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Why the Vanishing Phenomena?

Posted on 22 May 2017, 8:11

“So why don’t we hear about that type of mediumship today?”  That question has been put to me many times over the years by people who have read my books, journal essays, magazine articles, or this blog.  The reference is to various types of mediumship that seem to have been more prevalent a hundred and more years ago than they are today – the direct voice of Etta Wriedt and Sophia Williams, the trance voice of Leonora Piper and Gladys Osborne Leonard, the materializations of D. D. Home (below) and Minnie Harrison, and many others.  About all we hear of today is the clairvoyant type of mediumship that we see on television.  While much of it is impressive and evidential, it is not nearly as dynamic or convincing as that of yesteryear. 


The debunker has an easy answer for the question:  It was all fraud and people today are not as easily duped as people once were.  However, anyone who has really studied the subject knows that such is not the case.  Many esteemed scientists and scholars offered overwhelming evidence – evidence that went well beyond the reasonable doubt standard of our court system – that such people as Wriedt, Piper, Home and countless others were genuine mediums.  Yes, there were charlatans who clouded the picture, but there is no doubt among those with open minds who have studied the subject that genuine mediums existed then and now. 

In my blog post of November 21, 2016 I set forth 15 reasons why the psychical research carried out between 1850 and 1930 by those scientists and scholars has not been widely accepted.  Those reasons include religious fundamentalism, scientific fundamentalism, media bias and ignorance, fear, machismo, real fraud, semantics, and other explanations which all involve assumptions that the various phenomena should be easily understood and subject to scientific methodology.  While many of the reasons are overlapping, I should have listed a sixteenth reason – “vanishing phenomena.” 

Although there are still some physical, trance-voice, and direct-voice mediums here and there around the world, it does not appear that they are developed to the extent some of the old timers were.  Either that, or we don’t hear about them because modern day researchers are discouraged from studying them.  There is no real funding for such research and for the 15 aforementioned reasons there is a high risk of damaging one’s professional reputation by venturing into such a controversial area.
I suspect, however, that the phenomena of today are not as rich as they were a century ago because today’s fast-paced lifestyle simply does not lend itself to mediumship development.  In her 1946 book, Sophia Williams, (below) one of the best direct-voice mediums of the early twentieth century, wrote that she sat quietly each day for four years to learn the art of relaxation and complete detachment before her own mediumship began to really develop.  Gladys Osborne Leonard, one of the best trance-voice mediums of the last century, wrote that she experienced 26 failures before finally receiving something from the spirit world.  Then it took another 18 months of development after that before she became a proficient medium.  It took 11 months of experimenting and receiving mostly gibberish before Pearl Curran began receiving coherent messages from the spirit entity calling herself Patience Worth.


Hamlin Garland, one of the leading researchers of the early years of the twentieth century, reported that he sat silently in the dark for four hours waiting for some phenomenon to be produced by a medium. With another medium, Mary Curryer Smith, he witnessed some amazing phenomena and arranged for her to travel from Los Angeles to Boston to be observed by a group of scientists.  But in two sittings with the group, she was unable to produce any significant phenomenon and was dismissed as a charlatan.  Garland concluded that she was “trying too hard” and then arranged a sitting with one of the scientists from that group, Professor Amos Dolbear, head of the department of astronomy and physics at Tufts College.  In Dolbear’s home with only Dolbear, his wife, and Garland present, Smith produced some mind-boggling phenomena, or more accurately, the spirits produced it through her.  According to Garland, Dolbear was “dumbfounded” and convinced there was no trickery of any kind, but he declined to discuss it with his peers in science as he knew they would say he had somehow been tricked. 

Who today has the patience of Williams, Leonard, Curran or Garland?  All that was at a time when there were few distractions in life – mostly before radio, telephones, and movies, and definitely before television, cell phones, computers, mall shopping, fitness centers, and other activities occupying our time during the evenings in these modern days. People of that era didn’t have much more to do at home beyond sitting in front of a fireplace and knitting or whittling, or sitting on the front porch and staring off into the stars. There was little “noise” in those days, making it more conducive to achieving the passive state that seems to be required for mediumship, and then developing it. And there was more socializing among the believers in mediumship, so that circles were formed and more people witnessed it and were able to spread the word to others. 

Another possible reason for the vanishing phenomena is electrical interference.  It was observed by a number of researchers that mediums were ineffective during stormy conditions, especially during lightning storms.  Of course, electricity was either non-existent or in its infancy in those early days.  As to how electrical waves interfere is not known but it appears to have some relationship to the fact that light interferes with physical phenomena.  Only the strongest mediums could produce phenomena in subdued light or under red light, while the majority required complete darkness.  This goes to another misunderstanding, the belief by skeptics that all mediums are of equal ability.  As the researchers came to understand, there are many degrees of mediumship and even the best of mediums have their off days.   

Then again, it may be that the decline in mediumship has to do with the spirit world seeing no reason to keep “reinventing the wheel.” Some early communication suggested such frustration.  They gave us all they could over some 80 years and didn’t believe it worthwhile to keep repeating themselves over and over again.

It is clear from some of the communication of 80-160 years ago that spirits of the dead have as difficult a time getting through to us as we do in getting through to them.  Many of them pointed out that they were experimenting on their side of the veil as much as we were on our side.  Seeing that their constant efforts in communicating with us were rejected by both mainstream science and orthodox religion, they may have decided that there was no further point in continuing with meaningful messages. At the same time, many genuine mediums were being disparaged because ignorant observers didn’t understand what was going on and assumed it was all fraudulent.  The spirit world may have to some extent withdrawn so that such genuine mediums would not be further disparaged, but perhaps the genuine mediums gradually withdrew because they were tired of being disparaged. 

There are other possible reasons, one of them being the moral atmosphere.  Consider the mediumship of Daniel Dunglas Home, perhaps the most famous physical medium ever.  Sir William Crookes, one of the world’s leading scientists, had some 29 meetings with Home with varying degrees of phenomena produced at all of them.  However, the least phenomena were produced on May 28, 1873, Derby Day in England.  According to Home, or the spirits communicating through him during the trance state, the gambling and drunkenness associated with Derby Day resulted in a negative moral atmosphere, one that prevented the higher spirits from communicating.  Could the moral atmosphere in London in 1873 be any lower than it is worldwide now?  Is it possible that today’s materialistic, even hedonistic, world has created an atmosphere which the good spirits cannot penetrate?

In an interview about 12 years ago with Dr. Jon Klimo, then a San Francisco professor of parapsychology, I asked for his opinion as to why there has been such a decline in quality mediumship.  As he saw it, we operate within a politics of consciousness involving conscious and unconscious contending of forces vying for the ongoing vote of our reality-created souls. “We all co-constitute the reality we are experiencing, and there is a lot of conditioning, propaganda, suppression, manipulation, and mind control involved,” he explained.  “The homeostasis-maintaining mechanism of the consensus reality and its locally severing mechanism seek to keep most of us on Earth at present from accessing the larger reality so the truth could set us free to ever more consciously move with and as part of God.”

If I am interpreting that statement and others made by Klimo in that interview correctly, he is saying that there is a gradual “awakening” of consciousness taking place today – an awakening that is being influenced by both positive and negative forces.  He calls it a “war on the inner planes.”  The ability to accept the positive and reject the negative, thereby awakening to one’s God consciousness, is an individual thing and is part of the challenge we face in our struggle to regain true consciousness, i.e., spiritual consciousness, something we somehow lost in what is symbolically depicted for us in the Garden of Eden story and called original sin.

But there is still another possible answer to the initial question, one that seems to be related to Klimo’s theory.  When the renowned author Victor Hugo asked a spirit claiming to be the discarnate Martin Luther why God doesn’t better reveal himself, he might just as well have asked why we don’t get absolute certainty relative to the afterlife issue.  The reply from spirit was: “Because doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit.  If the day were to come when the human spirit no longer doubted, the human soul would fly off and leave the plough behind, for it would have acquired wings. The earth would lie fallow.  Now, God is the sower and man is the harvester.  The celestial seed demands that the human ploughshare remain in the furrow of life.”

What it all seems to add up to, as I see it, is that we are not supposed to have absolute certainty with regard to survival as it would curb free will and thereby thwart the divine plan.  When the spiritualism (or mediumship) epidemic took hold in 1850, it was during the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment and, a decade later, the era of Darwinism, when religion was being impeached. Many people, having been nurtured in the religious ideal of this life being part of a larger life, despaired. The period from around 1860 to 1890 has been called the “age of melancholy,” when people saw themselves drifting aimlessly toward an abyss of nothingness. The “death of God,” as decreed by Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882 added to the hopelessness for many, especially the educated classes of the civilized world. The spiritualism epidemic seems to have countered the materialism scourge just enough to maintain some balance, extending to the end of the Great War and winding down during the “Roaring Twenties,” when materialism was restored to the Western world and turned to hedonism. It was apparently time for our free will to be put to the test again, and the spirit world began pulling back.

When the balance tipped back to the nihilistic/materialistic side in subsequent decades, we were given research in past-life studies, near-death experiences, clairvoyance, induced after-death communication, and electronic voice phenomena to counter the negative influences and maintain some balance. 

Absolute certainty may not be desirable, but the old and the new psychical research can help us move from blind faith to conviction, thereby avoiding the despair of the nihilist.  In my opinion, the old research is the best and most neglected, and so I continue to write about it.  That’s my long answer to the short question that started this post.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  June 5


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Convincing Deathbed Phenomena

Posted on 08 May 2017, 8:31

The night before my 87-year-old mother died, she couldn’t stop talking. Outside of a few unintelligible mumbles, she had said nothing before that during her five-day visit.  While seemingly asleep, she jabbered away through her last night in this realm. Because of her slurred speech resulting from several strokes, as well as advanced dementia, I couldn’t make out what she was saying.  However, she seemed to be arguing with or desperately pleading with someone. 

My wife and I had brought my mother up from her Berkeley, California rest home several days earlier to spend Thanksgiving 2003 with us at our Oregon home.  We moved a spare bed into our bedroom so that we could better care for her.  It was on the fifth night at our house, Thanksgiving night, that she began talking in her sleep. The next morning, as I was slowly carrying her 90-pound body from the bedroom downstairs to her wheelchair so that I could wheel her out to the car and drive her back to Berkeley, her eyes rolled back in her head and she “gave up the ghost.” 
In retrospect, I suspect that all the “arguing” the prior night was with deceased loved ones who were trying to convince her that it was time to leave the physical world.  Mom seemed very much afraid of dying when she was lucid.  A lifelong Catholic, she no doubt expected to be burning in the “fires” of purgatory for a few decades before being admitted to heaven.  Whether that fear remained with her in her demented state, I have no idea, but I have no other explanation for her all night chatter, other than the possibility that she was pleading with someone to help her disengage her spirit body from her weary physical shell.

I also wondered whether it was an act of providence or whether her higher-self simply found it more appropriate to die while cradled in my arms rather than return to the Berkeley rest home and die there.

A few years later, my mother’s sister passed on at age 81.  My cousin informed me that her mother, my aunt, had many conversations with deceased loved-ones during the last week of her life.  Whether or not my mother and aunt actually communicated with deceased loves before they died, I have no way of knowing for sure, but I do know that there is considerable evidence to suggest that such deathbed visits are not unusual. 

Mediumship, near-death experiences, and past-life studies have all contributed significantly to the cumulative evidence suggesting that consciousness lives on after death.  Deathbed phenomena, including both visions and verbiage, have also contributed to the large body of evidence, but it appears to be the area most in need of further research.  Sir William Barrett’s 1926 book Death-Bed Visions is a classic in the field, while French astronomer Camille Flammarion’s Death and Its Mystery: Before Death, published in 1922, is another important reference.  Others who have contributed to the field since Barrett and Flammarion include Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (At the Hour of Death) 1997, Peter Fenwick and Elizabeth Fenwick (The Art of Dying, 2008) and Carla Wills Brandon (One Last Hug Before I Go: The Mystery and Meaning of Deathbed Visions, 2010 and Heavenly Hugs, 2012). 

Add to that short list Words at the Threshold by Lisa Smartt, just recently released by New World Library. The book is subtitled What We Say as We’re Nearing Death.  One area of deathbed phenomena that I find especially intriguing is that of “terminal lucidity,” or “sunset day,” as health-care providers call it, according to Smartt.  “People I interviewed described how their loved ones who had been relatively nonresponsive suddenly emerged from their deeply internal and quiet state and spoke words of kindness, reassurance, or guidance for a short time before dying,” Smartt explains.  “Several people described a kind of glow or lightness around their beloved.” 

A linguist, educator, and poet, Smartt was motivated to undertake such research by what she saw and heard in the last three weeks of her father’s life in this realm.  “We are all headed for the afterlife, six feet under,” Smartt quotes her non-believing father before he became terminal.  But during those final weeks he talked about seeing and hearing angels, even stating that an angel told him he had only three days left, which turned out to be true.

Smartt tells of a man dying man who rejected both food and drink during his final weeks.  However, three days before he died, he was awake and talking, asking for some pot roast and pineapple upside-down cake. He sat up with strength to eat it, the first time in weeks, carried on a conversation for some five hours, then returned to his slumber and was gone in a few days.

In another case reported by Smartt, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease who had not spoken lucidly in years began coherently telling her son about the location of certain files containing financial information a few days before her death.  In still another case, a daughter said that her mother had been in a coma for three weeks. “One day, her eyes popped open.  She looked at me and said, ‘Tell everyone I am okay and that I love them.’” She died five hours later. 

In his 2016 book, When did you ever become less by dying?, Professor Stafford Betty tells of a 1913 case in which a woman named Kathe was retarded from birth and confined to an asylum. She had never spoken a single word during her lifetime, but just before she died, she began singing, “Where does the soul find its home, its peace?  Peace, Peace, heavenly peace!” over and over again.  She sang for about 30 minutes before quietly dying.

In his 2015 book, Afterlife Tracks, author Louis Villalba, M.D., tells of his father’s final “goodbye” during 2008.  The 89-year-old family patriarch had been in a coma for two days when Villalba arrived at his bedside.  On the afternoon of the third day of the coma, the dying man began a gradual awakening. That evening, he sat up in bed fully alert. “His face shone as resplendent as Moses’ might have looked when he came down from Mount Sinai after seeing God,” Villalba reported.  “His eyes were wide open and his newly grown white beard made him look more handsome and younger.  He smiled, recognized everyone.  Happiness radiated from his countenance.  He did not speak a word.  He laughed, assenting with his head and raising his eyebrows.  A soft cinnamon-like scent emanated from his skin.”  Villalba asked his father if he had been sent back (from heaven). “He raised his eyebrows and smiled,” Villalba continued the story. “His eyes scanned each of us one by one.” However, he again drifted into deep unconsciousness and passed away the next morning.

Numerous other cases of terminal lucidity and other deathbed phenomena can be found in the references mentioned as well as in my book, The Afterlife Revealed.  No doubt they represent only a small portion of the actual cases.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  May 22


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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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