by Susan Blackmore
[From Blackmore, S. 1982/1992. Beyond the Body: An investigation into out-of-body experiences. 1992 (with new postscript), Chicago, Academy Chicago, ISBN 0 89733 344 6. First published in 1982, London, Heinemann. Pp 23-28. Used with permission.]
Oliver Fox was born in 1885 and spent childhood in northeast London progressing, as he puts, 'from illness to illness' and often dreading sleep because of the nightmares it might bring. He saw apparitions both terrifying and pleasant; and he feared moments in which, when he was occupied in some normal activity, things would 'go wrong', leaving him feeling temporarily paralysed and with everything around him seeming to separate and stretch him. His early dreams are important because it was through dreaming that he first learned to project at will. His first control over his dreams came when as a child he used to see small blue or mauve vibrating circles, something like a mass of frogspawn. Either grinning faces would appear, presaging a nightmare, or little inkpots, saving him from one, and so he learned to call upon the inkpots to avoid the terror of a bad dream.
One night in the early summer of 1902, when Fox had started as a science student in Southampton, he dreamed that he was standing on the pavement outside his house. But there was something odd about the pavement; the little rectangular stones of which it was composed all seemed to have changed position in the night, and were now parallel to the kerb. This mystery was solved when, in a flash of inspiration, he realized that although the sunny morning seemed as real as anything, he was dreaming. The moment that he realized it was a dream, the quality of everything changed: the house, trees, sea and sky all became vivid and alive, and the dreamer felt powerful and free; but it lasted only a moment before he awoke. This type of dream, which Fox was to have many more times, he called a 'dream of knowledge', because one has the knowledge that one is dreaming. Others have called them 'lucid dreams'. After this first exhilarating realization Fox went on to practise, and found how difficult it is to realize one is dreaming, but eventually he did learn to achieve this realization fairly frequently.
It was in one of these dreams that Fox found himself both walking along a beach on a sunny morning, and conscious of himself lying in bed. He struggled to remain on the beach, lost the 'dual consciousness', but gained a terrible pain in his head. He went on fighting the pain until he won. Then there was a 'click' in the head, and he was free. Along the beach he met people but they did not seem to be aware of him. Then he began to get frightened. What was the time, how long had he been there, and how was he supposed to get back? Was he dead? A fear of premature burial gripped him. He willed himself to wake up, there was the click again, and he was back. But he was paralyzed. This was better than being away from the body, but it took some time before he managed, after a desperate struggle, to move one little finger and so break the trance and move again.
Although this experience was frightening, Fox's curiosity soon triumphed and he went on to experiment further, learning that the cataleptic state was more easily dispelled by falling asleep again and letting it break naturally. He found out that emotional involvement of any kind would terminate the dream of knowledge and discovered how difficult it is to read in a dream. For all that, he did apparently succeed in seeing two questions of an exam paper the day before he took it, although he did not care to repeat this somewhat immoral activity. Going on with his experiments he soon experienced a new phenomenon, the 'false awakening'. One night he awoke to find his room dark, but the atmosphere seemed 'strained' and a greenish glow was coming from a little cabinet beside his bed. Only then did he 'really' wake up and realize he had only dreamt that he awoke. It was some time later that he learned that in the false awakening it is only necessary to try to move to find oneself projected.
Fox also tried some experiments with others. Two of his college friends shared his interest in theosophy and astrology and the three of them decided that they would try to meet on the Common in a dream. Two of them made it, both dreaming that they met the other, but that their third friend was absent. This seemed to be a successful test although it is impossible to be sure whether there was any reason for expecting that the third friend would not make it.
On another occasion one of these same friends determined to visit Fox one night. Fox awoke and saw his friend appear in an egg-shaped cloud of bluish-white light, with lights of other colours playing within it. This too seemed to be a success except for the fact that the friend recalled no matching experience. Fox concluded that he had seen a 'thought form' projected by his friend. This may or may not be an adequate explanation, but this kind of experience was often to be repeated. For example, much later in his life Fox often saw or spoke to his wife when projected but in the morning she would recall nothing of the meeting.
On one occasion, though, it was different. One of Fox's sweethearts, Elsie, disapproved of his experimentation, but was even more incensed at his suggestion that she was 'only a narrow-minded little ignoramus'. So she determined to prove herself by visiting him one night. He didn't take her boast in the least bit seriously but sure enough, that night he saw a large egg-shaped cloud and in the middle of it was Elsie with her hair loose and in a nightdress. He watched her as she ran her fingers along the edge of his desk but as he called her name she vanished. The next day she was able to tell him the layout of his room, and the details of some objects in it, although she had never been there, down to the gilt ridge running along the edge of the desk which Fox himself had not realized was there. This incident was important for Fox because he felt that it was one of the few occurrences which indicated something which was not purely subjective in his out-of-body adventures.
Most of his findings were purely subjective, however, and Fox felt that his critics dismissed them on those grounds. I question the importance of this distinction. It is my belief that most of what he, and others, have discovered about OBEs is purely subjective, in the sense that it is private and involves only one person's experience, but that does not, to my mind, dimish its interest. But Fox was acutely conscious of the fact that he was trying to convince an unwilling audience of the reality of astral projection. For this reason any evidence that the experience could be shared, or information brought back, was crucial to him.
It was many years later that Fox made his next important discovery. He had assumed that a dream of knowledge was essential for projection, and that the trance condition came after projection, but one day as he was lying on a couch in the afternoon, he found that he could see with his eyes closed. He was in the trance condition although he had not been to sleep. He left his body, found himself in some beautiful countryside, and then passed quickly back through a horse and van in a street. After this Fox realized that he could project from waking, and proceeded, some time later, to experiment whenever he had an opportunity to lie down quietly by himself. In this way he learnt to use what he called the 'Pineal Door' method of projection.
One interesting feature he points out is that when projected he could never see his physical body. This seems odd because one of the most common features of spontaneous OBEs is that the person sees his body as though from outside. But Fox had a rationale for this: he argued that if he was seeing the astral world when projected, then he should see the astral counterparts of physical objects rather than their physical or etheric aspects. Since his own astral body was projected he would not expect to see it without using some special extra power. After all, he was travelling in his astral body.
Thinking about this, it seems odd that other writers have not used the same argument. Certainly I have not come across any other projectors who have been unable to see their own physical bodies. Is there, then, something wrong with the traditional astral projection theory? Or can people see both astral and physical at once? I would guest not, for often things look slightly different, or even grossly different, when 'out of the body', and this is supposed to be because one is seeing the astral not the physical. One cannot have it both ways. It seems to me that this argument presents an interesting problem for the holders of the traditional view.
One day Fox decided to try the effect of chloroform, but it proved an unpleasant experiment. He seemed to shoot to the stars with a shining silver thread connecting his 'celestial self' with his body. Throughout he maintained dual consciousness and as he spoke the words seemed to travel down the thread and were spoken by his body, but according to his companions all that he said was regrettably flippant. He did not try this method again. The reference to the thread, however, was one of the rare times when Fox mentioned anything which could be compared to the traditional silver cord. On another occasion he was walking, in his projected body, along a busy street when his feet began to feel heavy and he felt the tug of his body 'as though a mighty cord of stretched elastic, connecting my two bodies, had suddenly come into existence and overpowered me'. In many of his other projections he could also feel something like a cord, but he never saw it.
From 1913 to 1915 Fox made more projections. The places he visited were very varied, from familiar and ordinary street scenes to countryside of stunning beauty, or buildings unlike any ever built on earth. At times the conditions seemed to be those prevailing physically at the time; at others he found himself enjoying warm sunshine in the middle of the night, or blue skies when it was physically raining outside. These travels, he concluded, were on the astral plane, while others were of an earthly location. He forestalls criticism here with this comment, 'People who cannot forget or forgive poor Raymond's cigar will get very cross with me when I say that there are electric trams on the astral plane; but there are -- unless there is no astral plane, and my trams run only in my brain'.
This problem is very familiar. Many a spirit communicator has had to explain why it is that there are fields of flowers, houses, and even tax collectors, in the afterlife or 'summerland'. It always seems awkward. But if the astral is composed of thought forms it is natural that there should be trams. The question then arises whether the thought forms are objective -- shared entities, as some would claim them to be -- or purely private things.
Often an excursion was cut short because something arrested Fox's attention and he became too involved in it. Once he stood behind a beautiful girl watching her brush her auburn hair. As he reached out to touch her shoulder she started and he rushed back to his body. Another time he found himself in the trance condition and then was borne away to a country road where he walked along until he came to a horse grazing at the roadside: 'I stroked it and could distinctly feel its warm, rather rough coat, but it did not seem aware of my presence. This, however, was a mistake; for it distracted my attention from the experiment, and my body called me back.'
Fox also notes that there are different ways of moving in the astral. He describes the difficult flapping of the arms or paddling with the hands which seems necessary in a dream of knowledge, and compares it with the movements caused by will alone which are possible in 'skrying' or 'rising through the planes': the clumsy dream movements might actually be unnecessary, he suggests, but useful as an aid to concentration. I think this is important, it is easy to get trapped into a habit of thought, and to use familiar props, such as a body, a cord or illuminated world, to make things seem more reasonable. I think that just as Fox learned that his movements were unnecessary, so many others have failed to learn that many of the details they find in their travels are unnecessary.
Fox goes on to tell the novice how he might best learn to project for himself. Fox first wrote articles about his experiences in the early 1920s just a few year before Sylvan Muldoon began writing.
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