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Difficulties in Spirit Communication Explained

Posted on 16 April 2012, 14:29

No doubt one of the reasons why research into mediumship has not been more widely accepted has to do with the lack of clarity in most of the communication purportedly coming from spirits.  Even with the best of mediums, there is much vagueness and ambiguity, even gibberish, in the communication.  Skeptics see all this as evidence that the so-called mediums are charlatans, as they assume that if spirits really exist they should be able to communicate in a much more intelligent and effective manner.

But it is not all that easy to communicate, the spirits tell us.  A month after pioneering psychical researcher Frederic W. H. Myers died in 1901, Professor Oliver Lodge heard from him though Rosalie Thompson, a trance medium.  Lodge recorded that Myers struggled in his initial attempts to communicate.  “Lodge, it is not as easy as I thought in my impatience,” Myers explained his difficulty after some delay. “Gurney says I am getting on first rate.  But I am short of breath.”  Gurney, who died in 1888, was a co-founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) with Myers. The “shortness of breath” apparently is a metaphorical shortness of breath.  One spirit likened spirit communication to trying to hold one’s breath under water and communicate by hand signals with another underwater swimmer. 


Myers was just beginning to better appreciate the obstacles that spirits face in their attempts to communicate. “Tell them I am more stupid than some of those I deal with,” he continued as he struggled to remember the last time he had seen Lodge. He mentioned that he could not remember many things, not even his mother’s name.  He went on to say that he felt like he was looking at a misty picture and that he could hear himself using Thompson’s voice but that he didn’t feel as if he were actually speaking. “It is funny to hear myself talking when it is not myself talking,” he went on.  “It is not my whole self talking.  When I am awake I known where I am.”

After Dr. Richard Hodgson, another researcher, died in 1905, he began communicating through the mediumship of Leonora Piper, the Boston medium he had studied for 18 years.  “I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” the surviving consciousness of Hodgson told Professor William Newbold in a July 23, 1906 sitting. “And I am not wholly conscious of my own utterances because they come out automatically, impressed upon the machine (Piper’s body)…I impress my thoughts on the machine which registers them at random, and which are at times doubtless difficult to understand.  I understand so much better the modus operandi than I did when I was in your world.”

Still another pioneering researcher who communicated after his death, in 1925, Sir William Barrett, a physicist, explained the difficulties of communication to his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard.  “When I come into the conditions of a sitting I then know that I can carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness,” he told Lady Barrett, going on to say that it was easier to communicate ideas than words. .He explained that simply saying “I am Will,” was more difficult than expressing an idea of scientific interest.

Communicating through Geraldine Cummins, a renowned automatic writing medium, Frederic Myers stated:  “We communicate an impression through the inner mind of the medium.  It receives the impression in a curious way.  It has to contribute to the body of the message; we furnish the spirit of it. .  In other words, we send the thoughts and the words usually in which they must be framed, but the actual letters or spelling of the words is drawn from the medium’s memory.  Sometimes we only send the thoughts and the medium’s unconscious mind clothes them in words.”

Recently, White Crow Books, the publisher of my last two books, re-published an 1889 book titled Heaven Revised by Eliza B. Duffey.  This very intriguing book goes into some of the difficulties of spirit communication.  Like Geraldine Cummins, Duffey was an automatic writing medium. “During the entire period in which I was engaged in this writing – some three or four months – I lived and moved in sort of a dream,” she explained in the Introduction of the book.  “Nothing seemed real to me.  Personal troubles did not seem to pain me.  I felt as though I had taken a mental anaesthetic.”
Duffey went on to say that the writing seemed to come through “unseen assistance,” though she realized that those who have not experienced it might have a hard time understanding it.  The communicator is never named in the book, but simply referred to as a “traveler” in the spirit world. For those looking for evidential information, the book will not satisfy, but for those accepting Duffey’s explanation as to how it was received, there is much food for thought.

In the final chapter, the “traveler” – given the name Hester here for easy identification purposes – tells of observing four different mediums from her side of the veil.  She was accompanied by a guide called Margaret.

Each of the sitters, Hester explained, attracted around him or her spirits whose moods and motives corresponded with his/her own. “There were idle, mischievous spirits, bent on having a good time; there were earnest spirit investigators, ready to second the efforts of the mortals; there were those who recently departed from the earth and were most eager to send back a word of comfort; there were high and pure spirits who sought an opportunity for impressing mortals with the grand truths…for those who truly desire them.”

With the first medium, the communications were for the most part brief and unsatisfactory, though several names were correctly given.  As Hester perceived it, this was because the brain of the medium was dull and untrained.

“One of the higher band of spirits found opportunity to attempt to communicate through her, but what a look of dismay and discouragement came over him when he heard his brilliant thoughts dulled, the truths he would utter obscured, his meaning perverted, and his very language murdered, in passing through the channel of this woman’s intellect,” Hester offered. 

After this more advanced spirit ceased his efforts, a degraded spirit stepped in and falsely identified himself as a famous American statesman, much to the delight of the sitters, while the mischievous spirits all around were even more delighted in the impostor’s success.

The second medium was no better. Hester could see good impulses in his heart but also impurity and a lack of high principle. “This instrument, like the other, gave forth only weak and discordant notes, even when played upon by master spirits, because it was imperfect and out of tune,” Hester explained.  The third medium was “a woman of weakly good impulses, superstitious in her nature, and with a zeal for her faith which was only excelled by her ignorance.”  Hester could see that she mistook her own impulses for genuine impressions from the spirit world, and what she offered was a medley or truth and falsehood, reality and delusion, yet she did not intentionally deceive.

“She was a victim of her own zeal and her own mental delusions, while other victims, enshrouded in the same mental and spiritual darkness as herself, listened intently and even reverently to what she said, and accepted her words without question.”

The fourth medium, Hester was able to judge, was a woman of quick perceptions, keen discernment, true to the heart’s core, and appreciative of her gift. She was surrounded only by bright spirits. As lower spirits tried to influence her, they were restrained by an invisible barrier. However, Hester became confused when words of wisdom were spoken through the medium by “a name illustrious in the annals of literature, whose possessor had passed to spirit life more than a generation ago.”  What confused Hester was that the spirit thus named could not be seen.  Margaret then told her to look upward.  What Hester saw was “a succession of links extending from sphere to sphere, and from spirit to spirit, and on this chain of links the thought has been conveyed, originating far heavenward, and descending from spirit to spirit, until it had finally found utterance on earth.”

From observing these four mediums, Hester came to understand the difficulties involved in spirit communication with the earth. “Mortals themselves are very ignorant of the necessary conditions,” she concluded.  “Then their imperfect natures draw around them more or less degraded spirits, who naturally interfere with, if they do not utterly thwart, the efforts of the higher and purer ones.”

Margaret likened it to looking through a dark glass in an attempt to behold the light, a glass too often obscured by ignorance, folly, and evil.  Proper discernment and patience, Margaret told Hester, are the keys to effective spirit communication.           

Michael Tymns books, The Afterlife Revealed & Transcending the Titanic are available from Amazon and all good online book stores.

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Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn

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The Afterlife Revealed - Michael Tymn

Heaven Revised by Eliza B. Duffey us published by White Crow Books

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Next blog April 30th


Given the subject matter of this blog entry, and being a visual artist myself, I find this quote from Elene:  “The mind of the medium is like a blank canvas in the sense that we use it to paint ourselves onto your reality” incredibly refreshing.

tamsin, Fri 24 Aug, 09:25

Lisa, thank you for your comment.  My next blog post in a week will also discuss the barriers to communication.

Elene, yes, we agree on the definition of channeling and the fact that there are various shades of gray.  My reluctance to use the word has to do with the fact that some “channelers” I have met don’t even know what real mediumship is.  They have never heard of the direct voice, trance mediumship, etc., and so they refer to all mediumship as channeling.

Michael Tymn, Tue 24 Apr, 13:29

Thank you so much for this post - I’ve been searching for a writer who can tie the past revelations of spiritualism to the audiences of today.  I will most surely be buying your book and very much look forward to reading it.  Keep up the good work.

Lisa, Tue 24 Apr, 03:06

I can understand your reluctance to use the word “channeler.”  I’m not sure where to draw the line between channeling and mediumship.  I generally think of mediumship as specifically talking with the spirits of deceased humans, with channeling taking in all other sorts of contacts.  Does that seem accurate?  Can speaking with, for example, Archangel Michael count as mediumship?  I’d say no, but perhaps someone has a different definition.

(I suppose with Jesus having been a human being, contacts with him can be called mediumship….)

Elene Gusch, Tue 24 Apr, 03:04


Thank you for your comments. I prefer not to use the word “channeler,” as it is a “New Age” term that seems to encompass more than mediumship with discarnates.

As for trance, Drs. Hodgson and Hyslop, two of the pioneering researchers observed that there are varying degrees of trance.  Quoting Hyslop: “In Mrs. Piper this takes the form of a ‘trance’ in which she is wholly unconscious of what is done by her and of the communications of which she is the medium.  In the case of Miss W—- the normal consciousness remains active, but she is unconscious of what is written by her hand until she reads it herself.  In the third instance thre is at least an apparent ‘trance’ during a part of the experiment and none at other times, with the normal consciousness variously affected by the real or apparent messages, sometimes aware of them and sometimes not, but in all of them it is not supposed to be the source in which they originate, the subliminal being the recipient and occasionally the transmitter of them to the supraliminal.  But in all three instances we observe an apparent or real suspension of the control of the normal consciousness over the motor functions, so that either directly or indirectly an outside influence may operate to send communications…”

Michael Tymn, Sun 22 Apr, 14:39

I wonder whether some of our local channelers (of which we have an astonishing number) can be called trance-voice mediums.  When I do my own medium-ing, I’m often in some variety of altered state, but I wouldn’t call it a trance, and I never lose track of myself.  I have the impression that that’s pretty typical around here.  I don’t know where the line is drawn, though.

I don’t know of anyone here—or in the US at all—who does direct voice.  Boy, would that be cool!

Checking with Windbridge does sound like a great idea.

Elene, Sun 22 Apr, 06:41


Second try on this.

Thank you for your kind words.  Yes, I think it will be a hit and miss process, but with those certified by the Windbridge Institute the chances of finding a good clairvoyant are likely much better.

Unfortunately, all we seem to have these days is clairvoyants.  Direct voice and trance voice mediums are rare.

Michael Tymn, Fri 20 Apr, 00:11


Your latest blog post reminded me of this experience that happened a month ago.  I never quite finished writing about it, but here is what I did put down.  It had verbal, visual, and tactile elements—it seems that if They can’t get through to us one way, they can try another.  (My accuracy at the piano has increased somewhat since this incident, but not particularly because of Fryderyk’s teachings.)

This happened late on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

I was completely flattened after a mega-day in Grants, and had to go to bed early, but since I’d had a mocha to get me safely through the trip home, I couldn’t sleep yet either.  I floated around, meditating, and after a while found Fryderyk available for a chat.

I always have difficulty with accuracy at the piano, and to a lesser extent with guitar and lute.  That is, my biggest challenge is simply getting to the right notes, not so much with other aspects of playing the instruments.  At that point I’d just had a particularly frustrating practice session, with that issue at its worst.  I asked my invisible mentor whether he’d ever had students with that problem.

He said that a major issue he’d experienced with his students was this:  “When they spoke the notes to me, they said what they thought I wanted to hear.”

I was sure I must have heard wrong.  “Spoke?”

“It is language,” he replied.  “It is communication.”

“Your problem is that you think the piano is separate from you,” he continued.  Okay, we’ve been through that one before*– you yourself are the instrument, the material world is an illusion, the only reality is your own consciousness, yadda yadda.  I know all that, I thought.  How is that going to help me get my fingers on the right keys?  Soon I found myself in the midst of a journey in which my fingers started to liquefy and disappear into the keyboard, then the rest of me melted and flowed into the whole piano until I was entirely contained within it, one being with it, molecule for molecule.  I had a silly sort of cartoon image in my mind, my eyes blinking out from the middle of the instrument.  Then I couldn’t ask any more questions for a while.  Because I was a piano.

This was probably a good thing from Fryderyk’s point of view, since it shut me up for a bit.  I spent a few minutes enjoying and exploring the sensation of being a piano.  But I was still hoping for a little more practical advice, and as soon as I could, I stubbornly asked again, “I don’t mean to pester you, but if you did have a student with the problem I’m having, what would you tell them?”  Unfortunately, by that time I was falling asleep.  I saw an image of one hand placed over the other, feeling what it was doing as it played.  Then I dozed off, and when I woke up after a minute or two, he was gone, and I wasn’t sure whether I had been given a real communication, or merely dreamed that image. 

Having “been” a piano didn’t seem to make the slightest difference in my playing the next day.  I still felt anything but one with the instrument.  I decided to try the idea of feeling one hand’s movements with the other, just in case it had been genuine advice.  It did give me a new set of perceptions, and I liked the idea that it engaged both halves of my brain more fully.

Elene, Wed 18 Apr, 09:51

It’s been clearer and clearer to me lately that “regular” humans have a terrible time communicating with each other under ordinary circumstances, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that spirit communication is so difficult! 

I still don’t get very many communications from the beyond in general, and I get even fewer in verbal form.  However, as I consider what I’ve received over the years, I have to say that there hasn’t been much gibberish.  My solidity-challenged friend Fryderyk has a way of encapsulating a great deal of information in a very few words or images, which helps to make up for my own limited ability to bring the material through. 

I have a little something to add to Mike’s lucid presentation of the conditions involved with communication.  At one point, while writing about Leslie Flint, I was trying to pin down exactly what influence the medium has on the message.  Fryderyk said, “The medium cannot turn his brain off just because he is a medium.”  He showed me an image like a tangle of jungle vegetation, meaning this to represent the medium’s own thoughts, which a spirit communicator would have to navigate through.  But then he said, “The mind of the medium is like a blank canvas….”  “Wait a minute,” I said, impertinately interrupting. “You just said that it’s not blank at all, it’s a tangled mess.”  “The mind of the medium is like a blank canvas in the sense that we use it to paint ourselves onto your reality,” he concluded.

Whatever you can make of that.

Elene Gusch, Wed 18 Apr, 03:30

Hello Mike,
First of all, let me thank you for being a “spirit guide”, so to speak. After the death of my mom in 2010 I began a search, as so many do, for meaning to this whole mess.Your books and your reviews of other books on the subject of the afterlife have not only given me some comfort, but have been a great intellectual adventure.
Thank you.
  I have been thinking lately of seeing a medium. Even after all I have read, however, I still feel uneasy about the prospect. My question is: Is finding a good medium a hit-and-miss process? I have been on a website for the Windbridge Institute. They test and certify mediums, as I understand it. This sounds like a good idea to me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Also, what is the meaning of this whole mess? smile Thanks again, Terry.

Terry, Tue 17 Apr, 04:34

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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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