Mediumship is both a simple and a complex happening. To evaluate what is involved, an important balance needs to be sought between objective and subjective sides. Both must necessarily contribute if a long term and developing view is to come about. Since mediumistic material also arises at very different levels of significance, this requires to be assessed by criteria appropriate to each level.
The immediate and obvious purpose of mediumship lies of course in whether it provides evidence of survival of death or whether all that is said can be explained away as derived from earth sources. Evidence having been given, other deeper factors come to be sought. A serious approach is called upon to recognise the levels involved. It is easy to become too credulous or too dismissive. It is misleading and sometimes malicious to judge all by its most superficial levels. These are often the ones first met with and provide material for the usual caricature image of a medium as a corpulent elderly lady functioning behind a bead curtain, and (in more than one sense) in the dark. It could equally well be an image of a highly sensitive and refined being like ‘Mrs. Willett’ working privately with and for high-grade psychical researchers and classical scholars, and for no financial reward. Mediumistic material can be trivial, vague and incomplete. On the other hand it can work in areas of deep perception.
Extrasensory perception, the basis of mediumship, is a little-understood faculty. There can be no one answer as to what mediumship is. Its expression is according to the depth of attunement each medium finds it possible to reach, and also according to the depth and sincerity of response each recipient can find in himself. The recipient both contributes indirectly to the situation and often also limits it, consciously or unconsciously.
What then makes a medium different from other human beings? In most ways not very much. What is really important is the true source of her material, and how clear its meaning and value. Mediumship does not exist in a void. If these gifts are real ones it is most unlikely that they would not function at times to a lesser degree in non-mediumistic persons also, and appear spontaneously in other than the usual mediumistic forms. There is a great deal of evidence that they do so, anecdotal since it arises spontaneously. It resembles, but is wider than, the sensitivity often demonstrated in civilised and intimate social relationships where it is on the verge of, and occasionally passes into, telepathy. Good hostesses use telepathy, or near telepathy, and often well perceive what is in their guests’ thoughts and feelings, but telepathy can also extend well beyond a hostess’s direct or oblique deductions.
Other extrasensory experience which can arise in non-mediums, usually comes unexpectedly - perhaps only once in a lifetime. Often it is at a crisis situation, material or spiritual, which brings about a momentarily raised sensibility, and at times strongly suggests, as well, a discarnate presence.
Telepathy, however, is by no means limited to heightened areas of sensibility. As is well known telepathy operates frequently in tribal life, perhaps because there the mind is not cluttered with the many encumbrances of education in civilised beings. In primitive peoples an easier route seems able to open up. The silence of the bush, like many other types of silence, is favourable for the inner listening where telepathy operates clearly. Telepathy is largely accepted in tribal life as a method of distant communication, and often also what is taken as communication with ancestors.
Mediums use telepathy in a more regular and orderly way. For ordinary persons telepathy largely operates in their own personal and private context. Mediums are able to go further than this, to use it in a third party way on behalf of others. What they perceive is not their business but that of their clients.
In the civilised world a professional medium is obliged to make daily use of her specialised sensitivity for the benefit of people’s life situations. Problems, real or illusory, are brought to her. She needs access then to deeper vision than her listeners have been able to reach for themselves, and than her own when speaking as a private person. Sometimes an overwhelming impression arises of another mind at work of quite different calibre from the medium’s own. It is not surprising that at other times her message can occasionally be cloudy and clumsy. When the originating message is transmitted, its ideas and feelings can then suffer a misdirection during imperfect mediumistic processes both of listening and then of interpreting.
Obviously mediumship cannot be well judged until some of its working difficulties are recognised. Sifting the material requires a very conscientious approach. Sometimes, if the message is to be correctly understood an element of partnership becomes necessary, requiring a considerable deal of integrity to overcome difficulties of interpretation. What is the communicator really trying to say? Through human imperfection clues which arise can go astray.
Mediumship is perhaps best looked upon in an overall way as a specialised branch of a general sensibility which all of us have in however slight a degree, much as all have a rudimentary talent for some form of art but in most not large enough to be useful and sometimes so slight as to be hardly perceptible. It is also a talent somewhat resembling that of an interpretive artist in that it is both natural and trained. Training is partly by discarnate helpers, partly by another medium, but more importantly by self-training. It needs to be combined with dedication and constant self-discipline.
Also, like the work of an interpretive artist, mediumship does best when given a worthwhile and honest response. At times when mediums are partially dependent on their clients’ skills for accurate perception of the intended meaning, mistakes readily arise. The client thus contributes both for good and ill, especially when there needs to be a partnership of discovery.
Some mediums possess a slightly unusual physical make-up, just as do some outstanding artists and athletes - Nijinsky’s foot, Bannister’s lungs, a singer’s depth of breath. Most mediums require a ready ability for dissociation. As one medium said with a twinkle, ‘I am a loose woman’. She meant that whilst working she needed to be able to stand outside her own normal thought and feeling patterns, freeing herself to be open to that of others she takes to be discarnate persons.
Another useful comparison can be made between mediumship and art in terms of the road to achievement. For every five fine artists, and every fifty good ones, there are five thousand feeble amateurs or non-achievers due to failures in skill, in training, in dedication. It is essential also to recognise that a medium encounters communicators of very varying skills and character. A communicator can only describe what he finds as far as his own stature can take him. As Maurice Barbanell, a life-long medium, said after his death, ‘I am learning . . . that knowledge, like liquid, can only be contained in a receptacle that has equal capacity’. In other words his stature limits his cognition. Mediumship reflects the same rule. A humdrum medium can be accurate in her way but she often only reaches part of the story. Her picture of her communicator’s nature and interests will fall short and be described only in her own humdrum terms. If she paints a picture of how life is lived hereafter this will be humdrum too. What marks out the high quality medium is a precision, a razor sharpness, a hitting of the mark and, especially, the defining or distinguishing of emotional situations exactly.
Thus mediums differ very considerably in their accuracy and depth of perception. This is dictated by their inner spiritual quality more than by their technical skills. When, in the interests of psychical research, it is sought to eliminate the subjective field, this invariably impoverishes the material. In medical and transpersonal psychology, on the contrary, much has come to be accepted which is full of subjective material but where in time general modes of behaviour can clearly be observed at work. In the extrasensory field subjective material calls for detached yet intuitive and sensitive interpretation. At times too some mediumistic insights touch closely upon fields known in inner religious experiences.
Mankind enjoys attempting to divide and conquer experience by creating separate orderly fields of study. Life, however, has a habit of expanding experience from one field into different areas and insists upon presenting a seemingly untidy whole. In addition to its unfamiliarity, mediumistic communication partakes of something of this multiple character as it shifts from one level to another, making it elusive and hard to judge. Communicators, obviously, do not all feel and think alike and it would be a gross over-simplification to suppose that all encounter exactly the same experiences after death, or evaluate them similarly.
After the early evidence provided, the worthy recipient can expect that a more active linking up with former earth companions can be looked for. These may have some advice to give. We make our own judgments on what they say. It is necessary, when comparatively recent arrivals describe the life around them, to be cautious since seasoned communicators warn us that such accounts have more misunderstanding in them than is yet known by those who tell them. So one must be ready for limitations and unintended error. The pictures given will differ since each sees only according to his own ability.
Further on than this level true spiritual teachers appear. They are of various grades. In parenthesis there can also be false or mischievous beings posing as teachers. True teachers will be found to be little concerned with personality issues. These are our prison bars. They suggest we can leave our prison as soon as we wish. That is not easy because it also involves of course leaving behind some of the qualities of character which have put us in prison in the first place. These teachers speak simply. Their teachings are easier to understand than to apply. They do not wish us to become personally attached to them though their goodwill is very evident. Without doubt one gradually comes to feel a sense of superior stature, and that they are likely to know more than they choose as yet to impart. Whilst engaged in our earth purposes we are unlikely to be in touch with more than a part of their total being. To reach us they tell us that they are obliged in some way to condense and limit themselves as well as their message in order to come closer to our level.
This book does not deal with how to learn to become a medium. This is best left to the professionals. It concerns itself as best it can with three levels of mediumship, in turn each requiring a separate standpoint, since truth has many facets calling in turn for the degree of understanding appropriate to each. First is the level of personal evidence and reassurance. Next local advice and a preliminary but limited and varying account of what has happened soon after death.
And third, the field of spiritual insight from senior beings, offering changes and challenges in how we conduct our life. At each level the field of observation alters. What makes sense at one level does not necessarily appear to do so when seen from lower levels, nor from higher levels than its own.
It is not difficult to make a picture of mediumship as possessing, as do so many activities, a number of levels of excellence or the reverse. The medium usually works, though not necessarily always, at a level of consciousness where she finds herself at ease. Other occasions arise when she is overtaken by an accumulation of material which she little understands, but feels strongly impelled to impart. At such times there will be more of the communicator inherent in the material and less of the medium. At important moments it is as if her consciousness is raised for a moment; something beyond her habitual levels finds its way to her.
An important part of the purpose of this book is to show that the medium is able to work upon an interior ladder of which several steps are available to her. Mediumship is certainly not to be understood without a recognition of this. It can also be seen, however, that the ladder of the medium is not the only one involved. The whole field is flexible enough for communicator and recipient as well as the medium each to have their own ladder. The higher the step on which each is able to stand, the deeper the meaningfulness which can be imparted and received.
Therefore, whilst the responsibility falls mostly upon the medium, communicator and recipient alike contribute from where they stand upon their own ladder. Each of the three can at times let the other two down. Without doubt, all need to contribute with the fullness of their integrity, else the result suffers. The more each of them is able to listen and receive in the right way, the better the result. All three have essential roles.
It will come to be seen that each contributes or fails to do so, and maximum harmony between all three will lead to the best results, and perhaps even enable the medium temporarily to work on a step she has never reached before.
There is thus a much greater intricacy in the whole interwoven purpose than at first is likely to be recognised.
So evidence of survival to establish identity is the basic step, however important at first. As one medium put it, it is only the postman’s knock. Mediumship can pass on at later stages to the deeper parts of human makeup, our inner kingdom lost or not yet found, or only slightly sensed, and reflect other parts of the inner world which range beyond the early, close at hand, shores on which we first land after death.
The next section of communication, in part overlapping the first, concerns the nature of experience in the next world. It is important always to bear in mind that information is in line with the communicator’s ability to recognise and absorb what is around. Where have they changed, where are they the same? What experiences have they had since they died? And what effect has this had upon their character and outlook? Are they still very recognisable? This brings its own kind of conviction, like that of listening to a good witness. A good witness usually comes over as also having a character of worth.
In other cases information is suspect when it appears to picture something remarkably like this world but without its drawbacks. Max Heindel names this early area the ‘desire world’. These accounts often describe the beauties and the harmonies in the inner world. It is necessary to be careful here. These advertised facilities contain different aspects within them. One aspect is the very simple one of finding freedom from the burdens of being encased in a physical body with its discomforts and disobediences in old age. As a close friend said: ‘I found myself feeling so very well that this made me realise I must have passed over’. Such a feeling is not due to our merit, it is part of the structure of existence, much as sleep brings refreshment to all. Another aspect has been pointed out for many years, and perhaps increasingly so more recently, - the heaven which Spiritualistic doctrine promises so readily, usually known as the Summerland, is partly made up of elements of our own creation. This is why it is called a desire world. Much of it is what we want heaven to be, containing those things of which earth life has deprived us. It is something of a domesticated heaven. Here we are, so to speak, with our loved ones and friends in a comfortable railway carriage which has a beautiful view through the window, and on our way to a permanent holiday. Sometimes it takes quite a time to realise that the carriages have no engine attached to them. In the better phrase of that intense and passionate spirit
Frederic Myers, speaking some thirty years after his death, the Summerland is illusion where ‘the soul can adapt the memory world to his taste’, projecting the emotional life and desires of his earth existence, ‘but he dreams back in order that he may be able to go forward once more on his journey’. Thus illusion in the early areas of the inner world is not wasted. Like earth illusion we can learn from it. However it does not appear to be easy for all to leave the train and begin to walk for themselves. Nor will any be forced to; each must choose for himself.
Having basked in the sun for a while, as a teacher has put it, one then becomes aware that a cloud is gradually creeping up. In this cloud one begins to be shown often disguised faults and incompletenesses which one has carried around as part of one’s character, which are still there, and will still be there until we choose to do something to remove them. It is then that the pilgrim in the inner world finds that after all there is a great deal of hard work to be done, and much of the hard work is upon his own character. He has to face, in short, a degree of spiritual reality at a deeper level than he managed to acknowledge when upon earth.
To give an example of what will seem to be of the stuff of true communication at an early level, there was an intellectual who had a considerable knowledge of psychic matters. Unfortunately he gradually came to feel that in his marriage he had rather outgrown his wife. One part of himself almost came to despise a part of her. He died a few years before his wife and when she rejoined him he found that he was not the more spiritually advanced one as he had thought, but that she was. She was the one who had made the sacrifices in the marriage. Being an honest man he returned and gave this information. In the inner world things are not concealed as they often are on earth.
So in time all discover what they really are, and it is likely to provide a certain amount of surprise, by no means always of a pleasant kind. It becomes quite clear that, just as on earth, worthwhile spiritual knowledge and increased spiritual depth have to be earned as well as learned. They are far from being a gratuitous gift which comes about just from the privilege of dying.
Much help is therefore given, and this is where the learning comes in. Learning is available at every level but it appears that important learning can come about which is of a different kind from the book learning we know on earth. It is nearer to reaching a realisation which comes from within and brings its own conviction with it. In order to make proper subsequent use of it, it calls in turn for the growth of new qualities. What is taught through serious mediumistic reception offers deeper meanings than is usually expected before coming into contact with it, and in order to find this it is a necessary task to try and disentangle the superficialities and illusions which many tolerate on earth and sometimes accept for the sake of ease. Instead, each is required gradually to find the essential core of his being, and to take hold of new values which come into his perception.
When a medium reaches inwardly for material, the recipient gradually learns and comes to accept that what is communicated, as Barbanell said, necessarily has to take the shape of the containing vessel. This includes that of the communicator as well as that of the medium, and that of the recipient himself. Thus it is most important, indeed essential, to recognise that all communication of a mediumistic kind is really a partnership made up of three persons, the medium, the communicator and the recipient, and spiritual limitations in each will disturb the quality of the whole.
The next world then cannot be seen fully objectively, either by those in it, or by ourselves, for man himself limits it. It is obvious that accounts must differ, according to whether the speaker is, say, a Mozart or a Hottentot. One would hardly expect the same story from each. So in seeking to discover something of the nature of the next world it is better to think of it as the coming about of a gradual awareness of a wider consciousness which permeates all that is around one, and also can be found playing upon ourselves. By working upon one’s character, by altering it, one gradually then becomes aware of these deeper values. In other words one deepens one’s vessel so that it is enabled to encompass more, and to participate gradually, little by little, in those parts of life which are at present beyond it.
In endeavouring to come to know a little more of ethical and spiritual matters in the next world, the early stages here are likely to be from accounts from persons who have been there for some while and can look backward and forward to some degree. This can be valuable but not so valuable as from one best described as a spiritual elder, whose range we come to recognise is a good deal wider still.
Some recipients, of course, are hard-headed, and why should they not be so? Others, more readily receptive, gradually find themselves coming into tune with meanings behind the outer sense of the teacher’s words. They are learning something of the true processes of assimilation. The man of hard-headed values is neither more nor less important than the more receptive person. He is fulfilling at present a different function in the acquisition of knowledge, and throws out what he can neither use nor see any sense in. When dealing with communications and communicators it is necessary to be a little wary in not making up one’s mind too soon about what the communicator is really saying or hinting. As said earlier the communication process is hampering him, and according to his stature the listener can be hampering it also.
When a later artist makes a copy of a great painting something is always lacking. He is not able to match the original, since the eye and the sensibility which make the copy are inferior to those of the primary artist. But it points towards it. It is merely the best picture one artist can yet paint in the early days of his journey. In one sense the first-met shores after death too are themselves an imperfect copy of what will be reached later.
It can be said that deeper teachers take an overlook into us. One often feels they are well aware, not only of our past, but also of the future which is due to unfold, already latent within us, but as yet unfulfilled. Hence they can sometimes see ahead the spiritual problems and conflicts inevitably awaiting us.
It is clear from accounts at many different levels that love, both personal and impersonal, is present in a way not often recognised on earth, and that it forms part of the very texture of the inner world. It imparts itself, somewhat as the sun imparts its rays universally. This is part of the realisation already mentioned.
The deeper teachers are little concerned with earthly institutions and dogmas, they are concerned with helping us one by one to tune ourselves up, to increase our capabilities of character, to defeat our own self-created devils, to be more at peace with ourselves and others. We can use this in our individual problems on earth. Hence their patience with us.
The pupil comes to recognise a call to inner or outer action and if he chooses to be obedient, he will discover a gradual change is coming about in him or herself. This is their way of teaching. These are subtle things, and of course they have a pastoral aspect. An important thing is that the pupil is always left to his own free will. It is by the use of it that in time he voluntarily casts off his limitations. Freedom does not lie at all in doing what one wants, it lies in learning to escape from the bondage of ourselves. Eventually, however far ahead, we can each pay the price required to become at last a free spirit.
In the following chapters we will look a little more closely at these basic facets of experience and endeavour to see what they are leading us to find and to become.
“Mediumship: A Preview” is a chapter from Inner Eye, Listening Ear: An Exploration Into Mediumship by Paul Beard.