The Night Side of Nature

Environmental Meanings of the Modern Paranormal


  • Timothy Grieve-Carlson Rice University



Paranormal, cosmotheism, environment, nature, ecology, naturphilosophie, esotericism, Frederic W.H. Myers, Franz Anton Mesmer, Friedrich W.J. Schelling


The rise of the category of the paranormal in scholarship during the last decade calls for a historical genealogy of the term, if scholars are to continue to use it as both an analytic frame and an object of study. Such a genealogy shows that the paranormal derives from early modern and Renaissance environmental and cosmotheist beliefs and philosophies. Modern discourses of the paranormal are deeply coded forms of Renaissance cosmotheism and organicism, a coding accomplished through major intellectual stances on the category of ‘nature’ by lgures like Franz Mesmer, Friedrich W.J. Schelling, and Frederic W.H. Myers. The modern paranormal is an organic and ecological intellectual category of uncanny interrelation between subject and environment, and tracing its historical development demonstrates how organic environmental philosophies were shaped during and after the Enlightenment.

Author Biography

Timothy Grieve-Carlson , Rice University

Timothy Grieve-Carlson is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Religion at Rice University. 


Abrams, M.H. 1971. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton).

Albanese, Catherine L. 2007. A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Asprem, Egil. 2014. The Problem of Disenchantment: Scientilc Naturalism and Esoteric Discourse, 1900–1939 (Leiden: Brill). Doi:

Attleld, Robin. 2005. ‘Leibniz, the Cause of Gravity and Physical Theology’, Studia Leibnitiana 37.2: 238-44.

Bartlett, Robert. 2008. The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Behrens, Georg. 1998. ‘Feeling of Absolute Dependence or Absolute Feeling of Dependence? (What Schleiermacher Really Said and Why It Matters)’, Religious Studies 34.4: 471-81. Doi:

Buntz, Herwig. 2005. ‘Alchemy III: 12th/13th–15th Century’, in Hanegraaff et al. 2005: 34-41.

Caterine, Darryl V. 2011. Haunted Ground: Journeys through a Paranormal America (Santa Barbara: Praeger).

Caterine, Darryl V., and John W. Morehead (eds.). 2019. The Paranormal and Popular Culture: A Postmodern Religious Landscape (London: Routledge). Doi:

Coudert, Allison P. 2005. ‘Alchemy IV: 16th–18th Century’, in Hanegraaff et al. 2005: 42-50.

Crabtree, Adam. 1993. From Mesmer to Freud: Magnetic Sleep and the Roots of Psychological Healing (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Crowe, Catherine. 1848. The Night Side of Nature; Or, Ghosts and Ghost-Seers (2 vols.; London: T.C. Newby).

Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the Origins of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray). Doi:

Faivre, Antoine. 2010. Western Esotericism: A Concise History (Albany: SUNY Press).

Glennon, Fred (ed.). 2017. ‘Teaching the Paranormal and the Occult’, Spotlight on Teaching. American Academy of Religion. Online:

Gurney, Edmund, Frederic W.H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. 1886. Phantasms of the Living (2 vols.; London: Trübner).

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. 2012. Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Doi:

Hanegraaff, Wouter J., with Antoine Faivre, Roelof van den Broek, and Jean-Pierre Brach (eds.). 2005. Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism (Leiden: Brill).

Hollenback, Jess Byron. 1996. Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press). Doi:

Jenzen, Olu, and Sally Munt (eds.). 2013. The Ashgate Research Companion to Paranormal Cultures (Farnham, England: Ashgate).

Josephson-Storm, Jason #nanda. 2017. The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Doi:

Kripal, Jeffrey J. 2010. Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Doi:

———. 2017a. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). Doi:

Kripal, Jeffrey (ed.). 2017b. Religion: Super Religion (Farmington Hills: Macmillan Reference USA, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning).

Laycock, Joseph, and Daniel Wise. 2014. ‘“Our Secret in Plain Sight”: Recent Scholarly Approaches to Paranormal Belief’, Religious Studies Review 40: 69-75. Doi:

Liu, Joseph. 2009. ‘Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths’. Pew Research Center. Online:

McCalla, Arthur. 2005. ‘Romanticism’, in Hanegraaff et al. 2005: 1000-1007.

Meheust, Bertrand. 2005. ‘Animal Magnetism’, in Hanegraaff et al. 2005: 75-82.

Merchant, Carolyn. 1980. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientilc Revolution (San Francisco: Harper Collins).

Mesmer, Franz Anton. 1779. Mémoire sur le découverte du magnétisme animal (Geneva and Paris: Ghelen).

———. 1783. Kurze Geschichte des thierischen Magnetismus bis April 1781 (Karlsruhe: Michael Macklot).

Moore, David W. 2005. ‘Three in Four Americans Believe in Paranormal: Little Change from Similar Results in 2001’, Gallup News Service. Online:

Morton, Timothy. 2007. Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

———. 2018. Being Ecological (London: Pelican Books. 2018). Doi:

Myers, Frederic W.H. 1897. ‘Glossary’, in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 12 (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.).

———. 1885. ‘Automatic Writing—II’, in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 3 (Jan. 30, 1885): 1-63.

———. 1901. Science and a Future Life with Other Essays (London: Macmillan).

———. 1903. Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols.; London: Longmans, Green).

———. 1904. Fragments of Prose and Poetry (ed. Eveleen Myers; London: Longmans, Green).

Otto, Rudolf. 1958. The Idea of the Holy (trans. John W. Harvey; London: Oxford University Press).

Owen, Alex. 2005. The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Doi:

Partridge, Christopher H. 2004. The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture, and Occulture (London: T. & T. Clark International).

Penman, Leigh T.I. 2015. ‘The History of the Word Paranormal’, Notes and Queries 62.1: 31-34. Doi:

Podmore, Frank. 1909. Mesmerism and Christian Science: A Short History of Mental Healing (Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs).

Prophet, Erin. 2018. Evolution Esotericized: Conceptual Blending and the Emergence of Secular, Therapeutic Salvation (PhD diss., Rice University).

Richards, Robert J. 2002. The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). Doi:

Rubenstein, Mary-Jane. 2018. Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters (New York: Columbia University Press).

Schelling, Friedrich W.J. 1927. Schellings Werke: Nach der Originalausgabe in neuer Anordnung (ed. Manfred Schröter; 14 vols.; Munich: C.H. Beck).

———. 2002. Clara; or, On Nature’s Connection to the Spirit World (trans. Fiona Steinkamp; Albany: SUNY Press).

Stewart, Balfour, and P.G. Tait. 1875. The Unseen Universe: Or Physical Speculations on a Future State (London: Macmillan & Co.).

Styers, Randall. 2004. Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Doi:

Wirth, Jason. 2015. Schelling’s Practice of the Wild: Time, Art, Imagination (Albany: SUNY Press).

Vallee, Jacques, and Janine Vallee. 1974. Challenge to Science: The UFO Enigma (New York: Ballantine Books Edition).

von Stuckrad, Kocku. 2007. ‘Finding Data: Some Remections on Ontologies and Normativities’, JSRNC 1.1: 39-46. Doi:



How to Cite

Grieve-Carlson , T. . (2021). The Night Side of Nature: Environmental Meanings of the Modern Paranormal. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 15(2), 229–254.