. It would also allow a connection to be made to larger issues of the deep state, which has a long history of ruthelessly experimenting upon people directly at the intersection of trauma and high strangeness/the occult (see MK Ultra and MK Often).
Now it is undoubtedly true that many anomalous, uncanny, or mystical experiences can be traumatizing. I've mentioned negative encounters like a bad acid trip. But even positive mystical experiences can be dysregulating. There can be too much of a good thing from a nervous system point of view. Opening up into many of these areas—call them high strangeness, paranormal, supernatural, mystical—without proper titration can lead to deep dysregulation of the nervous system (and hence trauma).
Trauma is a form of intermediatistic experience in precisely the Fortean sense: trauma is both real and unreal simultaneously. Trauma exists along a spectrum of reality (and unreality). The effects are trauma are real—effects like looped intrusive thinking, chronic fatigue, broken relational patterns, addiction (as a coping mechanism against feeling the pain of trauma), and so on.
The basis of trauma is also real. Getting hurt in a car crash, being locked in a cupboard and beaten as a child, sexually assaulted, forced into unwanted medical procedures against your will, raised in an environment of chronic immiseration and violence, being gay in a venomously homophobic society, those are all very real. Even chronic stress is a serious form of nervous system dysregulation (and hence trauma).
And yet for all that reality one of the strangest aspects of trauma is it’s deeply illusory (or unreal) nature. Trauma activates what is colloquially known as the fight/flight/freeze mechanism. That survival instinct serves humans well in surviving but not in thriving. It is meant to be a short term, emergency protocol, but instead becomes for many the default setting in their system. When it becomes the default setting survival energies read just about everything and anything as potential threat to be either aggressive towards (fight), to be anxious about (flight), or to collapse in response to (freeze).
Trauma begets dissociative experience which itself in a strange intermediate realm between reality and unreality. Dissociative experience is very real psychologically it’s even itself part of the self-defence mechanism and under the right circumstances can serve a limited, useful purpose. Nevertheless dissociative experience that’s not dealt with becomes “part of the furniture” psychically speaking. It begins to warp one’s worldview, assumptions, perceptions, judgments, and actions creating further very real (and often negative) effects, themselves built out of an ultimately false view of things.
This real-unreal hybrid disorienting and dysregulated nature of trauma is true in the broad sense, i.e. when dealing with “normal” trauma (for lack of a better word). When dealing with trauma that occurs as a result of or is at least implicated in paranormal, mystical, and/or transcendental experience then the complexity increases exponentially.
For those interested in this topic of high strange trauma and it's resolution I've explored it followup pieces covering aspects like the alien abduction phenomenon. I argue there that it may well be that much of what is experienced as the so-called contactee or abduction experience may well be nervous system dysregulation filtering (and perhaps warping) an experience of intensified intermediated existence (in the Fortean sense). So far as I know this is not an angle that has been properly explored in the literature on the subject.