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Why Spirit Communication Has Waned

Posted on 30 January 2023, 9:29

People often ask why the communication coming from the spirit world during the first 30 or so years of the so-called spiritualism epidemic, from 1850 until around 1880, was so different, seemingly so much better, more dynamic, and offering more “teachings” than what we now have . They see this decline in quality and quantity as suggesting that the early mediumship was just a lot of bunk.  A progressive mindset expects improvement, not regression.  If, however, we can accept messages coming through a credible medium, William Stainton Moses, (below) the reason for the decline is that the spirit world pulled back because of frequent intrusions by devious, low-level spirits which they did not anticipate and which were confusing people and disparaging many good mediums. Moreover, indications are that they had provided all they had intended to impart in the way of “teachings,” all that humans could understand relative to their world.

moses

By 1880, the same teachings were being repeated over and over again through different mediums. The primary teachings were that, yes, consciousness continues after death in a larger life, something very much in question at the time due to the impeachment of religion by science, especially after Darwinism took hold during the 1860s, and that the larger life is much more complex, dynamic, and progressive than the humdrum heaven (and horrific hell) taught by religions. Another important teaching was that souls do not become all-knowing or omnipotent upon reaching “heaven.”  They know little, if anything, more than what they departed the material world with, and they continue to learn and advance from their initial state in the afterlife. Unfortunately, many don’t learn much in the physical world and are “earthbound,” continuing in what might be likened to a bad dream, not even aware they are dead. 

When, in 1852, Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, former United States Senator from New York and former Governor of Wisconsin, asked the communicating spirit claiming to be his old friend, John C. Calhoun, former vice-president of the United States, about the purpose of the communication, which began in 1848, the reply came, “My friend, the question is often put to you, ‘What good can come from these manifestations?’ I will answer it.  It is to draw mankind together in harmony, and convince skeptics of the immortality of the soul.”

Not long after, during the early 1850s, Robert Hare, professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, put much the same question to his deceased father through a medium. He was informed that it was all “a deliberate effort on the part of the inhabitants of the higher spheres to break through the partition which has interfered with the attainment, by mortals, of a correct idea of their destiny after death.”  To carry out this intention, Hare was further told, a delegation of advanced spirits had been appointed.  It was further explained that lower spirits were allowed to take part in the undertaking because they were better able to make mechanical movements and loud rappings than those on the higher realms as they were closer in vibration to the physical plane.  It was usually necessary for the lower spirits to relay messages from more advanced spirits through the human mediums to those on the physical plane. 

The early communication, including the works of Judge John Edmonds, French educator Allan Kardec, Professor Hare, and others, all during the 1850s, seems to have been aimed at providing a better understanding of the larger life, not simply providing evidence of it. But except for the fact that it usually went well beyond the beliefs and knowledge of the medium, it wasn’t evidential to many.  The physical mediumship was, the spirits explained, an attempt to get our attention and open us up to the mental mediumship and the teachings. These teachings came through numerous mediums When the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was formed in 1882, it focused on evidential communication, not the teachings or more profound subject matter.     

The mediumship of Stainton Moses, an Anglican priest with a master’s degree from Oxford who served as English Master at University College London from 1868 until 1889, seems to have been the last-ditch effort by the spirit world to explain this life and the larger life.  Until 1872, Moses considered all mediumship as nothing more than “twaddle,” but his investigation suggested otherwise and he soon began to realize that he had mediumistic gifts. Spirits began communicating through both his voice and his hand while he sat with a small group of educated friends, including Dr. Stanhope Speer, his wife, Maria Speer, their musician son Charlton Speer, and other professional people.

Charlton Speer, Moses’s biographer, referred to the spirit messages as “inspirational addresses given by various spirits” while Moses was in an entranced condition.  “Touching the manner of these addresses (one or more of which we had at almost every séance) I can only say that they were delivered in a dignified, temperate, clear, and convincing tone, and that though the voice proceeded from the medium, it was always immediately apparent that the personality addressing us was not that of the medium,” Charlton Speer wrote. “The voice was different, and the ideas were often not in accordance with those held at the time by [Moses].  An important fact, too, was that although many spirits exercised this power of control, the voice which spoke was always different; and in the case of those spirits which controlled regularly we came to know perfectly well which intelligence was communicating by the tone of the voice and the method of enunciation.”

The teachings, as set forth in Spirit Teachings and More Spirit Teachings (available from White Crow Books), included numerous subjects—God, Jesus, spirit guides, eternal life, reincarnation, prayer, atheism, obsessing spirits, earthbound spirits, missionary spirits, and judgment, to name only a few.  They came from a band of 49 spirits, what might now be called a “group soul,” under the direction of one called Imperator.  It was explained that Imperator was at too high a vibration to effectively communicate and that others in the group, at a lower vibration, would relay his messages through the medium.  Among the most frequent communicators were Rector, Prudens, Doctor, and Magnus.  “These names are but convenient symbols for influences brought to bear upon you,” was the explanation given for the odd names. “In some cases, the influence is not centralized; it is impersonal, as you would say. In many cases the messages given you are not the product any one mind, but are the collective influence of a number. Many who have been concerned with you are but the vehicles to you of a yet higher influence which is obliged to reach you in that way. We deliberate, we consult, and in many instances you receive the impression of our united thought.”  Near the end, it was revealed that Imperator was the name given to Malachias, a prophet mentioned in the Old Testament.

The primary purpose of the group of 49 was explained by Prudens: “The busy world is ever averse from the things of spirit, life. Men become so absorbed in the material, that which they see and grasp, and hoard up, and they forget that there is a future and spirit life. They become so earthly that they are impervious to our influence; so material that we cannot come near them; so full of earthly interests that there is no room for that which shall endure when they have passed away. More than this, the constant preoccupation leaves no time for contemplation, and the spirit is wasted for lack of sustenance.”

Rector explained that in earlier times spirits communicated with humans in ways less material and that no such means of telegraphy, as raps, was known. “It was not necessary to act through matter, save in rare cases,” he continued. “Spirit spoke to spirit. But, as men grew more corporeal, this could less be done, and to few only. So that a material system of telegraphy was invented.”  That invention, it was said, was by the spirit of Benjamin Franklin, who had joined the spirit world in 1790.  It was at the urging of Emanuel Swedenborg, the renowned Swedish scientist and philosopher, who had transitioned in 1772. 
The messages coming through Moses’s voice were recorded by Mrs. Speer, who said it was impossible for her to capture the beauty and refinement of the manifestations or the power and dignity of Imperator’s influence.  When it was asked how those present could know that what they were hearing was truth and not from some devil in sheep’s clothing, the reply came:  “Man must judge according to the light of reason that is in him.” Imperator further explained that the progressive soul will receive what the ignorant or prejudiced will reject and that God’s truth is forced on none.

When the messages later came through Moses by means of automatic writing, Moses said he had no command or control of the writing. He felt an impulse to write and the words flowed, sometimes in conflict with what he believed and at other times on subjects with which he had not given serious consideration. On May 9, 1874, Cambridge scholars Frederic W. H. Myers and Edmund Gurney visited Moses and observed his mediumship. “That evening was epoch-making in Gurney’s life and mine,” Myers wrote, some eight years before he and Gurney helped organize the SPR.  “With the even tenor of this straightforward and reputable life was inwoven a chain of mysteries which, in whatever way they may be explained, make that life one of the most extraordinary which our century has seen,” Myers wrote, adding that he was certain that the messages coming through Moses were not fabricated by him. (As might be expected, Wikipedia makes Moses out to be a complete fraud.)

 
Imperator explained that most spirits who have the ability to communicate with the earth realm are from the lower three spheres and that it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate as one goes to higher vibrations.  However, those from the higher spheres are able to communicate if they can find the right medium, and Moses was such a medium.  Imperator warned that there were many antagonistic spirits who interfere. 

“It is true that Benjamin Franklin did discover communication by raps, and that he was greatly aided by Swedenborg in awakening interest among spirits in the subject,” Rector stated. “At the time of the discovery it was believed that all denizens of both worlds would be brought into ready communion. But, both on account of the obstinate ignorance of man, and of the extent to which the privilege was abused by spirits who assumed well-known names and personated them and so deceived men, that privilege has been greatly narrowed.”

Moses asked for clarification, and Imperator responded: “These are spirits who have chosen the evil, have put aside promptings and influences of good, and have banded themselves under the leadership of intelligence still more evil, to malign us and to hamper our work.  Such are powerful for mischief, and their activity shows itself in evil passion, in imitating our work, and so gaining influence over the deluded, and most of all, in presenting to inquiring souls that which is mean and base, where we would tenderly lead to the noble and refined.  They are the foes of God and man; enemies of goodness; ministers of evil.  Against them we wage perpetual war.”

As I interpret all that and piece it together, this is what I see: 1) In the wake of scientism, the world was becoming too materialistic, so the Spirit World decided it had to do something to reverse the trend; 2) Advanced spirits figured out how to communicate with the material plane by means of raps; 3) Further experiments by the Spirit World resulted in them figuring out how to levitate people and objects, strum guitars, etc., in order to attract attention; 4) Lower-level spirits, not necessarily evil spirits, were more capable of effecting the various phenomena because they were closer to the earth vibration than more advanced spirits; 5) Advanced spirits used lower-level spirits (well-meaning ones) to assist them in carrying out the phenomena; (6) Advanced spirits provided “teachings” to help people better understand the larger life, but there was much resistance by mainstream science and orthodox religion; 7) Devious earthbound spirits (lower than the low), even closer to the material world in vibration than the decent low-level spirits, began interfering and obstructing the efforts of the advanced spirits, thereby causing even more mayhem and animosity.  8) Sometime around 1880, the Spirit World, began to withdraw, although not completely; 9) With the formation of the SPR and ASPR in 1882, the focus changed to evidential mediumship, but the influence of earthbound spirits continued. 10) There was a resurgence during WWI as many people grieved the loss of loved ones, but as radio, movies, phones, television, computers, etc. developed, they deterred and distracted people from the “quiet contemplation” and passive state required for trance mediumship and so those who might have had mediumistic abilities never recognized them. Psychical research then gave way to parapsychology during the 1930s, the search for spirits and consciousness surviving at death pretty much ending.

Meanwhile, the earthbound spirits continue to prevail on the inner planes while influencing and promoting materialism and hedonism in the physical world.  The advanced spirits have been limited to providing a little aid here and there.
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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post:  February 13 (More on the Imperator group)

 

 


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When Did We have Sufficient Evidence of Consciousness Surviving Death?

Posted on 16 January 2023, 10:25

In my essay for the Bigelow Essay competition of 2021, I attempted to make a legal case for life after death having been proved with overwhelming evidence by 1900. I argued that the legal doctrine of Res Judicata, meaning “it has already been decided,” should be applied to the cumulative evidence gathered between 1850 and 1900, and therefore should not require another legal action. Case closed! The issue for this blog is whether 1900 was a realistic year.  Was the case for survival made before that or perhaps later, or not at all.

In my simulated court trial, I offered the testimony of 11 witnesses, including Judge John Edmonds, Dr. George Dexter, Governor Nathaniel Tallmadge, Professor Robert Hare, Professor James Mapes, Professor Alfred Russel Wallace, (below) Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett, Rev. William Stainton Moses, Dr. Richard Hodgson, and Sir Oliver Lodge, quoting from their reports and books on their psychical research as if they were testifying at a trial.  I wanted to include Professor James Hyslop, perhaps the most knowledgeable of them all, but the 25,000 word limit for the essay prevented that. Hyslop’s research took place mostly between 1905 and 1920, nearly all after the research by those 11 witnesses, and so he was the one omitted and the line was drawn at 1900 rather than 1920.  I concluded that the case for survival was well established by 1900 and that evidence developed after that year was “icing on the cake.”

wallace

Needless to say, the more evidence the better, and had I gone to 1920 and beyond to the present, it would have made for an even stronger case, but I was forced by the “court” to make my case within those 25,000 words. In my closing argument, I mentioned that I could have called many more witnesses to the stand, but if the testimony of those 11 esteemed men wasn’t convincing to the jury members, then it was likely that 22 witnesses wouldn’t convince them.

My simulated court trial involved a civil action, not a criminal one, and therefore the standard involved was a “preponderance of evidence,” meaning that the evidence for outweighed the evidence against, a significantly easier standard than that of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” required by criminal courts and by the contest rules.  It didn’t seem appropriate to apply the criminal standard to the case for survival, as it came across as a defensive measure, so I substituted “overwhelming evidence” to mean the same thing as the desired standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.  In exchange for the extra burden of the higher standard and the fact that the attorney for the survivalists was not introducing evidence beyond 1900, except for one reported by Barrett involving a levitation, the attorney arguing for the nihilists agreed to give the survivalists a bit more latitude in their testimony.

The year 1930 seems like a more reasonable cut-off, as that’s when parapsychology began to replace psychical research.  The change appears to have been prompted by the disagreements of a number of researchers over investigations of three mediums – Mina Crandon, aka “Margery,” George Valiantine, and Rudi Schneider – during the mid and late 1920s. It became increasingly clear from those investigations that “spirit” activity through mediums was not an acceptable explanation for hard-core scientists.  It was a Catch 22 situation. If no other explanation than spirits, it had to be fraud. Even those who supported the spirit explanation for the phenomena had to beat around the bush in stating their conclusions, avoiding as much as possible any reference to spirits. Thus, parapsychology limited its scope to extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK) while avoiding any discussion of spirits and survival.

But drawing the line at 1930 would exclude some very impressive and meaningful research with mediums carried out by Dr. T. Glen Hamilton, of Canada, until his death in April 1935.  So an argument can be made that 1935 is a more appropriate year at which to say that the case for survival was fully made. 

Here are conclusions, their exact words, offered in the “trial” by seven of the witnesses named above. It should be kept in mind that these witnesses were not casual observers of the phenomena they reported on; they carried out countless experiments with various mediums over a number of years.  Hodgson, for example, studied Leonora Piper for some 18 years and on the average of three times a week.  Moreover, all the researchers were fully aware of the various debunking theories. 

By Hare, professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania and world-renowned inventor: 

“I sincerely believe that I have communicated with the spirits of my parents, sister, brother, and dearest friends, and likewise with the spirits of the illustrious Washington and other worthies of the spirit world; that I am by them commissioned, under their auspices, to teach truth and to expose error.”

By Mapes, a professor of chemistry at The American Institute and renowned inventor:

“The manifestations which are pertinent to the ends required are so conclusive in their character as to establish in my mind certain cardinal points.  These are:  First, there is a future state of existence, which is but a continuation of our present state of being…Second, that the great aim of nature, as shown through a great variety of spiritual existences is progression, extending beyond the limits of this mundane sphere…Third, that spirits can and do communicate with mortals, and in all cases evince a desire to elevate and advance those they commune with.”

By Wallace, biologist and co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution:

“The spiritual theory is the logical outcome of the whole of the facts. Those who deny it, in every instance with which I am acquainted, either from ignorance or disbelief, leave half the facts out of view.”

By Barrett, professor of physics at the Royal College of Science and renowned inventor:

“I am personally convinced that the evidence we have published decidedly demonstrates (1) the existence of a spiritual world, (2) survival after death, and (3) of occasional communication from those who have passed over.”

By Crookes, a physicist and chemist who discovered the element thallium and was a pioneer in radioactivity: 

“[The phenomena] point to the existence of another order of human life continuous with this, and demonstrate the possibility in certain circumstances of communication between this world and the next.”

By Lodge, professor of physics, a pioneer in electricity and radio, and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science:

“I tell you with all my strength of the conviction which I can muster that we do persist, that people still continue to take an interest in what is going on, that they know far more about things on this earth than we do, and are able from time to time to communicate with us…I do not say it is easy, but it is possible, and I have conversed with my friends just as I can converse with anyone in this audience now.”

By Hodgson, lecturer in philosophy at Cambridge and later the first full-time psychical researcher: 

“I had but one object, to discover fraud and trickery. Frankly, I went to Mrs. Piper with Professor James of Harvard University about twelve years ago with the object of unmasking her…I entered the house profoundly materialistic, not believing in the continuance of life after death; today I say I believe.  The truth has been given to me in such a way as to remove from me the possibility of a doubt.”

Although Hyslop, who taught philosophy, ethics and logic at Columbia University before becoming a full-time psychologist and psychical researcher, did not testify because of the court limits on time, his deposition was taken before the trial and he stated:
“Personally, I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved.  I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters.  But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts.  Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved.  The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts.  History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.”

If we consider the research by Hare, Mapes, Edmonds, Dexter, and Tallmadge, not to mention French educator Allan Kardec and American clergyman Adin Ballou, we can conclude that the case for consciousness surviving death was made before 1860.  Add in Wallace and we can draw the line at 1865. 

Then again, we might put the year at 1892. That was the year that a “spirit” claiming to have been George Pellew (below) began communicating through the mediumship of Mrs. Piper.  Until then, many researchers, including Hodgson and Professor William James of Harvard, who recruited Hodgson to head up the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research in 1887, accepted the genuineness of much of the phenomena but leaned toward a belief that the so-called “spirits” were secondary personalities buried in the medium’s subconscious, and that these secondary personalities could somehow access information telepathically, even at a great distance, or from some kind of “cosmic reservoir” not yet known to science (which later came to be called Super Psi or Living Agent Psi).  As far-fetched as it seemed, it was more “scientific” than communication from spirits of the dead.  The idea of spirits was seen as a return to the follies and superstitions of religion, which had been impeached by science during the 1860s. 

pellew

However, Pellew, who died in an accident in New York City at age 32 during February 1892 and began communicating through Piper some six weeks later, demonstrated all the characteristics of the man he claimed to have been in the material world and otherwise displayed too much personality to have been some second-self pretender buried away in Piper’s subconscious.  “To the person unfamiliar with a series of [sittings with Mrs. Piper], it may seem a plausible hypothesis that perhaps one secondary personality might do the whole work, might use the voice and write contemporaneously with the hand,” Hodgson wrote. “I do not, however, think it at all likely that he would continue to think it plausible after witnessing and studying the numerous coherent groups of memories connected with different persons, the characteristic emotions, tendencies distinguishing such different persons, the excessive complication of acting required, and the absence of any apparent bond of union for the associated thoughts and feelings indicative of each individuality, save some persistent basis of that individuality itself.”  Other researchers agreed with Hodgson, although James, perhaps out of concern for sanctioning something too much like religion, which science had already impeached, sat on the fence.”

The basic problem was that there was too much “bosh,” too much “humbug” too much “twaddle,” too many conflicting ideas, coming through many mediums, probably the majority of mediums, even some of the better mediums, such as Mrs. Piper.  Over time, the dedicated researchers were able to filter all this conflicting material out of the communication and still find veridical information outside the scope of fraud, coincidence, chance guessing, whatever theory opposed spirit communication. While religions had led people to believe that those in the spirit world, one they called “heaven,” are all-powerful and all-knowing, the research suggested that this is definitely not the case. The researchers discovered that most “spirits” on the other side know little, if anything, more than they did in the physical world. Moreover, the lower and less-advanced spirits, being at a lower vibration and closer to the earth vibration, were better able to communicate than the advanced spirits.  Among those lower spirits were some with malevolent intentions.  That’s a subject for the next blog.

Whether the spirits communicating were advanced and benevolent or lowly and malevolent, the early research definitely provided overwhelming evidence that consciousness survives death.  I’ll stick with the case for survival having been made by 1900. Res Judicata.

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post: January 30.


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Bible Scholar Explores Modern Psychic Phenomena

Posted on 02 January 2023, 9:58

Although I consider myself a Christian, even if an unorthodox one, some of my orthodox Christian friends think I’ve been hoodwinked by Satan because of my interest in paranormal phenomena, especially mediumship. My most memorable encounter in this regard took place seven or eight years ago when a lawyer friend invited me to accompany him to a monthly luncheon of an organization of Christian lawyers.  When my friend introduced me to the president, a young female lawyer, he mentioned that I had authored a few books on spiritual matters.  The young woman asked me what they were about.  I hesitated in answering, but when the word “mediumship” was mentioned, she curled her nose and furiously responded with, “How can you live with yourself?” She did an immediate, near military, about-face and stormed away. Another attorney, who was in on the conversation, then attempted to explain her reaction, telling me how Scripture forbids such a demonic interest. I didn’t feel it appropriate or timely then to engage him in a debate and point out various conflicts in the Bible, including likely misinterpretations or mistranslations from the Hebrew and Greek to English, concerning communication with the spirit world. I just shook my head in bewilderment.


It has long been mystifying to me that so many orthodox Christians fail to see the support that psychical research can give to their beliefs, enough support to help them move from blind faith to conviction, or to help the many losing their faith to rediscover it.  It was therefore something of a relief to recently read Encountering Mystery, subtitled “Religious Experience in a Secular Age,” by Dr. Dale C. Allison Jr., (below) a professor of New Testament Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. “Christian leaders have, unfortunately, often sought to suppress, marginalize, demonize, and erase otherworldly experiences,” Allison writes. “From a historical point of view, the reasons for this have been manifold.”  Among the reasons he lists is “practices that allowed for contact with the dead.”  Interestingly, he states that Catholic theology had supplied a “congenial framework” for reception of stories about seeing the dead, but Protestantism censured it.  He notes that evangelical Protestants are the group least likely to say they have been in touch with a dead person.

allison

Allison explores dreams, prayer, angels, near-death experiences (NDEs), terminal lucidity, death-bed visions, and other subjects that both orthodox religions and materialistic science have done their best to avoid or discourage.  He offers many little anecdotal stories in connection with the various phenomena. “Dismissing them one and all as anecdotal,” he opines, “requires that large swaths of our fellow citizens are absolutely wretched observers or wholly untethered from the truth. I prefer to think that at least some of them are halfway decent witnesses, and that all the testimony, taken together, pushes against reduction to the ordinary.” He further cites the research carried out by a number of enlightened scientists and scholars to support the anecdotal evidence. At the same time he recognizes the garden-variety debunking theories, such as oxygen deprivation, hallucinations, fraud, etc. 

Early in the book, he tells of his own mystical experiences. “Words can’t begin to describe what this was like,” he writes of one of three experiences. “It will stay with me for the rest of my life. It confirms me in my belief that underneath all this mess is absolute joy.”   

In discussing NDEs, Allison makes a point that provided some timely self-examination as I read it.  I woke up that morning with a fairly vivid recollection of a dream. This happens every now and then, maybe once a month at most. Recollection of most dreams disappears within seconds of waking up.  I recalled this dream in some detail and related it to my wife about 30 minutes after awakening.  About 10 hours later, while reading the chapter of Allison’s book on NDEs, I noted his concern about why so many people who have had similar near-death experiences do not have recollections of mystical happenings.  Allison wonders if those who don’t report them, simply don’t remember them, and if it might be like recalling dreams. “This is not to imply that the NDE is a dream,” he states. “My point is instead this. To narrate an NDE is to remember it, and perhaps, just as the ability to recall dreams may differ (for whatever reason) from person to person, so the ability to recall NDEs may differ (for whatever reason) from situation to situation.”

After reading Allison’s words, I thought back to the dream of that morning and couldn’t remember what it was about.  I remembered having enough detail to tell my wife about it a half-hour later, but then, 10 hours later, I couldn’t remember anything about it. I can recall having only two somewhat meaningful dreams during my lifetime, but I can remember only the gist of those dreams, not the details.

On the subject of angels, guides, or whatever name be given to them, Allison observes that theologians and biblical scholars generally ignore the popular books about intervening angels, assuming that the storytellers are victims of some kind of deception, whether by others or by self.  ”One wonders why, if there are no emissaries to be seen, natural selection has programmed so many of us to see them,” he muses, going on to point out that given today’s cultural assumptions, church leaders are not as brazen or transparent in dismissing the stories. “…they are more apt to render out-of-the-ordinary experiences inert either by ignoring them altogether or by politely listening and then, as soon as possible, changing the subject.”  The outcome, he continues, is the same – the functional irrelevance of someone’s experience and maintenance of the status quo. 

In the chapter on deathbed phenomena, Allison discusses the mysterious “luminous emanations” occasionally reported around a dying person. He offers a dozen or so testimonials with references and then opines that the phenomenon “raises the odds that expiration of the body is not expiration of the self.” 

Allison does not really get into mediumship or other strictly “taboo” subjects, including materializations and trance mediumship, but he admits in ending the book that there is much he hasn’t discussed. He does mention the materials collected over some five decades by the Religious Experience Research Center (RERC), founded by Sir Alister Hardy, a renowned zoologist, in 1969.  Hardy’s research covered many things which Allison classifies as mystical raptures, apparitions, hearing guiding voices, feeling the presence of the dead, and perceiving the unity of all things. The informed reader is left to wonder if Allison is aware of the volumes of research on the same subject matters carried out by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) beginning in 1882, long before Sir Alister began his explorations.  “My preemptive defense,” he explains, “is to plead a limited purpose.”  He goes on to say that it is an “inadequate introduction to a vast subject, a deliberately truncated, elementary primer that covers but a handful of representative topics.”

According to Allison, the RREC research, which includes over 6,000 firsthand accounts from around the world, is housed at the University of Wales, but “most theologians and scholars of religion pay this trove no heed as they go about their business.”  And so it is with the SPR material, not to mention the even-more convincing research carried out by the earliest pioneers of psychical research for 30 years before the SPR was formed.  Even the SPR gave little heed to the research between 1850 and 1882. 

Allison mentions some research done in Sweden during the 1990s.  The researchers interviewed 50 people in their early 70s who had lost a spouse within the previous year.  Asked about encounters with the dead husband or wife, only one individual, a spiritualist, admitted to an encounter.  However, after the subjects were informed that apparent contact with the dead is not a symptom of mental illness, half of the 50 subjects admitted to an encounter of one kind or another. 

Readers familiar with all the books and articles on near-death experiences will likely not find much new in that subject matter, but I found it a good refresher and read about several interesting NDEs that I could not recall hearing about before.  For the Christian who accepts only NDEs consistent with Church dogma and doctrines, Allison’s coverage of the subject matter might very well serve as an eye-opener if they dare examine it and thereby risk demonic influence.   

The book is not for the closed-minded skeptic, Allison states. “It rather addresses those who are, because of their worldview, open-minded about its topics, or at least half open-minded.”  He laments the fact that more theologians and pastors aren’t interested in the subject matter. Overall, it is a very interesting and informative read and hopefully will awaken some of the choir. 

As a further sidebar to Allison’s book, I try to explain to my orthodox Christian friends that most of the mediumistic messages are benevolent in one way or another, urging love, compassion, kindness, and empathy, and that psychical research supports the basic tenet of their faith, that consciousness survives death in a larger life. Moreover, many of them pay homage to Jesus, but the usual reaction is that the “spirits” are simply “wolves in sheep’s clothing” trying to lure people into Satan’s camp before pulling the rug out from under them. I agree that one has to be on guard for low-level spirits; that’s why we are told in Scripture “to test the spirits, whether they are of God,” and to discern the messages.  However, the Old Testament passages saying that we should not speak with the “dead” and that the “dead know nothing” always seem to prevail in such discussions. When I ask how we can test the spirits if we don’t communicate with them or why we should discern the messages if they know nothing, they come up with a different interpretation of the New Testament or state that God’s ways are not always known to us – end of discussion.

I find the resistance and indifference by orthodox Christians more mystifying than the mystical aspects of the phenomena themselves.  I reason, however, that too much conviction relative to God and Survival is not necessarily a good thing.  As Victor Hugo was told by a spirit claiming to have been Martin Luther in the material life, “doubt is the instrument which forges the human spirit.”  It may very well be that the orthodox Christian opposition to the mystical phenomena is part of the Divine plan, permitting that necessary doubt and thereby giving our free-will choices – choices without long-term assurances – more impact in helping us to spiritually evolve.       

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post:  January 16

 


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