The sign on the door said ‘Remote Viewing workshop’, which didn’t give much away. It might as well have read, ‘Please abandon your logic here’.
Inside was an ordinary office meeting room, with a smiley, professional briefcase-carrying businessman preparing a training session. The contents of the workshop were less predictable. They were based on a training manual written by the military in the late 1970s, in order to train soldiers to be able to harness their paranormal powers so that they would be able to spy on the enemy, using telepathy.
I had come to the workshop to get a better understanding of the historical events behind this autumn’s comedy, The Men Who Stare at Goats, which is based on a true story about the US military. The film is inspired by the events laid out in journalist Jon Ronson’s extensively researched book by the same name about a group of soldiers, who allegedly called themselves ‘The Jedi’, and who were trained to be able to fight wars in esoteric and “non-violent” ways. According to the book, their methods and objectives included learning to live off nuts, learning to be invisible, deterring the enemy with ‘sparkly eyes’, walking through walls and, ultimately, killing goats by staring at them. At least two veteran soldiers claim to have accomplished this sophisticated final stage of the training.
Research that went into the training manual, some of it carried out by the SRI, an institute dedicated to the development of government agencies, is still used by special police forces today. One example of this is Remote Viewing: the art of using psychic powers to spy on a remote location, such as an enemy base or a crime scene.
Mike Webster, the teacher leading my workshop, is one of Britain’s leading professional remote viewers. He describes his job as “perceiving people, places or events that are separated from the viewer by distance or time”, and he claims to work on a regular basis (“I usually take on an average of one case a month”), for investigations agencies including police forces and private businesses, both in the UK and America.
Most of this “contracted” work involves helping to solve murder cases, fraud and locating missing persons, which he can do – literally with his eyes closed – from his kitchen table in rural Scotland.
Webster admitted that he thinks it “more than a possibility” that government bodies still work with remote viewers, although he doesn’t know how or why.
Webster insists that everyone has psychic abilities; it’s just a matter of training people to understand how to use them. My RV lesson involved fine-tuning my intuitive ability to perceive an image that I had never seen before, hidden inside a closed envelope across the room. I had to conjure up the contents of the hidden paper using the three stages set out by the military in 1978 (a psychic called Ingo Swann and an early military remote viewer called Paul Smith wrote the training programme at Fort Mead): 1) outline overall composition of the target site and textures, 2) add sensory information like smell and taste, and, 3) sense movement and emotional impact.
During the perception tests, I was surprised by the class’s ability to pick up on specifics. I drew a mountain and described a windy environment, and then opened the envelope to see an Alpine landscape. ‘It’s a fluke’, I told myself so I stifled my pride. Another girl in the group described something “salty tasting, wet, and spongy like moss”. Her hidden image was a tabletop of fresh fish in a market stall. But even if we were “intuitively” picking something up – either from him, or from the envelope – how might this relate to killing goats?
Webster explains Ronson’s dead goat tales with something called Remote Influencing – “the dodgier version of remote viewing” – which involves “entering somebody else’s mind or subconscious”.
“RI may be able to create a thought that a particularly dangerous situation is in fact harmless, with dire consequences. I suppose that if one could convince a goat that it is ok to run off a cliff, for example, then the same result is achieved albeit indirectly.”
Intuition is one thing, but flicking suicidal switches in the depths of an animal’s mind is quite another.
I compare Webster’s with Jon Ronson’s view on the goat-killing – “it was an enormous karate chop, which over the years, and through Chinese whispers, has been turned into something more paranormal” – and I know which man I would sooner follow into battle!