By Peter Mulacz

On Nov. 3rd, 1931, in a tiny village near Seltjarnarnes, Iceland, a baby boy was born to Haraldur Erlendsson and his wife Anna Elímundardóttir, and christened Erlendur. In Iceland there are no family names at all; a married couple has different names, and the given name of a child is augmented by the father’s name (patronym), thus Haraldsson, i.e., son of Haraldur. By the age of fifteen young Erlendur had an exceptional experience, which he described as “immensely greater than anything I had experienced or been aware of before”; the predominant factor in this mystical experience was an inner light: “Then I had the experience of being filled with light that was immensely delightful and beyond words.” He was keen on understanding what happened: “My first and primarily love was philosophy with a thirst to know more about the world around me—and not less—and to know what I was and the nature of that mysterious evasive ‘I’.”

After completed secondary school in Reykjavik, Erlendur took up the academic study of philosophy, enrolling in 1954 at the University of Copenhagen. The following year he transferred to the University of Edinburgh, and eventually spent two years at the University of Freiburg in Germany. While he did not find answers to the burning questions in philosophy – “… I felt I knew how matters stand with philosophy and that it was time to start something new. What philosophy taught me were the limitations to what we can know. Yes, we were homo sapiens, but primarily homo ignorans.” – an encounter with one man there showed Erlendur his real vocation, parapsychology. “Professor Hans Bender gave a course on parapsychology that was popular with students. He aroused my scientific interest.” Only a few years earlier, in 1950, Hans Bender (1907–1991) had founded the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene (IGPP) in Freiburg, which has since grown into one of the leading institutes in the world in our field.

After this, to earn money for his future studies, Erlendur worked as a journalist for an Icelandic newspaper, serving as a foreign correspondent in Berlin. There he met some Kurdish students who educated him on the political situation of the Kurds in Iraq. For 200 years, the Kurds, a people spread over five countries in the Middle East, have struggled without success to have their own state. In 1962, Erlendur made his first journey to Iraq and the Kurdish settlement area there, and on his second visit he became the first Western journalist to meet and interview the leader of the Kurdish autonomous movement, Barzani. Not only did he publish a book on his experiences, With the rebels in Kurdistan (1964) (in Icelandic; there is also a German translation), he also became the mouthpiece of the Kurdish rebels in Iraq, and from 1964 to 1970 he was the vice president of the International Kurdistan Society. Having spent two years in Iraq myself some twenty years later, I believe our experiences in the Middle East, as well as a shared interest in parapsychology, are what knit us together. Half a century later, in 2017, Erlendur returned to Iraq to meet the son of Barzani, a meeting Erlendur describes as a very moving encounter.

In 1963, Erlendur resumed his university studies, with psychology as the major subject, first at the University of Freiburg (1963–66) and then Munich (1966–69). In Munich he earned his degree in psychology with a master’s thesis on learning by imitation in 1968.

Following correspondence with J. B. Rhine (1895–1980), the latter invited Erlendur to his Institute of Parapsychology, considered the Mecca of parapsychology at the time, in Durham, North Carolina. There, Erlendur spent a year (1969–70) and became familiar with experimental parapsychology. From then on he became more and more involved with research into the paranormal. During 1970–1971, he did an internship in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville at their Division of Personality Studies (now Division of Perceptual Studies), a unit founded and headed by Ian Stevenson (1918–2007) who became best known for his work in cases of the reincarnation type (CORT) research. For Erlendur, this became a life-long association, both with Stevenson and the topic of reincarnation. Another prominent scientist at the University of Virginia who had considerable influence on Erlendur and became a life-long friend was Robert van de Castle, best known as a dream researcher. Besides arousing Erlendur’s interest in reincarnation, Stevenson made Erlendur familiar with mediumistic phenomena, particularly the case of the Icelandic medium Hafsteinn Björnsson (1915–1977). Perhaps the most impressive instance of Hafsteinn’s mediumistic communications is the drop-in case of Runolfur Runolfsson, jointly published by Erlendur and Stevenson. This case was also covered by Dr. Keith Parsons in the documentary The Strange Case of Runki’s Leg (2018).

Back at the University of Freiburg, Erlendur eventually earned his Ph.D. in 1972 under his doctoral advisor, Hans Bender, with his dissertation Vasomotorische Reaktionen als Indikatoren außersinnlicher Wahrnehmung [Vaso-motor Reactions as Indicators for Extra-sensory Perception]. For the next two years, Erlendur became a research associate with the American Society for Psychical Research in New York under their research director Karlis Osis (1917–97). Osis, born Latvian, had completed his scientific training and earned his Ph.D. in Germany as Erlendur had, before emigrating to the USA. The ASPR was then at its heyday, being funded by Xerox co-founder Chester Carlson, and Osis was full of ideas for future experiments. Experimental research was only one side of Osis’ research interests; another was deathbed observations, sparked by William F. Barrett’s pioneering study of 1926. Erlendur became intrigued by this topic too, and in 1977 they co-authored At the Hour of Death (1977), which Erlendur labeled “the first highlight” of his career. This book described the results of their comparative research in India and the USA, based on interviews with over 800 doctors and nurses. There have since been several editions under various titles, and translations into many languages.

Erlendur continued this line of research with a survey of 450 people in Iceland who reported psychic experiences and apparitions of the dead in a subsequent book, The Departed Among the Living. His more recent publications on Terminal Lucidity were co-authored with Michael Nahm et al. Nahm is a parapsychologist of a younger generation, and it should not go unnoticed how helpful Erlendur had been in assisting some young academics during their first steps in the field. Erlendur’s academic career also continued back home in Iceland. In 1973 he became assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Reykjavik. In 1978 he became an associate professor, and in 1989, full professor. Finally, in 1999 he became professor emeritus.

These tenures didn’t impede Erlendur, adventurous as ever, from carrying out field studies far abroad. Travel in India for their deathbed survey led Erlendur and Osis to inquire about phenomena attributed to the famous Sai Baba, and to investigate reports on CORT as Ian Stevenson had. Thus, two further research areas were opened in India, though the CORT studies were not limited to India alone. From 1975 on, and mostly together with Osis, Erlendur published some 30 articles and a book, again with several editions and translations, on the subject of Sai Baba. Since Sai Baba was regarded in his community as a holy man, no controlled experiments were possible, and the researchers were limited to the role of mere observer. Erlendur was impressed by Sai Baba without becoming a devotee. The most spectacular phenomenon reported was the ostensible materialization of a double rudraksha by Sai Baba, apparently a spontaneous phenomenon prompted by Sai Baba’s desire to illustrate the metaphor he was using in a philosophical discussion. In the decades since Erlendur’s first visit, Sai Baba became more and more controversial, being accused of producing his alleged phenomena fraudulently and, even more seriously for his Western devotees, of sexual misconduct by abusing young boys. Subsequently Erlendur was confronted with criticism for not addressing these allegations sufficiently or at all, respectively. Erlendur maintained that, unlike videos taken some thirty years later, what he had witnessed had no detectable fraud. Concerning the sexual misconduct allegations, Edlendur pointed out that there is no link between sexual misconduct and suspected paranormal abilities, and that such allegations are in no way unique to Sai Baba; allegations of child abuse have also been raised against prominent Catholic clergymen.

Less controversial was his research in CORT. Teaming up with other prominent researchers in the field, Erlendur carried out field research in India, in Sri Lanka, and with the Druze people in Lebanon. Earlier CORT researchers had limited themselves to recording the statements of children remembering their believed previous lives and checking these data for correspondences. Erlendur’s innovation was using a more quantitative oriented methodology, administering a set of personality tests to those children as well as to matched (by age, sex, social status, etc.) controls who had no such memories. The most impressive finding was that the CORT children showed characteristics akin to those found in cases of PTSD. As he has done as a young man with the Kurds, he was able to establish close relations with the Lebanese Druze, and his research was partly funded by the Druze Heritage Foundation. Once again, his and my biography overlap; I spent one and half years in Syria, where the Hauran is the settlement area of the majority of the Druze population. The Druze are a very close-knit religious community; they are believers in reincarnation, yet they are very secluded and usually do not talk openly on matters of religion or cult. I didn’t come across any ostensible CORT in the Druze community; my main interest in ethnoparapsychology in Syria has been the ritual stabbing performed in some Sufi schools, a phenomenon later labelled as DCBD (deliberately caused bodily damage).

Erlendur possessed a remarkably wide scope of research interests. While space is not sufficient to cover all of them, at least some need to be mentioned, particularly mediumism and the guideline of comparative studies. On Indridi Indridason (1883–1912), Erlendur, together with his countryman and former student Loftur Gissurarson, wrote a monograph with the subtitle “The Icelandic Physical Medium.” Indridi is credited with quite extraordinary macro-PK phenomena, such as movements of massive objects and auto-levitation while seated in a chair. “Most remarkable were the frequent phenomena of direct voices. And sometimes there were two voices—a female soprano and male bass voice—singing together.” The Experimental Society studying Indridi’s phenomena consisted mostly of academics who took all imaginable precautions to prevent the possibility of fraud, which Indridi gladly accepted, and still the phenomena continued. Though Indridi was labelled a physical medium, fascinating “spirit communications” also happened during Indridi’s séances. Erlendur singled out the case of Emil Jensen, again a drop-in communicator, talking about a fire in Copenhagen in a manner reminiscent of Swedenborg’s vision of the fire in Stockholm; Erlendur, together with Hans Gerding, described the similarities of both cases. The point of the Jensen case however was the fact that Indridi in his trance supplied so many details that Jensen could be identified beyond doubt. Thus, Erlendur calls this one “a perfect case.” Personally, I rate Erlendur’s historical analysis of Indridi’s mediumship, along with his investigation of Hafsteinn, among his most important contributions to parapsychology. There are plenty of researchers investigating CORT or NDEs, but freeing the Icelandic mediums from their linguistic isolation and bringing them to the attention of the international parapsychological community is a unique feat.

Back in 1930, Austrian parapsychologist Daniel Walter had suggested a new methodological approach called “Comparative Parapsychology.” Erlendur did considerable work along these lines, such as comparing phenomena of the physical mediums Indridi Indridason, D. D. Home, Eusapia Palladino, Franek Kluski, Einer Nielsen, and the Schneider brothers. Another comparison he made was between physical phenomena of parapsychological mediums and the akin phenomena of saints and other religious personalities. For still other comparisons he was interested in, e.g., folk beliefs, Erlendur used data from the European Human Values Survey.

An exhaustive list of Erlendur’s accomplishments would be beyond the scope of this manuscript, but a few should be mentioned briefly. Erlendur held multiple academic positions besides his native University of Reykjavik. He was guest professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville from 1982–1983; research professor at IGPP at the University of Freiburg from 1993–1995, and adjunct research faculty member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California. He was awarded many research grants and funding from sources including the Bial Foundation in Porto, Portugal; the Druze Heritage Foundation in London and Beirut, the European Commission Research Directorate-General; IGPP at the University of Freiburg; John Björkhem of Minnesfond, Stockholm; the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies in Copenhagen; the Parapsychology Foundation in New York; the University of Iceland Research Fund; RANNIS at the National Research Council of Iceland; the Tiger Trust of Rotterdam; and the Tate Fund of the Society for Psychical Research in London. In 1997, Erlendur was the recipient of the PA’s Outstanding Career Award, and in 2010 he was awarded with the SPR's Myers Memorial Medal. Erlendur’s publication list spans more than 360 entries, including articles as well as monographs.

Erlendur was a seasoned traveler. After 1999 he often spent several months in Charlottesville, though he always maintained how much he loved his homeland Iceland, with its subdued light during half of the year, landscape, and geysers. Despite his age he was a remarkably active lecturer, giving talks in various countries around the world; many of them have been taped and can be found on YouTube. Over the years I invited him several times to address the Austrian Society for Parapsychology and Frontier Areas of Science, his last talk there took place in 2018, on comparing physical phenomena of different mediums.

The previous year he took part in a symposium on reincarnation held by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. The latter had funded a research project on reincarnation within the Druze people called taqqamus, meaning transmigration. The focus was on ethnology and sociology, covering topics such as how children remembering past lives fit in with their current families and the society of their village. For the symposium presenting and discussing the results of the taqqamus research project they invited scholars of other fields, such as orientalists and parapsychologists. Erlendur, Chris French (representing the skeptical camp within parapsychology) and I took part. The paper Erlendur gave there was his swan song as far as CORTs are concerned.

During his last years, his old obsession with deathbed phenomena had moved more to the foreground, especially in talks he gave to people working in palliative care. His final thought was that all the various parapsychological studies he had engaged in “offer challenging evidence for survival of death and the existence of a supernatural reality that have to be considered seriously.” My last encounter with Erlendur was at the most recent PA convention, in July 2019 in Paris. Though a bit weaker and a bit more tired, Erlendur nonetheless did not create the impression that our parting was to be the final one. Another year passed. During the final weeks of his life, Erlendur was transferred to a hospice in the outskirts of Reykjavik. There, in the evening hours of Sunday, November 22nd, 2020, in the presence of his wife, Erlendur closed his eyes forever. He is survived by a son and a daughter, grandchildren, and even one great grandchild. Erlendur was not just an eminent researcher leaving a considerable impact in the field, he was also to me – and to many others I am sure – a good friend. He will live on in my, and our, commemoration.

An English version of Erlendur’s website is available at

His photo gallery is available at

An English translation of his autobiography, written in Icelandic, is due to be published soon at White Crow Books.

Selected Bibliography

Spontaneous psychic phenomena and folk-beliefs: National surveys and national differences

Haraldsson, E. (1985). Representative national surveys of psychic phenomena: Iceland, Great Britain, Sweden, USA and Gallup’s multinational survey. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 53, 145-158.

Haraldsson, E., & Houtkooper, J. M. (1991). Psychic Experiences in the Multinational Human Values Study. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 85(2), 145-165.

Haraldsson, E., & Houtkooper, J. M. (1996). Traditional Christian beliefs, spiritualism and the paranormal: An Icelandic-American Comparison. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6(1), 51-64.

Apparitions of the dead, deathbed visions, and hallucinatory experiences

Greyson, B., Nahm, M., Kelly, E. W., & Haraldsson, E. (2011). Terminal lucidity: a review and a case collection. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 55(1), 138-142.

Haraldsson, E. (1987). The Iyengar-Kirti case: An apparitional case of the by-stander type. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 54, 64-67.

Haraldsson, E. (2009). Alleged encounters with the dead: The importance of violent death in 337 new cases. Journal of Parapsychology, 73, 91-118.

Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. White Crow Books.

Haraldsson, E. (2017). Possible Evidence of Survival. In L. Keen (Ed.), Surviving Death (pp. 294-304). Crown Archetype.

Osis, K., & Haraldsson, E. (1997). At the Hour of Death (3rd ed.). Hastings House.

Osis, K., & Haraldsson, E. (2012). At the Hour of Death (revised ed.). White Crow Books.

Children who speak of memories of a previous life, case studies and psychological characteristics

Haraldsson, E. (1991). Children claiming past-life memories: Four cases in Sri Lanka. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 5(2), 233-262.

Haraldsson, E. (1997). Psychological comparison between ordinary children and those who claim previous-life memories. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11(3), 323-335.

Haraldsson, E. (2000). Birthmarks and claims of previous life memories I. The case of Purnima Ekanayake. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64(858), 16-25.

Haraldsson, E. (2000). Birthmarks and claims of previous life memories II. The case of Chatura Karunaratne. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 64(859), 82-92.

Haraldsson, E., Fowler, P., & Periyannanpillai, V. (2000). Psychological Characteristics of Children Who Speak of a Previous Life: A Further Field Study in Sri Lanka. Transcultural Psychiatry, 37(4), 525-544.

Haraldsson, E., & Matlock, J. (2017). I saw a light and came here. White Crow Books.

Haraldsson, E., & Samararatne, G. (1999). Children who speak of memories of a previous life as a Buddhist monk: Three new cases. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 63(857), 268-291.

Indian miracle makers; Sai Baba and others

Haraldsson, E. (1988). Modern Miracles. An investigative report on psychic phenomena associated with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Ballantine Books.

Haraldsson, E. (2013). Modern Miracles: Sathya Sai Baba: The Story of a Modern Day Prophet. White Crow Books.

Haraldsson, E., & Houtkooper, J. M. (1994). Report of an Indian swami claiming to materialize objects: The value and limitations of field observations. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 8(3), 381-397.

Haraldsson, E., & Osis, K. (1977). The appearance and disappearance of objects in the presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71(1), 33-43.

Haraldsson, E., & Wiseman, R. (1995). Reactions to and assessment of a videotape on Sathya Sai Baba. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 60(839), 203-213.

Haraldsson, E., & Wiseman, R. (1996). Two investigations of ostensible macro-PK in India. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 61(843), 109-113.

Wiseman, R., & Haraldsson, E. (1995). Investigating Macro-PK in India: Swami Premananda. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 60(839), 193-202.

Mediums and mediumship

Haraldsson, E., & Stevenson, I. (1974). An experiment with the Icelandic medium Hafsteinn Björnsson. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 68(2), 192-202.

Haraldsson, E., & Stevenson, I. (1975). A communicator of the “drop in” type in Iceland: The case of Runolfur Runolfsson. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 33-59.

Haraldsson, E., & Stevenson, I. (1975). A communicator of the “drop in” type in Iceland: The case of Gudni Magnusson. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 245-261.

Haraldsson, E., Pratt, J. G., & Kristjansson, M. (1978). Further experiments with the Icelandic medium Hafsteinn Bjornsson. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 72(4), 339-347.

Gissurarson, L. R., & Haraldsson, E. (1989). The Icelandic Physical Medium Indridi Indridason. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 57, 53-148.

Haraldsson, E. (2011). Perfect Case? Emil Jensen in the mediumship of Indridi Indridason. The fire in Copenhagen on November 24th 1905 and the discovery of Jensen´s identity. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 59(223), 195-223.

Haraldsson, E. (2011). Research a century ago: The controversy about the Danish medium Einer Nielsen. Mindfield, 3(3), 22.

Haraldsson, E., & Gissurarson, L. R. (2015). Indridi Indridason the Icelandic Physical Medium. White Crow Books.

Haraldsson, E. (2015). Methods used in studying the physical mediumship of Indridi Indridason – quantitative analysis of his phenomena and how they differed from those of D. D. Home and Rudi Schneider. 39th SPR International Annual Conference (abstracts). University of Greenwich.

Additional References

Haraldsson, E., (1964). Með uppreisnarmönnum i Kúrdistan [With the rebels in Kurdistan]. Skuggsjá.

Haraldsson, E., (1966). Land im Aufstand … Kurdistan [With the rebels in Kurdistan]. Matari.

Haraldsson, E. (1972). Vasomotorische Reaktionen als Indikatoren außersinnlicher Wahrnehmung [Vaso-motor Reactions as Indicators for Extra-sensory Perception]. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Freiburg].

Haraldsson, E. (2012). Á vit hins ókunna [In the Mind of the Unknown]. Almenna bókafélagið.

Parsons, K. (Director). (2018). The Strange Case of Runki’s Leg.