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Famed British Physicist Communicated After Death

Posted on 16 March 2020, 9:24

During his 50 years of studying psychic phenomena, Sir William Barrett observed nearly every type of mediumship.  In his reminiscences, read at a private meeting of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) on June 17, 1924, less than a year before his death, Barrett said:  “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… It is however hardly possible to convey to others who have not had a similar experience an adequate idea of the strength and cumulative force of the evidence that has compelled [my] belief.”

A physics professor at the Royal College of Science as well as a renowned inventor, Barrett (below) was one of the pioneers of psychical research.  It was his idea to form the SPR in London in 1882.  However, since he was living and teaching in Dublin, Ireland at the time, he was not able to take an active part in managing the Society.  He left that up to three Cambridge scholars, Henry Sedgwick, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Edmund Gurney. Barrett also encouraged Professor William James of Harvard to organize the American branch of the SPR in 1884.  He edited the SPR Journal from 1884 until 1899 and served as president of the SPR in 1904.


Barrett began to take an interest in psychic phenomena in 1874 after hearing of the research of chemist William Crookes (later Sir William) with mediums.  “In fact I began the whole investigation of these phenomena convinced that [mal-observation or hallucination] was their true explanation, and it was not until after stretching this hypothesis to illegitimate lengths that I found the actual facts completely shattered my theory,” Barrett explained his early views.

Then 29, Barrett began experimenting with hypnosis, more popularly known as “mesmerism” in those days.  He observed a young girl under hypnosis correctly identify a playing card randomly taken from a pack and placed in a book that was put next to her head.  He also observed another hypnotized person correctly identify fourteen cards taken at random from a pack.  As a scientist, he found such results very disturbing.  However, while many of his scientific colleagues simply scoffed at anything paranormal, Barrett was open-minded and determined to find some rational and scientific explanation. As he explained his 1917 book On the Threshold of the Unseen, his prior theories really began to fall apart sometime in 1876 when a prominent English solicitor (lawyer) named Clark spent the summer at a residence near his in Dublin.  Clark’s 10-year-old daughter, Florrie, produced various paranormal phenomena, including levitations and spirit “raps” that spelled out messages from an “intelligence” calling himself “Walter.”

As a result of his experiments in hypnosis and his investigation of Florrie Clark, Barrett prepared a paper to deliver to the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  The Association rejected the paper as well as Barrett’s request to present it orally to the group, such was the materialistic mindset of the organization. After Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, William Crookes and Lord Rayleigh protested the Association’s action, Barrett was allowed to deliver the paper but not publish it.
Barrett continued his investigation with other mediums, including Hester Travers Smith, Gladys Osborne Leonard, Etta Wriedt, Kathleen Goligher, and Geraldine Cummins.  In his 1917 book, he recalled the sitting with Goligher, who was being studied then by Dr. William Crawford of Queen’s University.  He observed a table rise from the floor some 18 inches and remain suspended in the air.  “I was allowed to go up to the table and saw clearly no one was touching it, a clear space separating the sitters from the table,” Barrett explained.  “I tried to press the table down, and though I exerted all my strength could not do so; then I climbed up on the table and sat on it, my feet off the floor, when I was swayed to and fro and finally tipped off. The table of its own accord now turned upside down, no one touching it, and I tried to lift it off the ground, but it could not be stirred, it appeared screwed down to the floor.  At my request all the sitters’ clasped hands had been kept raised above their heads, and I could see that no one was touching the table.  When I desisted from trying to lift the inverted table from the floor, it righted itself again on its own accord, no one helping it.  Numerous sounds displaying an amused intelligence then came, and after each individual present had been greeted with some farewell raps the sitting ended.”
Barrett said that he could not imagine how the cleverest conjurer could have performed what he experienced, especially since it was clear to him that there was no elaborate apparatus in the room.  Moreover, Dr. Crawford had been observing the Goligher circle for six months or more before his observations and had detected no trickery. “That there is an unseen intelligence behind these manifestations is all we can say, but that is a tremendous assertion, and if admitted destroys the whole basis of materialism,” Barrett added.

Barrett is also remembered for his study of dowsing and deathbed visions. His book, Death-Bed Visions, first published in 1926, the year after his death, is still popular today. It offers a number of intriguing reports in which a dying person appears to see and recognize some deceased relative or friend, some of them involving instances where the dying person was unaware of the previous death of the spirit form he sees.  “These cases form, perhaps, one of the most cogent arguments for survival after death, as the evidential value and veridical (truth telling) character of these visions of the dying is greatly enhanced when the fact is undeniably established that the dying person was wholly ignorant of the decease of the person he or she so vividly sees,” Barrett stated in the Introduction.

Several weeks after his death, Barrett’s wife,  Dr. Florence Barrett, (below) an obstetric surgeon and dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, began receiving very evidential messages from Sir William through the mediumship of Mrs. Leonard.  Over the next eleven years, she sat with Leonard every few months, taking verbatim notes as Sir William communicated and explained how things work on his side of the veil.  Lady Barrett also received evidential messages from several other mediums. This book, Personality Survives Death, published in 1937 by Longmans, Green and Co. of London, and recently republished by White Crow Books, resulted from these sittings. 


Lady Barrett asked Sir William how she might satisfy people that she was really talking to him.  He replied that it depends on the type of mind, commenting that reference to a tear in the wallpaper in his old room might satisfy some people and not others.  Lady Barrett noted that a month before his death he had pointed out a tear in the wallpaper in one corner of his room.  Sir William then said that some higher minds have gone well beyond the need for such trivial verification, mentioning another distinguished British physicist, still in the flesh, Sir Oliver Lodge.  “Lodge is nearer the bigger, greater aspect of things than most,” he stated.

Sir William reported difficulties in communicating with his widow, explaining that in the earth body we have the separation of subconscious and conscious and that when we pass over they join and make a complete mind that knows and remembers everything.  However, when he brings himself back into the physical sphere, the conscious and the subconscious again separate and he forgets much. “I cannot come with my whole self, I cannot.” He went on to describe other obstacles to communication between the material and spirit worlds. 

Sir William further explained that his objective in communicating with his wife was not simply to add to the mass of evidence already given concerning the survival of consciousness at death but to help find a working philosophy to guide those on earth who are struggling with finding a purpose in life.  “It seems to me from where I am most people are not even struggling but meandering on purposelessly, blindly, because they have no definite philosophy as a starting point,” he communicated.  He went on to say that knowledge of the afterlife opens the gates of inspiration and makes the intuition keener.  With that comes greater enthusiasm, greater understanding of the beauties of life, even the perceiving of beauty where ugliness had appeared to exist.

“Life on my side seems so extraordinarily easy compared to earth,” Sir William offered in a 1929 sitting, “because we simply live according to the rules of love.” 

Next blog post:  March 30

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.





Sounds very biblical. Seven (at least) fat years and now seven (at least) lean years. When a leap year (such as 2020) combines with a lean year, look out!


Agreed. Anything that forces people to confront death generates anxiety. COVID-19 is the poster child for this phenomenon currently. It’s especially acute because no one knows how to deal with it—fear is laced with a dreaded mystery.

Fortunately not all men who get prostate cancer die from it but some do. Yet no one wears blue shirts on Fridays for men during a ‘prostate awareness week’ as men are encouraged to wear a pink shirt during breast cancer awareness week.

I didn’t know I was supposed to. No wonder the feminists at my office scowled at me twice as much on Fridays. But I made up for it during World Arthritis Awareness Month by wearing a skeleton-patterned shirt.

Now that every hour, day, week, month, and year is dedicated to Coronavirus awareness, I needed to take last Saturday off. All news about the Wu Flu, relevant websites, and discussion was quarantined. By Sunday morning I was feeling much better. For the sake of public mental health, I may start an organization for periodic Coronavirus Unawareness Day.

Rick Darby, Thu 26 Mar, 00:32

I think that it is death that people are panicking about not getting sick for a week or so with a virus that causes an influenza-like illness.  I know that seems obvious but people don’t like to think about death and COVID-10 forces people to think about it.  If the virus caused eczema, no one would panic even though everybody might get it and suffer from it for a while.

Many deaths occur every day from many causes, far more than have occurred from COVID-19 so far.  But people generally don’t panic about those deaths because they perhaps mistakenly believe that they are remote from them, that it is a problem for other people and not for them.  Death seems distant so they don’t worry.  But with something like a communicable disease that might affect many people and that hastens death from common debilitating conditions in older people and sometimes in young folks with serious illnesses, people feel threatened by it because they too could be infected with it and even though unlikely, they might die from it.

People are diagnosed with cancer every day but even though one in five men get prostate cancer, most men don’t live in panic about it neither do we shut-down the country because of it. That’s 20% of men get cancer.  Fortunately not all men who get prostate cancer die from it but some do. Yet no one wears blue shirts on Fridays for men during a ‘prostate awareness week’ as men are encouraged to wear a pink shirt during breast cancer awareness week.

A communicable disease like COVID-10 brings death into consciousness; it becomes something immanent and not something in the distant future.  Most people try to avoid the thought of death but an epidemic or so-called pandemic forces people to entertain the thought that they could die and that’s scary for them.  - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 25 Mar, 01:12


My theory is that when we reach a certain threshold of excessive hedonism, checks and balances click in with adversity of some kind to bring us back below the boiling point.  smile

Michael Tymn, Tue 24 Mar, 22:00


Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

The COVID-19 virus is deeply troubling in our earthly lives. But it is not different in kind, only in concentration, from “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Great misfortune—and, yes, death—comes to thousands of people every day. We are upset if we are too close to such experience, but somehow we must reconcile ourselves to it. And, if we can, accept it.

That may be the “message” in the virus; but the meaning is the same for many events in this short passage from eternity to eternity.

Rick Darby, Tue 24 Mar, 18:56

It is nice to have a writing exercise today being cooped up in the house and all.  My opinion for what it is worth is that there is no special spiritual meaning to the COVID-19 “epidemic”
This microorganism is one of many to which humans are vulnerable; at least until herd immunity develops.  As harsh as it may seem, there are natural ways to cull the herd so to speak and over generations one or another disease is conquered only to be replaced by another necessary disease to assist in transitions to the ‘beyond’.

I think that on a spiritual level there has to be a way to transition humans and other animals to other levels of reality.  Death in the physical is necessary and as Patience Worth wrote in her poem about death, death is a “key to there”, meaning a key to open a door to another life, another reality; one in which she existed.  Patience Worth saw death as a friend of humans not an enemy.  The last stanza of her poem about death is as follows:

Ah, thou art the gift of Him,
The key to there!
The love o’earth!
Aye, and hate hath made o’ man
To know thee not—-
Thou, Thou O death!
                    -  AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 23 Mar, 17:04

I have nothing useful to add to Mike’s fine summary of Sir William Barrett’s life, so with his indulgence here is an off-topic question. I hope that readers knowledgeable in this realm will offer their views.

What is the inner or spiritual meaning, if any, of the COVID-19 pandemic that holds such threats not only to individuals’ health but the world’s economy, social norms and, perhaps, civil liberties?

Rick Darby, Sat 21 Mar, 22:15

These great scientists of the past ran into the same block as we have today. However, in 2020 all scientific people now recognise that 95% of the universe is missing. This is where we all come from and return to after our short stay on Earth. We now have a rational scientific explanation to account for all so-called psychic phenomena. Materialisim is dead, but it won’t lie down because it still controls most media and educational outlets. Then there is the question who is going to pump money at the priests when millions eventually find out that every person automatically survives the death of their physical body?

Michael Roll, Tue 17 Mar, 11:31

An excellent piece again, Michael, thanks. I hope the coronavirus doesn’t get you - I want more pieces like this !
You summarise things so well.

Keith P in England, Mon 16 Mar, 23:06

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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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