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One Life at a Time:  The Way of the Philistine?

Posted on 24 March 2014, 10:23

Many friends and relatives who know of my interest in death and afterlife studies express concern that it is an unhealthy or taboo subject matter.  “One life at a time for me” is a typical reaction, a subtle and supposedly “intelligent” way of saying that the person is not interested in discussing anything related to death and the afterlife.

I always agree that the focus should be on this life, not the next one, but I usually go on to explain that an interest in a future life does not mean that the primary focus is not on this life.  If the person is at all receptive to it, I point out that my interest in a future life helps me better understand, appreciate, and fully live this life.  “We can live with the consciousness of immortality, and it will give an added coloring and beauty to life,” is the way philosopher Alice Bailey put it.  “We can foster the awareness of our future transition, and live with the expectation of its wonder.  Death thus faced, and regarded as a prelude to further living experience, takes on a different meaning.”

Addressing concerns that being too focused on the afterlife will make a person unfit for the “practical” life, philosopher Lilian Whiting pointed out that the truth is just the opposite. “Let one realize the absolute continuity of existence and at once life becomes worth living,” she offered.

A group of entities, dubbed the “Invisibles” by popular author Stewart Edward White, communicated through the mediumship of White’s wife, Betty.  (Below). They referred to the desired awareness of spiritual matters, including death, as “habitual spiritual consciousness.”  Concerned that White might misunderstand and assume that they were saying that the focus should be entirely on the spiritual world, they explained: “This does not imply any retirement into some state of permanent abstraction, nor any priggish watchfulness to determine that your every move is transcendental.  It means simply that each day, when you finish your practice, you do not close the experience like a book, but carry it around with you like a treasured possession.  Instead of being completely forgotten, it remains in the back of your mind, communicating its influence automatically to your actions and reactions, and ready at any moment, if specifically called upon, to lend a helping hand.”


The Invisibles called “balancing” the earthly life with the eternal life the “art of life.”  They stressed that the best way to deal with life’s adversities is by viewing them from the higher consciousness.

Frederic W. H. Myers, (below) a Cambridge scholar and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research in London, is a good example of someone who was able to develop his spiritual consciousness to the point where, in embracing death, he found joy and fulfillment in life.  At Myers’s memorial service in 1901, Sir Oliver Lodge recalled that Myers, when visiting the United States a few years earlier, swam the Niagara River below the treacherous falls.  Myers told Lodge that the thought suddenly flashed upon him that he might die, but there was no fear connected with this thought.  Rather, he saw the whole experience as a joyous adventure, for, as Lodge put it, “his clear and happy faith was the outcome entirely of his scientific researches” which strongly suggested survival.


Present at Myers’s deathbed, Professor William James of Harvard wrote that “his serenity, in fact, his eagerness to go, and his extraordinary intellectual vitality up to the very time the death agony began, and even in the midst of it, were a superb spectacle and deeply impressed the doctors, as well as ourselves.”

Professor James, one of the pioneers of psychology, took issue with the non-believers of his day who said we should be living for the moment, when he wrote:  “Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact depends on the remoter schemes and hopes of which it stands related.  Its significance and framing give it the chief part of its value.  Let it be known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy, its glow and guilding vanish.  The old man, sick with an insidious internal disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it, and the knowledge knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions.  They are partners of death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.” 

James added that “the luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with.”  In other words, you can’t effectively live in the moment or in the present without considering the future.  James went on to say that a nameless Unheimlichkeit, i.e., eeriness, comes over us at the thought of there being nothing eternal in our final purpose, in the objects of those loves and aspirations which are our deepest energies.   

Of course, age is a big factor in one’s desire or ability to embrace death.  The person still establishing him- or herself in a career and raising a family may not find time to pause and see the need for such an interest. While I gave it passing thoughts in my younger years, I didn’t really get interested in it until after the age of 50.  Now, at 77, with family raising and work life well behind me, and with a growing number of health-related issues, I can’t help think about it.  What puzzles me is that people in my own age group with similar or greater health issues are often among those who give me the “one life at a time” pitch.  They act like they are content in continuing to be “one with their toys,”  even the few toys they have left, but I suspect that most of them are just repressing their anxieties and burying their heads in the sand. 

“When a man is seventy-five he cannot help sometimes thinking about death,” wrote the great philosopher and poet Goethe.  “The thought of it leaves me perfectly calm, for I am convinced that our spirit is absolutely indestructible…it is like the sun which only seems to sink and in reality never sinks at all.”

Existentialist philosopher Sřren Kierkegaard wrote:  “If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the foundation of all there lay only a wildly seething power which writhing with obscure passions produced everything that is great and everything that is insignificant, if a bottomless void never satiated lay hidden beneath all – what then would life be but despair?”  Kierkegaard called “Philistinism” the worst kind of despair.  The Philistine, as Kierkegaard saw him, is someone so tranquilized in the mundane or the trivial that he lacks the awareness that he is even in despair. “For Philistinism thinks it is in control of possibility; it thinks that when it has decoyed this prodigious elasticity into the field of probability or into the mad-house, it holds it a prisoner; it carries possibility around like a prisoner in the cage of the probable, shows it off, imagines itself to be the master, does not take note that precisely thereby it has taken itself captive to be the slave of spiritlessness and to be the most pitiful of all things…but Philistinism spiritlessly celebrates its triumph.”

As I see it, those people in their declining years who want to live “one life at a time” are victims of Philistinism.  They are not even aware that they are in despair.  The problem is that they are either locked into the orthodox religious view of the afterlife, seemingly a very boring and monotonous existence, or they have rejected all religious views and see death as nothing more than the obliteration or extinction of the personality.  If they were to become receptive to learning about death and the afterlife, they might discover what I and others have found – a much more vibrant and dynamic existence, increasingly more vibrant and dynamic than the earth life as one evolves in it, assuming that one is prepared for it and does not require a lengthy adjustment and adaptation period.  But if the person will not open his/her mind to the evidence for survival and the information coming down the vibration scale about the nature of the afterlife, he or she is destined to remain in the Philistine mindset.

But if the person doesn’t realize he/she is in despair, what’s the problem?  Isn’t ignorance bliss for them?  Why should I care what they think or don’t think?  I care because ignorance fosters more ignorance and leads to a more materialistic world, one in which the Epicurean motto of “eat, drink, and be merry,” prevails, as it seemingly does in today’s world – a world in chaos and full of turmoil, an increasingly hedonistic world, one perhaps not unlike that of ancient Rome when Nero played his fiddle as the city burned.  But I also care because indications are that the Philistine likely faces a difficult adjustment and adaptation period after death.  It’s like going on a trip to a foreign country without a passport, without any money, without any luggage, without knowing anything about the place, with no maps, and knowing nothing of the language there. The person will likely struggle and flounder, when with a little advance preparation for the journey he/she might quickly adjust and adapt after arriving there.
The eminent Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said that it is psychologically beneficial to have death as a goal toward which to strive. Mozart called death the key to unlocking the door to true happiness.  Shakespeare wrote that when we are prepared for death, life is sweeter.  The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said that “to practice death is to practice freedom.”

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 is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

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Gladys Osborne Leonard & Her Curious Term of Endearment

Posted on 10 March 2014, 10:49

Gladys Osborne Leonard (1882 – 1968) is considered one of the greatest trance mediums in the annals of psychical research.  She was referred to as “England’s white crow” and the “British Mrs. Piper.”  Some of the very best evidence for the survival of consciousness after death came through her mediumship.  Yet, I recently came across something that made me both curious and a little suspicious.

In reading the transcripts of communication from Rolf Little, a soldier who died during World War I, to his mother through Mrs. Leonard, (below) I was puzzled by the fact that Rolf occasionally addressed his mother as “darling.”  While I had recognized the use of this term of endearment between spouses and also directed from parent to child, I had never before heard a son call his mother by such an affectionate term. 


What made me especially suspicious was another transcript in which Claude Kelway-Bamber, also communicating through Mrs. Leonard, called his mother “darling.”  That might be enough for a debunker to cry “fraud” and for a parapsychologist to say it was all coming from Mrs. Leonard’s subconscious, not from spirits of the dead.

I wondered if such a term of endearment might be common in England or have been more common in the early 1900s, when the communication took place.  I discussed it with Dr. Howard Jones, a British educator and scientist, who said he had never heard it applied to a parent by a child. 

After pondering on it for awhile, the explanation dawned on me.  As psychical researchers came to understand, the spirit communicator impresses an “idea” on the mind of the medium, while the medium’s subconscious mind puts words to the idea.  Thus, both Rolf and Claude may have communicated special affection toward their mothers, that when filtered through Mrs. Leonard’s brain, came out “darling.”  With another medium, it might have come out “mother dear.” 

Communicating through the renowned automatic writing medium Geraldine Cummins, Frederic W. H. Myers, a pioneering psychical researcher who died in 1901, 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 are drawn from the medium’s memory. Sometimes we only send the thoughts and the medium’s unconscious mind clothes them in words.” 

Professor James Hyslop, another pioneering researcher, explained it this way:  “We do not know in detail all that goes on, but we can conceive that a mental picture in the mind of a communicator is transmitted, perhaps telepathically, to the psychic (medium) or to the control.  Even though we do not know how this occurs, we can understand why the message takes the form that it does in the mind of the psychic and why the whole process assumes the form of a description of visual, or a report of auditory images…It is apparent that the pictographic process introduces into the communication various sources of mistake and confusion, and thus explains much that the ordinary man with his view of the messages cannot understand.  Mental pictures have to be interpreted, either by the control or by the subconscious of the psychic, probably by both.”

The “control” referred to by Hyslop, is the “medium” on the Other side.  As it has been explained, very few spirits have the ability to communicate directly through a trance medium.  Thus, a medium is needed on that side as well.  Mrs. Leonard “control” was called Feda, said to be an ancestor and her guide.  Feda would get the message from Rolf, Claude, or whoever was communicating, and then impress the idea on Mrs. Leonard’s brain.  In effect, there were four parties – the spirit communicator (Rolf, Claude, etc.) , the spirit control (Feda),  the medium (Mrs. Leonard), and the “sitter”  (Rolf and Claude’s mothers). 

Indications were that Feda got the message telepathically from the spirit communicators on their side of the veil, and that she sometimes misinterpreted what they were saying.  Thus, there was distortion even before it was impressed upon Mrs. Leonard’s brain.  But then the message could be further distorted as it was filtered through her brain.  Nevertheless, the gist or essence of the messages usually got through, even if the words came from Mrs. Leonard’s vocabulary.

In 1917, the Rev Charles Drayton Thomas, a respected psychical researcher and Methodist minister, began studying Mrs. Leonard’s mediumship. He quickly made contact with his deceased father, John D. Thomas, and his deceased sister, Etta, receiving much veridical information proving their identities.  However, he wondered why they had such difficulty in giving their names and the names of others.  The discarnate Thomas explained to his son the difficulties involved in communicating names: “One cannot sometimes get the names right. If I wish to speak about a man named “Meadow,” I may try that name and find that “Meadow” is not spoken rightly by Feda.  So I then wait and try to insert the idea of a green field, connecting it with the idea of the man described.  We always try for a definite thing which will tell you exactly what we mean; but if we are unable to do that, we have to get as near to it as we can. Sometimes we have to depend upon slender links in giving you the clue.”

As another example, the discarnate Thomas mentioned that when he tried to get the name “Jerusalem” through Feda, she gave the word “Zion” instead.  Etta explained to her brother that it was much easier to send ideas to Feda than it was to send words. She said that she could not get her husband’s name, “Whitfield,” through Feda.  “Is it not strange that I cannot say my husband’s name?” she asked . “I can feel it, but cannot say it; that is, I cannot get it spoken.  I get it on the surface, so to speak, but cannot get it into the medium’s mind.” 

At a sitting four months later, Etta again attempted to get her husband’s name through, but only succeeded in getting the medium to say, “Wh, Whi-, Whit-”.  Etta further explained to her brother that the more she tried to think on the name, the more difficult it was to get it through the medium’s brain, adding that she could not control the medium’s power of expression.  “One may get a word into her mind and yet be unable to make her express it,” she explained.  “Because it is in the mind, it does not follow that her brain will take it. Unless the ideas in the mind are tapped on to the actual brain, one cannot express them.” 

Thomas noticed that Feda could more easily catch a first syllable than a whole name, but sometimes she would catch only the first letter, which he understood was pictured for her by the communicator. When one communicating entity tried to get the word ‘Greek’ through, Feda struggled with “G-, Gre-, Grek, Greg, Greeg.”

Thomas further observed that when Feda had latitude in the selection of words, e.g. “Zion” for “Jerusalem,” communication was easier. However, when it came to proper names, this alternative was not always possible.  The discarnate Thomas also told his son that when he entered the conditions of a sitting his memory would divide into its former earthly conditions of conscious and subconscious. Thus, the same forgetfulness he might have had when in the flesh with regard to names and other things still existed on his side of the veil.

Soon after his death in 1925, Sir William Barrett, (below) a physicist and also a pioneering psychical researcher, began communicating with his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through Mrs. Leonard.  Lady Barrett wondered why her deceased husband got the name William through, and not “Will,” as she had called him and as he had called himself.  Also, he addressed her as “Florence,’ although he had called her “Flo” when alive. The formality of it made her question whether it was in fact her deceased husband communicating, even though he provided some very evidential information which she concluded no one else could have known. 


On November 5, 1929, Sir William explained:  “When I come into the conditions of a sitting I then know that I can only carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness.  The easiest things to lay hold of are what we may call ideas. [However], a detached word, a proper name, has no link with a train of thought except in the detached sense; that is far more difficult than any other feat of memory or association of ideas.  If you go to a medium that is new to us, I can make myself known by giving you through that medium an impression of my character and personality, my work on earth, and so forth.  Those can all be suggested by thought, impressions, ideas.” 

Sir William went on to explain that it is extremely difficult to get his nickname through because it is a detached word “If I wanted to express an idea of my scientific interests I could do it in twenty different ways.  I should probably begin by showing books, then giving impressions of the nature of the book and so on, till I had built up a character impression of myself.”  But single, detached words, he reiterated, were a real problem.

With all that in mind, it is not difficult to understand why Rolf and Claude called their mothers “darling.”  But I suspect that the “skeptics” might find it difficult to comprehend.

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 is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

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