I woke to someone shaking my shoulder and calling my name. I opened my eyes in a half daze and was aware it was still semi-dark.
The early dawn had only just begun to penetrate the room, and it was still in that eery state where time is suspended between complete darkness and shadows.
Nobody was there.
I was laying on my side and had propped myself up on one arm. I felt confused.
Someone had clearly been saying my name, but who?
I turned and looked for my husband. His still form was next to me facing away from me on and not moving except for the slow rise and fall of his body in sync with his quiet breathing.
As my eyes swung back around from looking at him, they alighted on three figures standing at the foot of the bed.
I was immediately aware of the fact that they were all transparent and I could see right through them to the wall and dressing table directly behind them.
I felt no fear, but I was confused.
I squinted my eyes thrusting my chin forward and looked harder at the figures. They were still there. I could see the objects sitting on my dressing table immediately behind them.
I rubbed my eyes and completely sat up in bed never taking my eyes off them.
As I stared at the three figures, two of whom were looking directly at me, they gradually faded and disappeared.
By this time I was aware of how fast my heart was beating as I sat still in the dark and silence, my brain going a hundred miles an hour trying to interpret what I had just seen.
What had I seen?
The three figures were:
- a nun wearing a Cornette
- a monk with the hood of his habit over his head
- an old-fashioned looking policeman wearing a pointed helmet
Victorian era policeman
One of the figures had looked like an old fashioned policeman from the Victorian era in Great Britain.
He was wearing a uniform, and he had what looked like brass buttons down the front of his very well put together uniform.
The main distinguishing feature was his distinctive helmet which I had only ever seen before in movies (as depicted in photo).
A nun wearing a Cornette
The distinctive headwear of the nun was also what remained in my mind.
I also had only ever seen this depicted on nuns in movies but had no idea what it was called.
It was not until years later I looked it up and found out that it is named a Cornette (as below).
“The cornette was retained as a distinctive piece of clothing into modern times by the Daughters of Charity, a Roman Catholicsociety of apostolic life founded by St. Vincent de Paul in the mid-17th century.
The founder wanted to have the sisters of this new type of religious congregation of women, that tended to the sick and poor, and were not required to remain in their cloister, resemble ordinary middle-class women as much as possible in their clothing, including the wearing of the cornette.”
The monk was the only one with his eyes downcast and his face partially hidden.
The other two figures had looked directly at me.
The monk’s hands were folded in front of him and hidden within his robes.
He wore distinctive brown robes with a tasseled rope tied around his waist and the hood of his habit was worn up covering his head.
Once I looked up the distinctive brown robes I realized it was the garb of a monk from the Franciscan Order which I learned had been founded by St Francis of Assisi.
“The Franciscans are a group of related mendicant religious orders within the Catholic Church, founded in 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi… The original Rule of Saint Francis approved by the Pope disallowed ownership of property, requiring members of the order to beg for food while preaching.”
What did I make of this?
At the time that I woke up and saw these three transparent figures standing at the foot of my bed, I was still a member of the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) religion.
It was 1994, and my younger daughter had just been born.
We had a series of other strange happenings occur at this same property that we were renting, and because the teachings of JWs strongly stated that all unusual occurrences like this were demonic in origin, we ended up moving house.
However, I was not frighted of the experience despite my indoctrination at the time teaching me that this experience could not be from God.
I was curious, my adrenaline was going, and I was full of questions.
In the years after the event, and especially after I left the JW religion I started to explore the figures I had seen to try and identify who they might be.
I, first of all, looked up headgear of nuns and immediately I saw the photo of the ‘cornette’ I knew that was the same headgear I had seen.
The same with the distinctive brown robes of the monk and the helmet of the policeman.
I could readily identify the policeman’s helmet as being from the time of Victorian England and the monk’s robes as identifying him as Franciscian.
Could these translucent figures represent “past life” experiences?
I started off researching past lives and wondered if these three figures could represent these.
Dr. Jim Tucker, MD, was Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia and he compiled over 2500 cases of past life recall over 50 years and uploaded all the instances on a database (to make them easier to analyze).
He also wrote a book Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives.
It was interesting that the majority of cases were in countries where past life belief is normal, but another factor that emerged out the data was that most previous life deaths were unnatural (suicide, murder or premature death) or occurred when people were under the age of 15 years.
These factors seemed to make past life memories more accessible to memory in people.
One account mentioned in an interview with Dr. Tucker was of a 28-month-old boy who loved to play with toy planes. He started to have nightmares 4 or 5 times a week. He spoke about being in a plane crash.
Read what he had to say here:
“And then during the day he started talking some about his plane crash and he said how he had been a pilot and he had flown off of a boat and he even gave the name of a boat. He said, ‘Natoma.’ And he said that he had flown a type of plane called a Corsair and that he had been shot down by the Japanese and shot down at Iwo Jima. And he said he had a friend on the boat named Jack Larson. Well, his dad was a firm Christian who thought the ideas of past lives was nonsense and started looking into this to show that there was nothing to it. But then he learned that in fact there had been an American aircraft carrier in World War II called the USS Natoma Bay. And James was 28 months old when he gave the word ‘Natoma.’ So there was this USS Natoma Bay and it was involved in the Iwo Jima operation and it lost one pilot there, a young man from Pennsylvania named James Huston.
Huston’s plane crashed exactly as James Leininger described. It got hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water, and quickly sank — which is exactly what James described. And Huston, the pilot, had in fact flown a Corsair as James Leininger mentioned. And on the day that he was killed the pilot in the plane next to his was named Jack Larson, which was another detail that James Leininger had given. And all of these things that I have given you — again, we have documentation that was made before Huston’s pilot was identified and it all matched perfectly with the one pilot from that ship that went down at Iwo Jima, so the only person that it could match with it matched precisely.”
My appearance of these spirits did not appear to match the experiences gathered in relation to past life experiences, so even though that was my initial feeling, I dismissed this as a potential explanation.
Could the presence of these spirits represent demonic entities?
Personally, I am unsure in relation to the presence of ‘evil’ supernatural powers.
However, according to LiveScience demonic possession is one of the most widely held religious beliefs in the world.
The concept of spirit possession mostly being evil is mostly a Judeo-Christian concept whereas most other religions see the presence of both malevolent and benevolent spirits as not especially alarming.
Stories about supernatural entities appearing or possessing humans have existed for centuries and have been capitalized on in books, movies, and storytelling.
The questions I asked myself were:
Did the presence of these ‘entities’ cause me to fear? Did they bring anything of a frightening or evil nature into my life? Have they led me away from God or a spiritual belief in something greater than myself? Was there any other negative consequence to myself or others from the appearance of these entities?
The answer to all of the above is NO.
I, therefore, dismissed demonic influence as a possible factor.
Can visual hallucinations be a sign of mental illness?
The short answer is YES.
In The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, there are three reasons suggested for the origins of visual hallucinations.
These are disturbances in brain structure, disturbance of neurotransmitters, and psychodynamic (as an emergence of the unconscious into consciousness) reasons; or a combination of all of the above.
Conditions that can present with visual hallucinations are:
- Charles Bonnet Syndrome (in visual impaired)
- Anton’s syndrome (associated with cortical blindness)
- Peduncular hallucinosis (caused by infarct of mid-brain)
- Sleep disturbances
- Drug effects
- Inborn errors of metabolism,
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
How is it determined if any of the above are factors in the production of visual hallucinations?
“A thorough history and clinical examination are the most vital elements of a workup for visual hallucinations.
Associated symptoms and characteristics of the visual hallucinations themselves may help direct diagnosis.
The elicitation of signs or symptoms of psychosis, inattention, parkinsonism, impaired vision, or headache will narrow the diagnosis and prompt further diagnostic studies.”
As my visual hallucination (if this is what it was) only lasted a few seconds and was not accompanied by any further symptoms associated with any of the above conditions I ruled out that there was any mental health disorder for explaining what I saw.
Hypnopompic hallucinations are visual hallucinations seen by people in the process of waking up.
The website Patient has an enlightening article on this phenomenon and my experience would fit the pattern that is described.
Epidemiology: They were first described by a physician in 1664, they can occur without narcolepsy, sex ratio is equal, 25–38% of people report experiencing over a lifetime, a diagnosis of anxiety, depression, bipolar or adjustment disorders can increase the likelihood, over half of the individuals diagnosed with hypnopompic hallucinations have no symptoms of any sort of illness or disorder.
Presentation: Day or night upon waking, shapes, objects, animals or people may be seen, they can be still or moving, they can be accompanied with or without auditory hallucinations, cenesthopathic feelings (such as experiencing picking, rubbing, or light touching) can be experienced at the same time, feelings of floating or levitation can be experienced, or the sensation that a limb has been moved, some people hear vocal or instrumental music.
The reason I believe that this could be one explanation for my experience is that my experience involving hearing a voice calling my name, feeling someone shake my arm, and seeing apparently transparent people are all experiences that can be included in the presentation of this form of hallucination.
There is little known in relation to causal factors, although it is sometimes associated with narcolepsy, certain HLA phenotypes, and use of tricyclic antidepressants.
I was not on antidepressants at this time, and have never had narcolepsy. I am unsure about my relationship with the gene complex associated with the immune system.
So my experience meets the criteria for hypnopompic hallucinations but it does not give me an answer as to why I may have experienced what I did.
Could they represent ‘archetypes?’
When I attended university and studied psychology and specifically the teachings of Carl Jung, I wondered if the figures I saw could represent ‘archetypes.’
“He believed that universal, mythic characters — archetypes — reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over… Although there are many different archetypes, Jung defined twelve primary types that symbolize basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meanings and personality traits… Most, if not all, people have several archetypes at play in their personality construct; however, one archetype tends to dominate the personality in general.” — The 12 Common Archetypes by Carl Golden.
12 primary archetypes
- The Innocent
- The Orphan
- The Hero
- The Caregiver
- The Explorer
- The Rebel
- The Lover
- The Creator
- The Jester
- The Sage
- The Magician
- The Ruler
The three I relate to in relation to my experience are The Innocent, The Caregiver and The Sage.
The details below are taken from Soulcraft:
The Innocent (the nun)
Goal: to be happy
Greatest fear: to be punished for doing something bad or wrong
Strategy: to do things right
Weakness: boring for all their naive innocence
Talent: faith and optimism
The Innocent is also known as Utopian, traditionalist, naive, mystic, saint, romantic, dreamer.
The Caregiver (the policeman)
Goal: to help others
Greatest fear: selfishness and ingratitude
Strategy: doing things for others
Weakness: martyrdom and being exploited
Talent: compassion, generosity
The Caregiver is also known as The Saint, altruist, parent, helper, supporter.
The Sage (the monk)
Goal: to use intelligence and analysis to understand the world.
Biggest fear: being duped, misled — or ignorance.
Strategy: seeking out information and knowledge; self-reflection and understanding thought processes.
Weakness: can study details forever and never act.
Talent: wisdom, intelligence.
The Sage is also known as the expert, scholar, detective, advisor, thinker, philosopher, academic, researcher, thinker, planner, professional, mentor, teacher, contemplative.
My life’s journey: Working through issues related to spirituality, personal power and how to be of service
I found meaning learning to understand archetypes in relation to the images that materialized in front of me in 1994.
Once I researched archetypes, I could see that:
- the nun represented my journey in relation to spirituality
- the monk represented introspection, and how I comprehend the world as while not neglecting the needs of my ‘self.’
- the policeman represents my relationship to justice, and service within the community as well as how I balance judgment (mostly in relation to myself) and self-compassion
The book, “Sacred Contracts” by Carolyn Myss was of excellent assistance in understanding the lessons I identified as needing to be learned in relation to identifying with certain archetypes.
Carolyn Myss says: “One way of viewing your Contract is as your overall relationship to your personal power and spiritual power. It determines how you work with your energy and to whom you give it.”
At the time of this experience, in 1994 it had a profound effect on me, but like a later mystical experience, it was not until years later that the significance. meaning and interpretation in connection to the experience have arisen to bring self-awareness and understanding.
According to LonerWolf, a characteristic of a mystical experience is that “it is like a flash of truth that releases you from your limited sense of self and gives you a taste of a reality that somehow feels more real.”
He states that there are nine characteristics of a mystical experience usually experienced by those who have one, and these are: conscious unity, there is no time and space, objective reality, gratitude, life is seen as sacred, you understand the paradox, the experience is indescribable, the experience is temporary, and the experience is life-changing.
For myself, the three experiences I have had, have given me:
- a glimpse into something greater than myself
- an awareness of the mystery of our mind
- an increased curiosity and awareness of the presence of something greater
According to bodysoulandspirit, “ The mystical event is a personal experience during which one feels as though one has been touched by some higher or greater truth or power. This may occur inside or outside of a religious setting, within or outside a religious tradition.”
My experience only lasted a few seconds, but I am supremely grateful for it.
It has only been on later reflection (years after the experience) that I have fully appreciated it as giving me an increase in self-awareness and knowledge of my life’s purpose as well as of myself, and maybe a touch of appreciation for things that explanations are not always readily discovered.
“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms — this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religion.” — Albert Einstein
Deborah Christensen is a writer, artist, and published author. She currently lives in Queensland, Australia. She lives with her husband, a rescue dog named ‘Lily’ and has six adult children (and one amazing grandchild) who live scattered throughout Queensland. She’s on Twitter @Deborah37035395 and Pinterest and is the author of the best selling and Readers Favorite award-winning memoir Inside/Outside: One Woman’s Recovery From Abuse and a Religious Cult.