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St Stephen dialogues with New Zealand group

Posted on 24 August 2010, 14:33

Early in 1974, a small group of religious friends began gathering periodically at the modest home of Thomas and Olive Ashman in Christchurch, New Zealand. “We would reverently pray for protection, and be silent,” says the Rev. Michael Cocks, an Anglican priest from Christchurch. (Rev. Cocks, below) “Tom would sit upright in a chair, relaxed. After two or three minutes he would begin to pale and to breathe deeply. Then his body would give a slight jerk as Stephen seemed to take over.”


In effect, Tom Ashman is, or was, a trance medium and was entering an altered state of consciousness as his body was being “taken over” by the entity called Stephen, who would then speak to the group using Ashman’s vocal cords. Stephen would dialogue with the group, which, in addition to Cocks and Ashman’s wife, Olive, also included a liberal Catholic priest, a Buddhist, and other curious observers. But this was not just any Stephen; it was Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr.

Cocks states that normally Stephen spoke through Ashman in a “rather curious English,” but that he twice spoke in an ancient Greek dialect, which apparently was for the purposes of confirming his identity.

“For myself, I do not speak [English] and I never have,” Stephen related in one of the sittings. “I activate these words that are in Thomas’s memory and are known to him. Occasionally there is a little ‘magic,’ when I join together sounds and symbols that are in Thomas’s mind so that words may be spoken that are not known to Thomas.”

Cocks realizes that the story is difficult for most people to accept. At first, he had a hard time accepting it himself. Even after he came to believe that St Stephen was actually communicating with the small group, he was reluctant to discuss it with many people outside of the group. “Part of it was fear of social ostracism for claiming to receive teaching from a saint,” he explains. “Part of it was my not having quite absorbed what Stephen was trying to communicate; part of it was that the meaningful coincidences came thick and fast, and I wrote a book about them called Into the Wider Dream. I thought at the time that such a book would be more acceptable to the public than a seemingly improbable story about communications from a Christian saint.”

After one of the early sittings in which Stephen spoke in Greek, Cocks consulted a lecturer in Greek at the University about Stephen’s Greek words. “She reported my request to the then bishop, who called me for a chat,” Cocks recalls. “To him, I denied being interested in spiritualism, as was definitely the case in those days.”

It was not until 2000, with the publication of a book titled The Stephen Experience or Teachings of Stephen the Martyr, that Cocks decided to tell the whole story. It seems to have begun in 1973 when Tom and Olive Ashman were living in Sevenoaks, Kent, England. One night, Olive heard Tom speaking in what sounded like Latin while he was sleeping. When this continued on subsequent nights, Olive began recording the words, which turned out to be profound spiritual teachings. About the same time, Cocks began receiving prophecies from a woman in the North Island of New Zealand. These prophecies covered many of the themes that would eventually come up in the Stephen dialogues.

The Ashmans moved to Christchurch in early 1974 (Tom Ashman, below) and Cocks met Olive at the Bycroft Psychic Library there. “I was brought up in a liberal but believing clergyman’s family, and was always religious,” Cocks explains his interest in psychic matters. “My father was interested in mystics and in direct communication from spirit. I was interested early in telepathy as a way of demonstrating the spirit realm. A loved great aunt spoke much about the revelations of Swedenborg, so I never had prejudices against mediumship.”

tom Ashman

After meeting Olive, Cocks paid a visit to the Ashman’s home to learn more of their experiences. A few days later, Stephen spoke through Tom in a room at Cocks’s church. Over the next five to six years, there were, Cocks estimates, around 150 sessions in which Stephen spoke through Ashman.

Cocks, who earned a Master’s Degree in philosophy at the University of New Zealand and a Master’s in theology at Oxford University, is certain that the Ashmans were not attempting to pull off some kind of parlor trick. “Tom was deeply sincere, as was his wife, and he was plainly undergoing personal change as the result of what was being spoken through him,” Cocks states. “There was no desire to impress, no question of financial gain, and the communications were made in the presence of a group of about twelve friends.”

Moreover, Cocks points out, Tom Ashman’s personal views were somewhat at odds with the teachings coming through him. “He gradually became more and more frustrated because most of the time Stephen spoke through him, he was unconscious, and had to wait a week for transcripts of the session to be printed out,” Cocks continues. “He often felt out of it.”

While convinced that Ashman was not a charlatan, Cocks remained skeptical during those early sittings. He wondered if Tom had some kind of secondary or fragmented personality that was taking over his dominant personality, as has been reported in multiple personality cases. No doubt this would be the explanation provided by mainstream psychiatry, which is always looking for a reductionistic answer to such a phenomenon. But multiple personality disorder would not explain how or where that secondary personality obtained the knowledge and wisdom flowing from the entity calling himself Stephen. If the wisdom were flowing from Ashman’s subconscious, how did it get into his subconscious in the first place?

Ashman had a Catholic mother and Jewish father, and had always thought of himself as a Jew, although he had no strong belief system. Nothing in his history had exposed him to such profound teachings. What was most convincing to Cocks was the verification that the Greek spoken by Stephen in those early sittings was a version of Attic Greek of 2,000 years ago as spoken in Thrace where St Stephen’s parents had lived. Stephen himself was born near Ancyra, in Galatia. While familiar with Greek from his university days, Cocks did not know enough to rely on that alone. He consulted experts in the field and did extensive research into Stephen’s Koiné Greek, all of which he discusses in the appendix of his book.

St Stephen

But Stephen was not the only communicator. On October 23, 1973, these words, apparently coming from Christ, flowed from Ashman’s vocal cords: “The task of your servant Stephen is that of messenger and he speaks with great authority. The task of yourselves is the decision as to which way you choose use those messages…”

Christ spoke through Ashman on several other occasions. “We believed it to be the voice of Christ, partly because Stephen agreed that it was, and partly from an awe-inspiring presence that had a very strong emotional and spiritual impact,” Cocks says. “The messages were of course very appropriate if they were from Christ.”

In one of the early messages recorded by Olive Ashman, Christ said: “The way to your God is through two things alone, and these things are your witnesses. Love and sacrifice. For these are the lances of the Lord. For love to pierce your heart, and the sacrifice to come into your heart are what is needed; for you must sacrifice the lesser for the greater. At all times your ears, your mind and your eyes are assaulted with half-truths and blasphemies.”

Still, Stephen was by far the most frequent communicator. He told of his early life in Ancyra, now modern Turkey, mentioning that his actual name was “Stenen” and that he was 14 years old when Jesus was crucified. He further stated that his death by stoning is reported “quite accurately” in the Bible, but stressed that he was not communicating to tell about his life but rather to help them understand their own lives. He explained that he was no longer the Stephen of the Bible, that he had given up his separateness “to be one with the Whole,” but that to be of service to the Father and make those with whom he was communicating more comfortable he had to “put on again the clothes of Stephen.” When Cocks asked Stephen if he felt like “Stephen” or “The Whole,” or even a figment of Cocks’s imagination, Stephen replied: “For I speak that I am Stephen, I must first create Stephen, and be he. For I cannot be nothing. For once I decided I was nothingness, then I have learned nothing of nothing.”

Some of Stephen’s teachings were hard to grasp since he was seeing the group together in a whole, rather than as separated personalities. “Sometimes I think he communicated very effectively, but, yes, many of the messages are hard to understand and require thinking about again and again,” Cocks offers. “Often we needed to discover the concrete experience which makes things come clear. Often we had to wait for meaningful coincidences to illuminate his intention.”

In one sitting, Stephen explained that abstractness increases as we go inward. “But there is also the question of the nature of afterlife existence,” Cocks continues, pointing out that Stephen’s stories and illustrations are clearly from the Middle East of two-thousand years ago. “He is aware of the modern world, but the center of gravity, so to speak, of his mind seems to be back at that time and place. That in itself would make this thinking not so accessible.”

In one philosophical discussion during 1973, Stephen offered an analogy in explaining why humans do not fully comprehend the physical life. He likened God to a surgeon. “…think how a surgeon would act if, when he had to operate, he had to keep the patient conscious, adjust mirrors so the patient could see the operation that would be beyond his understanding in any case. Should he perhaps have each patient undertake advanced studies before an operation? Or would it perhaps not be better only to operate on a surgeon?” Stephen went on to say that the complexity is such that the patient must trust his surgeon.

At times Stephen joked with the group. On one occasion he observed that Tom’s feet did not touch the floor. “Verily, I must be spirit!” he quipped. “Stephen was always warm and friendly, yet spoke slowly as if declaiming his words,” Cocks relates. “Sometimes there were pauses while Stephen thought, but he never seemed to lose the thread of what he was saying. When a session was completed, after a while there would be a slight jerk as Tom resumed ownership of his own body, and then Tom would rather dazedly ask whether anything had happened. Sometimes it had not. Like me, I think Tom felt the responsibility of Stephen, and would joke to dispel the too serious atmosphere.”

Realizing that his book is not likely to make any “best seller” list, Cocks has often wondered why St Stephen bothered with the small Christchurch group. “Sometimes I wonder if it was just for the benefit of myself and a few friends,” he muses. “Were we worth all that effort over all those years? Wasn’t it meant for many others also? Wouldn’t it be nice if Stephen and other advanced souls could get things in motion more to help more of his teachings to be heard?”

But Cocks is reasonably certain that it was the Stephen he and his friends had dialoged with. “I did so much work on the Greek,” he ends the interview. “It is indeed very close to proof of Stephen’s authenticity. But because the proof is so complex and many-sided, people don’t really study it carefully. The study convinced me, but not many other people. I am sort of like Cassandra, the poor person of antiquity, fated to tell the truth, and not to be believed.”

Some of what Stephen had to say:

Purpose of life: “Remember, that in the beginning there was the coming away from the Source, for the correction of many disorders…Acquiring a physical body is only one stage in the corrections…It seems a contradiction in itself, unless you understand, that it is for this reason each and every one of you is in the position that you are, for the reason that you may develop; that disorder may be corrected. Each is in the situation where he must learn, develop and correct disorder.”

On truth: “Each of us knows that in the place where we are now, under the circumstances in which we are, that is the truth. It must be, for we are here. The place where we are, is the place that we have received. This is the direct communication. For it can only be the truth. You hear, touch, see and feel, direct. For what you see, what you hear, and what you touch is the direct communication, and is the language of the Father. Not words. For the Father speaks not with the tongue, nor with limited vocabulary. “

On Jesus, as Savior: “The saving is the saving of the slavery to your own minds, the release of bondage to imagined ills and wrongs, desires that are not within you, but are created by the environment, and by the desires or imagined desires…We often get an image that in some way the death of the body of Jesus in itself cleanses us, yet we fail to see how he showed that the body itself was meaningless.”

On being a spirit: “Perhaps if I told you this, that Thomas (Ashman) even now is in that state that we all will be, as I am, when I return to Thomas this, his body. What you feel is what you are. I will ask Thomas if he feels that he is without something that he should have. He said that he is not without. Then this the way that you would feel. As you feel now.”

On the afterlife: “Think not that when you are without your body, you are going to be much different, for your needs are different. Except through feelings there is little association, for your tasks and your needs are no longer what they were, and the tasks and needs of them that are still in the body are different. These are the first things you learn.”

On scientific proof of the afterlife: “The facts are there, if one would wish to see. The fact that he thinks, the fact that he has emotions, the fact that time is an exact science, are all there to be investigated. That is, if the investigation would be willingly undertaken. Look then at these results, that cannot be explained by using only limited facts or measurements: you might measure water with a jug or a similar small vessel, you cannot measure the ocean with the same vessel. If we confine what we wish to know to what we already know, we will have great difficulty. Be sure then, that the limitation that is being used, is not the limitation of want.”

On reincarnation: “The answer is most difficult. The understanding of the phenomenon is sometimes beyond even myself, but hear me now. Even as I speak through this body, I am Stephen and reincarnate possibly a thousandfold. The confusion is not in the reality of this. It is on the concept of your conscious mind where it can but think of one body.”

Visit the Ground of Faith website, and go here for more information on the book.

Next Post: September 7-8

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Remembering William James

Posted on 10 August 2010, 16:50

No, the roguish-looking person pictured below is not Billy the Kid, Jesse James, or some other legend of the American West. True, since his first name was William, he may have been called Billy as a kid, and his last name was James. But he was no outlaw.

william james

Yes, it is Professor William James, the renowned American philosopher, psychologist, and psychical researcher. The picture was taken during his Amazon expedition in 1865, when he was 23.

Since August 26 will mark the 100th anniversary of James’ transition from the material world, I thought it a good time to remember him.

Reading about James and reading his works is a lot like reading about Wyatt Earp, the legendary US Marshal of the American West. One is never quite sure if Earp is an outlaw wearing a lawman’s badge or a real lawman who sometimes strayed outside the law. With James, one is never sure if he is scientist with a religious bent or a religionist posing as a scientist.

‘Tactically, it is far better to believe much too little than a little too much,’ James explained his fence-sitting position, adding ‘better a little belief tied fast, better a small investment salted down, than a mass of comparative insecurity.’

On another occasion, he stated: ‘I have myself been willfully taking the point of view of the so-called ‘rigorously scientific’ disbeliever, and making an ad hominem plea.’

Born in New York City on January 11, 1842, James, the son of prosperous parents and ancestors, was educated by tutors and at private schools in New York, Geneva, Paris, and Boulogne-sur-Mur. In 1861, he entered Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard and three years later entered the Harvard School of Medicine. However, he took time out from medical school to travel with a zoological expedition in the Amazon and to study physiology and philosophy at Berlin University. He received his MD degree in 1869, but never practiced medicine.

During his final years at Harvard and immediately thereafter, James is said to have suffered from fits of depression, what he called ‘soul sickness,’ and even considered suicide. Apparently, the ‘death of God’ and the increasingly materialistic world view of the times brought on by the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment and then Darwinism, seriously impacted him. However, he overcame his depression to some extent in 1872 when he accepted a position to teach physiology and anatomy at Harvard.

Soon thereafter, James integrated his physiology course with psychology and in 1876 founded the first laboratory for experimental psychology in the United States. Along with Wilhelm Wundt, John Dewey, and Sigmund Freud, James is considered one of the pioneers of modern psychology. He gradually moved from psychology to philosophy as he felt that psychology was too limited.

leonora piper

At the urging of Professor William Barrett, a British physicist who was instrumental in founding the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England during 1882, James organized the American branch of the SPR in 1885 after repeated observations of Leonora Piper (pictured above), a Boston medium, during which he received much evidential information.

James referred to Mrs Piper as his ‘white crow,’ the one who upset the ‘law’ that all crows are black – the one who proved that all mediums are not charlatans. ‘I cannot resist the conviction that knowledge appears which she has never gained by the waking use of her eyes and ears and wits,’ he wrote in his report for the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). ‘What the source of this knowledge may be I know not, and have not the glimmer of an explanatory suggestion to make; but from admitting the fact of such knowledge I can see no escape.’

Because of his academic duties and other interests, James was unable to devote much time to investigating Mrs Piper and other mediums. Thus, Dr Richard Hodgson, a hard-core skeptic, was imported from England in 1887 to serve as executive secretary of the ASPR, and his first task was a thorough investigation of Mrs Piper. In spite of his intentions to debunk Mrs Piper, Hodgson soon came to believe in her gift.

Initially, however, both Hodgson and James rejected the spirit hypothesis. They reasoned that Dr Phinuit, Piper’s spirit control, was a secondary personality buried in her subconscious and that this secondary personality somehow had the ability to read minds. When information came through that was unknown to the sitter, the theory was expanded from telepathy to teloteropathy. This theory held that it is possible to pick up thoughts from a person anywhere in the world. James also speculated that there is some kind of cosmic reservoir where every thought or utterance ever made is recorded and that the medium had the ability to draw information from that reservoir.

The emergence of George Pellew (Pelham in the research records) in 1892 won Hodgson over to the spirit hypothesis. Pellew had been a member of the ASPR and an acquaintance of Hodgson’s before dying in an accident at age 30. Soon after his death, he began communicating with Hodgson through Mrs Piper without the assistance of Dr Phinuit, offering much in the way of evidential information. As the ‘personality’ of Pellew came through clearly, Hodgson reasoned ruled out the secondary personality and telepathic theories.

While others members of the SPR and ASPR were gradually won over to the spirit hypothesis. James remained on the fence, sometimes, however, leaning toward an acceptance of the spirit hypothesis. ‘One who takes part in a good sitting has usually a far livelier sense, both of the reality and of the importance of the communication, than one who merely reads the records,’ he reported. ‘I am able, while still holding to all the lower principles of interpretation, to imagine the process as more complex, and to share the feelings with which Hodgson came at last to regard it after his many years of familiarity, the feeling which Professor Hyslop shares, and which most of those who have good sittings are promptly inspired with [i.e., the spirit hypothesis].’

In spite of his fence-sitting relative to the results of psychical research, James waged war against the materialistic mindset that had gripped the educated world after the acceptance of Darwinism, which was first announced in 1859. He rebuked the strictly scientific point of view relative to God and immortality. ‘I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor which WK Clifford once wrote, whispering the word ‘bosh!’ Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow ‘scientific’ bounds.’

He rejected the philosophy of Herbert Spencer, which had become very popular with the ‘intellectuals’ of the era. In effect, Spencer said we should be satisfied to realize that such things as God and Immortality are unknowable. James called it ‘agnostic substantialism’ and said it was philosophy designed to give Philistines a certain security.

He also rejected the philosophy of the ‘moralist,’ today’s humanist. ‘The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well – morality suffices,’ he explained. ‘But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind.’

To the simplistic advice of the moralist that one should ‘live in the moment’ and not concern himself with what comes after death, James responded:

‘The luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular-science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.’

James believed that a true philosophy must eliminate uncertainty from the future and found it difficult to understand why most philosophers of his day ignored this aspect, the result being a ‘haunting sense of futurity.’ He cautioned against becoming anti-religious because of the mistakes of organized religion. ‘It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off being religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all.’

In summarizing his belief system, James said: ‘The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous as certain points, and higher energies filter in. By being faithful in my poor measure of this over-belief, I seem to myself to keep more sane and true.’

alice james

On March 6, 1889, Alice James (seen above), the wife of Professor William James, and Robertson James, William’s brother, sat with Leonora Piper, the Boston medium who was being studied by Dr Richard Hodgson of the ASPR. They were informed by Phinuit, Piper’s spirit control, that ‘Aunt Kate’ (Kate Walsh) had died early that morning and that a letter or telegram saying she was gone would be received later that day.

It was known to the two sitters that Aunt Kate had been seriously ill, but neither was aware that she had died. After leaving Mrs Piper’s home, Robertson James stopped by the ASPR office to report the sitting to Hodgson and Professor James. ‘On reaching home an hour later I found a telegram as follows,’ William James recorded: ‘Aunt Kate passed away a few minutes after midnight. – ER Walsh.’

Alice James recorded her version: ‘It may be worth while to add that early at this sitting I inquired, ‘How is Aunt Kate?’ The reply was, ‘She is poorly.’ This reply disappointed me, from its baldness. Nothing more was said about Aunt Kate till towards the close of the sitting, when I again said, ‘Can you tell me nothing more about Aunt Kate?’ The medium suddenly threw back her head and said in a startled way, ‘Why Aunt Kate’s here. All around me I hear voices saying, ‘Aunt Kate has come.’’ Then followed the announcement that she had died very early that morning, and on being pressed to give the time, shortly after two was named.’

On November 7, 1889, Hodgson sat with Mrs Piper and received some fragmented and confusing messages from Aunt Kate, which he passed on to William James. James replied: ‘The ‘Kate Walsh’ freak is very interesting. The first mention of her by Phinuit was when she was living, three years or more ago, when she had written to my wife imploring her not to sit for development [as a medium]. Phinuit knew this in some incomprehensible way. A year later [in a sitting] with Margaret Gibbens [sister of Mrs James], I present, Phinuit alluded jocosely to this fear of hers again, and made some derisive remarks about her unhappy marriage, calling her an ‘old crank,’ etc. Her death was announced last spring, as you remember. In September, sitting with me and my wife, Mrs Piper was suddenly ‘controlled’ by her spirit, who spoke directly with much impressiveness of manner, and great similarity of temperament to herself. Platitudes. She said Henry Wyckoff had experienced a change, and that Albert was coming over soon; nothing definite about either. Queer business!’

In a later report, James wrote: ‘The aunt who purported to ‘take control’ directly was a much better personation [than Phinuit], having a good deal of the cheery strenuousness of speech of the original. She spoke, by the way, on this occasion, of the condition of health of two members of the family [Henry and Albert] in New York, of which we knew nothing at the time, and which was afterwards corroborated by letter. We have repeatedly heard from Mrs Piper in trance things of which we were not at the moment aware. If the supernormal element in the phenomenon be thought-transference it is certainly not that of the sitter’s conscious thought.’

James went on to report that when his mother-in-law returned from Europe, she could not locate her bank book. ‘Mrs Piper, on being shortly afterwards asked where this book was,’ James continued, ‘described the place so exactly that it was instantly found.’

At that same sitting, James was told by Mrs Piper [or by Phinuit] that the spirit of a boy named Robert F. was the companion of his deceased child, Hermann, who had died as an infant in 1885. The F.’s were cousins of his wife and were living in a distant city. On his return home, James told his wife of the reading and asked for particulars on the baby lost by her cousin, as he did not recall the name, sex, and age of the child being as reported by Phinuit. However, his wife corrected him and confirmed Phinuit’s version. ‘I then learned that Mrs Piper had been quite right in all those particulars, and that mine was the wrong impression.’

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.


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Ukraine War: A Story of Survival, Sacrifice, and Service – If charitable service to those in need is the ultimate in spirituality here in the physical life, this book most certainly deals with spiritual matters. The author, Amber Poole, an American woman and her husband, Paul, from Scotland but with Polish roots, operated an educational center in Poland when the Russians attacked Ukraine in 2022. As many Ukrainians fled to Poland, they turned their center into a home for as many as 40 refugees. The author kept a very interesting “war diary” over the first 18 months of the war, discussing everything from the cultural adjustments required by both the Polish and the Ukrainians to her own reactions and adjustments, as well as philosophical concerns and conflicts that often surfaced. In spite of the adversity and distress, she embraced the adversity. Read here
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