Veteran British lecturer, journalist, and author in the field of Spiritualism. He served as editor of the Psychic News and The Two Worlds for over three decades. Many in North America first heard of him through his book This is Spiritualism (1959), a survey of the phenomena and personalities associated with Spiritualism. Barbanell was noted for his vigorous journalism in support of Spiritualism, and he frequently lectured across both Europe and North America. Born in London, May 3, 1902, he was the son of a barber who also practiced dentistry. Young Barbanell’s first job involved sweeping up hair and acting as lather boy.
As a young man Barbanell was an atheist like his father. He became unpaid secretary of a social and literary club in London’s East End. One evening, there was a talk by a young man on the subject of Spiritualism. Although antagonistic to the subject, Barbanell said that this was a subject on which only those with personal experience could venture any worthwhile opinions. When challenged as to whether he was prepared to back this position by undertaking a six-month period of personal investigation of Spiritualism, he said yes. He joined a home circle with the medium Mrs. Blaustein, who was controlled by various entities who spoke through her while she was in a state of trance.
Barbanell was not very impressed by this phenomenon and at one sitting he “fell asleep.” When he awoke he learned to his surprise that he had been in a mediumistic trance himself and that an Indian spirit guide had spoken through him.
Barbanell subsequently formed his own home circle at which the Indian guide, “Silver Birch,” gave regular teachings through Barbanell’s mediumship. Later, the famous journalist and Spiritualist Hannen Swaffer became a member of this home circle and an enthusiastic proponent of the teachings of “Silver Birch.”
In 1932 Barbanell married Sylvia Abrahams, who had attended the home circle sittings with Mrs. Blaustein. The newspaper Psychic News was also founded in 1932, as a result of a message from “Red Cloud,” the spirit guide of the medium Estelle Roberts. Barbanell edited the newspaper for 14 years, resigning in 1946 when unable to agree with J. Arthur Findlay on terms for purchase of Psychic News. However, 16 years later, in June 1962, Barbanell was able to resume editorship of the newspaper, which by then was in some difficulty. His tireless and enthusiastic work restored the position of Psychic News as the preeminent British Spiritualist publication.
Meanwhile, Barbanell’s own role in the “Silver Birch” messages continued to be anonymous. Hannen Swaffer thought the teachings should reach a larger audience, but Barbanell believed that he would be open to criticism if he publicized his own mediumship in Psychic News. Eventually it was agreed that the “Silver Birch” teachings should be published, provided that Barbanell’s identity continued to be withheld. However, these communications attracted so much attention that after some time Barbanell was obliged to make it known that he was the medium.
During his active life as editor, lecturer, and author in the cause of Spiritualism, Barbanell was a friend of every major British medium. Less than a week after his death at age 79, on July 17, 1981, spirit messages from him were claimed through the mediumship of Gordon Higginson, a close friend.
In addition to Barbanell’s vast output for his two periodicals, he wrote books on psychical research and Spiritualism.
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