The Hades Environment

The untold story of psychic spies, unexplained death, and the unleashing of astral projection, revealed by hundreds of pages of previously lost and classified documents.

Nick Ripatrazone
Published in
27 min readOct 1, 2020


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Prelude: Pandora’s Box

The ultimate race between global superpowers was about to start, and waiting at the finish line were powers beyond their wildest imagination.

Professor Victor Inyushin, mid-twenties and built like a linebacker, waited with great anticipation as electrical discharges bombarded the undeveloped film. It was circa 1968 and the scientist was inside one of the secretive laboratories at Kazakh State University at Alma-Ata, of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. If he had made the breakthroughs he believed he had, the results would have ramifications far beyond the isolated campus.

As the Cold War lurched toward its third decade, tense treaty talks between the United States and the Soviet Union alternated with demonstrations of world-smashing weapons. We hid under desks, we built fallout shelters. Yet the Soviets now had ambitions that could render nuclear weapons trivial when it came to crowning the dominant superpower. They sought nothing less than to smash the border between the physical and astral planes.

As rumors had swirled about Soviet investment in paranormal research, the United States Defense Department scrambled to learn more. They discovered that Soviet interest in parapsychology, stretching back to the nineteenth century, had produced fascinating and disturbing results. Even as they were perfecting their first atomic bomb, husband-and-wife scientists Semyon and Valentina Kirlian used a technique of “photographing with a high frequency electrical field involving a specially constructed high frequency spark generator,” in order to capture a bluish-green “aura” that surrounded certain people. They later concluded the aura wasn’t simply light; it “had a minute but detectable mass.” It revealed, in other words, a hidden layer of reality.

Soviet scientists had already been studying the invisible world around us. Energy fields generated by insects, birds, and animals. How oceanic life communicated using “electromagnetic waves.” They tried to mentally influence animal behavior. They attempted “wordless transmission of information.” They produced legions of articles on telepathy. The Soviets were especially interested in the knowledge possessed by yogis, masters in ancient practices designed to convene and connect with unseen forces.

A Defense Intelligence Agency report revealed more. “The major impetus behind the Soviet drive to harness the possible capabilities of telepathic communication, telekinetics, and bionics is said to come from the Soviet military and the KGB,” the analyst wrote. This push intensified through the early 1960s based on a “Kremlin edict” — and by late in the decade, there were “twenty or more centers for the study of parapsychological phenomena” across Russia funded by many millions of dollars.

According to the report, Dr. Leonid Vasiliev of the University of Leningrad “conducted successful long-distance telepathy experiments between Leningrad and Sevastopol” — although the “nature of brain energy that produces” such communication was stubbornly elusive. The key to how something as immaterial as a thought could travel appeared to the Soviets to rest on what was known as bioplasma, an organized system of electromagnetic particles invisible to the naked eye.

Soviet research on bioplasma turned to Professor Inyushin and colleagues to further refine that “aura” photographed years earlier. Forgoing the camera, they captured images directly on film, and through new techniques of developing that film, they now identified colorful flares emanating from bodies. If there was a starting gun for this race, this was the bang.

Back in the United States, intelligence officials versed in parapsychology trembled at these reports. If bioplasmic connectors to human beings had really been identified and isolated, it evoked long-standing legends of the “silver cord.” In these beliefs, the world is scaffolded with so-called astral planes that one’s spirit was capable of entering and travelling — at which point the spirit was able to move across long distances, even around the world, in a blink of an eye. A silver cord (roughly one inch diameter), meanwhile, tethers that spirit to its physical anchor, the human body, to which the spirit would then return armed with knowledge from its journeys.

As reports on the Soviets piled up, American officials kicked into gear. If communist scientists had unlocked the key to projecting and controlling our spirits, nobody could predict the darkness that could descend.

Laughing college students with long hair and short skirts struck poses for photos in front of the vehicle. Red, green, and pastel colors splashed across the Volkswagen bus parked near Winston Hall on the campus of North Carolina State University. It was the late 1960s, and the eye-catching decorations had been made by students from the School of Design at the request of the bus’s owner, Dr. Eugene Bernard.

Slender with slicked-back dark hair and an intense expression, the California native had graduated from the University of California Berkeley and the University of Leeds, with a teaching stint at Cambridge before landing in Raleigh as professor of psychiatry.

In a new era defined by vanguard avenues of experience, Bernard would offer lectures on “Drugs and the Psychedelic Experience” and “Hallucinogenic Drugs.” His bus made the perfect companion piece, a “sexy beauty,” as the student paper called it, of “wild sap-out colors.” Not that the administrators were so pleased with it. They also hardly approved when Bernard hosted an afternoon “for sharing and a time for love for one another.”

Dr. Bernard’s hippie leanings were not the only grounds for friction with administrators. Among his research interests was astral projection. Bernard determined that one out of a hundred people had a credible out-of-body experience. He actively sought test subjects so that he might ascertain “if those who have experienced the phenomenon can learn to control the destination of their minds, and if others can be taught how to project their minds.” One such subject projected to another city, and described specific locations in detail. The professor claimed to have astrally projected himself. He told Fate magazine that astral projection is “like lying on a sofa, getting up, and seeing your body still there.”

In curating a symposium of scientific presentations, Bernard included top academics from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The professor was introduced to government and military secrets, including the race to catch up with the Soviets, who were apparently close to creating an army of “psychic spies” by harnessing astral projection.

Bernard was not the only private researcher on the case outside government labs. At UCLA, laboratory experiments began to replicate the Soviet photography believed to have captured evidence of astral bodies. Edward Pullman, director of the Southwest Hypnosis Research Center in Dallas, Texas, had also begun laboratory research and established himself as an authority. “Already the Soviets are at least 25 years ahead of us in psychic research,” Pullman remarked early in 1972. “The Soviets have realized the immense military advantage of the psychic ability known as astral projection.” If psychic spies could penetrate top secret meetings in the Pentagon, and view any documents in the world, all would be lost. “There is no defense against such intrusion,” Pullman lamented. “At least none we know of.”

Pullman, a shock of silver hair above thick black rimmed glasses, began experiments with a local woman named Beverly Chalker. He would hypnotize Chalker, a 37 year old interior decorator with blown-out blond hair, and try to send her on astral “flights” to specific destinations. At one point, sending her from Dallas to a house in New Jersey, she reported observing a man asleep on a bed with the light on, with the book he was reading having fallen on the floor. “Once you get to a place,” Chalker later said, “you see what’s going on just as though you were watching it on TV.” She described the man’s pajamas and the decor of the room.

The next morning, Pullman’s team startled themselves when they were able to verify Chalker’s descriptions with the man whom she had observed.

In his own research, Professor Gene Bernard continued to seek confirmation from his Raleigh campus that “man has the ability to perform this phenomenon” at will. “If he can be taught to project and to control, the prospects are staggering.” Bernard had a vision: “Imagine the value this would be to our nation, particularly in spy work where the unseen could observe and later report.”

In one laboratory-controlled experiment reporting increasingly staggering results in the Detroit Free-Press, a young girl was able to use astral projection to read a five digit number hidden on a high shelf by scientists during sleep (reporting it upon waking).

As trailblazers the likes of Bernard and Pullman carried out studies, the government quietly released more information, and the nature of the experiments gradually leaked to the public. Unsurprisingly, people wanted to try out the practice for themselves. The government needed help from all quarters, and lacked the luxury of time to consider the collateral damage.

Standing in his own backyard, Robert Antoszczyk looked like a man from another planet, an outsized helmet and netting enclosing his head and face. He carefully checked the honeycombs, provoking the peaceful hum of the bumblebees. What would have thrown off others often fascinated the 29-year-old vegetarian. Two more queen bees. That’s what he decided he needed.

Removing the beekeeping helmet revealed a prominent forehead and thick beard. He stood at five foot eight and had a quiet, thoughtful demeanor.

In addition to tending bees in the yard of his wood frame home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Antoszczyk also sought to improve the wider world around him. He was no hippie cliche. Robert was a weightlifter and martial artist. He’d been in the Physics Club and the Rocket Technology Club as a student. The “nice young man” did not drink or do drugs and had been teaching yoga for the past two years at the YM-YWCA. He was also interested in a more esoteric and spiritual side associated with historical yoga, one that had been receiving increasing attention: astral projection.

By the mid-1970s, information about astral projection had spread at a growing clip. One how-to book promised that projecting the soul was now “easily and safely learned by anyone” (for $4.95). Antoszczyk likely consulted some of this new crop of literature. Then there were astral journey cassette tapes that ended up finding their way to curious newbies like Antoszczyk. “Loosen tight clothing, lie down, turn off lights, relax,” read the instructions on this suddenly ubiquitous recording made by researchers in Beverly Hills, California. The introduction continued: First 5 minutes of tape is a rhythmic clicking sound designed to slow down mind and body. Use this time to breathe very deeply, relaxing your entire body, part by part, from head to toe. When clicking stops… just lie very still.

A psychic offered lectures in ballrooms at Holiday Inns on the technique, remarking, “you practice by going across the room. Then you go outside, then you go to New York, or any other place you want to see.” Even Ed and Lorraine Warren, famed paranormalists, had added the topic of astral projection to their lecture tour, for which admission was a very democratic dollar-a-head. Astral projection: the only way to go, declared a Canadian newspaper profiling a young woman who claimed to be taking frequent trips.

At Seton High School, an all-girls prep school in Cincinnati, an entire class of students in early 1975 were led in an astral projection experiment, each detailing what they saw before calling home to verify it; in another part of town the top relief pitcher for the Reds practiced astral projection in his downtime. Elsewhere, a young woman reported her fiance learned to use astral projection to visit her in bed as she was on a multistate work trip, afterward comparing notes and finding, to their great shock, matching details, such as the broken television in a second floor hotel room. A businessman, Robert Monroe, on his first out-of-body trip, reported looking down at his wife in bed with another man; it took a few moments of confusion and anger before realizing the man’s body was his.

A woman in her early 40s named Laverne Landis developed more than curiosity about astral travel. In Houston, Texas, her husband Dennis, a medical research instructor, had died suddenly, leaving her alone with their five children. Laverne, a nurse, and Dennis had always had a front row seat to the fragility of life in their jobs. But she now became interested, even obsessed, with an idea that other astral experimenters shared — could one’s soul enter a sphere to find and reunite with the spirits of the dead? Was what we thought of as the “afterlife” not a far off realm but actually all around us, waiting to be discovered through the astral planes? Laverne threw herself into the new breed of books and classes.

The like minded spiritual adventurer Robert Antoszczyk, for his part, was also not content with scratching the surface of such an intriguing experience. Antoszczyk decided to board a plane to India and seek out a master teacher, a yogi. The young American would go right to the ancient fount of knowledge for out-of-body projection.

The American intelligence community geared up for real life trials. The CIA, by one account, invested $25 million in the Stanford Research Institute, or SRI, which recruited a set of colorful specialists who practiced astral travel, veritable “test pilots,” including one who was legally blind. The CIA brought in Pat Price, a 54-year-old former police commissioner who was said by a fellow experimenter to be “one of our most gifted” practitioners. Declassified National Security Agency documents obtained by Truly*Adventurous and other researchers unfurl Price’s role in what agents called the “astral projection caper.”

Price had a grandfatherly demeanor and dressed in rumpled clothes as if on a fishing trip. On July 15, 1973, officials asked him to project himself into a secret underground installation at a United States military facility far from their location. If the test worked, they could work up to sending Price across (astral) enemy lines. Among other observations while projecting himself as directed, Price described file cabinets and desks, and detailed papers and documents identifying the location as either Haystack or Hayfork. The Stanford team also “sent” Ingo Swann, 40, through the astral planes to the same facility with an assignment to draw maps upon his return.

When Commander George Long of National Intelligence Strategy traveled — the old fashioned way — to the underground installation for the express purpose of checking Price’s claims and Swann’s maps, he was welcomed by a guide who said, “this is our Haystack facility.” Progress felt real, and bursting with possibility.

(That progress could not have come soon enough if the latest rumors were true. The Russians were said to be examining whether projected souls could be endowed with any physical strength — in other words, whether they could become assassins. Extra security was reportedly added to the White House.)

Back in North Carolina, the more the free-thinking Professor Gene Bernard learned about astral projection, the benefits he sought were countered with signs of danger. Some experimenters he studied reported being “afraid and worried,” as though something menacing was creeping into the astral sphere.

Christine Brister of Berkeley, California had performed a meditation-induced astral projection, then struggled to get back to her body — going public to plead with people to realize how dangerous the act could be. Another projector thought he was dead, and could see his own corpse.

As Bernard compiled accounts, red flags multiplied. One projector profiled in the Messenger-Inquirer of Kentucky reported enjoying leisurely astral jaunts to Florida — at first. Complications creeped in, then increased. When his spirit made trips, his body temperature would shoot up in a high fever. Soon, whenever having an out-of-body experience, his children, elsewhere in the house, would wake up screaming in horror without knowing why.

A San Antonio woman who had unexpected out-of-body experiences since she was a child now woke up in her bed but couldn’t move, even as she saw a version of herself walking around the room. “The ‘me’ that was in bed was terrified,” she explained, “because I couldn’t seem to get back into myself, and I was trying so hard to move my body and couldn’t.”

For some reason, souls, it seemed, were now being jammed, disrupted. As Dr. Bernard studied the experiences of travelers, he had to stop to consider the consequences of the astral craze to which he had contributed.

From his perch in academia, Bernard was well positioned to find a way to share those warnings before it was too late.

But tensions with the university administration mounted. When his psychedelic bus reverted to its original marine green, Bernard acknowledged the rumors that “administrative pressures were applied to me to have my truck repainted.” After more battles over his unconventional approach and style, Bernard felt he no longer had a place there. He resigned from the university, and headed back West in his VW bus, looking for another hilltop from which to shout.

Robert Antoszczyk, the Ann Arbor beekeeper and vegetarian, had been cautioned to be careful about the power of astral projection while he was in India studying with master yogi — the same class of spiritual leaders who had been analyzed by the KGB. But an even more powerful force beckoned him.

He had been having dreams about a woman, an exotic beauty, a captivating voice calling to him from across the cosmos. For a single man still in his twenties, the promise of a kind of transcendent love interest held great appeal. With his ongoing training in projecting his soul out of his body, he was ready to go as deep into the astral sphere to find her as necessary. On June 1, 1975, Antoszczyk told his roommate, Neil, he was not to be disturbed. He needed unbroken concentration to enter the astral planes and find the mysterious woman with whom he wanted to make contact. He went inside his bedroom and locked the door.

In his room, Antoszczyk stretched out on his back. He formed his hands into soft fists, and meditated in order to loosen the bonds that usually hold soul and body tightly together. Experimenters in astral projection describe a sensation at once tranquil and disquieting of separating from the body, with a deafening sound, a roar of wind, in their ears. Their first sights, they report, are often their own body, left behind, unmoving, as they float into the astral plane, tethered as though with an umbilical cord, or astronaut’s lifeline, to their corporeal form — the silver cord the Soviet researchers had believed they had been able to capture on film.

Projectors describe confusion and nausea before gaining control over their movements. The astral body, they say, is far lighter but still a kind of mass. Once they master the movements, they can transport themselves through space — some said, with expertise, even through time — to go anywhere they desired.

For Antoszczyk, his journey to find the irresistible female spirit had begun. Was it another experimenter whose soul beckoned him, or someone not of this world?

Neil had begun to worry. Then fret. And then panic. It had been three days since his roommate Antoszczyk had locked himself in his bedroom with strict instructions not to be disturbed. There hadn’t been a peep since.

Finally, Neil busted down the door to find Antoszczyk dead, “on his back, his thumbs between his index and middle fingers.” He looked frozen; as if the warmth of his soul had been torn from his body, and he was now a cold shell. Empty.

He was smiling.

Police swarmed the house. They were baffled. Pathologists at the nearby University of Michigan Hospital were also stumped. Antoszczyk, the vegetarian, had been in peak health. He had treated his body like a temple. Circulatory and respiratory systems, heart, liver, all perfect. Dr. Donald Riker told the Detroit Free Press that there was “no good anatomic cause of death… we simply could not find a reason why he died.”

The experts were getting desperate. Dr. Paul Gikas dug into research on mystics. He consulted Indian scientists whom, he reported, “tell me that this form of meditation can be very dangerous if the person does not know what he is doing.” Gikas and others theorized that Robert had died “while in a deep self-induced trance that slowed his heart to a point where his brain received too little blood.” Aceka, a local astrologer friend, thought of it differently: “There’s really no explanation except that he decided not to return to his body.”

Psychic suicide, even to believers in the paranormal, seemed farfetched for a young man with Robert Antoszczyk’s zest for life. But if he had been prevented from returning… the thought was too horrifying. Everyone groped for an answer. For the first time in the history of the United States, the newspapers carried headlines announcing that astral projection had taken a human life.

Something had gone very wrong.

The astral cassette tapes from Beverly Hills-based researchers, released shortly before Robert Antoszczyk’s death, trumpeted a life-changing experience for $11 to anyone who played them. The tapes promised to work for people who have tried and failed to use other astral projection methods. A woman who wished to be identified only as J. H. ordered the astral tapes through the mail hoping to see “colors, designs, pictures, and hallucinations.” J. H. listened to the tape and was transported. But what she saw was “monsters and ugly things.” She was terrified.

Even dedicated paranormalists seemed to be pulling back. When Laverne Landis — the nurse who could not let go of the sudden death of her husband Dennis shortly before Antoszczyk’s death — wanted to push herself into further astral explorations, even her psychic support group tried to caution her against it.

Writer Herbert Greenhouse, finishing his book The Astral Journey around the time Antoszczyk prepared for his long-awaited astral voyage, took as deep a dive as anyone. He interviewed experimenters and delved into the practice’s history. Greenhouse detailed the process of separating from one’s body. The astral body “generally feels very light, usually weightless, and sometimes gives off a glow that may illuminate a dark room.”

Such separation often initially creates fear. But it is such a thrill that soon the experimenter “is usually reluctant to go back to his physical body.” The cord that connected the astral to the physical body, Greenhouse explained, was mysterious and tenuous. “Fear, excessive noise, or some other disturbance can cause the double to slam back into the physical body with an unpleasant shock effect, and it is better to return slowly.”

Greenhouse found that some journeys took a very wrong turn. In those cases, experimenters’ astral forms could end up feeling stuck “‘in an unearthly, misty atmosphere with unpleasant and frequently threatening entities, the Hades environment.”


Robert Antoszczyk was not alone, and may have not been the first to succumb. Another researcher, an engineer who went by the pseudonym Steve Richards, identified a New Jersey man in the early 1970s who died after he “combined [astral] projection with some extremely dangerous experiments in suspended animation.”

Researchers reported growing indications that something was amiss in astral planes, leaving some projectors “zombies” if the soul got lost along the way. A social worker in Hawaii who taught a workshop on projection described four zones in astral travel, with A being earthly existence, and D being the equivalent of “deep space” in the astral sphere. Zone C was “limbo,” between barriers, where trapped souls could neither go back or forward.

To parapsychologists and true believer scientists, their deepest fears were realized in these latest patterns. The astral race between the American and Soviet governments had unwittingly triggered a flood of experimenters in all walks of life, a kind of logjam of souls on the astral superhighway. As a result, travelers were tossed around, misdirected, thrust into what Greenhouse identified as the Hades Environment — pathways in the astral planes into the dark reaches of existence where evil entities lurked.

Antoszczyk’s story, as it came out through family and friends, of hearing a woman beckon to him was not unique — similar voices were being heard by others. Astral researchers steeped in the practice’s long backstory could recognize the telltale signs of a particular figure. The ancient female demoness was known to the Egyptians as Ammut, “destroyer of souls,” who existed in the astral planes, specifically “The Hall of the Two Truths,” according to ancient texts, corresponding to that middle ground of Zone C’s limbo. Ammut would consume the souls that she came upon to absorb their power. She was a shapeshifter. Though she could appear as a beautiful goddess with a seductive siren call, her true form would eventually come out: monstrous, combining the head of a reptile with the body of a lion and hippopotamus, ancient symbols of pure animal ferocity.

The imminent danger confronted by experts seemed twofold. First, more people could die. Second, in the interchange between the corporeal and the astral world, something of the darkness — a Hades Environment, the Ammut, the monsters, whatever name was applied — could escape into reality.

The authorities who had been so focused on countering the Soviets had to pivot, and quickly. They needed to jockey for containment.

Even Soviet researchers seemed rattled, having transmitted an ambiguous warning to their enemies: “Tell America that the psychic potential of man must be used for good.” Professor Inyushin of Kazah State University shared details of his photographic research with the head of the UCLA parapsychology laboratory. Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Toth, stationed in Moscow, was passed a top secret parapsychology paper by a Soviet scientist, which led to an international incident when he was detained by the KGB.

The US government had continued to monitor astral experimenters such as Dr. Bernard and Edward Pullman. They ran into obstacles. Bernard had lost his position and his laboratory. Then the government’s top astral projector, Pat Price, died mysteriously, after going in and out of a state of sleep, six weeks after Robert Antoszczyk died.

Months after Antoszczyk’s and Price’s deaths, the Defense Department, through the Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), launched a $145,000 top secret project aimed at new methods of controlling astral projection. They also turned their interest to another leader in the field, Robert Monroe, the same businessman who had experienced seeing his wife in bed with a man — him — on his first astral projection. Monroe had become fascinated and then obsessed with astral projection. He had subjected himself to an examination at the Topeka Veterans Administration Hospital by a psychiatrist who confirmed that during Monroe’s claimed astral trips it was “almost as if his body were comatose rather than asleep.”

The soft-spoken, 60-year-old Monroe went all in. He poured a considerable fortune into establishing a sprawling institute in Faber, Virginia, tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, specializing in the study of astral projection. A bucolic scene peppered with ridges, creeks, cabins, the facilities included an isolation chamber to tune out and reach for the astral plane. As well as studying other projectors, Monroe recorded detailed accounts of hundreds of astral journeys of his own. In one, he described reaching behind his head and felt something extended from his back between his shoulder blades: “it felt exactly like the spread-out roots of a tree radiating out from the basic trunk.” It was the silver cord. Broken, accidentally or not, it could cause death.

At his institute, Monroe welcomed in the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). According to a declassified CIA document, INSCOM wanted to test “the potentials of the Hemi-Sync process,” a new technique developed at the institute, for usage in the organization’s ramped up “psychoenergetic efforts.” An army intelligence officer immersed in the Monroe institute’s techniques reported that the astral projector could “reach the point where he is able to break out of time-space while out of his body” at which point “he gains the advantage of ‘clicking out’ part of his enhanced consciousness while starting from a base located closer to the dimensions with which he wishes to communicate.” They were closing in — so their reports indicate — on sending up astral travelers with purpose and mission.

This time espionage would take a backseat to sealing up the barriers that seemed to be breaking apart. By this point, they had a cadre of reliable travelers. Though deprived of Pat Price, they had Price’s co-“pilot” in astral projection, Ingo Swann, who excelled at drafting maps from what he saw during his out-of-body travels; they also could send Robert Monroe himself; and they could recruit projectors they had tracked like Beverly Chalker, the interior decorator in Dallas, and even the high school girls who performed best in Seton High’s classwide astral experiment. They all had enough skills to make observations, elude any threatening entities, and return safely to make a report.

The papyrus scrolls detailing a supposed encounter with Ammut were housed in the British Museum. Egyptologists could be activated on site by the CIA and MI5 to comb through the hieroglyphics.

If there really was something — some thing — in the astral sphere trying to come through the other side, if the ancient legends of the powerful figure of Ammut could be true, they had to stop a repeat of a rogue civilian traveler like Robert Antoszczyk, tempted by powers they did not understand, inviting in a force that could tear down that border. They had to return the genie to the bottle.

Laverne Landis, the nurse and mother of five, drove out into the Minnesota wilderness. Steam clouded the windows; falling snow piled around the car. Wind whistled between the trees and slid over the windshield.

She had been hearing a voice. A seductive voice. She stared at the sky, waiting, and listening. The voice, she said, was an astral spirit who promised Laverne the power to heal the sick. It was all Laverne had ever wanted since she was young: to help people.

The Egyptian scribe, writing in 1250 BCE, claimed to enter the sphere of evil entities and find a way back, wanting to give a warning to others. He described all he saw, with a special interest in the terrifying Ammut.

With her hands wrapped in ripped blankets, Laverne had swiped snow from the windshield so that it wouldn’t obscure her view. The call had brought Landis and her boyfriend Gerald on a six-month-long road trip.

That voice, first heard through a medium and described as “raspy and haunting,” had promised so much. Would she deliver? Would she save them? Would the mysterious female spirit bring her to her lost husband in the astral planes?

Ani, the scribe, was forced before a kind of cabal of specters in the Hall of Two Truths, the space that divides the world’s good and evil. Behind other souls looms Ammut, captivating Ani.

Or would Laverne be stuck — as her psychic group back in St. Paul worried — in an eternal limbo between two worlds? A point of no return. The Hades Environment. And if she did get stuck, what could come in her place?

She had always liked the quote, depth of character isn’t measured in feet or inches. That took on so much meaning now, tested by the snow, and the beckoning of the limitless astral space. As a nurse, there was much she knew, but so much she didn’t. We learn so much about the body, she would say, “but we know so little about the mind.”

Ammut — from what the ancient scribe reported after his journey — is both temptress and punisher. She draws souls in and then readies to pounce.

Laverne had quit her job at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She and Gerald were becoming obsessed with following the voice’s calls. Overnight, the once devoted mother abandoned her children; Gerald left his own family in the lurch.

They had driven for days, following the voice’s beckoning calls to Gunflint Trail — a long road that cut through the wilderness — to its end, and parked next to Loon Lake. Snow covered everything: the treetops, the lake surface, and Gerald’s car, where they sat, waiting, for a month. Sheriff’s deputies had noticed the car, and approached the pair — who claimed they were researching hypothermia for a university thesis. Confused, the deputies let them be; they weren’t breaking any laws.

Laverne could hear the voice, and she could feel her, almost shaking the wilderness around them. They just had to wait a little longer. Her final words, like those of a woman possessed, to Gerald were: “We’ve got to stay here. They’re going to be in. I know it, I can feel it, they’re almost here.” He pleaded that they should leave, but she said, “No. They’ll be here, they’ll be here.” They? They who? Laverne had looked distant, almost empty — as if her spirit had left her body and drifted into the frigid wilderness.

Ammut is not alone. Other mysterious, powerful entities surround her, beings able to cross through space and time. The scribe casts an ancient spell, restoring his balance and giving himself a chance to retreat. The enraged demoness’s full form is revealed, as she opens a gaping, reptilian maw that could devour a soul. The scribe had found a way to escape, but he would be the exception, and could unwittingly give the monster a clue how to cross over to the other side.

One morning on the main road through town, a construction worker noticed a man who looked like a living nightmare crawling through knee-deep snow. It was Gerald. Confused and sick, he told the construction worker that Laverne desperately needed help.

Laverne was silent, eyes closed. She was dead.

Government programs into astral projection went dark around that time.

There were no more leaks in the press or grumbling acknowledgement by officials about astral studies. In fact, press attention to astral projection abruptly dried up.

Yogi who had learned the practice as passed down through generations were horrified by events that were talked about in whispers. Victims in the astral planes had been manipulated, stalked, and hunted down. Those steeped in traditions of astral projection knew that if an entity of darkness had been released, the fugitive presence could take any number of forms, an ultimate chameleon, and may never be undone.

In a mid-1970s radio play, a professor had been depicted as leaving his body three times using astral travel, the third time committing murder, and this fictional premise seemed to echo into reality. Charles Manson, during one of his early prison stints, studied astral projection in order to give him the tools to control other people to do his evil bidding. Another 1970s serial killer, Herbert Mullin, practiced astral projection on his way to murdering 13 people. When arrested, Mullin was found with a book on Albert Einstein, considered a patron saint of astral projection by many who identify as travelers. The “Son of Sam” killer, David Berkowitz, announced from his prison cell in 1979 that he would be studying astral projection “until Death greets me.” (Serial murder exploded and peaked in the 1980s, with an estimated 200 serial killers terrorizing the United States alone, leaving criminologists scrambling for an explanation.)

After being in high demand, books on astral projection went out of print and disappeared from shelves. A school board in Wisconsin took up the issue of banning astral projection from ever being discussed or taught to students. People who tried the astral projection techniques that others had relied upon in the recent past began to find that they did not work in the same way — the portal, such as it were, seemed to have closed up.

Meanwhile, authorities pulled a U-turn and declared that Robert Antoszczyk actually died of a cocaine overdose. They drowned out and ignored family and friends’ voices proclaiming that this was preposterous, that he didn’t drink much less do any drugs, that his only vice was an occasional ice cream. Media inquiries into the death stopped.

Ex-Professor Eugene Bernard disappeared from public view. He no longer taught; he no longer published papers and books. Nobody knew where he had gone. A reporter conjectured he lived in a cave. At some point, the same newspaper heard a report that Bernard became a potter, and that he lived and died quietly. In 1979, UCLA defunded the laboratory that believed they could now replicate the Soviet methods to photograph astral bodies.

Edward Pullman, who had been monitored by intelligence agencies when he ran the Dallas astral projection lab, received another dose of interest from the government when questioned in 1977 by the United States House of Representatives Committee on Assassinations; Pullman had been a business partner of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassin Jack Ruby, and some speculated Pullman had practiced hypnotism on Ruby, a gateway to guiding his subjects into astral projection.

Evidence suggests the government still explores astral research from time to time, though in a post-Soviet era their purpose is unclear, whether to find a way back in or keep something out.

Only four or five copies of the 1973 astral cassette tapes are known to exist today. One reporter in the early 1980s, becoming aware of complaints, combed city directories and business bureaus and used certified mail to search for the people behind the Beverly Hills-based team that created these tapes said to unleash monsters. They were never found.

Nick Ripatrazone has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, The Atlantic, and is the Culture Editor for Image. His next book, Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness, will be out in 2021.

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Intrigued by tales of obsession with contacting other dimensions? Read the unbelievable true story of a professor dedicated to investigating a young woman embraced by her remote village as the reincarnated spirit of a soldier killed in war.