The World of Spirit According to Spiritualism
Posted on 23 July 2012, 15:19
The last chapter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s History of Spiritualism is titled “The After-Life As Seen by Spiritualists.” After having studied hundreds of narratives deriving apparently from spirits living in the world beyond death, he concluded: “It has been said that these narratives vary greatly and are contradictory. The author has not found them so.”1 He then goes on to summarize—in ten pages!—their world. I’ve been asked to do something similar.
Like him, I am reassured “to find how greatly they are in agreement, which is surely an argument for their truth.”2 Also like him, I am reassured by how radically they diverge from the reigning Christian views of heaven and hell that were current when Doyle was writing (in 1924), as well as during the previous 75 years when the narratives turned up. Why reassured? If the narratives reproduced Christian doctrine, we would be right to suspect undue influence by these doctrines on the various mediums’ subconscious minds—in which case the so-called spirit world would be nothing more than an unintended fabrication. But if, on the other hand, they were all different, we would be right to suspect that the origins of these narratives were to be found in the many subjective fancies of their diverging subconscious minds—leading to the same conclusion as above. The fact that in general neither of these cases applies suggests with considerable force that the world they describe is a real locale, the very locale we will encounter after death.
But we must be ever cautious when evaluating literature that comes allegedly from the world of spirit. It’s not uncommon for spirits themselves to complain about the medium’s biases getting in the way of the communication! I find this impressive evidence in support of the reality of spirits, for it would be exceedingly odd if the mind of the medium were objecting to the very claims that it itself was making! Nevertheless, it does detract from our confidence that everything coming through the medium’s pen is in fact the spirit’s intention. Mediumistic contamination is always a possibility, especially if the medium is not careful to void her own thoughts to make space for the spirit’s. This is an intractable problem, one without a clear solution. Inevitably the reader is thrown back on his or her own resources: Only we can decide how much credence we give each claim. As for me, I look for what is known as “evidential”—that is, correct assertions that only the spirit could be expected to know, not the medium. Many accounts have an impressive number of highly specific evidential claims, while others don’t. I also look for a less tangible quality. Great mediums say things that evoke in me a sense of surprise, things that an earthling wouldn’t be likely to imagine. That is, they are fresh, they are as original in their execution as the music of a great composer. And we should expect to be surprised about what awaits us in the world beyond death.
With these caveats always in mind, let’s look at a few of the many hundreds of otherworldly narratives that have accumulated over the last 160 years. They give a rough idea of what lies ahead—one that is far more plausible, and backed by better evidence, than anything provided by the world’s various scriptures and theologies. The following claims by spirits strike me as the most important—and interesting – of the bunch. I’ll artificially restrict them to a neat fifty (my “nifty fifty”). Most of these are covered in the conclusion of my book The Afterlife Unveiled.3
The Nifty Fifty
1. Our present ideas about heaven and hell are illusory. Hell is hellish, yes, but it’s not a place of physical pain, nor is it everlasting, nor is it a place where there is not help. And heaven is not one place but a spectrum of worlds stretching from the lowly joys of souls newly arrived to spheres of unimaginable bliss and perfection for souls far more advanced. The afterworld is not some fantastic vision of infinity where souls are locked in poses of permanent rapture gazing at the face of God. And no one floats on a cloud while playing a harp. Rather it is a place with landscapes and seas and houses and cities reminiscent of our own world. It is an objectively real material world, but made of matter vibrating much more rapidly than our senses can pick up. There are gardens, universities, libraries, and hospices for the newly dead—but no factories, fire stations, sanitary landfills, or smokestacks. There are no dirty jobs to do. “We have no traffic, and our roads are covered with the thickest and greenest grass, as soft to the feet as a bed of fresh moss. It is on these that we walk,”4 says the spirit of Msgr. Hugh Benson. He is describing a relatively low zone of the afterworld sometimes called Paradise or Summerland. It resembles a glorified earth.
2. The afterworld begins at the earth’s surface and extends outward. Earth is the nucleus of the entire world system that the spirits describe. “The spirit world begins very near the earth and extends millions of miles beyond,” writes the spirit of Leslie Stringfellow, a Texan who died at 20. It “surrounds yours on all sides, like the atmosphere does the globe, and every nation has its counterpart in spirit, surrounding it, in connection with that part over or nearest its earthly place of residence.”5 Many spirit communicators tell us that their world “envelopes and interpenetrates the physical world”6
3. Spirit realms vary from culture to culture. Stringfellow described what he called “foreign trips”: “We went yesterday for the first time to a part of the Spirit World occupied by Turks and Hindus.”7 We should not expect the Eskimo’s afterworld to look like the Maori’s. Nor should we expect Sunni and Shia Muslims to be living comfortably side by side in the same sector of the afterworld—or Han Chinese entrepreneurs and Tibetan peasants. Physical violence is not possible in the afterlife, but old habits of mutual suspicion and animosity don’t disappear just because we die. Progress takes time, both here and over there.
4. Earth’s slow vibrations dumb down our ability to sense the presence of spirit, including the Divine. A quickened vibration, such as we find in the afterworld, or what we shall call the astral, greatly increases one’s sensitivity to spirit. The Divine is no closer to the astral world than to our own, but spirits can discern or intuit the Divine more cleanly.
5. The newly “dead” are thoroughly themselves when they pass. Their personalities and habits and character, for better or worse, are completely intact. Nothing miraculous happens to them when they pass. Their astral body is not a “resurrected” body, but was always present as the soul’s “inner envelope” while embodied in earthly flesh. Once the physical body dies, the inner body quite naturally becomes the outer—as a snake’s inner skin becomes the outer skin once it sheds the old. There is nothing miraculous about the process of surviving death.
6. So natural is the process of dying that many souls do not realize at first they have died. One spirit said, “I groped my way, as if through passages, before I knew I was dead. . . . And even when I saw people that I knew were dead, I thought they were only visions.”8 That is because the difference in appearance between the physical and the astral body is relatively slight; so is the difference, as we’ve seen, between the new world they’ve entered and the old one left behind.
7. When spirits first come over, they tend to spend some time in a memory world of their own making. The things they think about seem like vivid realities rather than dreams. They might live with these self-created hallucinations for quite a while before they break free of their trance. The spirit of Frederic Myers, co-founder of the Society for Psychical Research, described a steamy sexual encounter between two spirits who share an earth dream and “yearn for gross sensation. . . . They obtain it in abundance, and there follows a horrible satiety . . . and they find it extraordinarily difficult to escape from those who share these pleasures with them.” 9 More typical are comforting hallucinations arising out of memories of home. Eventually or rapidly most souls, depending on their readiness, leave these hallucinations behind and move into the objectively real world described in No. 1 above. Others—described by one spirit as “infant souls”—linger for a longer time. They can enjoy banquets or even smoke a cigar!10
8. Though they are recognizably themselves, life in the higher astral—where spirits free of comforting hallucinations tend to reside—is more vivid and intense than on earth, not more ghostly. They often describe their world as more real than ours: Ours is the copy of theirs, not the other way round. Astral beings have fewer limitations. They can communicate telepathically and with much greater precision than through the cumbersome medium of speech. They can move from place to place by willing to be at their destination, though they can walk if they want to. Their minds are sharper, their emotions more acutely felt, both positive and negative. They see and hear as before, but in a more intense way. On the other hand, they may be no wiser or morally better than they were before. And they are far from omniscient. They don’t get the answers to all the questions that puzzled them back on earth just because they’ve “died.”
9. Some spirits describe a phenomenon known as the akashic or etheric records. These records contain the history of the places they cling to. The spirit of David Patterson Hatch gives an example: “I have been in Constantinople and have stood [in spirit] in the very room where I once had a remarkable experience, hundreds of years ago. I have seen the walls, I have touched them, I have read the etheric records of their history, and my own history in connection therewith.” These records “lie layer against layer everywhere.”11 The spirit of Professor Ian Currie says that the akashic records reveal in detail the pasts of all souls but are kept in a realm far beyond the humbler realms of souls newly come over. 12
10. Because experience is heightened, pain as well as pleasure is intensified, and sometimes the pain is acute. It comes from an awakened awareness of all the pain inflicted on others by one’s cruel or insensitive actions or words, which are now experienced as one’s own. “If on earth,” Myers says, “some other man or woman was your enemy and you hated one another bitterly, you will encounter this man or woman on this luminiferous plane; the old emotional memory will awaken when you meet.”13 It is not surprising that spirits urge us again and again to seek and offer forgiveness before we die, not wait until after.
11. The afterworld is composed of astral or etheric matter, which is “largely malleable by thought,” as one spirit put it. Another stated that it could be “manipulated with infinite ease.”14 Benson describes the complex but swift erection of a building out of astral matter by “master masons”: “nowhere were there to be seen the usual materials and paraphernalia associated with earthly builders, the scaffolding and bricks and cement, and the various other familiar objects. We were to witness, in fact, an act of creation—of creation by thought—and as such no ‘physical’ equipment is necessary.”15
12. The old or decrepit or injured bodies left behind at passing do not have to follow spirits into the next world. The physical leg that was shortened by polio can be instantly restored to normal size. The damaged brain no longer need cage the spirit. The wrinkled old body can be young again in its astral vigor. “The healers and physicians on the astral plane,” says the spirit of A. D. Mattson, “concentrate their treatment on making persons realize that their illness is only in their minds and that the mind is influencing the astral body, producing the simulated illness.”16 As we saw above, the mind has full control over the body if only the mind realizes it.
13. Spirits greatly respect time spent on earth. One says, “Your world is the hardest school of your round of experiences. Prizes won here are won for eternity. The very density of the material in which you work makes the overcoming of it a finer conquest. . . . Experience on your planet is a unique opportunity and a privilege. . . . Make the best of every opportunity. A strenuous life on earth is of immense value.”17
14. The Creator places souls in the difficult environment of earth because He (She, It) loves them. He wants to see them grow in wisdom, love, and power. He knows that the only way to bring out the best in a soul is to challenge it, in the same way that a good teacher challenges her students. Ultimately the Creator wants us to become as much like Himself/Herself as possible, to grow into near divine-like stature. Soul-building, or character development, is the whole point of our sojourn, both on earth and beyond, say the spirits. The use we make of our free will is absolutely crucial to our progress at all levels.
15. No one is “saved” by faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, as Protestant Christianity teaches, and deathbed conversions have no impact on the quality of life in the world to come. And no one is damned because he believes in the Trinity, in spite of Islam’s warning. Character alone counts, not beliefs. Good atheists are not disadvantaged, though they are not likely to remain atheists once they come over! Correct beliefs are helpful insofar as they encourage good lives. And they often do. But they are not what determines one’s place in the afterlife. As far as I’ve been able to tell, spirits are unanimous on this point.
16. Mattson’s trip to other inhabited planets revealed a divine plan very much like the one just sketched. He said, “There are social bonds among the peoples we contacted, just as there are on Earth. There is also evidence of some moral struggle and evolvement among these inhabitants.”18 I am not entirely confident that Mattson in reality took such a trip, but if he did – if the “trip” wasn’t the product of mediumistic contamination, always a possibility– then what he found is what I would expect. The divine plan, I should think, would be consistent throughout the universe. Mattson is not the only spirit to speak of other civilizations on foreign planets.
17. The Afterworld is a broad-based society of every conceivable kind of person, most of them flawed and incomplete in some way or another. Many are no more motivated to “grow their souls” than they were back on earth. According to Hatch, “Most are content to assimilate the experiences they had on earth . . . most souls do not demand enough here, any more than they did in life.”19 But many are determined to advance and do so.
18. Spirits are not allowed to overreach in the astral. They cannot enter a vibration or cross a boundary they are not ready for. There is justice in where they end up at death. According to their character, they gravitate to their rightful place. They can move ahead only when they are changed enough to do so. Benson tells us, “Each sphere is completely invisible to the inhabitants of the spheres below it, and in this respect, at least, it provides its own boundary.”20
19. Many spirits had ambitious plans for self-improvement before they descended into flesh, but the density of earth’s matter, including their own dense brain, caused them to forget what they came for. Subject to material concepts, they lost their way. They died only to discover to their disappointment that they mostly failed to accomplish the goal they had set for themselves. Nevertheless, as we saw above, spirits greatly value their time on earth, often because of the lessons they learned from their mistakes!
20. Most spirits mention some kind of Judgment. Drayton Thomas’s deceased father told him the Judgment “consists in being able to see ourselves as we are, and by no stretch of imagination being able to avoid seeing it. It is a Judgment of God on us [lesser selves] through our Higher Selves. . . . No other person could be so just a Judge as we ourselves can be when facing the truth. For many it is a terrible hour.”21 The spirit of Frances Banks says,
“During this crisis one seems to be entirely alone. Yours is the judgment. You stand at your own bar of judgment. You make your own decisions. You take your own blame. . . . You are the accused, the judge, and the jury.”22 Another spirit warns, “My past deeds crowded before me. Oh, the anguish as deeds long-forgotten rose up.”23 None of these spirits speaks of an inquisitor deity sitting on a throne.
21. The astral world provides opportunities for every wholesome interest or avocation—from science to music to theology to astral architecture to homebuilding. It is a joyful, endlessly fascinating place, full of challenges, for those mature enough to value it.
22. Physical danger does not exist in the astral. Neither does physical illness. Eating is optional and sleep unnecessary. The calls of nature do not even get a mention. Spirits may retain their outward appearance, but the inner composition of their bodies (their organs) is of no consequence and (from what I can deduce) altered.
23. Many astral inhabitants maintain a lively interest in the events of earth and long to help it progress. They claim that many or even most of earth’s most brilliant achievements were inspired by spirits telepathically projecting their ideas.
24. Spirits do not forget their loved ones back on earth, whom they often seek to help with what we might call prayer in reverse or by personal visits. Some spirits enjoy sitting unseen next to their loved ones back on earth, whom they miss just as we sometimes miss each other. Others try to communicate with loved ones back on earth through mediums. Their motive is often to try and convince the loved ones that they are still alive in spirit. One spirit pleaded with us to resort more often to mediums: “If mortals would only give their [deceased] friends a chance, they [the deceased] would be only too happy to return and make themselves known.”24
25. On the other hand, spirits tell us our prayers for them are efficacious and deeply appreciated. If forgotten by their earth friends and family, spirits can experience loneliness. Stringfellow tells his parents how much he appreciates their decorating his grave with flowers, then adds, “These little attentions delight your spirit friends, but alas, how many thousands of the loved but absent ones never receive the gift of a single flower.”25 Spirits in the Shadowlands sometimes cry out pathetically, like Dives calling to Lazarus, for prayer to ease their torments. One of the spirits that Allan Kardec, the founder of Spiritism, worked with explains: “Prayer . . . is a great source of comfort for the spirit you are praying for. To this spirit, your prayers show that you care, that it is not suffering [remorse] alone. Moreover, your interest could also encourage the afflicted spirit to seriously reconsider its attitude; such introspection might, by itself, shorten its sorrows.”26
26. Some spirits describe themselves as surrounded by an all-pervasive, penetrating Divine Light, full of understanding and love. So pervasive is this Light in the experience of Frances Banks that her medium, Helen Greaves, titled their book Testimony of Light. Another spirit, calling himself William James, the famous American psychologist and philosopher, says this Light feels like an “atmospheric presence . . . alive with a loving intent that is instantly felt and experienced in a direct manner. . . . There is no mistaking its intent, and again I am struck by the ambiguity of its vastly personal and impersonal aspects.”27 This Light does not judge spirits, at least from the outside. They seem to judge themselves, as we saw above. As they advance, they move ever closer to the heart of the Light. Spirits do not meet an embodied personal God in the astral world.
27. They celebrate the presence of that Light in powerful rituals involving supremely grand music and displays of light, described in astonishing language. Music seems to be the supreme art of the astral, with most communicators noting its inspirational quality. According to Benson sound and light are coextensive: the astral is synesthetic. Painting, dance, theater, and architecture are also prominently mentioned. Benson speaks at length about theater in the astral, especially historical productions. Special delight is afforded by theater that places history as earth understands it next to history as it really happened. Sometimes the actual characters, if they are available, act their parts as they really occurred on earth.28 It is safe to say that the more refined a person’s aesthetic taste is on earth, the more at home he or she will feel in the higher realms of the astral.
28. There are hellish regions in the astral, and large populations that make their home there. What is sometimes referred to as the Shadow Lands is a vast world of many conditions. The landscapes vary from sordid city neighborhoods to parched, gray scrubland to dark, lifeless deserts. The vivid clarity of higher realms is missing. Instead there is a dull overcast. Temporarily lost or confused or stubbornly unrepentant souls populate these regions. Disturbing noises and howls are sometimes mentioned. Frances Banks, communicating in 1965, gives us a horrifying picture of a Nazi leader (not Hitler) who committed suicide when Germany fell. The man, now remorseful and eager to pull himself out of his personal hell, “was a terrible and pathetic sight” with soars and scars and sightless eyes—all of which he imposed on his astral body by the power of his subconscious mind.29 Prayed for and nursed by compassionate spirit nuns, he finally found the strength to begin the very slow process of recovery.
29. The worst of these souls aggressively seek to harm vulnerable humans on earth. An advanced spirit calling himself Imperator, writing through the famous British medium Stainton Moses, tells us that these aggressors band together to “resist progress and truth, and fight against the dissemination of what advantages humanity.”30 Other souls are enslaved to their addictions and become earthbound. For example, an earthbound spirit who was an alcoholic is still pestered by the craving for alcohol. So he hangs around bars on earth and “drinks through” other alcoholics he temporarily possesses, making it all the more difficult for his victim to conquer the habit. Other earthbound spirits, Hatch tells us, are “thrilled by the poison of hatred. . . . for the purpose of gratifying their hostile passion they will attach themselves to you temporarily [if you lose your temper],”31 thus making it all the more likely you will storm and rage the next time you are provoked. Spirits surround us, and they are not all our friends.
30. “Missionary spirits” minister to souls in the Shadow Lands. Residents can free themselves if they are willing to face up humbly to their errors and crimes and repent them. Some do; and most, perhaps all, will eventually. But many jeer at their would-be helpers and seem to prefer their dull or chaotic lives over the challenges of higher worlds they are frightened of.
31. No spirit is condemned forever to the dark regions. But God will never interfere with our free will. Acting through higher spirits seeking to lead the “stumblers” out of their self-imposed exile, God will invite tirelessly, but will never force. One gets the impression that, at least for the moment, many spirits actually prefer their dimmed-down world to the higher Light-filled worlds they were created for, and that someday they will choose to enter.
32. There are three basic ways to progress in the afterworld: admitting defects in one’s character, service to others, and yearning for higher states.32 Service to others demands effort, work, sacrifice. Nowhere do the spirits describe a deity who requires us to flatter or glorify him with our prayers. That is not the way to progress.
33. There are no rigid creeds or magical beliefs that souls have to accept. Whether you are a Baptist or a Catholic or a Mormon or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim or an Anglican is of no importance. Many of earth’s favorite religious dogmas are off the mark anyway, and the sooner they are forgotten, the better. Experience in the afterworld will generate, as a matter of course, a more enlightened set of beliefs that will better reflect the way things really are than any of earth’s theologies.
34. There are no masks in the astral. You cannot hide from others what you are: the quality of light shining forth from your body tells all. Mattson tell us that our negative thoughts “go around like big, heavy, sluggish pieces of material – like mud or oil slicks.”33 Even the house a spirit lives in reflects his spiritual stature. These facts can be humiliating at first, but it spurs many spirits on to a greater effort to improve themselves.
35. There is duration, but nothing like clock-time with its schedules and deadlines. Three months after her death, Banks wrote, “. . . already my experience of earth and time is fading. I seem to have been here for aeons.”34 Seeking to demystify those of us tempted to think of the afterworld as timeless (as many of us have been taught), Hatch reminds us that time is nothing but sequence, and that as long as past and future exist, there is time. He explains that in the afterworld “one may find a silent place [during meditation] where all things seem to exist in unison; but as soon as the soul . . . attempts to examine things separately, then sequence begins.” Events in the afterworld, other than those enjoyed during meditative states when one experiences “union with the All,” are sequential.35 Thus there is time.
36. Spouses, relatives, friends, and former teachers, some from earlier lives, some long forgotten, turn up and may renew old friendships. If two persons linked by love to each other on earth want to continue the relationship after death and are, roughly speaking, spiritual equals, there is nothing stopping them. Ties that were deep don’t disappear with death. In one of the most respected and studied cases of mediumship, the spirit communicator Winifred (pseudonym for Mrs. Charles Combe Tennant) returns again and again to the theme of her failure as a mother of her three sons, whom she obviously loves deeply.
Addressing one of them from the world of spirit, she writes through the hand of the famous Irish medium Geraldine Cummins, “I feel that during the times you three were growing up in those important early years of your early life I was not enough with you, and when I was with my children I expressed too little of that deep love I felt for them.”36
37. Many spirits are members of large spirit families, or “Group Souls,” that await them when they pass. They feel as if they have come home when they are received by the familiar group. Banks tells us that souls in a Group are “part of ourselves. Their connection with us is deeper and far more permanent than mere earth contacts could make it.”37
38. This theme of unity is stressed in many accounts. The eminent student of psychical research Robert Crookall wrote after analyzing hundreds of spirit communications:
. . . each has grave responsibilities as his “brother’s keeper.” The physical body, while permitting the development of individuality, facilitating the formation of mental habits and encouraging the development of initiative, tends to hide the fact that we are essentially “members one of another.” When earth-life terminates and the body is shed, this fact becomes abundantly clear in the course of the “Judgment”-experience.38
39. Spirits say that all of us have a spirit guardian and guide and that we are wise to seek help. Helping a particular earth inhabitant is a common assignment—a way of serving selflessly—for spirits. We are free to ask their help, though their powers are strictly limited. “We have no power,” writes Imperator, “to work out for man the salvation which he must work out for himself; but we are able to aid, to comfort, and to support.” Imperator goes on to lament that “we find our power curtailed, and our efforts mocked at by those who have become too gross to recognize spirit-power, and too earthy to aspire to spiritual things.”39
40. Spirits in the astral meet Christ-like beings, Beings of Light far advanced, teachers who come down from higher worlds to inspire progress toward realms of incomparably greater joy and awareness. These beings are too advanced to communicate to us through a medium. Occasionally they use “relays”—spirits less evolved—to get their message across to us.
41. As spirits progress in the next world, they eventually slough off their astral body, just as they sloughed off their gross body at physical death. Then they operate out of a spiritual body of lesser density with a greater capacity for joy and awareness. One spirit described this as a “thinning out” process: “Beyond here, matter becomes more ethereal and bodies thin out into a visible presence of light and flame.” Yet matter is never transcended completely, though it may go through “an infinity of refinement.”40
42. Spirits are not naked, but clothed. Astral clothing is fashioned by the mind, usually without any conscious effort. Clothes are actually part of the astral body. Crookall tells us that a spirit’s clothes “automatically reflect his character because they are part of the total self—part, in fact, of the subtle body that automatically responds to his habitual thoughts and feelings.”41 There are no clothes closets in the astral.
43. Children of all ages are raised in the afterworld. They are not magically transformed into adults just because they died prematurely. One of the noblest professions in the astral is nurturing and educating spirit orphans. Great numbers of spirits are engaged in this satisfying form of work.
44. Many spirits continue to observe the man-made forms of religion they practiced on earth until they discover a deeper, fuller spirituality “purged of every trace of meaningless creed, of doctrines and dogmas,” says Benson.42 For example, Christians in the afterworld continue to celebrate Christmas and Easter, though many reinterpret their meaning in a way that corresponds with their new understanding of Christ—not as God, but, according to Hatch, as “a type of the greatest Master . . . revered in all the heavens.”43 Some say they have seen Jesus. Mattson saw him “walking across the air.”44 Mattson tells us that each of us will see Jesus, if we want to, as we think of him. Presumably that would hold true of other religious savior figures.
45. When a person commits suicide, he sends forth “his spirit alone and friendless into a strange world where no place was yet prepared for it . . . in the end he fell prey to tempters in the spirit, who fastened on him and drove him to his ruin,”45 according to Imperator. There are warnings against suicide in most channeled literature. Yet there is hope for such a person, especially from missionary spirits. The spirit calling herself Winifred tells of her nephew’s suicide. The young man’s mother, upon dying herself, was determined to help her son out of his state, which she helped to create by her possessive love: “. . . though her reception by L. [the son] was grim, she sought him out and tried to help him out of his hell of her and his creation. She has done much to improve things for him.”46 Suicides do not end up in an eternal hell. Some suffer relatively little. There isn’t a single rule that covers all cases.
46. Human dilemmas turn up in the astral just as they do on earth. Hatch, a judge on earth, described a man whose company was desired by both his former wives. Hatch was constantly being called on to help fellow spirits out of their emotional predicaments. His skills as an arbiter, learned on earth, served him well on the Other Side. And Frances Banks, an Anglican nun for 25 of her earth years, tells of a Jewish mother riveted by hatred to her Nazi persecutor.47 It was Banks’s task to pry her loose and teach her to forgive the man. Problem-solving is as necessary in the astral as on earth.
47. Spirits enjoy hobbies, knitting being one of them. “Do not be shocked. Did you fancy that a lifelong habit could be laid aside in a moment?”48 said Hatch. There is plenty of time in the astral. Boredom and even homesickness for earth are mentioned in these accounts. I have never read accounts of spirits enjoying ball sports—probably because it would be too easy to control the flight of the ball with one’s mind, and there would be no challenge.
48. Animals are often mentioned by spirits. “It is perfectly true that all the dogs that we’ve had in our family I can find here,” says Mattson. “They are still individualized.” But dogs no longer loved “have gone back to the group soul and have added their quota of affection, love, and devotion, to be used again when other dogs come to earth.” 49 A few spirits mention wild animals. The adventurous young Texan, Leslie Stringfellow, discovered in his astral travels “another part of the Spirit World set apart for the use of wild animals that were wild on earth. They still seem afraid of men. Their forest is vast and dense and there are thousands of all kinds of animals that existed on earth .”50
49. The ultimate future of some spirits is stupendous beyond imagination. Benson was allowed to visit by “special invitation”51 one of the realms far higher than his own, and words could not begin to do justice to “such inexpressible beauty.”52 Benson described his host in the following way: “He looked to be young, to be of eternal youthfulness, but we could feel the countless aeons of time, as it is known on earth, that lay behind him.”53 About the very highest realm, all Myers could say was that “you still exist as an individual [and] are wholly aware of the imagination of God. So you are aware of the whole history of the earth from Alpha to Omega.
Equally all planetary existence is yours. Everything created is contained within that imagination, and you . . . know it and hold it.”54 When spirits try to describe realms they’ve only heard of but never seen, their language becomes vague and not up to the job—as you would expect.
50. What about reincarnation? It has been a bone of contention in Spiritualism from the beginning. In France Alan Kardec made it a cardinal doctrine of his brand of Spiritualism, which he called Spiritism. But in England most early Spiritualists shunned it, even abhored it. Doyle was a moderating voice. “Some believe in it,” he said, “many do not, and the general attitude may be taken to be that, as the doctrine cannot be proved, it had better to be omitted from the active politics of Spiritualism.”55 He then goes on to say, “On the whole, it seems to the author that the balance of evidence shows that reincarnation is a fact, but not necessarily a universal one.”56 What seemed true to Doyle in 1924 seems even more true today. Most modern accounts reaching us from the Other World mention it. Many view it as essential. Mattson says,
It’s an interesting fact that most persons grow faster spiritually while incarnate. The incarnate energy is denser. That makes it more possible for you, while embodied in flesh on earth, to take hold of a particular problem area and shape it into a more constructive pattern. Your period of incarnation on the physical plane is thus a very important period of education. It contributes to your own spiritual evolution and that of all humanity. You can elect not to return, and many do, after they have achieved a certain spiritual development. But the physical plane is a “school” for learning and development, and so most souls do desire to return for a series of incarnations.57
A return to earth might resemble the experience of a teacher starting a new term after summer vacation—not always a prospect to be relished! In one of his more memorable passages, Hatch tells us,
What strange experiences one has out here [in the astral]. I rather dread to go back into the world [earth], where it will be so dull for me for a long time. Can I exchange this freedom and vivid life for a long period of somnolence [in the womb], afterwards to suck a bottle and learn the multiplication tables and Greek and Latin verbs? I suppose I must – but not yet.58
Sometimes I wonder if we are supposed to know what to expect after we die. Maybe it’s part of the divine plan that we do not. Are the spirits who tell us about their world through mediums flouting the plan? Are they making it too easy on us? And isn’t earth supposed to be that place where nothing comes easy? Not even the truth about ourselves? About our destiny?
Spirits do not agree with this assessment. On the contrary, they feel that life on earth in the best of circumstances is difficult enough. Adding more to the ordeal than is necessary is more likely to retard our progress than advance it. Remaining ignorant of the divine plan is just such an unwelcome addition. Ignorance of the plan leaves us in the dark about why we struggle, why we suffer, why we fail, and why we die. Without insight into these mysteries, we are setting ourselves up for despair and character disintegration. The spirits know this, and that is why they try so hard to come through. For them it is natural that we should know in a general way what lies beyond death; it is in the Creator’s plan that we should. The fact that so few of us do is a breach of the divine will, not its fulfillment.
I obviously agree with this assessment. But in closing allow me to stress what may have been lost in the above summary. The “nifty fifty” could easily have been expanded to a hundred or contracted to a dozen. And the words chosen strike me as too clumsy and imprecise to convey with accuracy what the next world is really like. And there is the additional problem of the medium’s biases sometimes getting in the way of the spirit’s intended message. Nevertheless, spirit communications are of great value. I compare them to maps, and maps are essential for getting to places we’ve never seen. When Lewis and Clark began their famous expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean in 1804, they depended on a few extremely rough maps. As they proceeded westward, helped along by their Shoshone Indian guide Sacagawea, and later by other native Americans, their maps got better and better. But it wasn’t until they reached the Pacific that they really knew what they had been seeking. At that point they didn’t need maps.
Now our earth-formed theologies are like those rough maps Lewis and Clark started out with in St. Louis. The much better maps drawn up with the help of natives who knew first-hand the country ahead are like the spirit accounts we’ve looked at here. And the Pacific Ocean itself is like the world we will all enter in a few short years—when at last all will become clear, and maps will become obsolete and be discarded.
1. Arthur Conan Doyle, The History of Spiritualism, Volumes I and II (New York: Arno, 1975), II, 279.
2. Doyle, The History of Spiritualism, II, 288.
3. Stafford Betty, The Afterlife Unveiled (Winchester, UK: O-Books, 2011), 102-15. Many of these same features come alive in my novel The Imprisoned Splendor (Guildford, UK: White Crow Books, 2011), whose setting is the afterlife.
4. Anthony Borgia, Life in the World Unseen (San Francisco, H. G. White, 1954), 103.
5. Stephen Chism, The Afterlife of Leslie Stringfellow (Fayetteville, AR: Fullcourte, 2005), 120.
6. Robert Crookall, The Next World—and the Next (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1966), 105.
7. Chism, Afterlife, 119.
8. Robert Crookall, The Supreme Adventure (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke, 1961), 115.
9. Geraldine Cummins, The Road to Immortality (Guildford: White Crow, 2012), 48.
10. Crookall, Supreme, 213.
11. Elsa Barker, Letters from the Afterlife (Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words, 2004), 135, 136.
12. Bill Williams, Life in the Spirit World (Victoria, BC: Trafford, 2006), 139.
13. Cummins, Road, 57-58.
14. Crookall, Supreme, 147.
15. Borgia, Life, 114.
16. Ruth Mattson Taylor, Witness from Beyond (South Portland, ME: Foreword, 1980), 47.
17. Crookall, Supreme, 236.
18. Taylor, Witness, 150.
19. Barker, Letters, 58.
20. Borgia, Life, 125.
21. Crookall, Supreme, 42-43.
22. Helen Greaves, Testimony of Light (Essex, England: C. W. Daniel, 1969), 34.
23. Crookall, Supreme, 43
24. Chism, Afterlife, 79
25. Chism, Afterlife, 90.
26. Allan Kardec, The Spirits’ Book (Philadelphia: Allan Kardec Educational Society, 2003), 254-55.
27. Jane Roberts, The Afterdeath Journal of an American Philosopher (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978), 175, 176.
28. Borgia, Life, 140-41.
29. Greaves, Testimony, 50.
30. W. Stainton Moses, Spirit Teachings (New York: Arno, 1976), 14.
31. Barker, Letters, 210.
32. Greaves, Testimony, 75.
33. Taylor, Witness, 77-78.
34. Greaves, Testimony, 109.
35. Barker, Letters, 90.
36. Geraldine Cummins and Signe Toksvig, Swan on a Black Sea (Guildford: White Crow, 2012), 30.
37. Greaves, Testimony, 119.
38. Crookall, Supreme, 170
39. Moses, Spirit, 159.
40. Crookall, Supreme, 146
41. Crookall, Next, 65
42. Borgia, Life, 34.
43. Barker, Letters, 234.
44. Taylor, Witness, 37.
45. Moses, Spirit, 271.
46. Cummins and Toksvig, Swan, 31.
47. Greaves, Testimony, 56.
48. Barker, Letters, 165.
49. Taylor, Witness, 84.
50. Chism, Afterlife, 75.
51. Borgia, Life, 179.
52. Borgia, Life, 185.
53. Borgia, Life, 189.
54. Cummins, Road, 73.
55. Doyle, History, 176.
56. Doyle, History, 179-80.
57. Ruth Mattson Taylor, Evidence from Beyond (Brooklyn, NY: Brett, 1999), 98.
58. Barker, Letters, 124.
Stafford Betty’s latest novel The Imprisoned Splendor
is published by White Crow books and available from Amazon and other book stores.
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