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Why Spirit Messages are Sometimes Twisted, Garbled, and Distorted

Posted on 25 April 2022, 9:10

Although the evidence for spirit communication is overwhelming, it seems well established that messages from the spirit world coming through mediums are often distorted by the medium’s subconscious mind.  Moreover, the messages are altered, twisted, and garbled by the inability of the medium to properly interpret symbolic or pictographic messages, or to grasp ideas which are not familiar to her or words not in her vocabulary. The messages are further garbled by the inability of the spirit communicators to lower their vibrations to the earth frequency or to achieve harmonious conditions, not to mention interference by low-level spirits who are closer to the earth frequency than the more advanced spirits. One of the best references discussing the subconscious aspects in such communication is Swan on a Black Sea, first published in 1965.  It involves messages coming from Winifred Coombe Tennant through the automatic writing of renowned Irish medium Geraldine Cummins (below) between August 1957 and March 1960. In all, there were 40 separate messages, or “scripts.”


While in the earth life, which ended on August 31, 1956 at age 82, Coombe Tennant (hereinafter “Winifred”) was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, an art patron, a philanthropist, a magistrate for her district in Wales, and a liberal politician, serving as a British delegate to the League of Nations. Thus, she used the pseudonym “Mrs. Willet” in her mediumship work to protect her privacy. Her mediumship was studied extensively by members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), including physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, Lord Arthur Balfour, prime minister of England from 1902 to 1905, and his brother, statesman Lord Gerald Balfour. 

The communication with Geraldine Cummins was arranged by William H. Salter, a British lawyer and officer of the SPR. He did not give Winifred’s identity to Cummins and provided only specimens of her handwriting in an envelope to psychometrize by holding the letter to her head. He arranged for Winifred’s two youngest sons, Alex and Henry, to review the messages for factual information and verification. They also had Winifred’s personal diary from which to confirm facts. 

In the first script, on August 28, 1957, Astor, Cummins’s spirit control, instructed her to put the letter to her forehead. “I see her as a very old woman in the eighties, very fragile. She lost a son when he was only a youth. He was killed when he was nineteen or twenty, I think,” Cummins recorded Astor’s words. (Winifred’s first son, Christopher, was killed in World War I.)  Astor said he got the name “Wyn” or “Win,” but he couldn’t get the complete name.  He also got the name “Henry” or “Harry” but wasn’t sure which it was.  He felt that Wyn or Win was too anxious and trying too hard to show him different memories, thus obstructing the communication. 

The following day, in the second script, Astor communicated that “Win” was more at ease and explained that she began to get automatic writing when she was a child, but it wasn’t until years later, after she was married, that the power greatly increased. Astor said others were there and got Cummins’s name, Geraldine, but corrected himself and said it was the male equivalent, Gerald. After some conversation, it was determined that it was Lord (Gerald) Balfour, who had died in 1944.  (Indications are that Winifred and Lord Balfour had become intimate at some point in his study of her and that Henry was their son.)

Astor then relayed the following message from “Win”: “There comes to me from the earth such a feeling of oppression, of worrying, or anxiety, of fear of death, and all is derived from non-belief. If they could only but realize half the glory, even a fragment of the peace of this life I now experience. Oh! If I could only make them accept it, there might at least be some rationality. Rationalists are irrational, and it makes such a confusion, creates so much fear, when death, that deliverer approaches.”

It was on the third script that Astor got the names Fred and Win.  “No, she says, they are not the names of a man and a woman,” Cummins recorded as coming from Astor. “Put these two names together and you will get mine – Fredwin – she shakes her head. Yes, I see, it is Winfred…..” Astor then explained that Winifred wanted to try to communicate directly through her (Geraldine’s) hand (rather than have Astor relay the messages).  Winifred achieved direct communication and explained that the confusion in her first message “was due to my being in a sense compelled to select from your memories while you were selecting from mine.”  She said that confusion between the names Henry and Harry was a result of Cummins’s memory of her (Cummins’s) brother Harry, who was killed in the Great War, being “stirred up” when she (Winifred) attempted to get Henry’s name through. 

“I see now how we can wander and get lost in the memories of the automatist when we so-called dead try to communicate,” Winifred added. “This kind of mutual selection is bound to be what my friend Gerald (Balfour) calls a ‘mixed grill.’ But in the communication of the second message to W.H., whose letter is beside you, I meant what I said. I was clear and collected, as clear as if I was a magistrate sitting on the Bench giving [her] verdict.  I was one, you know, who sat on the hard bench.”  The second script referred to by Winifred included a message to William H. Salter (W.H.) telling him that he had a free hand in publishing from her diary or other references from her earth life. She added: “My memory is still rather in tatters, but I seem to recollect that I left restrictions as to what should be published.  Scrap them. I am convinced – no, I think it is ‘concerned’ – W.H.S. – that people should believe.”

In the fourth script, Astor returned and said that Gerald Balfour was with him.  He explained that Balfour was the leader of a group on their side and that Winifred was acting as a kind of liaison officer for the group.  Balfour communicated that Winifred was extremely nervous and still struggling to adapt to the spirit world.  “As in the case of very old people still in the physical body, those who have experienced the full span of life on earth when they come here recall most easily fragmentary memories of the distant past and fail to recollect near events,” Balfour wrote through Cummins’s hand. “As [Winifred] says quite correctly, we seem to swim in the sea of the automatist’s subliminal mind, and any strong current may sweep us away from the memory objectives we have in view, before we attempt to communicate.” Balfour suggested that Winifred could better establish herself by attempting to write more about her early life.

There was then a change of handwriting as Winifred returned and gave the name “Morgan.” She immediately corrected herself and said to add W. G. on to Morgan, the result being Morganwg, which is Welsh for Glamorganshire, where she lived many of her early years with her husband and sons.  She then struggled to get her husband’s family home, Cadox Lodge, first getting “Cad,” then “Cadre,” “O.” “Ox,” “Cadre Ox,” and finally Cadox Lodge. “How crammed is one’s life with detail!” she communicated. “How difficult to pick out from the mass what signifies in memory. Cadox Lodge presents all that mass to me.”  She recalled Dorothy, Eveleen, and Fred, two of her sisters-in-law and brother-in-law, visiting the lodge.  (Fred was Frederic W. H. Myers, one of the pioneers of psychical research who had communicated extensively through Cummins in prior years following his death in 1901.)

In the fifth script, on September 24, 1957, Astor opened with a comment that “the lady with the darting mind” was with him and was prepared to write.  He said that she identifies herself as “Mrs. Wills.” (the first attempt at getting the name “Willet” through the medium’s mind.) Winifred then took over and said she was directed by a “Group” there –“people who once lived at Cambridge, or were connected with it,” and that the group wanted her to explain that “there is a succession of me’s throughout my life – psychic units all building up.  The outward semblance, the personality varying, as each psychic unit acts its part upon the stage, then passes on. But behind it is one’s real self, fundamental, greater than its personality. That is what the Group here say. It is what is permanent.” 

Given the Cambridge clue, along with the name Gerald Balfour, and similarity of the names Wills and Willet, Cummins began to suspect that it was Mrs. Willet communicating. She had read Lord Balfour’s study of Mrs. Willet many years earlier as well as a 1946 book, The Personality of Man, by physicist G. N. M. Tyrrell, who had devoted a chapter of his book to Mrs. Willet.  However, they did not reveal her true identity and Cummins said she was unaware of it and that she knew nothing of Winifred’s family or personal history.

Winifred continued to provide veridical information, including names, places, and experiences that were confirmed by her two sons or from her diary – information that Cummins could not possibly have known without a team of detectives digging extensively into her history and having access to the diary. Some of the experiences involved trivial matters that no detective could have uncovered. For example, in the 19th script, she recalled her dislike of a prayer asking “to deliver us from sudden death,” going on to explain that she preferred sudden death to a long illness leading to death.  Her son Alex recalled his mother telling him of her dislike of this prayer. 

In the 36th script, Winifred explained that when the messages began two years earlier, the Group had appointed Edmund Gurney as her assistant.  Gurney, one of the founders of the SPR, had died in 1888. “They considered that the difficulties were considerable for me in presenting successfully through G. C. (Geraldine Cummins) anything that would make an impression on an intellectual public….We were to work double harness, as it were, he to provide the force, I to be the actual communicator…He shaped the outlines of certain scripts I have written via G.C.  I provided the memories and was the communicator who directed the pen. But there were occasions when he trespassed on to the territory of my mind. In fact, his mind, in certain instances, blending with mine, may have, as he admits himself, taken away from the revelation of what was characteristic of me. I want to make it clear that occasionally his keen sense of humour, was too flippant and cheap in character. These I disown, and I ask that in any analysis of these writings, due allowance is made for the Gurney blend in the style and approach of certain of the scripts. There is of course a considerable reside of myself in them. Also, on my own I wrote several intimate personal letters [to Henry] that were entirely me. I am glad to perceive in your dear letter, Henry, now before me, that you recognize something of myself in the last scripts received by you.”  (Many of the later scripts involved messages to her son Henry, who did not believe in life after death, in attempt to help him believe.)

“On the other hand,” Winifred continued, “I must honestly say that I, as a newcomer to this level of life, would, I believe, owing to the great difficulties of communication, have almost totally failed, if it had not been for Edmund’s experienced assistance and driving force.”

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: May 9 (more on the Cummins-Willett scripts)  

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How An Evangelical Discovered Mediumship was Not Demonic

Posted on 11 April 2022, 8:49

As an ordained Baptist minister, Charles Mundell believed that mediumship was the work of the devil.  However, he gradually became more liberal in his thinking, especially after reading Sir Oliver Lodge’s 1916 book, Raymond or Life and Death, in which Lodge, a renowned British physicist, reported on communicating with his son Raymond, who had been killed on the World War I battlefield, through several mediums. 
On August 7, 1921,  Joe Mundell, (below) Charles’s 21-year-old younger brother, was killed in a deer-hunting accident in northern California.  There was speculation that Joe was distraught and had shot himself and there was also suspicion that he had been shot by other hunters and left to die. Family members were particularly upset at the report that Joe had taken his own life.  Charles and his wife, Margaret, left Oklahoma to be with the parents in Oakland, California, where they lived.  Joe had also lived there, working for the railroad at the West Oakland train yard.


Some five weeks after Joe’s death, Charles, his wife, and his mother, Verna, were discussing Joe, life after death, Lodge’s book, and other aspects of psychical research when they decided to try some experiments in table tipping. They opened with a prayer and then sat for about a half hour with no results. They were about to give up when Verna recalled reading books where sitters remained quiet for hours waiting for manifestations. They continued to sit and wait, and about 15 minutes later, the little table in front of them began “quivering and vibrating like something alive.”  Then, it lifted off the floor several inches.  Charles asked if a spirit was present and to signal “yes” by three tilts of the table and “no” by one tilt.  The table tilted three times.  Charles then told the invisible entity that he would slowly recite the alphabet and asked that a tilt of the table be given at the proper letter. After the tilting table spelled out H-A-R, Charles asked if it was Harriet, Verna’s mother. Three tilts followed for “yes.”  After a few familiarization questions, Verna asked if Joe was with her.  Three tilts of the table followed.  Charles then asked if Joe could communicate.  The table tilted only once, indicating “no.”  Margaret wondered out loud if perhaps Joe had not been over long enough to develop sufficient strength.  The table then tilted three times. Other deceased family members were discussed, including two of Verna’s children who had died in infancy.  They were informed that both were with Grandma Painter (Harriet). 

On September 19, Charles had a sitting with Emma Nanning, a Spiritualist medium.  He did not give his name. No sooner had he entered when Mrs. Nanning said she saw the spirit of man enter the room with Charles. She then asked if he had a brother who had recently passed into the spirit world.  Before Charles could answer, she told him that the spirit said he is his brother Joe, just recently passed out and that he was showing her an accident.  “Tell mama I didn’t do; it was an accident,” the medium passed on Joe’s words. Nanning went on to say that she was seeing Joe sitting down on a log with a gun in an area of mountains or hills.  She added that Joe was attempting to make his way to a nearby cabin.  Charles was unaware of any cabin in the area but later verified that such a cabin existed, thus concluding that this was evidence the medium was not reading his mind.

Several days later, Verna and Margaret Mundell had a sitting with Nanning.  Having read enough of debunking theories, they did not give their names or any indication that they were related to Charles.  Nanning told Verna that her mother was standing in back of her. “She says, ‘I have brought Joe to you!’”  She then got the name Harriet for Verna’s mother.  Joe then came through and told his mother that he went quickly and that she should not grieve.  “You are wiping out my spiritual life by your tears,” he told her.  Joe then explained the accident, which had still been a mystery.  He said that he was in the process of rolling a cigarette when the gun fell and fired. He added that Grandma Painter was the first to greet him on the other side.

Joe related that the over-anxious atmosphere and his mother’s crying made it difficult for him to communicate.  He said that when she had more faith, he would come to her in his own strength (apparently without a medium).

The following week, Charles, his father, Sam, and Margaret attended a public sitting with Nanning and two other mediums.  Sam’s mother, Elizabeth, had died in Los Angeles a few weeks before, not long after Joe’s death.  Nanning came to Sam and told him that “Elizabeth comes to you.  She says, ‘I’m your mother.  Everything here is so much different that I expected.  I wasn’t looking for this.  It is all so strange.  You must help me, my son.  I can’t understand it all – yet!  I am groping for light’.”  Charles interpreted that to mean that his paternal grandmother (Grandma Mundell) was confused because, as a member of an orthodox church, she had expected golden streets, pearly gates, and jasper walls.  Upon finding the spirit world no more than a continuation of this world, except pitched in a higher plane and of a more ethereal nature, she was having a difficult time getting her bearings.

On September 27, there was another table sitting at the Mundell home.  This time, Margaret Mundell’s father, Herman Brunke, came through.  As he spoke limited English, Margaret put questions to him in German and answers were received accordingly.

Seeking even more communication, Charles, Margaret, and Verna took the ferry over to San Francisco the following day for a sitting at a public Spiritualist meeting with Mrs. Marie F.S. Wallace, whom they had never met or seen.  About 20 other people were present.  After giving what appeared to Charles to be accurate and satisfactory messages to others in the room, Mrs. Wallace came to Margaret and told her that her father had a message of love.  To be sure she knew it was him, he asked her if she recalled the time he slapped her over the head with a newspaper.  Margaret replied that she remembered the incident very well.  Wallace also mentioned that he was showing her that he was killed in a fall from a high building after his foot struck something sharp, like a spike.  While Margaret was aware that her father had fallen from a Chicago skyscraper, she was unaware of the spike or cause of the fall.

Wallace then came to Verna, telling her she heard a spirit calling, “Mama.”  She went on to relate the message:  “I just sat down to rest.  I was tired. I was leaning on a gun…It all happened so quickly, like a flash.”  Wallace then got the name, Joe.  “Joe says, ‘I still live.’ He says something about black.  ‘Don’t like for mama to wear black.’ ‘Please don’t grieve for me.  I am all right.  When you grieve it makes it harder for me to get close to you – it makes aura so dense.’  He says, ‘Willie is here, too – and Annie!’ (the Mundell children who died in infancy) . Joe says, ‘I made Charlie come home.’ Joe also says, ‘If Charlie hadn’t come home, mama would have been here, too, by this time’.”  Charles interpreted the latter comment to mean that Joe had impressed him to leave Oklahoma City and return to Oakland.  He recalled the desire to return as “irresistible.”

On October 2, Charles, Margaret, Sam, and Verna again attended a public meeting with Emma Nanning in Oakland. Nanning came to Margaret and told her “Vater” (German for “father”) was present.  He then gave his name as Herman.  Charles took this as very evidential, especially since his wife looked more Spanish than German.

Two days later, the family again took the ferry to San Francisco for a private sitting with Mrs. Wallace.  Wallace came to Sam Mundell and said she saw him as an official or leader of an organization having to do with railroads.  In fact, he was general chairman of the railroad workers union.  Wallace told him that he had fathered five children.  Sam told her there were only four, forgetting that a fifth child died a few days after birth.  Charles saw this as particularly evidential in ruling out telepathy. Joe again came through, offering more evidential information and ending with the comment:  “Papa, I can go where I please, and I don’t have to wait for trains like you do.”

On October 12, Charles, Margaret, and Verna had another table sitting at the Mundell home.  They waited 20-25 minutes before the table tilted twice, indicating sprit presence.  The alphabet was recited and the name H-a-r-r-i-e-t was spelled, again Verna’s mother. Charles asked his grandmother how the table tilting phenomenon works.  “It isn’t any known law of earth,” Harriet slowly spelled out. “It is spirit magnetism. I don’t understand it, but I can use it.  Just like electricity is used on earth.  Raymond Lodge is experimenting on it in his father’s laboratory.  I am tired.”

Joe then communicated through the table.  He was asked what it was like where he was and what he was doing.  He replied that it was warm and bright with no fog or flees. He was going to school and learning what he didn’t have a chance to learn when he was a kid.  He was then asked for more details on his accident.  He explained that the gun was leaning against his leg as he rolled a cigarette.  As he reached for a match, he knocked the rifle over.  The next thing he knew he awoke in his grandmother’s arms with Willie and Annie holding his hands. He felt no pain.  He was now with many friends and loved ones.

On November 16, Charles had a sitting with another medium, Mr. F. K. Brown of Oakland.  Again, Joe communicated, stressing that his death was neither suicide nor murder, “just an accident.”  Charles continued to verify that it was actually Joe communicating.  One very veridical piece of information mentioned by Joe was the fact that Charles was wearing his old watch. When Joe mentioned that he (Joe) was still using the watch, Charles became confused and requested clarification.  Joe explained that Charles only had the shell of the watch, but that he had the real watch.  He further mentioned that he was using some of his old clothes, pointing out that the material might be in an old trunk in their mother’s house but the “life of them” is with him on his side of the veil.

In all, Charles consulted five mediums.  None of the mediums knew him or had his name on the first visit, seemingly ruling out fraud.  Several messages were unknown to the sitters and therefore suggested telepathy was not a factor. It was more than enough to convince Charles that his brother Joe and other family members were still “alive.” 

(Reference: Our Joe by Charels S. Mundell, The Austin Publishing Co., Los Angeles, CA, 1922)

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:  April 25

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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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