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Observations placeholder

Seabrook, William Buehler - Justine's hood



Type of Spiritual Experience


Strictly speaking the observer is Justine, but Willie played his part so I have used him as the source.


A description of the experience

William Seabrook - Witchcraft

It was made., ……, of soft, smooth, glace kid. We experimented first with suede, but (believe it or not) any suede which was soft and light enough proved not to be completely lightproof. The smooth leather on the contrary, was as lightproof as a sheet of lead.

The mask covered Justine's entire head, following all the contours of her face, and, when laced tight in the back, fitted smoothly and tightly as her own skin. The only opening was a slit for the mouth, which followed the lines of her lips and through which she soon learned to breathe, deeply and steadily.

But now that it was done, and she began to wear it, she went through periods of hating and fearing it, because it accomplished, as she said, too completely, the things we’d hoped it would.

Instead of producing the ordinary effect of blindfolding, or of closing the eyes, her eyes, wide open inside it, stared at utter blackness. Sense of smell was blanked, since there were no holes for the nostrils. Sense of hearing was dulled, and the tactile sensitivity of her cheeks (normally feeling warmth, coolness, air currents, when a window was opened or closed, when she was merely blindfolded) was likewise blanked. It shut her off as completely as a conscious mind can ever be shut off from everything outside.

Often, in what came close to panic, she could not tell whether I or anybody was in the room at all, whether I might be close beside her, or whether I had gone away and left her there totally alone. It was like being back, she said, 'in the womb of time.' And it was more than she had bargained for.

There were times when she hated and feared it, and would have torn it off if I hadn't kept her hands always tied or chained, well away from her face and head. Eventually she became accustomed to it, gave up 'fighting' it, let it 'take her,' as she said -and ended by liking it. She wanted to be in it whenever she could, even when I did have to go away and leave her all day alone, as I occasionally did.

There were rare occasions when Justine seemed to 'slide over,' as she called it, into flashing moments of what seemed actual illumination, when she seemed to be on sure ground. In those impatient moments, she'd name the cards [used as a test], insisting that she saw them. What did she mean by seeing? It was, she said, like closing your eyes in memory, and seeing a familiar face, or doorway, or landscape, there is no vision in the sense of light impacting on the eye, but nevertheless the cerebral image you have is visual. She said that when she 'slid over' and it 'happened,' it was like that. And it was an eerie, emotionally if not scientifically convincing, experience when she'd sometimes say, 'But I see it plainly . . . it's the nine of spades, and you're holding it sideways.'

As to whether it was telepathy, clairvoyance, sheer accident, I don't yet know. She wasn't interested in card experiments anyway, and was always impatient with them. I'm not sure she wasn't right in being impatient.

What Justine enjoyed was the adventures that came spontaneously, the subjective experiences, trance visions, or whatever they were, when her mind, shut away from impacts with the sensory world and consequently freed from it, wandered into that other world - which is perhaps really another world in some fourth dimensional region of time and space---or perhaps merely a dream-world of cloud fantasy built with nothing more than the released imagination.

Three or four times, in the course of a number of years, she slid over again into what seemed to be the field of precognition…. Her glimpses into the future, however, if that is what they really were, never brought back anything of serious importance or intrinsic value. She never foresaw the armistice, or the boom, or the depression, or the death of the Pope. It was always something intrinsically trivial, usually fantastic, pucklike, poltergeistlike, verging on the edge of the unexpected …….

The other time Justine strolled into fourth dimensional time-space, as it were, the only thing she brought back was a barrel of fish. She'd been sitting in the mask all day, crouched, in a posture we'd borrowed from Peter Freuchen's Eskimo seers and wizards, with her wrists fastened to her ankles.

When she began to talk that evening -it was in January-she seemed to be shopping in Saks Fifth Avenue, in the summertime, with her cousin Lucy.

They bought some summer clothes. She was talking with Lucy about the heat, and about whether they'd walk home or take a taxi. She bought some dresses and gew-gaws, seemed to be enjoying herself. They were going to have an ice-cream soda presently. . . . This cousin of hers, Lucy, Iived in the East Sixties, in a small but la-di-da apartment, with a tiny kitchenette and coloured maid who came only in the late afternoon. I'd been there a couple of times to tea. That was where they were going now as I gathered from Justine's chatter with Lucy.

They were walking a few blocks. It had become cooler, so they walked the whole way. Justine was chattering along, with the silences filled in, as I imagined, by Lucy. When they reached the apartment and were let in by the maid.

‘What!’ Justine was saying. 'What did she say had come? A barrel of fish! The expressman brought it, and it's in the kitchenette? It must be a joke! I don't believe it!'

There was a spot of silence, and then Justine was shrieking with laughter. There was a barrel of fish in the kitchenette -it seemed -a small barrel, but a barrel, 'Fresh fish ! . . . Perishable !' shrieked Justine, still almost inarticulate with laughter.

There was now a prolonged period of silence. Then Justine stirred, struggled a little, groaned, whimpered like a baby. She had come 'out of it' or had 'come back' or whatever you want to call it. The thread of whatever it was had been broken. She said, 'Willie ... are you there? My wrists hurt, and my shoulders ache. What time is it? Please let me go now.'

Late one evening in June, Justine was on the telephone after having tried to reach me repeatedly since six o'clock and said:

'I'm at Lucy's, and the fish are here ! They came from Canada, and Lucy thinks she can guess who sent them. We've had the janitor up to open the barrel. It was mostly full of salt and ice. He says they're lake trout and landlocked salmon.'

'Hey,' I said, 'I'm coming around right now.'

I went and saw the barrel of fish. Lucy heard next day from the returned vacationing friend who had sent them....

The source of the experience

Seabrook, William Buehler

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Sensory deprivation