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“Why Such Silence of the Tomb?” a Sectarian Theocrat Asks

Posted on 15 February 2021, 19:14


The below letter was written to Dr. Richard Hodgson, then editor of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) and was published in the Proceedings of the ASPR in March 1889.  The writer, identified only as “Mr. N. X.”, reports on some psychic matters and expresses his frustration at not being able to directly experience such phenomena.  He wonders why strangers hear from his deceased loved ones, while he experiences only “silence of the tomb.” The letter is reproduced here primarily for its educational and entertainment value.  It is dated March 4, 1888 and sent from New Jersey.

“Sir,  – The ‘New York World’ of this morning makes reference to you, to your investigation into certain mysteries of life, and relates some peculiar facts, so far as the events or incidents may be termed.

“I am not a ‘spiritualist’ in religious faith, and therefore do not associate the phenomena I now submit with the ‘unconscious cerebration’ of that belief, for I was trained in, and retain much of the hard-headed sceptic faith as to all faiths which are not of divine revelation; but the phenomena of life and the laws of nature are a legitimate study to all sectarian theocrats.

“I propose to relate some inexplicable phenomena within my personal experience, in which personal friends, absolute strangers to the actors in the phenomena, were witnesses, and to ask, if your interest is excited, for some rational explanation, and you may use this communication at your discretion, suppressing my name.

“Colonel Jno. A. Cockerill of ‘The World’ is a personal friend, if a reference is needed, and many more can be given to sustain my identity and integrity.

“In the year 1874 my attention was first directed to psychic sympathies; that is, to the correspondence in thought existing where warm attachments lived, though vast distances separated the parties; and later reflections and experiences confirm my then crude ideas that the thought in its physical structure possesses the same material characteristics that mark magnetism, electricity, and the other ethics, so to speak, of nature. On this point I will give my views later.

“In the winter of 1874 a most dear friend was in Florida for her health. I had known her in childhood: she had married, was the mother of two fine sons, and at this date was a widow. Her husband was a dear friend. The closest friendly relations existed between us for years, so close that in his last illness he would permit only me to aid his wife in caring for him. Financial reverses came to him, and he begged me to counsel his widow for their mutual sakes. Love was not engendered through this counsel, and she now resides in California, striving to eliminate the pulmonic tendency from her youngest son, a lad of eighteen years. But the deepest sympathy for, and interest in, a noble woman – noble then and now in all true womanhood – incited me, and the correspondence strengthened the friendly ties of years, which continues. So much for the dramatis personae.  I was ever a home-body, rarely leaving my room, books, and desk, as to me the younger men came for counsel; perhaps to smoke or chat, and otherwise find a surcease from their merrier joys.

“One of these visitors was a spiritualist, as were his family, all. A man of fine and sensitive sympathetic nature, he frequented my rooms more than any of the rest. One night as we were playing ‘casino,’ he, facing the door, had a startled look, which knowing or surmising its cause, made me ask, ‘What do you see?’  – [He responded] ‘A woman’s face and bust half leaning through the door.’ – ‘Nonsense,’ I said, ‘describe her features.’ He did so to the life. I had seen this – apparition shall we call it? – frequently, hence I was unmoved; he was the startled one.  He was an absolute stranger to the lady, had never seen her, knew not her name, history, or aught about her. I could understand the psychic action that made me materialize her face, though she was at Green Cove Springs, Florida, at that moment, as her letter to me proved; but why this visible appearance to an absolute stranger? It has ever been a mystery.

“Financial reverses came to me, and my wife, residing with relatives in a remote town in south-western Virginia, died suddenly of apoplexy on a Thursday and was buried on the Saturday following. Remoteness made the telegraph useless as a summons to me, and on the Monday morning following I received two letters, – one announcing her death, and one from a lady, a school-teacher, a principal, with whom I corresponded much on educational matters affecting her, in which she informed me that a spirit had appeared to her and desired her to inform me of her identity as my wife, and of her death.

“Neither party had ever met; one was ignorant of the existence of the other. The teacher lived near the Delaware Water Gap, and I had not seen her for some years. She was a spiritualist, sixty-five years old then, and is living now.

“Quaere: Why this communication to an absolute stranger, by a vision, and not to me, the only party in interest? Nor have I ever had a vision or, or spiritual communication with my deceased wife.

“The sudden death of my wife, a few hours’ illness, her ignorance of the existence of my correspondent, preclude all physical communications or any idea of any form of material ones.  Whence this phenomenon? I married again,  – a woman of rare beauty, accomplished beyond the high average of accomplished women. We were orthodox in religious faith, but we read, thought upon, and discussed psychic phenomena. Before and after marriage, when she was in trouble (for she had much trouble with property, and was robbed under the garb of friendship), I have known when at my writing that she needed me, and though miles away, found on arrival that I was; and in marriage, when in town, and she at our country home, something told me to come home, and the necessities proved it. Our lives were a symphony: both devoted to flowers, we wandered all over these hills, glades, forests, after ferns, wood flowers, and they seemed to grow by the incense of her breath.

“In music, painting, song, in the wide magnificence of astronomy, to the subtler mysteries of vegetable life, in the natural alembic of terrestrial laboratory, she wandered with me during the four short years of our married bliss; yet, close as was our ante-nuptial sympathy, close as were the harmonies of our married life, fearless as I am known to be as to spiritual realizations, I have never had a response to the wailing cry for her presence.

“Tell me why these conditions in life, this silence of the tomb, now?

“Again, and repeatedly, for my correspondence has included many brilliant women, when remote from each other by hundreds of miles, we have felt a spirit move us to write, and from sleepless beds we have risen to write the night thoughts, only to find an identity of action as to time and theme….

“I am very truly, [signed] N. X. 

After Hodgson wrote to N.X. and requested the names and addresses of the friends so that he could verify the facts, N. X. replied on March 11, 1888:

“My Dear Sir, – In reply to your letter of the 8th inst. received yesterday, I have to state that my friend who saw the apparition is now a resident in Chicago, and there being no correspondence between us, – not from unfriendly reasons, but simply from the causes natural to a mere man of business, – I do not know his exact address, but the first time I am in town I will obtain it and send it to you. I never did attempt to learn what the lady was doing at that moment in Florida.  She was there for health, and what her social or hygienic pleasures were, to me were of little moment so long as she recovered her health.

“I possess no letters from my first wife. In the wide range of correspondence, and specially in the sacredness of the family relation, I do not believe in the retention of letters for the idle to read after I am dead, hence I retain few and have an annual holocaust of ‘friendship’s’ offerings. 

“By the term ‘idle,’ above, I refer to the curious-eyed class which are indigenous to all families.

“The school-teacher was named Miss B. of——-, N. J., where and by which name, a letter will still reach her, although she married some two years ago at the age of sixty-five: her married name I do not remember, as communication has ceased for various reasons….

“[signed] N. X.”

Hodgson then wrote to Mrs. B. Y., formerly Miss B. and received the following letter, dated April 6, 1888:

“Dear Sir,—...Mr. X’s report of my interview with his deceased wife is correct, and only one of many like experiences which have occurred to me and other members of my family.  [signed] Mrs. B. Y.”

Next blog post: March 1

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

Next blog post:  February 15



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No One Really Dies:  A Preview

Posted on 01 February 2021, 10:34


When my very skeptical friend Jim found out that I had authored another book, No One Really Dies, we had our usual discussion.  I didn’t record the conversation, but it went something like this:

Jim: Another one, Mike?  How much more can you say on the subject of life after death?

Mike: Yeah, Jim, it’s my seventh book on the subject.  The evidence is so overwhelming that I could write another seven books, but the primary purpose of this book is an attempt to better explain the anomalies connected with the phenomena providing the evidence. So much is misunderstood and misinterpreted because nearly everyone insists upon applying terrestrial standards to celestial matters.

Jim:  What are you talking about?  Give me an example. 

Mike: The name thing for one.  People wonder why so many mediums struggle to get the name of the communicating spirit. Some of them might get the first letter of the first name; some might get a first name, but only a few come up with a full name.  The debunkers see all those failures as clear evidence that the medium is a charlatan.  They don’t understand why, if spirits really exist and if mediums are genuine, why they can’t get a simple name.  The first chapter of the book begins with my own experience while sitting with a medium in London and being told that George was coming through for me.  I could think of two friends named George and I was pretty sure that both were still alive.  It took me a while to figure who George was and when I later told my London experience to a friend who knew George, he wondered why George just didn’t give his last name.  Why so much mystery?

Jim: Well, why didn’t he simply give his last name?

Mike: It’s explained in Chapter 3, Jim. I’d give you a copy of the book, but I know your mind is made up and you’ll never read it.  That chapter also deals with other communication problems. You and other skeptics seem to think that inter-dimensional communication should be as simple as talking on a phone, but there are obstacles you haven’t imagined.  Add to that the fact that the medium’s subconscious can distort the message.  There is much discernment required. 

Jim: You said some mediums get the full name and others don’t?  If some can get it, why can’t the others?

Mike: It’s apparently like every other talent or ability.  Some are more advanced than others.  The same question is asked about the need for darkness in physical mediumship.  There have been a few mediums who didn’t require darkness, some who could produce under red light and others who required complete darkness.  Some are stronger than others.  You’re a big baseball fan, Jim. Why can just a few players hit 40 home runs in a seasons, some only 20 and still others not even 10?   

Jim: I’ve heard that some of these so-called mediums have been exposed as frauds when the “dead” person turned out to be alive.

Mike:  I discuss that in Chapter 20.  Do you want a copy of the book?

Jim: It doesn’t go into communication with the ghosts of Cleopatra, Elvis, and Princess Diana, does it?

Mike: No, but it does have chapters devoted to communication with Confucius and St. Stephen, the early Christian martyr.

Jim:  Confucius?  Give me a break, Mike.  I’m open-minded enough to give a little consideration to the whole idea of life after death, but I’m not gullible enough to believe that someone has been in touch with Confucius through some medium. 

Mike: That was my thinking before I read Professor Neville Whymant’s report.  Keep in mind that Whymant was a distinguished Oxford professor of linguistics, including several dialects of Chinese. He was also skeptical of mediums.  Yet, a voice came through a medium speaking to him in an ancient Chinese dialect, claiming to be Confucius, or rather the name Confucius was actually known by.  To test him, Whymant asked him about two of his poems.  The spirit claiming to be Confucius then recited the poems line by line, about 15 lines total for one of them. If we are to consider fraud, what are the chances that the medium, an American from New York, knew an ancient dialect of Chinese and had memorized the poems of Confucius?  Keep in mind that the medium had no way of knowing that Whymant would ask about the poems.  Whymant, who is said to have been conversant in 30 languages, heard 14 other languages spoken through the same medium. One who came through in English claimed to be his deceased father-in-law and Whymant noted that he had the same characteristic drawl reminiscent of the West County of England that his father-in-law had.

Jim:  Maybe the good professor made up the whole story.

Mike: Actually, with a little research you can find that some people claim that the medium cheated on several occasions, but indications are that it was what was called “unconscious fraud,” that he did certain things while in a trance state, possibly influenced by lower-level spirits, that made it appear he was consciously cheating. It had nothing to do with voices or other languages, though.  The debunkers will always find allegations of fraud by people who don’t understand the intricacies of the phenomenon.  As for the professor making it up, he had little to gain and much to lose by reporting the story. Also, he would have had to have the New York judge in whose home it all allegedly took place and others present in on the scam.  To what end? I lean more toward the group soul theory.  That is, a group soul representing Confucius communicated.

Jim:  A group soul?  What’s that?

Mike:  You’ll have to read Chapter 16 for an answer on that one.  You didn’t tell me if you want a copy of the book.

Jim: Not if you are going to get into all that ectoplasm baloney we’ve talked about before. I’ll never believe that BS. I’ve seen some of the photos of those “materialized spirits.”  They look like comic book characters and nobody in his right mind would believe they are real.

Mike: Yes, there are two chapters dealing with ectoplasm and materializations. I could write a whole book on that subject.  I believe ectoplasm, teleplasm, od, psychic force, whatever name be given to it, is the key to understanding so much of this subject and has been woefully neglected by science.  I suspect it is the same thing called “soul mist,” the vaporish substance witnessed by many leaving the body at the time of death. What you don’t get about those weird materializations looking like comic book characters is that they were likely incomplete, faulty, or failed materializations, resulting either from lack of power on the part of the medium or the inability of the spirit to show him- or herself.  I’m not saying there were no fakes among them, but I feel certain that many of those now seen as fraudulent were incomplete or failed attempts.

Jim: I believe in science.

Mike: So do I, but I recognize that there is much beyond the grasp of modern mainstream science. Consider Chapter 9 of my book, which deals with the research carried out by Drs. Charles Richet, a professor of medicine and a Nobel-Prize winner, and Gustave Geley, a laureate of the French medical academy. They observed many of these weird materializations under highly controlled conditions.  Some of them were even flat. Some looked like puppets or dolls. But there was no doubt in the minds of both Richet and Geley that they were genuine materializations.  They concluded that they were incomplete or fragmentary materializations. Either the medium lacked the necessary power for the spirit entity to complete it, or the spirit entity itself lacked in the ability to complete it.  Other credible researchers, such as Dr. Albert Schrenck-Notzing of Germany and Dr. T. Glenn Hamilton of Canada carried out similar research.  I’m not talking about a few experiments, but hundreds of experiments among them. I should add that both Richet and Schrenck-Notzing, while certain the materializations were genuine, resisted the spirit hypothesis, even though they couldn’t come up with a better explanation.  It would not have been “scientific.” However, both Geley and Hamilton had the courage to subscribe to spirits after much investigation. 

Jim: You’re talking about a hundred years ago.  What about current research?

Mike: Unfortunately, this whole area of mediumship has been taboo for scientists from the get-go, around 1850. Some esteemed scientists, like biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, Sir Oliver Lodge, a physics professor who was a pioneer in electricity and radio, French astronomer Camille Flammarion, and many others were courageous enough to investigate and publish their findings and opinions supporting the survival hypothesis, but sometime during the 1930s the research reached a point of diminishing returns and those interested in continuing with such research were discouraged from doing so by the closed-minds of their peers in materialistic science. 

Jim:  So your book is just all about the old research?

Mike:  No, the old research is the most convincing for those who have really studied it, but recent research in near-death experiences, induced after-death communication, past-life studies, and Instrumental Transcommunication has all added to the old research and I have chapters on those subjects.

Jim: Past-life studies?  You believe in reincarnation, Mike?

Mike: I think there is something to it, but I don’t think it plays out like most people who believe in it think it does. Here again, I prefer the group soul approach to reincarnation. That’s discussed in Chapter 23.

Jim: I don’t know, Mike.  This whole “God thing” is just too far-fetched for me. I don’t think anyone will ever prove God.

Mike:  Who said anything about God or proof? I’m talking about evidence for consciousness surviving death.  You don’t have to believe in God, at least an anthropomorphic one, to consider and weigh the evidence for survival. Anyone who seriously studies it has got to admit that there is at the very least “a preponderance of evidence” in favor of it, although I believe it reaches the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.

Jim: Even if you’re right, Mike, it’s one life at a time for me.  I’ve got more important things to concern myself with.

Mike: Like what?

Jim: I’ve got a football game to watch later today and then I’ve got to polish my clubs for some golf tomorrow. 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

Next blog post:  February 15



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