An Interview with the Author of “Resurrecting Leonora Piper”
Posted on 31 December 2012, 14:47
As my latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper, was just released by White Crow Books, I asked my higher self (HS) to interview my lower self about the book.
So Michael, what prompted you to write this book?
You put me up to it, HS, so you know the answer better than I do, but I am glad you asked because it helps potential readers, as well as myself, understand why I wrote it. As you have so often reminded me, the root cause of so much of the turmoil and chaos in the world today is a result of the lack of belief in a spirit world and the survival of consciousness at death. Even those who claim to believe don’t really believe. The blind faith of most is simply hope and doesn’t seem to be enough to deter them from their Epicurean and hedonistic ways, i.e., “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” To put it another way, most people are totally absorbed in mundane material pleasures and fail to see the reality you have shown me. I believe that the scientific research with Mrs. Piper, (below) properly understood and appreciated, can help some people move from blind faith to true faith, or conviction, perhaps even move a few open-minded people who have no faith at all to at least consider the possibility that there is a much larger life than this one, allowing them to put things in perspective.
But you had another reason, right?
Oh, yes, I know what you mean. To my knowledge, there are only two books devoted exclusively to the Piper story, one by Michael Sage, published in 1904, and the other by Alta Piper, Mrs. Piper’s daughter, in 1929. A number of authors have given her a chapter or two in their books about various supernatural stories, mediumship, whatever, but I don’t think any of them does the story justice. I felt that a book was needed to tell a more complete story and to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Please explain what you mean by that.
There was a lot of what William James called “bosh” mixed in with genuine communication. I try to explain why there was so much bosh and filter out that bosh so that the real stuff can be better understood.
But the research surrounding Mrs. Piper is a century old. Why not something more current?
Because there has been nothing approaching the research done with her, which was primarily from 1885 until 1910 or thereabout, since, or nothing as convincing. People who have heard about her think that she was observed a few times by several researchers. They don’t realize that Dr. Richard Hodgson (below) studied her mediumship on the average of three times a week for some 18 years, not to mention numerous sittings by Professors William James, Oliver Lodge, James Hyslop, William Newbold, and others representing the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). There was some good research by SPR members with British medium Gladys Osborne Leonard beginning around 1915, but, for both quality and quantity combined, I think the research with Mrs. Piper tops all others, before or after.
So who was Leonora Piper?
She was a Boston housewife, born June 27, 1859 in Nashua, New Hampshire as Leonora Evelina Simonds. Although she apparently had some clairvoyant experiences during her childhood, she didn’t become aware of her mediumistic ability until 1884, when, while sitting with a small group, she went into trance, got up from her chair, walked to a table in the center of the room, picked up a pencil and paper, wrote rapidly for a few minutes, then handed the paper to Judge Frost, a hard-headed and respected jurist, after which she returned to her chair, still entranced. After regaining consciousness and having no recollection of what took place, she was told by Frost that the paper contained a remarkable message from his son, who had been fatally injured in an accident some 30 years earlier.
So she was a writing medium?
During the first seven or eight years of her mediumship, she was a trance-speaking medium. After she went into a trance state, the spirits would speak through her vocal cords, usually in a voice and manner much different from her own. In 1892, when another control began taking over, she became more of a trance-writing medium, but there were a few times when her hand would be controlled by one spirit at the same time another spirit was speaking through her, and there was one time recorded by Hodgson that that both hands were writing different things at the same time as she spoke. In other words, three discarnates were communicating at the same time, one through each hand and one through her vocal cords.
You’d better explain what you mean by “control.”
Good idea, HS. That really confuses a lot of people. Apparently, it is not that easy for spirits to communicate with the material realm, so they require a “medium” on their side, called the control. In effect, what usually took place was the communicating spirit had to give his or her message to the control, who had to interpret it, then get it through Mrs. Piper’s mind and vocal cords to the person the spirit was communicating with. Thus, there were usually four parties – the communicating spirit, the control, the medium on this side (Mrs. Piper), and the person receiving the message. There were a few spirits, however, who didn’t need the assistance of a control and could communicate directly through Mrs. Piper.
Sounds quite complicated!
Definitely, and that’s why there were so many mistakes, so much confusion, so much bosh. There were a lot of misinterpretations. Often the control had to interpret what the communicating spirit was telling him and didn’t get it right. Even William James was slow to grasp it. Initially, he thought that Mrs. Piper alter ego was “fishing” for information from the sitters. Hodgson and the others came to realize that the fishing was taking place on the other side. That is, the control was trying to figure out what the communicating spirit was trying to get across.
Why haven’t we had that kind of research over the past 100 years?
It would call for too many words here to give you my thoughts on that, but I believe there was a plan behind it all – a plan by the spirit world to help us overcome the growing materialistic worldview of the late 19th Century – and they did their best to enlighten us, but because mainstream science and orthodox religion resisted it, their efforts stopped, as they had gone well beyond the point of diminishing returns. Sometime during the late 1920s, psychical research changed to parapsychology and the whole survival issue got swept under the rug. It was not respectable to discuss it in academic and scientific circles and there was no funding for research in this area. There was a little research with mediums at the University of Arizona a dozen or so years ago and some good research going on now at The Windbridge Institute in Tucson, but that research is all with clairvoyant-type mediums, I believe. I don’t see that type of mediumship as impressive or as convincing as that carried out a century ago with Mrs. Piper and others.
Why is that?
The clairvoyants and clairaudients get evidential words and ideas, which they attempt to interpret, but in the trance mediumship of Mrs. Piper, her body was taken over by the communicating spirits who dialogued with the sitters. That type of mediumship demonstrates personality much more than clairvoyant/clairaudient type. So much of it was beyond Mrs. Piper’s knowledge and experience.
How about an example?
Sure. When Anne Manning Robbins was sitting with Mrs. Piper, she heard from her old boss, Augustus P. Martin, who had been mayor of Boston during the 1880s and later served as the city’s police commissioner and water commissioner. Robbins had been his administrative assistant for a number of years. She asked him what his first experience was immediately after he “died.” Martin replied: “When I first passed out my mind was cloudy, rather confused. I felt as though I was going into space, did not know where, drifting as it were, for a few hours – that was all – and then I felt as though there was a strong hand grasped me and said to me: ‘It is all right, it is all over.’ And I said: ‘What is over?’ I could not seem to understand what it all meant, and after a little while, perhaps an hour, possibly an hour or two, I saw oh such a light! You cannot imagine it, cannot conceive what it is like. It is the most brilliant and yet the softest moonlight that you ever saw, and I thought, what a beautiful light it was! And all of a sudden I saw people moving about. I saw their heads, their figures. Then they seemed all clad in white, and I could not seem to make them out. They were moving in the air…”
But you wouldn’t call that evidential, would you?
No, I just wanted to show how different it is than the clairvoyant/clairaudient mediumship that people are familiar with today. There was plenty of evidential material coming through Mrs. Piper.
How about summarizing just one bit of evidential information?
OK. On December 28, 1888, the Rev. W. H. Savage was sitting with Mrs. Piper and was told that Robert West was there and wanted to send a message to Dr. Minot Savage, the brother of W. H. Savage. West said he wanted to apologize to Minot for something he had written “in advance.” W. H. Savage did not know West and did not understand the message, but he passed it on to Minot, who understood it and explained to his brother that West was editor of a publication called The Advance and had criticized him in an editorial. During the sitting, W. H. Savage asked for a description of West. An accurate description was given along with the information that West had died of hemorrhage of the kidneys, a fact unknown to Savage but later verified. West also told W. H. Savage that his body was buried at Alton, Illinois. He gave the wording on his tombstone, “Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Savage later confirmed this as fact. (I wonder if anyone living in or near Alton could find that old tombstone and photograph it for this blog.)
Wow! That’s pretty impressive, seemingly outside the scope of mind reading.
Clearly, how could she be reading W. H.’s mind when he didn’t know who West was in the first place? The pseudoskeptics would say that Mrs. Piper dug up the information beforehand. They don’t stop to think how difficult or expensive that would have been back in the 1880s. Besides, as the researchers make clear, most of the time Mrs. Piper was not told who would be sitting with her any particular day.
How about one more example?
My publisher might get upset if I give all the stories away here, but there are so many I see no harm in giving one more. Soon after he died in 1905, Richard Hodgson, as mentioned above, the lead researcher for 18 years, began communicating through Mrs. Piper with William James and other researchers. James asked Hodgson if he remembered the time he was playing with children at Putnam Camp in the Adirondacks. The discarnate Hodgson recalled sitting in front of the fireplace reading when Martha Putnam crept in behind him, jumped on his back and put her hands over his eyes, asking if he knew who it was. Hodgson replied that it sounded like Martha but it felt like Henry Bowditch, who weighed over 200 pounds. James considered this very evidential as he doubted that anyone else remembered the trivial incident. Hodgson also talked about playing leap-frog and “bear” with the children, which James confirmed as correct.
I’m impressed, Michael. Any concluding thoughts?
Let me just wind it up by quoting Professor Herbert Nichols, initially very skeptical, as he wrote it to William James: “I had a wonderful sitting with Mrs. Piper. As you know, I have been a Laodicean toward her heretofore. But that she is no fraud, and that she is the greatest marvel I have ever met I am now wholly convinced.”
Next blog post: January 14
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife will be available on January 14, 2013.
I came across this post about you and your research and was kind of miffed as I did not think you are a scam artist, looking to make money by writing and pushing the paranormal.
Feel free to comment on what was posted in the link, if you like. However, I would appreciate you weighing in on the alleged apparition in the photograph as the face looks 100% fake, clearly made of papier mache (the post even points out that one can see how it was glued together). How can anyone argue that in this case, this is a real spirit? It is clearly a hoax, based on the photographic evidence alone.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Lee, Wed 20 Feb, 01:37
I read the response of Stephen, and the poetry just touched my heart. This knowing inside that there is a far better place, one of peace and unity, is the reason, I believe, that those who have near death experiences, find it so hard to return to this earth. The struggle, do I stay or do I go, hmm.
Denise McDermott-King, Mon 21 Jan, 23:35
Do they touch that bliss/love consciousness many believe is attainable? Is it in wondrous moments of near death, or in beautiful pictures of people sitting under trees in sunlight, that the windows to the soul opens onto another world and says, “Remember.”
At times my faith in reaching a permanent place of peace, joy, and love, becomes ripped apart. Then something comes my way, which sends a shard of light, and as I look to the source of that light, I view my source, the only permanent and consistent thing in my life, my God, Spirit.
Thank you Stephen for your comments which sparked me.
I am really glad to have found this blog and the Michael Prescott blog and the blog by the writer who wrote Randi’s Prize. I’m sorry I can’t think of the name of it right now. Anyway, I am skeptical but hopeful of the afterlife. I tend to be sympathetic toward reincarnation. At 55 years old and raised in the church as we say in the south. I have found my dogma was not able to sustain the experience of this earth. But, I have often felt that this whole world is a pale reflection of a greater reality. All of our hopes and dreams and even lust and greed is the result of a deeper and better longing and a better place. I remember years ago seeing a female classmate eating lunch or something under a tree. She was not a beautiful girl physically but at that moment the way the sun shined on her and the clarity that I saw her with she was so peaceful and I thought how wonderful it would be to sit there beside her and talk for an eternity. It seemed like she and I and the whole creation should be in a better place. Where the sun always shined and the peace was always there. I don’t even know if I actually ever had any real conversation with her. Young people can go to the same school or be in the same class and never really interact. But, somehow I like to think there is a place and a tree and a moment where I will indeed talk with her about that long ago day here on earth. Oh well, there are days when I believe and days when it just seems like a pipe dream of an aging person who doesn’t want to step off into oblivion.
Stephen Snead, Mon 21 Jan, 09:21
Thank you for responding. What you describe is essentially the way I see things. Regarding reincarnation, Dolores Cannon (Between Death and Life) believes that some of the experiencing of past lives can be explained by imprinting (entities having experienced the lives of others via the akashic record and then remembering them as if they were past lives of their own). And then you are probably also referring to the discussion of reincarnation in A Course in Miracles.
What I was referring to with regard to Newton and his associates is that almost all of the subjects they work with give a similar description of the afterlife, involving being in a classroom setting, going before a counsel, etc. (all centered around preparing for a future incarnation), and there is little description of, say, the Summerland as given by others (especially through mediums). It is almost as if a certain group of individuals are being steered to Newton and his group who may be more advanced spirits (?) and who bypass the lower levels.
Of course, another possibility is that the experiences individuals have in the spirit world are controlled by some source for their purposes. This seems to hold true for those who experience Summerland (a pleasant experience to soften the transition) and it may hold true, in some way, for those who go through hypnotic regression to the spirit world. There may be some control over the experiences they are allowed to have, such that they appear to be similar.
Anyway, that is particularly what I would like to have had your thoughts on. As you say, it is all very complex, we see through a glass darkly, but that is what makes it interesting.
Tom Davies, Sun 13 Jan, 20:40
I think that so much of it is beyond human comprehension and therefore subject to the individual’s attempt to interpret it and put it into human language. For example, reincarnation seems to be unknown to lower level spirits, interpreted by middle level spirits much as those who believe in it here understand it, while advanced spirits seem to say that reincarnation exists but not like those who believe in it understand it to be.
Clearly, the seemingly most credible messages suggest that we don’t know any more after we transition than we do before. We do not become all-knowing in that respect, but as we ascend we learn more and more. The problem is that the more elevated the spirits the more difficult it is for them to communicate, as they are so far beyond earth’s vibrations. The lower-level spirits are closer to earth’s vibrations and can communicate better. The higher spirits usually have to relay messaged down through lower spirits and this often results in distortions of the original messages. I discuss this to some extent in my most recent book about Leonora Piper.
And as some authors have pointed out, if you ask people in New Guinea, Iceland, the United States, and China about a certain subject here on earth, you are likely to get varying answers. It apparently is the same on the other side of the veil.
It is somewhat mystifying, but that makes the whole subject more interesting.
Michael Tymn, Sun 13 Jan, 04:57
Michael, perhaps this is not the place to ask the question I am about to ask, since it involves mediums in generally as well as other supposed means of accessing the spirit world, but I will ask it anyway. While there are common elements in descriptions of the spirit world that come through mediums, from Near-Death Experiences, and through hypnotic regression to the spirit world, there appear to be some important differences. I am thinking specifically of Newton’s work, which is centered primarily around reincarnation, whereas reincarnation is denied by some who have communicated through mediums. Also, if you take the experiences of Tom Harrison and his mother Minnie Harrison, they are quite different from those described by Newton and also most NDEs. Michael, what is your take on this? On this diversity that seems to be associated with specific techniques? Or do you not see any important differences?
Tom Davies, Fri 11 Jan, 02:20
People don’t know how much serious and credible research was done with excellent mediums in the past, especially with Piper; and new books like yours bring this important information to present day readers.
There is no one better to knowledgably write up this type of material that I can think of than you.
Yvonne Limoges, Sun 6 Jan, 23:56
Mike, I just bought the Kindle version, and also took the time to make a brief comment on the um, person, who attacked you in such a strident and poorly informed way at Amazon.
I had already read the excerpt that was posted at White Crow last month, so I knew the book would be worthwhile.
Best wishes to all your selves for 2013.
Elene Gusch, Wed 2 Jan, 04:42
Michael, how brilliant of your HS to conduct such an interview. What I have read so far in this blog, entices me to read more of Leonora Piper, and also research further myself. As far as the interview, I particularly appreciated, “The blind faith of most is simply hope.” Brilliant how one small sentence can provoke so much thought. I am looking forward to the book.
Denise McDermott-King, Tue 1 Jan, 05:40
Thank you for your kinds comments. They are much appreciated.
I suspected that there are probably more than a few cemeteries in that area and it would therefore be difficult to locate the gravestone. Regretfully, I have no other information about Robert West. He must have died during the 1880s or thereabout. I tried to do a little Internet research of my own, but there were many people named Robert West and I couldn’t find one that died around that time in that area. It’s not worth all the trouble. As with so many old grave stones, the print may have worn away by this time. Thanks for the attempt.
Michael Tymn, Mon 31 Dec, 23:41
This is one of those books that should have been written, and now it is! Just as so much truth has been omitted from school history textbooks, very little has been revealed and shared when it comes to mediums like Leonora Piper. Investigators were few to begin with, and those who put in the work often neglected the actual person, the medium, from being so focused on effects. This book recovers the human element that can help us connect with the humanity of the medium, not just the personality of the disembodied.
August Goforth, Mon 31 Dec, 23:24
I live about an hour’s drive from Alton Illinois. There are many cemetaries in Alton and since Alton is part of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area and is a high population area there are many many more cemetaries close to Alton that could be considered to be in the Alton area.
There is a “WEST Cemetary” but apparently there is only one West buried there and it is not Robert West. In scanning the names that are available on the Alton Cemetaries web site there are very few Wests listed but, of course, relatively very few of the names of people buried in the Alton cemetaries are listed on the website.
If we had a little more information, I could look for the stone when the weather is better.
I have wanted to go to Mound City Illinois which is also in southern Illinois to find the burial site of Pearl Curran’s (Patience Worth) mother, father and husband. Maybe I could do both searches during the same trip.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 31 Dec, 21:13
A great interview Michael and a wonderful book. I bought the kindle version and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it would be of enormous interest to any budding mediums because of the light that it sheds on the complexities of mediumship and the development of trance. I loved the detail of it all and especially the sitting arranged by Hodson where close friends of the sitters came through and chatted at length giving so much evidence. I loved the fact that the controls seemed to be having conversations with each other and showing human emotions toward each other. Another winner!!
Wendy Zammit, Mon 31 Dec, 16:25
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