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The Many Barriers to Spirit Communication

Posted on 30 April 2012, 13:30

Before the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was organized in 1882, some very distinguished scholars and scientists investigated the phenomena of what came to be called Spiritualism – communication with the spirit world.

Many of them were told by spirits about the difficulties they encountered in attempting to communicate with the physical world, but the researchers who formed the SPR apparently wanted to start from scratch and for the most part gave little recognition to the findings of the real pioneers.

My latest book, The Afterlife Explorers, published by White Crow Books, discusses the research of the real pioneers – Emanuel Swedenborg, Judge John Edmonds, Governor Nathaniel Tallmadge, Professor Robert Hare, Victor Hugo, Allen Kardec, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Sir William Crookes, as well as the mediumship of several of the best mediums of the era – Andrew Jackson Davis, Dr. George T. Dexter, Daniel Dunglas Home, and the Rev. William Stainton Moses.

In my last blog entry, I discussed some of the obstacles to spirit communication as set forth by the SPR researchers in their investigations of mediums.  But the pioneers had already been told of various difficulties that must be overcome. “I know of no mode of spiritual intercourse that is exempt from a moral taint – no kind of mediumship where the communication may not be affected by the mind of the instrument,” Edmonds offered in an 1853 book. the “instrument” being the medium.  .

Edmonds, (below) who served as Chief Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, is believed to have been the first true psychical researcher.  Beginning in 1851, he spent 23 months investigating mediums, witnessing several hundred manifestations in various forms and keeping detailed records of them. “There are false communications which are not intentionally so,” Edmonds explained, “some arising from a mistake of the spirit who is communicating, and some from the error of the medium who has not yet so studied himself as to be able to distinguish the innate action of his own mind from the impress of spirit influence.”  Edmonds went on to say that “sometimes timidity and diffidence will color and sometimes vanity and fanaticism distort the teachings of the spirits.”


The spirits who communicated, Edmonds pointed out, were not on equal footing. They varied significantly in advancement.  “Some are more, and some less, ignorant than others; some more prudent and careful; some more zealous and inconsiderate; some impulsive and rapid, and some calm and deliberate; in fine, with every conceivable variety of attribute and faculty.  Of necessity, the communication from each of these must be affected, as all human intercourse is, by the peculiar characteristics of each individual.”  In effect, Edmonds stressed, those receiving the messages must discern the messages. 

Hare, a renowned inventor and professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, set out to debunk mediums during the early 1850s, but soon became a believer. In fact, he developed mediumship abilities of his own. He came to understand that the spirits themselves did not understand the communication process and concluded that for the most part the communication was beyond human comprehension. “As there are no words in the human language in which spiritual ideas may be embodied so as to convey their literal and exact signification, we are obliged oftimes to have recourse to the use of analogisms and metaphorical modes of expression,” Hare was told by his discarnate father.  “In our communication with you we have to comply with the peculiar structure and rules of your language; but the genius of our language is such that we can impart more ideas to each other in a single word than you can possibly convey in a hundred.”

Initially, Kardec, a French educator, was bothered by the conflicting answers he received from spirits, but, like Edmonds, he concluded that this was because spirits differ in knowledge as much as humans. “Spirits differing very widely from one another as regards their knowledge and morality, it is evident that the same question may receive from them very different answers, according to the rank at which they have arrived, exactly as would be the case if it were propounded alternately to a man of science, an ignoramus, and a mischievous wag.”

Kardec was further informed that spirits speak only by thought and have no articulate language. “The foreign spirit doubtless understands all languages, as languages are the expression of thought, and as the spirit understands by thought; but to render this thought he needs an instrument; this instrument is the medium,” Kardec recorded. “The soul of the medium who receives the foreign communication can transmit it only by the organs of his body; and these organs cannot have the same flexibility for an unknown language which they have for the one familiar to them.  A medium who knows only French might, incidentally, give an answer in English, for instance, should it please the spirit to do so; but spirits, who already find the human language too slow, considering the rapidity of thought, though they abridge as much as they can, are impatient of the mechanical resistance they experience; this is why they don’t always do it.  This is also the reason a novice medium, who writes laboriously and slowly, even in his own language, usually obtains but very brief and undeveloped answers; so the spirits recommend that only simple questions be asked through him. For those of higher bearing it needs a formed medium, who offers no mechanical difficulty to the spirit.”

Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, concluded that harmony was a major factor in successful spirit communication.  Other researchers have come to the same conclusion, understanding that antagonism or negativity on the part of the researcher often defeats any phenomenon, thus leading them to believe that it is all bunk.

Communicating through the trance mediumship of D. D. Home, (below) considered by some the greatest medium of the 19th Century, a spirit communicated:  “You do not know the difficulties that have to be overcome in communicating with you.  Supposing now we want to make manifestations, four spirits would perhaps take possession of the four corners of the room, and would begin, as it were, to throw across to each other, and weave together their harmonizing influence, so as to get everything equalized and prepared for the adoption of whatever they want to do.  One spirit will remain in the midst who will manage and direct all that is to be said – of course, if one of the other spirits wishes to communicate he would let him do so, they are not selfish, but one must have the direction of the manifestations to ensure unity of purpose.  That is why it is so bad to wish for the presence of any particular spirit; that spirit might come, and the others not being selfish would admit him into the circle, and he not being in harmony with the others, would destroy the whole thing.”

At a sitting at the home of Sir William Crookes, one of the world’s leading scientists of the era, Home went into a trance state and a voice began speaking through him. One of Crookes’ guests asked who was speaking.  “It is not spirit in particular,” came the reply through Home.  “It is a general influence.  It requires two or three spirits to get complete control over Dan. 

The conditions are not very good tonight.”  This “general influence” then went on to explain there are comparatively few spirits who are able to communicate at all.  The likened getting a message through the medium to trying to get a wayward child to do what one wishes and said that there was much experimentation taking place on their side of the veil.

“We can only dimly symbolize truths which one day your unclouded eye will see in their full splendor,” an apparently high spirit or “group soul”  (a number of spirits or general spirit influence) called “Imperator” communicated through Stainton Moses.  “We cannot speak with clearness when the spirit of our medium is troubled, when his body is racked with pain, or his mental state vitiated by disease.  Nay, even a lowering atmosphere or electric disturbance, or the neighborhood of unsympathetic and unfavourable human influence, may colour a communication, or prevent it from being clear and complete.” 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die, Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White
Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.

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Next blog post:  May 14


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Difficulties in Spirit Communication Explained

Posted on 16 April 2012, 14:29

No doubt one of the reasons why research into mediumship has not been more widely accepted has to do with the lack of clarity in most of the communication purportedly coming from spirits.  Even with the best of mediums, there is much vagueness and ambiguity, even gibberish, in the communication.  Skeptics see all this as evidence that the so-called mediums are charlatans, as they assume that if spirits really exist they should be able to communicate in a much more intelligent and effective manner.

But it is not all that easy to communicate, the spirits tell us.  A month after pioneering psychical researcher Frederic W. H. Myers died in 1901, Professor Oliver Lodge heard from him though Rosalie Thompson, a trance medium.  Lodge recorded that Myers struggled in his initial attempts to communicate.  “Lodge, it is not as easy as I thought in my impatience,” Myers explained his difficulty after some delay. “Gurney says I am getting on first rate.  But I am short of breath.”  Gurney, who died in 1888, was a co-founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) with Myers. The “shortness of breath” apparently is a metaphorical shortness of breath.  One spirit likened spirit communication to trying to hold one’s breath under water and communicate by hand signals with another underwater swimmer. 


Myers was just beginning to better appreciate the obstacles that spirits face in their attempts to communicate. “Tell them I am more stupid than some of those I deal with,” he continued as he struggled to remember the last time he had seen Lodge. He mentioned that he could not remember many things, not even his mother’s name.  He went on to say that he felt like he was looking at a misty picture and that he could hear himself using Thompson’s voice but that he didn’t feel as if he were actually speaking. “It is funny to hear myself talking when it is not myself talking,” he went on.  “It is not my whole self talking.  When I am awake I known where I am.”

After Dr. Richard Hodgson, another researcher, died in 1905, he began communicating through the mediumship of Leonora Piper, the Boston medium he had studied for 18 years.  “I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying to find his hat,” the surviving consciousness of Hodgson told Professor William Newbold in a July 23, 1906 sitting. “And I am not wholly conscious of my own utterances because they come out automatically, impressed upon the machine (Piper’s body)…I impress my thoughts on the machine which registers them at random, and which are at times doubtless difficult to understand.  I understand so much better the modus operandi than I did when I was in your world.”

Still another pioneering researcher who communicated after his death, in 1925, Sir William Barrett, a physicist, explained the difficulties of communication to his wife, Dr. Florence Barrett, through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard.  “When I come into the conditions of a sitting I then know that I can carry with me – contain in me – a small portion of my consciousness,” he told Lady Barrett, going on to say that it was easier to communicate ideas than words. .He explained that simply saying “I am Will,” was more difficult than expressing an idea of scientific interest.

Communicating through Geraldine Cummins, a renowned automatic writing medium, Frederic Myers stated:  “We communicate an impression through the inner mind of the medium.  It receives the impression in a curious way.  It has to contribute to the body of the message; we furnish the spirit of it. .  In other words, we send the thoughts and the words usually in which they must be framed, but the actual letters or spelling of the words is drawn from the medium’s memory.  Sometimes we only send the thoughts and the medium’s unconscious mind clothes them in words.”

Recently, White Crow Books, the publisher of my last two books, re-published an 1889 book titled Heaven Revised by Eliza B. Duffey.  This very intriguing book goes into some of the difficulties of spirit communication.  Like Geraldine Cummins, Duffey was an automatic writing medium. “During the entire period in which I was engaged in this writing – some three or four months – I lived and moved in sort of a dream,” she explained in the Introduction of the book.  “Nothing seemed real to me.  Personal troubles did not seem to pain me.  I felt as though I had taken a mental anaesthetic.”
Duffey went on to say that the writing seemed to come through “unseen assistance,” though she realized that those who have not experienced it might have a hard time understanding it.  The communicator is never named in the book, but simply referred to as a “traveler” in the spirit world. For those looking for evidential information, the book will not satisfy, but for those accepting Duffey’s explanation as to how it was received, there is much food for thought.

In the final chapter, the “traveler” – given the name Hester here for easy identification purposes – tells of observing four different mediums from her side of the veil.  She was accompanied by a guide called Margaret.

Each of the sitters, Hester explained, attracted around him or her spirits whose moods and motives corresponded with his/her own. “There were idle, mischievous spirits, bent on having a good time; there were earnest spirit investigators, ready to second the efforts of the mortals; there were those who recently departed from the earth and were most eager to send back a word of comfort; there were high and pure spirits who sought an opportunity for impressing mortals with the grand truths…for those who truly desire them.”

With the first medium, the communications were for the most part brief and unsatisfactory, though several names were correctly given.  As Hester perceived it, this was because the brain of the medium was dull and untrained.

“One of the higher band of spirits found opportunity to attempt to communicate through her, but what a look of dismay and discouragement came over him when he heard his brilliant thoughts dulled, the truths he would utter obscured, his meaning perverted, and his very language murdered, in passing through the channel of this woman’s intellect,” Hester offered. 

After this more advanced spirit ceased his efforts, a degraded spirit stepped in and falsely identified himself as a famous American statesman, much to the delight of the sitters, while the mischievous spirits all around were even more delighted in the impostor’s success.

The second medium was no better. Hester could see good impulses in his heart but also impurity and a lack of high principle. “This instrument, like the other, gave forth only weak and discordant notes, even when played upon by master spirits, because it was imperfect and out of tune,” Hester explained.  The third medium was “a woman of weakly good impulses, superstitious in her nature, and with a zeal for her faith which was only excelled by her ignorance.”  Hester could see that she mistook her own impulses for genuine impressions from the spirit world, and what she offered was a medley or truth and falsehood, reality and delusion, yet she did not intentionally deceive.

“She was a victim of her own zeal and her own mental delusions, while other victims, enshrouded in the same mental and spiritual darkness as herself, listened intently and even reverently to what she said, and accepted her words without question.”

The fourth medium, Hester was able to judge, was a woman of quick perceptions, keen discernment, true to the heart’s core, and appreciative of her gift. She was surrounded only by bright spirits. As lower spirits tried to influence her, they were restrained by an invisible barrier. However, Hester became confused when words of wisdom were spoken through the medium by “a name illustrious in the annals of literature, whose possessor had passed to spirit life more than a generation ago.”  What confused Hester was that the spirit thus named could not be seen.  Margaret then told her to look upward.  What Hester saw was “a succession of links extending from sphere to sphere, and from spirit to spirit, and on this chain of links the thought has been conveyed, originating far heavenward, and descending from spirit to spirit, until it had finally found utterance on earth.”

From observing these four mediums, Hester came to understand the difficulties involved in spirit communication with the earth. “Mortals themselves are very ignorant of the necessary conditions,” she concluded.  “Then their imperfect natures draw around them more or less degraded spirits, who naturally interfere with, if they do not utterly thwart, the efforts of the higher and purer ones.”

Margaret likened it to looking through a dark glass in an attempt to behold the light, a glass too often obscured by ignorance, folly, and evil.  Proper discernment and patience, Margaret told Hester, are the keys to effective spirit communication.           

Michael Tymns books, The Afterlife Revealed & Transcending the Titanic are available from Amazon and all good online book stores.

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Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn

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The Afterlife Revealed - Michael Tymn

Heaven Revised by Eliza B. Duffey us published by White Crow Books

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Remembering Titanic Victim William T. Stead 100 Years Later

Posted on 02 April 2012, 15:01

With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster coming up on April 15, it seems like an appropriate time to remember William T. Stead, one of the victims of the tragedy. A 62-year-old British journalist and pacifist, Stead was on his way to New York City to give a lecture on world peace at Carnegie Hall.  President William Howard Taft was also one of the speakers.


Several survivors reported seeing Stead at various places in the 2 hours, 40 minutes that elapsed between the time the floating palace on its maiden voyage hit an iceberg and then made its plunge to the bottom of the North Atlantic.  All told of a very composed and calm man, one prepared to meet his death with courage and hope.  Frederick Seward, a 34-year-old New York lawyer, said that Stead was one of the few on deck when the iceberg was impacted.  “I saw him soon after and was thoroughly scared, but he preserved the most beautiful composure,” Seward, who boarded lifeboat number 7, recalled.  Andrew Cunningham, a 35-year-old English cabin steward serving Stead (below) and several other passengers, recalled that Stead had not been feeling well all day and had supper in his room.  “I did not see him again until after the accident,” Cunningham related. “Then I went to see all my passengers.  He had gone on deck but soon came back.  I said, ‘Mr. Stead, you’ll have to put on your life-belt.’ He said, ‘Cunningham, what is that for?’  I said, ‘You may need it.’ I put the belt over his head.  We bade each other good-bye, and that was the last I saw him.”


Racing through the first-class smoking room on his way to lifeboat no. 9, George Kemish, a 24-year-old ship’s fireman and stoker, observed Stead sitting alone there while reading, as if he had planned to stay there, whatever happened.  Juanita Parrish Shelley, a 25-year-old second-class passenger from Montana who was traveling with her mother, saw Stead assisting women and children into the lifeboats.  “Your beloved Chief,” Shelley later wrote to Edith Harper, Stead’s secretary and biographer, “together with Mr. and Mrs. (Isidor) Straus, attracted attention even in that awful hour, on account of their superhuman composure and divine work.  When we, the last lifeboat left, and they could do no more, he stood alone, at the edge of the deck, near the stern, in silence and what seemed to me a prayerful attitude, or one of profound meditation.  You ask if he wore a life-belt.  Alas! No, they were too scarce.  My last glimpse of the Titanic showed him standing in the same attitude and place.”

Though Stead had psychic abilities, including the gift of automatic writing, he apparently did not foresee his death on the Titanic, at least on a conscious level.  Subconsciously, on the soul level, however, he seems to have known what was coming.  In one of his many stories, From the Old World to the New, a novel published in 1892, Stead described the sinking of a ship after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic.  A psychic on another ship, the Majestic, received a clairvoyant message of the sinking in time to warn the captain of the ship about the icebergs in the area.  In Stead’s story, the Majestic, like the Titanic a White Star line ship, was captained by Edward J. Smith, the captain of the Titanic on that fatal maiden voyage.  However, Smith did not take over the Majestic until 1895, three years after Stead’s article.

In an 1886 story for The Pall Mall Gazette, which he edited, Stead wrote about the sinking of an ocean liner and how lives were lost because there were too few lifeboats, and in a 1909 book, Stead, in explaining why he believed in life after death, wrote: “In order to form a definite idea of the problem which we are about to attack, let us imagine the grave as if it were the Atlantic Ocean…”  In a speech delivered by Stead to members of the Cosmos Club that same year, he pictured himself as being shipwrecked and drowning in the sea, calling frantically for help.

While the Titanic was being built, the Rev. Venerable Archdeacon Colley printed a pamphlet entitled The Fore-Ordained Wreck of the Titanic and sent a copy to Stead, who replied:  “Dear Sir, Thank you very much for your kind letter, which reaches me just as I am starting for America.  I sincerely hope that none of the misfortunes which you seem to think may happen, will happen; but I will keep your letter and will write to you when I come back.  Yours truly, W. T. Stead.”

Harper noted that before Stead departed Southampton he appeared very somber, unlike his numerous previous trips abroad. He told her that he felt “something was going to happen, somewhere, or somehow. And that it will be for good.”  He also gave her directions as to arranging some of his business affairs.

Stead is not listed among the 334 victims whose bodies were recovered as they floated in their lifejackets, having frozen to death.  The only record of what happened to his body came 15 days later, on April 27, when Stead communicated with Dr. John S. King, a Toronto physician, through a medium King had been studying.  Stead had indeed survived, but it was his consciousness, not his body, that survived the calamity.  “Even my plight was preferable to some, for I was hurt by something like a blow, and so I quickly sank below the surface of the sea,” Stead communicated to King.  One might infer from that message that Stead was hit by one the ship’s funnels (smoke stacks) that broke loose.

Stead was to have accompanied Etta Wriedt, a Detroit, Michigan direct-voice medium, to England on his return trip so that she could be further studied and observed. Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore, a retired British naval commander turned psychical researcher, had told Stead about Mrs. Wriedt two years earlier after visiting her in Detroit and being very much impressed by her mediumship.  Mrs. Wriedt had visited England in 1911, and was being brought back for further study by Stead, Moore, and others.

Mrs. Wriedt was in New York City at the time the news came of the disaster, and according to her host, Stead communicated three days after his passing.  “He was weak in articulation, but we quite understood him,” Moore quoted the host. “His stay was short. The next night, Thursday, Mr. Stead came again; his articulation and personality were much stronger, and he went into details of his passing.  The following night, Friday, he came again very strong and clear, again giving us full details of his passing.  He particularly desired that Mrs. Wriedt go over to London to fulfill her engagement, which she is now about doing.” 

Back in England, Major-General Sir Alfred Turner, a retired British army officer, recorded his first experience in hearing from Stead, about ten days after the disaster. “We had hardly commenced when a voice, which came apparently from my behind my right shoulder, exclaimed, ‘I am so happy to be with you again!’ The voice was unmistakably that of Stead, who immediately (though not visible to anyone) commenced to tell us of the events of the dire moments when the huge leviathan settled down to her doom, and slowly sank to her grave two miles below the surface of the sea…There was, as regards himself, a short, sharp struggle to gain his breath, and immediately afterwards he came to his senses in another state of existence.  He was surrounded by hundreds of being, who, like himself, had passed over the bourne, but who were utterly dazed, and being totally ignorant of the next stage of life to come, were groping about as in the dark, asking for light, and entirely unconscious that they were not still in the flesh.  He set himself at once to do missionary work by enlightening these poor and unprepared creatures; and in such work, he told, us, he was still employed, with the assistance of numerous spirit inhabitants of the next plane, whose task and bounden duty is to help and enlighten those who pass over.”
Mrs. Wriedt made the trip to England and gave her first sitting on May 5, 20 days after Stead’s death,  According to Moore, Stead manifested and “gave three admirable tests of his identity,” including some details about a conversation Stead and Moore had had at a bank building the last time they met.  The following night Estelle Stead, Stead’s daughter, attended a sitting with Mrs. Wriedt.  “A fortnight after the disaster I saw my father’s face, and heard his voice just as distinctly as I heard it when he bade me good-bye before embarking on the Titanic,” she recorded, estimating that her father talked for over 20 minutes.  Admiral Moore, who was present, estimated that it was closer to 40 minutes and described it as the most painful but most realistic and convincing conversation he had heard during his investigations of mediumship. 

The Reverend Charles Tweedale recorded that Stead was seen and heard on July 17, 1912 at the home of Professor James Coates of Rothesay, a well-known author and investigator, who had Mrs. Wriedt give a sitting with a number of witnesses. “Mr. Stead showed himself twice within a short time, the last appearance being clearly defined, and none will readily forget the clear, ringing tones of his voice,” Coates said.  “There in our own home, and in the presence of fourteen sane and thoughtful people, Mr. Stead has manifested and proved in his own person that the dead do return.”

Stead later communicated with his daughter through another medium, He stressed that in transitioning to the spirit world one does not immediately become part of the “Godhead,” nor does the “spirit” have full knowledge on all subjects. “I cannot tell you when your grandson will next require shoes…nor can I tell you the settlement of the Irish question.  I can only see a little farther than you, and I do not by any means possess the key to the door of All Knowledge and All Truth. That, we have each to work for…and as we pass through one door we find another in front of us to be unlocked….and another, and another.”  He added that as progress is made and earth’s inclinations and habits put aside, other interests take their places and then comes the desire for true knowledge.
“Life here is a grander thing – a bolder thing, and a happier thing for all those who have led reasonable lives on earth,” Stead further communicated to his daughter, “but for the unreasonable there are many troubles and difficulties and sorrows to be encountered.  There is a great truth in the saying that ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’.”

A more complete story of William Stead can be found in “Transcending the Titanic,” authored by Michael Tymn, published by White Crow Books, and available at

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Transcending the Titanic by Michael Tymn

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The Afterlife Revealed - Michael Tymn

Author Greg Taylor reports that he is working on a book tentatively titled Stop Worrying…There Probably Is An Afterlife.  Basically, the book offers Taylor’s own thoughts on the afterlife debate, pointing out the evidence that can lead a person to happily believe in an afterlife on a rational basis.  Taylor has set up a crowd-funding project whereby he is giving people some exclusive pre-release book packages - from cheap eBook packs (e.g. $20 for 10 copies of the eBook to give away to friends and family), through to exclusive signed, limited edition hardcovers in which the funder is thanked personally).  More information can be found at

Next blog entry: April 16


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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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