This month's interview is with writer and Spiritualist Gary Leon Hill, author of People who Don't Know They're Dead

Of the many things that can put a cramp in your day, dropping dead is probably somewhere near the top of the list for most people.

It is not uncommon for people that go through a traumatic event to experience denial. Death, it seems, is no exception. The recently departed, particularly those that have died suddenly, or in an alcoholic haze or unexpectedly in their sleep, often simply cannot grasp the concept of Not Being Alive Anymore.

Much like Bruce Willis in the movie The Sixth Sense, the individual will 'shut out' the clues that they are no longer alive, and attempt to go on living their life as before. Often they will (either deliberately or unconsciously) attach themselves to a living human being in order to slake their thirsts for food, drink, sex or life.

In his new book, People Who Don't Know They're Dead, Gary Leon Hill explores this problem and attempts to answer the age old question - what happens when you die?

We spoke with Gary about this book, his Uncle Wally, and what happens when you die.

[PNN] How did you become interested in this subject originally?

[GLH]  I can’t remember not being interested in paranormal phenomena, in invisible worlds, in the mind, and the mystery of consciousness. What is life? What is death? Does consciousness exist separate from the physical body? Is survival of consciousness beyond so-called death a reality? Is communication with those who have left the physical body possible? Does the invasion and control of a living human being by a living spirit happen?

When my Uncle Wally Johnston told me he’d been talking to the spirits of people who were dead and didn’t know it, I wanted to know more about it. I borrowed the audiotapes of their sessions and wound up transcribing 300 pages of dialogue -- Wally talking through his psychic friend Lorraine with various entities stuck on the other side. As a psychologist, ghost counseling was a natural extension of Wally’s counseling work. The difference being, in these cases, his clients were dead. This was his “pro bono work,” he says. “And no third party payments.”

Years later, Wally teamed up with his sister (my aunt) Ruth, a psychiatric nurse and teacher, who had been learning about energy healing and alternative medicine and how to use the pendulum as an information dowser. Together, they began releasing what they call hitchhikers – spirits who, for whatever reason at the time of death, become earthbound and instead of moving on, attach themselves to living human beings.

[PNN]  What prompted you to write this book?

[GLH]  My fascination with the paranormal, my love for Ruth and Wally, and interest shown by people at RedWheel/Weiser all prompted me to write People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead.

[PNN] Who do you think this book appeals to?

[GLH]  “Being dead is so much like being alive that many people die without realizing their condition.” I don’t remember when I came across this statement, but I put it in a play I wrote and it always gets a laugh. I think because it is true, and on some level people know that.

Gary Leon Hill

Death is the one thing we all face, yet no one living knows exactly what it is. No one knows for sure where we go or if we do, and if we do go, what happens when we get there.

I hope anyone interested in what happens at or after death or who might suspect they or a friend may be attached by earthbound spirits will be drawn to my book. Our culture tends to make any life after death speculation or stories fear-based, i.e. movies such as “White Noise.” I think that’s a large mistake. There’s drama without fear and anyone who wants to live a more awake, aware, less fearful life, will find my book appealing. Also, people seem to think it’s a pretty good story.

[PNN] What, in your opinion, is a spirit? A collection of energy that can be measured, or something more ethereal?

[GLH]  Edith Fiore calls a spirit “the immortal essence of a person.” In her book The Unquiet Dead, she uses “spirit” interchangeably with “discarnate” and “entity.” My uncle Wally Johnston defines a spirit as “a non-atomic, non-molecular energy pattern” that inhabits the physical body until death, when it moves on. Robert Assagioli defined it as our “center of awareness.” Charles Hapgood says it is “a permanent unit of cosmic energy that is immortal and outside time.”

In After We Die, What Then?, George W. Meek writes that for most people the words “spirit” and “soul” are interchangeable, but that “properly speaking, ‘spirit’ distinguishes the nonphysical portions of our being from the physical body, whereas ‘soul’ relates to that individualized portion of the Creator which resides in each of us” and continues to live multiple lifetimes.

Whatever the soul is, Swedish Dr. Nils-Olof Jacobson has determined – by placing the deathbeds of terminal patients on extremely sensitive scales – that it weighs 21 grams (about eight tenths an ounce).

[PNN] What makes the soul/spirit of a deceased person become a hitchhiker?

[GLH] According to sources cited in People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead, at the moment of death we slip out of our physical bodies but continue to exist in the form around which our physical bodies originally grew – our spirit body. There is no sudden change of personality and our surroundings appear as before. We are, in fact, exactly where we were and the essence of who we are continues.

The confusion this causes is equal to the knowledge the deceased has had in advance. If we expect death to be the ultimate blackout, end of everything, and instead, when it comes, nothing seems to have changed, we may continue to focus on the physical plane of people and things. Not realizing that we are dead, we may seek to satisfy our needs and appetites as we always have.

Without physical bodies, we no longer need shelter, food, or clothing, let alone do we need sex, alcohol, or drugs. But if we die ignorant of our situation, if we don’t know we are dead, or worse, have died under the influence of strong emotions such as anger, or alcohol, or drugs, our appetites can remain, and we may go about blindly seeking to satisfy them.

Hitchhiker is the word Wally uses for a spirit who, for whatever reason, at the time of death becomes earthbound and instead of moving on attaches itself to a living human being to literally live through them.

[PNN] Are there any people that are more susceptible to hitchhikers than others?

[GLH]  Those most susceptible to being attached by earthbound spirits are those who don’t realize that such a thing can happen. According to Edith Fiore, the most common signs of possible attachment are fatigue, mood swings, hearing voices, abuse of drugs and alcohol, impulsive behavior, poor concentration, memory problems, sudden onset of anxiety or depression, and the sudden onset of physical problems with no obvious cause.

Those most at risk are people who drink heavily or use a lot of drugs, and people who work in or hang out in bars, where people routinely lose consciousness. Those who work around the dead, sick, and dying – nurses, orderlies, paramedics, ambulance drivers, firemen, policemen, and solders – are at risk. People who visit and/or stay overnight in hospitals. Patients who go under anesthesia. Those who undergo surgery, blood transfusions, and organ transplants, hospice workers and home healthcare providers.

But, according to Wally, “I doubt if you could walk through a mall without picking one up,” which is the source of my title for Chapter 8 – “Walking Through the Mall.”

[PNN] How does the process of removing a hitchhiker differ from the idea of exorcism?

[GLH]  My understanding is that in an exorcism, the interfering spirit has been judged to be demonic and that the only recourse is the violent expulsion of the “Satanic” force from the body of “the accursed” – with no provision made or responsibility taken for where that cast out “demon” goes.

But, as I ask in the book -- what happens next? Where does this spirit go? How confused and angry is it? What might it do next? As with the souls of capital punishment victims executed in American prisons, about all we know is that these souls have now been rendered invisible. And, very likely, pissed.

I talk about the role of spirit releasement therapist William Baldwin. He reports having encountered malevolent beings, interdimensional parasites, and even entities who believe that they themselves are not human but are doing the bidding of dark energy forces intent on wreaking havoc and destruction. Some have told him they have come to take over the human race.

Nevertheless, Baldwin asks them to look deep inside themselves to the eternal, indestructible spark of God-consciousness that he insists we all share.

Ruth and Wally share the conviction that every living being in the universe contains a spark of the divine, and their process of spirit detachment proceeds from that.

[PNN] You mention angels and how they can help with the process of separating a living person from a hitchhiker. Do you feel that they are primarily engaged in human affairs, or is this a secondary aspect of their “purpose”? How do you feel about the concept of angels?

[GLH] As I say in the book, I didn’t know going in really what to make of angels. Ethereal beings? Never having lived as humans? Guiding influences who watch over us and protect us from harm? Frankly, such beings are outside my conscious knowing. But, through the research I’ve done I’ve come around to the belief that the room is full of many types of invisible beings that move in and out of my life every day. Are angels among them? I can’t say that they are not. William James, Carl Wickland, Bill Baldwin, Mark Macy and others each attest to the involvement of angelic beings in the clearing of earthbound spirits. Ruth and Wally proceed “as if” it happens, and it appears to. More than that, I can’t say.

[PNN] How have your experiences with Wally, Ruth and the spirit world changed your concept of Life after Death?

[GLH] It has deepened it.

[PNN] How can we avoid not realizing we have died?

[GLH] First, by considering the possibility that there may be no such thing as so-called death – that consciousness survives the death of the physical body – and that evolution involves the spiritual development of the soul/spirit beyond one physical body, one physical lifetime. As Wally puts it, if you reach for your wife and your hand goes through her, you’re dead.

[PNN] Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

[GLH] There is another book and more plays.

People who Don't Know They're Dead is available at better bookstores or by contacting Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press at: (800) 423-7087 or