Author of the Month

Greg Taylor, Author of the Month for January 2008

Her Sweet Murmur (cont.)
By Greg Taylor

Her Sweet Murmur

Exploring the aural phenomenology of border experiences.

There are many exceedingly strange experiences which happen to humans, from interactions with paranormal entities and unidentified objects, to near-death encounters. These are often grouped together under the title of 'boundary experiences,' sometimes 'Forteana,' and sometimes simply as 'the paranormal.' But this grouping is generally one of convenience, and each element of this group is, for the most part, considered to be a separate area. However, this may not necessarily be the case, as a scan of the literature, and individual experiences, will attest.

In order to explore the topic with some precision, I would like to concentrate on one particular aspect of boundary experiences — the sounds heard by experiencers which accompany the phenomenon. Cross-referencing these seemingly disparate experiences via their aural aspects yields surprising results, with implications that are quite staggering for our modern conception of reality.

What Dreams May Come...

I will begin at the end, so to speak, with the near-death experience (NDE). Perhaps the man most responsible for the modern fascination with NDEs is George Ritchie, whose experience inspired Raymond Moody to write his seminal book Life After Life in the mid-1970s. Ritchie begins his account by telling of a sound:

I heard a click and a whirr. The whirr went on and on. It was getting louder. The whirr was inside my head and my knees were made of rubber. They were bending and I was falling and all the time the whirr grew louder. I sat up with a start. What time was it? I looked at the bedside table but they'd taken the clock away. In fact, where was any of my stuff? I jumped out of bed in alarm, looking for my clothes. My uniform wasn't on the chair. I turned around, then froze. Someone was lying in that bed.[1]

In surveying others who had undergone strange experiences when flirting with death, Raymond Moody found that certain elements were recounted over and over. From these accounts, he constructed an 'archetypal NDE' which contained all of these common elements — one of which was the sound component:

A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel [2].

A survey of experiences shows Moody to be correct in including this as part of the NDE (though not ever-present, it certainly is prevalent). Beyond the whir/buzz/hum mentioned above though, there are also other sounds reported. Consider the following two examples:

I heard what seemed like millions of little golden bells ringing, tinkling; they rang and rang. Many times since, I've heard those bells in the middle of the night. Next I heard humming and then a choir singing. The singing got louder and louder, and it was in a minor key. It was beautiful and in perfect harmony. I also heard stringed instruments. [3]


Vicki Umipeg also began to hear sublimely beautiful and exquisitely harmonious music akin to the sound of wind chimes. With scarcely a noticeable transition, she then discovered she had been sucked head first into a tube and felt that she was being pulled up into it. The enclosure itself was dark, Vicki said, yet she was aware that she was moving toward light. As she reached the opening of the tube, the music that she had heard earlier seemed to be transformed into hymns and she then "rolled out" to find herself lying on grass.[4]

Similarly, the phenomenon of 'astral projection', often termed 'out-of-body experiences' (OBEs), is said to be heralded by sounds such as buzzing, roaring, humming, music, singing and voices. Any suggestion that these sounds have become associated with NDEs or OBEs through the spreading of modern NDE folklore (ie. via suggestion) can be discounted, as there are historical accounts of this experience, such as in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which explains that after the soul of the deceased separates from the physical body, it is likely that roaring, thundering and whistling sounds will be heard. The 'practical' exploration of the transition into the state of death was not peculiar to the Tibetans though, and we find another example in a passage from a Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri, in which the dying subject is attempting to ensure immortality or regeneration:

When you have spoken in this wise [magical names], you will hear thunder and rushing of the air-space all around; and you yourself will feel that you are shaken to your depths. Then say again: 'Silence...'; thereupon open your eyes and you will see the gates open and the world of the gods within the gates; and your spirit, gladdened by the sight, will feel itself drawn onwards and upwards. Now remain standing still and draw the divine essence into yourself, regarding it fixedly. And when your soul has come to itself again, then speak: 'Approach Lord!' [magic words]. After these words, the rays will turn towards you; and you, focus your gaze on the center. If you do that, you will see a god, very young, beautifully formed, with flame-like hair, in a white tunic with a red mantle and a fiery wreath. [5]

This passage obviously follows the archetype of the NDE — the hearing of strange noises, the feeling of the spirit being drawn upwards, and an experience with a divine light or being. However, the magical schema in which the above passage is rooted begs the question: is the NDE an experience unto itself, or part of a much wider catalogue of mystical journeys, available via other methods such as magical ritual, shamanic journey and even unwanted 'intrusions' from an external source?

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  1. Return From Tomorrow, Dr George Ritchie [back to text]
  2. Life After Life, Dr Raymond Moody [back to text]
  3. NDE of Lorraine Tutmarc, cited on ( [back to text]
  4. NDE of Vicki Umipeg, cited on ( [back to text]
  5. Ritual Magic, E.M. Butler, pp. 11-12 [back to text]

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