Anthropology has had a long and interesting relationship with the paranormal; a relationship that has seen radical developments over the course of the discipline’s expansion and developement. Common topics for anthropological discourse over the past 150 years or so have often centred on issues of totem, taboo, witchcraft, spirit mediumship, magic, healing, shamanism and religion.
Traditionally anthropological approaches to the study of supernatural beliefs and practices have been reductionist and in line with what Edith Turner refers to as "positivist denial" of the supernatural. More recently anthropological approaches have taken a more open minded stance; a position that has developed through a general trend towards greater reflexivity within the discipline and a growing emphasis on the role of personal experience in social and cultural formation.
Where once anthropologists were criticized for "going native", now participation and immersion in the cognitive life-world of informants is increasingly accepted as a valid means to understand culture and society. With this experientially immersive approach anthropologists have begun to expose themselves to experiences that would previously have been missed or ignored, a fact that is possibly epitomized by Edith Turner's experience of a spirit-form during an Ndembu healing ritual:
"I saw with my own eyes a large thing emerging out of the flesh of her back. It was a big grey sphere - a sort of plasma - about six inches across, dark and opaque. I was amazed - delighted. I still laugh with glee at the realization of having seen it, the Ihamba spirit, and so big!" (Turner, 1993, 9)
Turner was not affraid to address the fact that she had encountered a manifestation of the supernatural, while immersed in ritual, in an academic context. This website aims to follow Turner's lead and approach the paranormal from an anthropological and ethnographic perspective. Such an approach might be termed transpersonal anthropology. Charles Laughlin (1997) defines the role of a transpersonal anthropologist thus:
"A transpersonal anthropologist is one that is capable of both attaining whatever extraordinary experiences and phases of consciousness that inform the religious system, and evaluating these experiences relative to invariant patterns of symbolism, cognition and practice found in religions and cosmologies all over the planet." (Laughlin, 1997)