When we are born, that part of our brain that holds our identity is a blank slate, waiting to be written on by the impressions of our physical senses. As we age, we acquire more and more experiences, and these are stored as memories. We are the sum of our memories. Take them away, as happens sometimes in severe stroke, and we cease to exist. Our body continues, but it is no more than a physical shell. It is not who we are. Who we are is undifferentiated super-consciousness, acting through the filter of our various levels of memory, which shape and define that consciousness, limiting it into what we know as our personal identity.
We can never conceive anything apart from the input of our senses. That is the tragedy of the human experience. Try to conceive of a thing that is not based on your prior sense impressions and you will see that it is so. You cannot do it. If you think of a monster that has never existed, you will see that it is built up of familiar parts that you have learned about through your senses — skin, teeth, legs, eyes, ears, a tail. It will be certain colors, will emit sounds, will have a distinctive smell, be rough or smooth to the touch. We simply cannot imagine anything other than sense impressions. Even when we try to imagine completely abstract things, we can only hold them in our minds by translating them into familiar sensory models. This is the reason we cannot picture higher dimensions of space, but must use three-dimensional models to suggest them. It is a fundamental, inherent limitation of human consciousness, part of the very nature of what we are.
Even more startling the first time it is understood is the realization that the entire universe that we know and everything it contains exists only in our mind. That is not to say that another level of the universe might not exist apart and independent of our awareness, but if so we can never know anything about it. That is the key insight. We are prisoners of our own perceptions. Our consciousness is based on perceptual information, and the universe for us exists only in our mind.
You may have heard about Plato’s cave. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote in his dialogue The Republic that human beings are like prisoners chained in a cave who sit with their backs to the fire and perceive nothing of what passes behind them apart from the shadows that play across the cave wall. The cave is human consciousness. The light from the fire is our senses. The shadows are the things we build up in our minds based on our sense impressions. All we know consciously are the shadows. The moving shadows on the wall constitute our reality.
However, the cave is not all we are. In our higher natures, we transcend its limits. Sometimes, beings from outside the cave of sense impressions interact with our awareness. We call them gods, angels, spirits, ghosts, fairies, demons, aliens, and countless other names that attempt to define them in a way that our mind can handle. These beings from outside our perceptual reality are faced with a quandary. They exist beyond our senses, and we can only understand things of our senses, so how are they to reach our awareness?
They do it by using a technique that I have named sensory metaphors. A sensory metaphor is nonsensory information that has been translated into sensory information. The mind is incredibly versatile, despite its inherent limitations. It is capable of translating one sensory input into another sensory input under extraordinary conditions such as illness or a head injury, or under the influence of mind-altering drugs such as LSD. We can, under certain conditions, hear colors, for example, or see sounds, or even taste concepts. One sensory input can substitute its information for another input from a different sense.
But the mind is even more versatile. It can process information that has no sensory base at all into sensory data, thus allowing us to become aware of its existence, and to consider it by analogy. That is to say, we can never consider the super-sensory data itself because it lies beyond the reach of our consciousness, but we can contemplate the sensory metaphors of that unreachable data, in the same way we can represent and manipulate the higher dimensions of space with three-dimensional models.
When an angel appears to a human being, it has no physical reality. It cannot be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. You may object that reports of angels throughout human history record that they appeared as physical beings. Often angels are said to walk among us in the guise of ordinary human beings who can be touched. Women have even made love to angels.
True enough. It was not the angel that was perceived, but the sensory metaphor generated by the angel, which exists in a realty that lies beyond our capacity to comprehend. Only because the angel has generated a sensory metaphor of itself do we even know that an angel is present. If the angel wishes to communicate with us, it must express itself in a way we can hold in our thoughts and imprint on our memories. It must become sensory data in our minds, even though that data never passes through any of the physical avenues of our senses.
Unless a spirit generates a sensory metaphor of itself, we continue unaware of it even though it may be very near. It is sometimes said that the world throngs with spirits of all kinds, but that we remain unconscious of their existence. This is true. To become real to us, a spirit must engage our mind on our own level of understanding.
Sensory metaphors of a simple kind arise spontaneously under unusual conditions. When we see a ghost, we do not actually see anything at all — rather, we have the impression in our minds of seeing. The true nature of the ghost, which we cannot perceive directly because it lies beyond our senses, is translated into a sensory metaphor. Usually this takes the form of a visual image. It may be indistinct or translucent. Sometimes the ghost takes the sensory metaphor of a sound or series of sounds, sometimes an odor, sometimes a touch, and only very rarely it appears as a taste. Ghosts can simulate more than one sense at a time, and we may both hear and see a ghost, or feel the touch of a ghost and simultaneously smell a distinct odor such as cigar smoke or perfume.
Complex spirits, who have a more developed intelligence, seem able to at least in part control the sensory metaphors that we perceive, so that they can present themselves in whatever way they think is to their advantage in dealing with us, and if necessary, change their appearance. You have no doubt heard of demons summoned into the triangle of evocation by magicians who come first in a frightening and horrible form in an attempt to intimidate the magician, but when commanded by the authority of names of power, will put on more pleasing forms in order to converse with the magician.
Spirits are not in their essence the sensory metaphors that represent them. They become those forms in their dealings with us, in order to be able to make us aware of their existence and communicate with us, and to us they are those forms, just as to us a human being is the body that he or she inhabits. But apart from our consciousness the essence of the spirit is a thing we simply are not capable of comprehending. It is what lies outside Plato’s cave and we can never turn our head to look directly at it, because it is not within our capacity to do so.
The doctrine of sensory metaphors explains many mysteries about the nature of spirits. For example, why a spirit can seem completely and physically real to one individual, yet pass unperceived by another individual who is nearby. It explains why a spirit that can be touched cannot be photographed. Whether or not genuine spirit or ghost photographs exist is a matter for debate. My own belief is that such photographs do not exist. A being that cannot be perceived directly by human senses cannot register on photographic film, because in a strictly material sense, it is not there at all. Yet the sensory metaphor of that spirit can seem completely real and present to whomever it is presented.
All the tricks of capricious spirits become understandable. Fairies were noted for their fairy feasts, which would be there one moment and gone the next, and for their fairy gold, which after being given would turn to straw or vanish away completely. The doctrine of sensory metaphors explains the sudden appearance and vanishing of spiritual beings of various types, how they can seem material yet pass through solid walls or doors, how they can appear to turn to smoke or mist, how they can transmute themselves into the shapes of beasts.
Sensory metaphors should not be thought of as completely arbitrary and ephemeral. True, they are not real in the narrow sense that our sensory impressions of physical objects are real, yet they often express accurately the nature of the spirit that adopts them. When a spirit retains a sensory metaphor for long enough, it effectively becomes the spirit, just as we are our collection of thoughts and memories. A goddess conceived for thousands of years in a certain form, with specific characteristics, becomes that being permanently, in so far as anything in this ever-shifting universe can be said to have permanence. The name given to the goddess becomes the name of that spirit. Aphrodite is Aphrodite, she is not merely a spirit pretending to be Aphrodite.
A spirit that manifests over a long period as the sensory metaphor of Abraham Lincoln may truly believe itself to be the spirit of the dead president. And who is to say it is not correct? Its identity is based on the same motivations, the same beliefs, the same memory of experiences, that formed the personality of Lincoln. If it is not the actual spiritual essence of Lincoln’s soul, assuming such a separate and discrete essence to exist, then it is a clone of that essence. Perhaps the spirit is even able to tap into some higher aspect of Lincoln’s being, a kind of divine template of Lincoln that is stored in the Akashic records.
The control higher spirits have over sensory metaphors should cause us to be thankful most spirits are benevolent. The ability to control what we perceive through our physical senses gives these spirits the power of life and death over us. We have all had sensory tricks played on us by spiritual beings. We put down our car keys, turn round to do something, and when we turn back, the keys are gone. We search the table they were on, the room, the whole house without finding them, and the next day when we pass the table, there are the keys, sitting just where we left them in plain sight. This kind of thing happens so often, it scarcely causes us to think about it. However, if we considered the matter, we would realize that someone has been playing games with our perceptions. How else could we fail to see what was in plain sight the whole time we looked for it?
Poltergeists play with human perceptions all the time. This is the primary way they work their tricks. Usually this manipulation of the senses is coupled with the spirit possession of a human being, who unwittingly acts as their physical agent to move things or perform various physical tasks. Much of poltergeist phenomena is physical, but much of it only appears to be physical, but is actually composed of sensory metaphors. For example, everyone in the house may suddenly hear a deafening clap of thunder, yet no one in the neighboring houses will have heard a thing, because the thunder was not an actual sound, but merely the metaphor of thunder that existed only in the minds of those who heard it.
There seems to be some kind of natural law that prevents spirits from killing or injuring human beings in large numbers through the malicious manipulation of our senses. It does happen on rare occasions, but the demons who do it are outlaws or renegades who have stepped over the bounds of normal spirit behavior. Apparently there are no laws against playing with us, annoying us, or terrifying us, other than the general laws of good manners and good taste, and some spirits delight to do these things, though what their motives may be is a matter for conjecture. Maybe they are amusing themselves at out expense, or maybe they derive some personal benefit from generating strong emotions of anger, frustration or fear. Perhaps these strong emotions nourish lower spirits, and it is for this reason that they manipulate our senses in order to generate them.
The concept of sensory metaphors is essential to a useful understanding of human-spirit interaction in the twenty-first century. The old mechanical notions of spirit nature simply will not serve our purposes in this quantum age. We cannot weigh and photograph spiritual beings, and it is high time to get over this simplistic understanding of our reality. What we know is conditioned by our senses, but it is not limited to our senses. Our reality contains higher levels and higher dimensional beings with which we can interact, but only in a secondary way, by a process of translation that models the higher levels of reality in sensory forms that our mind is capable of handling. We should be thankful that our minds are so versatile, they allow this translation to occur, for without it we would know nothing of spirits, not even that they exist.
©2007 Donald Tyson. Edited by Sheta Kaey
Donald Tyson is the author of Sexual Alchemy: Magical Intercourse with Spirits, Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches & Magicians, and Soul Flight: Astral Projection and the Magical Universe, among other works. You can visit his website here.