What is it like to see ghosts on a regular basis? Or to grow up knowing things about the future that then come true? What’s it like to try to live a normal life after having a near-death experience and coming back from the “Other Side”? Or to discover that you appear to be able to move objects with your mind? Or heal people with your hands? Can involvement with the Other Side ever turn out to be dangerous for your mental health?
While the growing body of methodical, scientific research on paranormal topics is invaluable, it’s really just the tip of an enormous iceberg, and there’s nothing like detailed, personal accounts of paranormal phenomena to acquaint us with the depth and breadth of extraordinary human experience. In this blog post, I’ve pulled together my 15 favorite paranormal memoirs. These true stories reveal myriad aspects of paranormal experience: the inspiring, the scary, and the downright bewildering. And they all do it through well-spun narratives that will keep you turning the pages to see what happens next.
I hope you enjoy. And please, if you have a favorite paranormal memoir that you don’t see mentioned here, let me know! I am always on the lookout for more.
Here, in chronological order of publication, are my 15 favorite paranormal memoirs.
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C. G. Jung (Random House, 1961): This classic memoir by the man who coined the term ‘synchronicity’ will be appreciated by anyone interested in puzzling out the deeper meanings of the dreams and coincidences that fill our lives. Jung’s towering intellect and erudition are evident throughout, but this is also a very personal story about wrestling with mystery, mental illness (or the fear of it), and the perpetually elusive depths of the unconscious. And of course there are the many classic paranormal anecdotes, including the one about the anomalous “detonations” that intervened in an argument Jung had with Freud, as well as the time Jung awoke with pain in his skull the night a patient of his shot and killed himself.
The Link by Matthew Manning (Colin Smythe, 1974): Matthew Manning became famous as a teenager for his psychic abilities, which seemed especially pronounced in the area of macro-psychokinesis–moving objects with one’s mind. He wrote this book when he was only 19 and the startling events of his adolescent years were still fresh in his mind. Among many other fascinating aspects of this book is the careful, extended description of the poltergeist experiences that assailed him while he was in boarding school. His memoir also contains some extraordinary examples of mediumship and xenoglossy (the ability to speak or write in a foreign language that one never learned).
Travels by Michael Crichton (Vintage, 1988): Yes, this memoir is from the Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, and it’s fascinating to see inside the life that created so many engrossing science-fiction thrillers. (Did you know Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School?) It will probably come as no surprise to fans of his book Sphere that Crichton had rather extensive experience with psychic phenomena. His memoir is peppered with his ruminations on mind-body medicine, observations about patterns he observed in the many psychics he frequented, and an exploration of auras that he undertook with a psychiatrist named Judith. (Might that be the Judith who wrote the next memoir on this list?) There is also a spoon-bending episode and an occasion on which Crichton appears to divest himself of a parasitic thoughtform. Crichton’s open-minded yet astutely observant attitude is evident–and appreciated–throughout.
Second Sight by Judith Orloff, MD (Warner, 1996; Three Rivers, 2010): Judith Orloff is a board-certified psychiatrist and on UCLA’s psychiatric clinical faculty. She is also psychically gifted. This memoir is not only about the way her intuitive gifts manifested themselves in childhood but also about how difficult it was for her, when she grew up, to figure out whether/how to integrate them into her mainstream psychiatric career. This is an insightful book packed with intriguing anecdotes as well as well-considered advice for others looking for a better understanding of their psychic side.
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck (Times, Berkley, 1999; Three Rivers, 2011): Martha Beck is a masterful writer, full of intelligence and humor, and this book is one of my favorite memoirs of all time, not least because it has so many layers. There’s the physical story, about Beck’s life-threatening pregnancy with her second child, diagnosed with Down syndrome. Then there’s the simultaneous intellectual story, about Beck’s eroding relationship with academia. (During this life-threating pregnancy, she’s working on a doctorate from Harvard.) And finally, there’s the spiritual/paranormal story, about the way that these excruciating months of her life appear to open up a psychic lifeline that connects Beck in a telepathic way to her unborn child, her husband, and a band of benevolent spiritual beings. This “Seeing Thing,” as Beck calls it, not only offered her great comfort but made it possible for her to emerge from one of the most trying times of her life a more whole human being.
The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts by Joe Fisher (Paraview, 2001): In this memoir, journalist Joe Fisher recounts the harrowing experiences that grew out of his connection with a woman named Aviva who appeared to be channeling spirit guides. These “guides” drew a group of very interested followers but quickly began exhibiting possessive behavior toward them, instigating interpersonal conflicts, and generally abusing them psychologically. Fisher was deeply emotionally involved in these events while at the same time doing his best to investigate the true nature of the personalities and messages coming through Aviva. His investigations led him to the conclusion that Aviva was indeed channeling discarnate entities, but that they were deceivers with malevolent intentions. However, Fisher had a very difficult time extricating himself from their web. And it’s not at all clear that he succeeded. In the same year that his memoir was published, he committed suicide. His book stands as a clear warning to anyone who thinks that there is no dark side to paranormal involvement. (For a longer summary of Fisher’s book, see pp. 350-53 of my book The Source and Significance of Coincidences.)
Diary of a Psychic by Sonia Choquette (Hay House, 2003): Even as a young girl, Choquette was a gifted psychic–so gifted that, as a teen, she found herself besieged by clients seeking tarot card readings. This memoir relates in detail what it was like to be so naturally intuitive as well as how immensely helpful it was to eventually find a mentor and teacher who could guide her past the major pitfalls that threaten those who do psychic work. (See the previous memoir in this list!) Choquette’s story is both fascinatingly unique and genuinely relatable.
The Angel in My Pocket by Sukey Forbes (Viking, 2014): Sukey Forbes’s memoir tells the story of the loss of her six-year-old daughter and her subsequent confrontation with some startling, hard-to-dismiss evidence that her daughter lived on beyond the grave. While the paranormal elements of this book are fascinating, even more important, I think, is the light this book throws on the process of grief, and how harrowing it can be even for those who have the benefit of receiving messages from the Beyond. (See my longer review of this book here.)
The Hand on the Mirror by Janis Heaphy Durham (Grand Central, 2015): After Janis Heaphy Durham’s husband Max passed away from cancer, strange things began happening in their home, including the appearance of powdery white handprints on the bathroom mirror on the anniversaries of his death. Durham’s memoir chronicles her journey to understanding the meaning of these odd events, including her interviews with several important figures in the field of parapsychological research. Her story is an engaging and thought-provoking one, and it is significantly enhanced by the inclusion of several color photographs of the phenomena in question. (See my longer review of this book here.)
Promised by Heaven by Dr. Mary Helen Hensley (Atria, 2015): Hensley was the daughter of a Baptist minister, but from a young age, her life was filled with experiences that went far beyond her Sunday school lessons. She had out-of-body experiences, dreams of the future, and repeated contacts from her grandfather, who’d died when she was only a year old. Then, at age 21, she had a near-death experience that changed her life forever. Not only did it convince her beyond any doubt of the reality of reincarnation, it brought her back to her current life with a new mission: to be a metaphysical healer. But that didn’t mean things were easy. As Hensley’s story amply demonstrates, realizing that one has a calling is only the beginning. (For a longer review of Promised by Heaven, see this post.)
The Light Between Us by Laura Lynne Jackson (Spiegel & Grau, 2015): Laura Lynne Jackson spent her childhood and young adult years trying to hide her psychic ability, which felt to her more like a debilitating deficiency than a gift. Her memoir tells her story of discovering how valuable this ability could actually be, when used in the service of connecting people to the loved ones they’ve lost. Jackson is now a medium certified by both the Forever Family Foundation and the Windbridge Institute. She is also a high-school English teacher and gifted writer.
Waking Up to Love by Scarlett L. Heinbuch, PhD (Waterside, 2018): This memoir is primarily about Heinbuch’s experience doing energy healing on a stranger in a coma, only to be caught up in a shared near-death experience with him and realize that, in that other realm, he was not a stranger at all–that in fact they had always been together, sharing “a sacred bond that transcended time.” When this stranger-who-was-not-a-stranger woke up from his coma miraculously healed, he and Heinbuch began to get to know each other in this life, and they’ve now been married for 14 years. This memoir is the story of their love, but also Heinbuch’s story of learning about herself and how to trust the gifts and guidance she has been given throughout her life. (For more on this book, see my post “The Couple Who Met in a Near-Death Experience.”)
Angels in the OR by Tricia Barker (Post Hill, 2019): At 22, Barker had a near-death experience that not only left her with psychic gifts and the knowledge that there were angels watching over her but also bestowed on her a mission: to become a teacher. This was far from the life she’d envisioned for herself, and it turned out to be even harder than she could have expected, when, during her first teaching assignment after graduation, Barker was raped. Her raw and honest memoir is an excellent example of how a close connection to the Other Side does not exempt us from excruciating hardship. And yet it shows how the most difficult events of our lives can become a door to even greater connection with those around us. (For my full review of Angels in the OR, see this post.)
Hidden Experience by Mike Clelland (2019): Since 2009, Mike Clelland has been blogging about his strange synchronicity experiences, many of them connected to owls as well as to what (he has somewhat grudgingly come to admit) seem very much like UFO abduction phenomena. His book Hidden Experience is not a traditionally composed memoir but rather a compilation of his blog posts over the course of the preceding decade. The emotional immediacy of these posts draws us deep into Clelland’s inner journey as he seeks to puzzle out the meaning of the staggeringly strange events that have punctuated his life. This book also includes one of the most interesting (and inspiring) accounts of hypnotic regression that I’ve yet come across.
When I Was Someone Else by Stéphane Allix (Park Street, 2021): While on a spiritual retreat, French war journalist Stéphane Allix had a waking vision from the perspective of a German soldier dying on a World War II battlefield. In the vision, Allix knew the soldier’s name–Alexander Herrmann–as well as his rank, and subsequent research revealed that this man really existed. In his memoir, Allix tells the story of this and other visions/memories he had of this soldier’s life, as well as his attempts to verify and expand on the information provided by this visions by going to the places where Herrmann lived and meeting people connected to him. This book is not only an engrossing narrative, but it also deals with some very subtle questions about the nature of past-life memories and whether we are or are not the same person as those whose memories we carry inside us. This book was originally published in French in 2017, but the English translation will be out on February 9, 2021.