Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
View your shopping cart Shopping Cart | My Account | Help | Become a Fan on Facebook Become a Fan | Follow Us on Twitter Follow Us | Watch Us on YouTube Watch Us | Subscribe to our RSS Feeds Subscribe
Browse ProductsAuthorsArticlesBlogsEncyclopediaNewslettersAffiliate ProgramContact UsBooksellers
Advanced Search
LLEWELLYN JOURNAL
Article Topics
List of Articles
RSS Data Feeds
Mission Statement
Use of Our Articles
Writers' Guidelines

Email Exclusives
Sign up to receive special offers and promotions from Llewellyn.

Get the Latest Issue of New Worlds

March / April 2014 Issue

New Worlds Catalog

Get the FREE app for your tablet and mobile device. Now available in the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store

Also available as a PDF File.

Click for more information about New Worlds or to receive issues via mail.


The Llewellyn Journal
Print this Article Print this Article

A Farewell to Dr. Karlis Osis

This article was written by Loyd Auerbach
posted under

When I first met Karlis Osis, I had no way of knowing the effect he was destined to have on my life.

I was between college and graduate school and I was visiting the American Society for Psychical Research in New York City. Our meeting left a lasting impression on me. Little did I know I'd end up working with him at the ASPR just a little over two years later.

"Dr. Osis," I said to the tall, lanky researcher walking down the stairs to the ASPR library, "my name is Loyd Auerbach. I'm headed to the Graduate Parapsychology Program at John F. Kennedy University this fall."

He looked me up and down, as if appraising me from my appearance. With a pronounced Latvian accent, he replied. "So, you are to study Parapsychology? What is your main interest in the field?"

"I'm not sure what I'll focus on yet. I'm interested in spontaneous case investigation, but also in all sorts of lab research. I really want to be able to write for the general public, though."

Again, he looked me over. "And what is your undergraduate degree in?" "Cultural Anthropology. I did a lot of work looking at supernatural beliefs and folklore."

He looked thoughtful, smiled, then got a serious look on his face. "You know, that is a very good basis for work in this field, and not enough has been done. I have an idea for you."

I hung on with bated breath, nodding to encourage him to go on. "Nothing has really been done looking at psychic experiences and the Black Magic cults here in New York City. There are many such cults and people with beliefs, and it would be simple to get to such people."

"But Dr. Osis," I said hesitantly, "I've heard about murders and mutilations around such cults. Wouldn't that be dangerous?"

"Well? We all have to make sacrifices."

As I noted the twinkle in his eye, I took an immediate liking to this man. My contact with him a couple of years later when I took a position at the ASPR only reinforced this.
Dr. Osis died December 26th, 1997 - his 80th birthday.

A Long and Special Career
Born in Latvia in 1917, Karlis Osis had an experience in his early teens that affected his life. According to The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research, Osis, who was ill at the time, experienced the moment an aunt died as "a 'tremendous wave of joy,' and he and the room were filled with a 'living light.' This 'call of the mysteriously sublime' led into psychical research and parapsychology because, he writes, 'Belief was not enough; I had to know.'"

Osis received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Munich in 1950. His dissertation topic was "A Hypothesis of Extrasensory Perception." He came to the United States and wrote to J. B. Rhine, who invited him to Duke University, where he worked at the Parapsychology Laboratory for six years.

In his long career, he worked in such areas as animal psi, distance effects on ESP (including transcontinental distances), the relationship between ESP and psychokinesis, precognition, and out-of-body experiences. His interests did not lie solely in the laboratory, however - he had great (perhaps greater) interest in spontaneous psychic experiences and the question of life after death. He was the author of more than 70 scientific articles.

A write-up about one of his recent lectures for the ASPR, Dr. Osis noted that "developed new methods of testing ESP. He conducted interviews with creative artists and found altered states of consciousness to be conducive to ESP. He studied altered states induced by meditation working with experienced meditators in the laboratory."

His work on out-of-body experiences was pioneering. He was a proponent of the projection model of OBEs (which posits something being projected from the body), and his research included a holistic perspective, looking at perceptual, psychological, and physical variables for OBEs.

When I worked at the ASPR in the early 1980s, Osis and researcher Donna McCormick were conducting research with OBE subject (and psychic) Alex Tanous. Their research involved an innovative target for Alex's OB presence (Alex-2) to look at. The target itself was a composite, created by projectors, a mirror system, and a color wheel, and it was visible only when viewed through a special lens at the front of the setup. Also, a special detection system was involved with which "Alex-2" would try to physically interact. Alex was hooked up to physiological monitors to look for correspondences between his internal state, readings from the detection device, and Alex's commentary on what was happening (he was conscious while "part" of him was out of body).

Over the years, Dr. Osis investigated numerous apparitions, hauntings, and poltergeists (see past issues of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research for some of these). Along with Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson of Iceland, he conducted a pioneering cross-cultural study of death experiences, surveying physicians and nurses in the U.S. and India as to their observations of the dying. That study, What They Saw...at the Hour of Death: A New Look at Evidence for Life after Death, was just republished this past year and is again available.

Osis and Haraldsson also began an investigation of religious figure Satya Sai Baba, who claimed to be able to materialize and dematerialize small objects. While funding for Osis ran out, Haraldsson continued the research with Sai Baba (see Haraldsson's book Modern Miracles, Hastings House, 1997). Osis told me he had consulted a few magicians in New York for this work, including an informal consultation with Doug Henning.

Dr. Osis held several important posts over the years. He was a past president of the Parapsychological Association. He was director of research for the Parapsychology Foundation from 1957 to 1962, where he conducted experiments with mediums. From there he went directly to the ASPR as Director of Research. He stayed at the ASPR until his retirement a few years ago. His retirement as the Chester F. Carlson Research Fellow Emeritus ended all active research at the society.

Osis's Legacy
It was an honor to have Dr. Osis as a colleague at the ASPR, even though I rarely worked directly with him. The opportunities to talk with him and to bounce ideas off him left me with sound advice and much encouragement. He encouraged me to ask tough and sometimes odd questions (maybe that was his sense of humor) and not to be satisfied with the research status quo in parapsychology. And of course, he is at least partly responsible for my focus on apparitions and poltergeists.

Erlendur Haraldsson wrote of his one-time colleague, "He shall be missed by many of us. I feel grateful for having known him."

In an obituary placed in the New York Times, the ASPR referred to Osis as "a visionary whose kindness and wisdom will be missed but not forgotten." Donna McCormick, who spent years working with Osis, said, "He always stayed true to his research. He had a vision in trying to find an overall model for psychical research generally, and survival [after death] in particular. He never lost sight of the big picture and never compromised his priniciples. In his talks and his writings he always tried to inspire younger and newer researchers. More like him are needed in the field. We'll miss him."

According to parapsychologist Carlos Alvarado, "Karlis was one of the few modern parapsychologists who tried to study the issue of survival of bodily death empirically, through studies of mediums, apparitions, and other phenomena. Although not everyone agreed with the interpretation of his results nor with his methods, his work clearly stands as an example of creativity and ingenuity, and a willingness to go against the establishment in a positive and constructive way: that is, taking unpopular ideas and trying to study them systematically and scientifically. His example should be valued by all of us. Hopefully his writings will inspire the new generation of parapsychologists to follow their instincts and hopes regardless of political concerns."

Echoing Alvarado's comments, I urge anyone with an interest in survival of bodily death, in apparitions, hauntings, poltergeists, or OBEs to seek out the writings of Karlis Osis and benefit from his legacy of wisdom as I and many others have done for so long. Good-bye, Dr. Osis.


Please note that the use of Llewellyn Journal articles
is subject to certain Terms and Conditions

When we are told we are being taken to a haunted location, long before we reach our destination, our mind will have already created its own ghosts and demons. In fact, the mind is the common denominator where any respectable paranormal investigator is concerned; and whether you are a sceptic or believer, you can never be certain exactly what... read this article
7 Ways to Welcome Spring with Crystals and Gems
The Witch's Broom: Magic for Everyone
Astrology: The Energy of Color
How to Get Rid of a Ghost: 3 Easy Ways
A Healing Spell for Your Cat

Most recent posts:
The Angel of the River Thames
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Billy Roberts, author of The Holistic Way and the new Ghostly Tales. Today the subject of angels is...

Marseille Cat Tarot
The Marseille Tarot is very popular in Europe and is now gaining popularity in the US. Some people think that Marseille style decks are harder to...

The Four Elements
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Donald Tyson, author of a vast number of books, including The Serpent of Wisdom, The Demonology of King...





Llewellyn's 2014 Moon Sign Book Llewellyn's 2014 Moon Sign Book
Conscious Living by the Cycles of the Moon

By: Llewellyn
Price: $10.99 US,  $12.50 CAN
$2.75 US,  $3.13 CAN On Sale!
Llewellyn's 2014 Herbal Almanac Llewellyn's 2014 Herbal Almanac
Herbs for Growing & Gathering, Cooking & Crafts, Health & Beauty, History, Myth & Lore

By: Llewellyn
Price: $10.99 US,  $12.50 CAN
$2.75 US,  $3.13 CAN On Sale!
Llewellyn's 2014 Magical Almanac Llewellyn's 2014 Magical Almanac
Practical Magic for Everyday Living

By: Llewellyn
Price: $10.99 US,  $12.50 CAN
$2.75 US,  $3.13 CAN On Sale!
Llewellyn's 2014 Witches' Datebook Llewellyn's 2014 Witches' Datebook
By: Llewellyn
Price: $10.99 US,  $12.50 CAN
$2.75 US,  $3.13 CAN On Sale!
Llewellyn's 2014 Astrological Calendar Llewellyn's 2014 Astrological Calendar
Horoscopes for You Plus an Introduction to Astrology

By: Llewellyn
Price: $13.99 US,  $15.99 CAN
$3.50 US,  $4.00 CAN On Sale!