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Do Earthbound Spirits Really Influence Humans?

Posted on 28 August 2023, 6:58

Do the dead influence the living? That’s the subtitle of The Case for Possession, authored by Cynthia Pettiward in 1975 and recently republished by White Crow Books. There is no indication that Pettiward is a psychologist, psychiatrist, researcher, or professional of any kind, although she apparently observed many mediums. She examines the works of a number of researchers from the past, including Dr. Carl Wickland, whose 1924 book, Thirty Years Among the Dead, also has been republished by White Crow Books.

Wickland, Carl & Anna

“What I have to say about Possession depends upon acceptance of the belief that the human spirit survives bodily death,” Pettiward explains. “For, in every case that I have considered, the entity parasite on the living human being – the possessing entity – is the spirit of another human being who has died. I have not come across any convincing evidence that human beings are possessed by non-human entities, and this is why I jib at the expression: ‘possessed by the Devil’.” She goes on to point out that exorcism, as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, specifically excludes the belief in discarnate human possessors. Whatever the priest is exorcising is a diabolical entity of some kind, but it is not recognized as a deceased human.

Pettiward does not discount the possibility of “devil-possession,” but she believes the evidence strongly suggests possession by “earthbound discarnate humans” in most cases – spirits that are imprisoned by bonds of self-interest, greed, cruelty, emotional obsessions, lust, hardness of heart, or even simple stupidity and obstinacy. She frequently quotes Wickland, a psychiatrist who specialized in cases of schizophrenia, paranoia, depression, addiction, manic-depression, criminal behavior and phobias of all kind while writing two books on the subject. “Our experience, on the contrary, has proven that the majority of these intelligences are oblivious of their transition and hence it does not enter their minds that they are spirits and they are loath to recognize the fact,” Wickland wrote in his 1924 book.

Wickland’s wife, Anna, was a trance medium. Their method of combating the vagabond spirits attached to Wickland’s patients was to administer an electrical charge to the patient and drive the obsessing spirits from the patient to Mrs. Wickland.  These obsessing spirits would then talk to Dr. Wickland using Anna Wickland’s body. Nearly all of them didn’t know they were “dead” and so Wickland explained their plight to them. Mrs. Wickland was said to be protected from the vagabond spirits remaining with her by a group of strong intelligences known as “The Mercy Band.” As a representative of this Mercy band explained to Wickland, these earthbound entities become attracted to certain humans and attach themselves to the human aura, unwittingly conveying their thoughts to these individuals. It was further explained that the earthbound spirits could not be helped by spirits on their side until they recognized they were “dead.”

With one patient, Wickland related, he conversed with 21 different spirits through his wife. In all, they spoke six different languages even though Anna Wickland spoke only Swedish and English. In Thirty Years, Wickland sets forth numerous cases of spirit release dislodgement, including the dialogue that went on between him and the vagabond spirits attached to his patients.  As an example, with a patient identified only as “Miss R.F.” a spirit calling himself Edward Sterling began speaking through Mrs. Wickland’s vocal cords. At first, he didn’t remember his last name and couldn’t remember what town he was from although he knew he was born in Iowa. When asked what year it was, Edward said it was 1901 (the year he had died). Wickland informed him that it was now 1920.  Edward struggled to understand why his hair was now long and he had on women’s clothes. Wickland explained to him that he was now “dead” and occupying his wife’s body. “If I was dead I would go to the grave and stay there until the last day,” Edward responded. “You stay there until Gabriel blows the horn.”

Beliefs go with us

At the end of a long conversation, Wickland seems to have convinced Sterling that his physical body had died, but that his spirit body was very much alive and that he should detach himself from Miss R.F. and let her get on with her own life. Wickland noted people take their beliefs with them when they die and that the false teachings of religion often keep them earthbound.

With a patient referred to as “Mrs. R.,” a spirit named Ralph Stevenson took over Mrs. Wickland’s body and began speaking to Dr. Wickland.  Stevenson said he was “straggling along” when he saw a “light,” so he came in. However, he couldn’t figure out who he was or where he was. He thought it was 1902, when, in fact, it was 1919. When Wickland asked him how long he had been dead, Stevenson replied: “Dead, you say? Why I’m not dead; I wish I were.” Wickland asked him why he preferred to be dead and Stevenson said things had been very unpleasant for him. “If I am dead, then it is very hard to be dead,” he said. “I have tried and tried to die, but it seems every single time I come to life again. Why is it that I cannot die?”

Stevenson went on to say that he often thinks he is dead, but then he is alive again. “Sometimes I get in places (auras) but I am always pushed out in the dark again, and I go from place to place. I cannot find my home and I cannot die.”  Wickland noted that Mrs. R., his patient, had often talked about killing herself. Further conversation with Stevenson revealed that he and a young woman named Alice were engaged to be married. However, when her parents objected to the marriage, he decided to kill Alice and himself. After killing Alice, he said he could not kill himself.  In fact, he did succeed in killing himself after shooting Alice, but he assumed that he had failed and had been on the run ever since.

After Wickland convinced him that he, in fact, had succeeded in killing himself, Stevenson recognized his mother (in spirit). The mother then took over Mrs. Wickland’s body and explained that she had been trying to get through to her son for a long time, but he had built up a barrier that she could not penetrate until now. “He ran away from me whenever he saw me, and neither Alice nor I could come near him,” the mother communicated. “He thought he was alive and that he had not killed himself. Some time ago he came in contact with a sensitive person, a woman (Mrs. R), and has been obsessing her, but he thought he was in prison.”

Another of Wickland’s patients was a pharmacist with a drug addiction problem, especially addicted to morphine. After the patient was administered an electrical shock, the obsessing spirit jumped into Mrs. Wickland’s entranced body. Mrs. Wickland’s body then began violently coughing. Dr. Wickland asked what the problem was and the spirit replied that she was dying and needed some morphine. Wickland explained to her that she was already dead, but the spirit ignored his comments and continued to beg for morphine. Wickland managed to calm her down enough to further explain the situation to her and ask her for a name. At first she couldn’t remember, but after several moments of searching gave her name as Elizabeth Noble. She said that she was 42 years old and was living in El Paso, Texas. After again begging for morphine, she noticed her husband, Frankie, standing there (in spirit).  Frank Noble then took over Mrs. Wickland’s body and explained to Wickland that he had died before his wife and had been trying to get her to realize she had “passed out,” but had been unsuccessful. He thanked Wickland for explaining the situation to her and said that she would now understand and be better.

Wickland’s second book, The Gateway of Understanding, was published in 1934. It offers additional cases of spirit possession and considerable philosophy. “The unscientific attitude and aloofness of the medical fraternity toward any research that suggests discarnated spirits, due to fear of ostracism, of jeopardizing professional standing, or owing to the fallacious notion that it is unethical and beneath the dignity of science to follow such research, is today a serious obstacle to advancement of knowledge pertaining to contributing causes underlying mental aberrations and insanity,” he wrote in the 1934 book, “and is a hindrance to neurological and psychiatric research.” Little seems to have changed since then.

Pettiward considers explanations other than earthbound spirits, such as past-life personalities and multiple personalities, but she concludes that the evidence overwhelmingly supports lowly spirits who don’t realize they have “died.”  “It is these spirits who become parasitic upon the living, chiefly because they simply to not know any better,” she offers.

Crowds of Spirits around us

Coincidentally, before reading Pettiward’s book, I had just finished reading a 1931 book, Let Us In, by Jane Revere Burke, a seemingly credible automatic-writing medium who sets forth a record of communications believed to have come from William James, the famous pioneer of modern psychology. “Immense crowds of spirits of all grades of development from the vicious to the most exalted surround every one of you,” James communicated on April 28, 1931. “For the great mass of men this is a fact which they never think about even once in a lifetime, yet not any single one of you is exempt from the constant influence of your unseen friends and foes.”

As for the “foes,” James said that most of them are not what would be called evil. “That is, they have not chosen to identify themselves with the dark forces, they are beings who have not yet come forward here to that degree of progression where they have to make that choice. They constitute, however, one of the greatest menaces to men on earth because their lack of positiveness makes them open to being herded and driven and used by the dark forces.”

On June 18, 1931, James communicated that there is an enormous increase in insanity among those still in the body because they don’t know how to protect themselves from possession by lowly spirits. “In ninety-nine cases out of every hundred it is direct suggestion from some discarnate being,” he explained. “The people must be taught to recognize it and deal with it. It is as simple as shutting off your radio. Learn that it is not a suggestion of the Devil but a direct voice of another human being – albeit dead, as you call it. Shut them off! Deny them! Order them off the premises at once! Even in cases when the suggestion made is not evil, you must be strong, clear and definite to hold control of the citadel of your own mind.”

If the increase in insanity was “enormous” in 1931, it must be gargantuan today.

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: September 11



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Remembering Three Men of God

Posted on 14 August 2023, 8:23

If I begin with 1953, when I served as sports editor of my high school newspaper, this year marks 70 years of contributing to newspapers, magazines, journals, and other media.  While recently sorting through about 2,000 old articles I had filed away in drawers and boxes, I began to wonder which one of all the people I had interviewed had the most interesting and intriguing story. Who was the most inspirational?  Who overcame the most adversity?  Out of about 400 interviews, I narrowed it down to three people – Lou Zamperini, (top right) Fay Steele, and Payton Jordan.  It didn’t really dawn on me until after I had selected those three that they were all deeply religious men.


It would be almost impossible for anyone to top Zamperini’s story when it comes to intrigue and overcoming adversity. It is a story of endurance, stamina, fortitude, perseverance, heart, strength and guts.  It included running in the Berlin Olympics of 1936, being summoned by the personification of evil itself, having what was likely a near-death experience when his plane crashed in the ocean, spending 47 days on a life raft, fighting off sharks, being shot at by enemy planes, starving for food, living in a small cage with only fish heads and rice to eat, being threatened with decapitation, and then being imprisoned and brutalized for more than two years by his captors, all the while his loved ones back home presuming he was dead, then, upon liberation at the end of the war, having to deal with mental issues and alcoholism.  In fact, Zamperini’s story was told in the 2015 movie, Unbroken.

I met with Zamperini, then 85, at the Hollywood, California YMCA in 2001 to interview him for a national running magazine.  He didn’t finish among the top three in the 5000-meter event in the ’36 Olympic Games, but his strong finish, passing many other runners on the final lap, so impressed German Chancellor Adolf Hitler that the Fuhrer had him come to his box. “Ah! The boy with the fast finish,” Zamperini recalled Hitler’s reaction when he shook his hand.

Zamperini blamed his eighth-place finish on eating too much and gaining 10-12 pounds on the 10-day voyage to Europe from America. It was his first time on a ship and the food, especially the sweet rolls, were too good to pass up. However, he said he was not disappointed with his performance, as winning wasn’t that big of a deal back then.  It was about participating and doing one’s best.  “That’s the way it should be,” he said. “When I went to the Olympics, making the team was the most important thing. It was an opportunity to travel and meet athletes from other countries. It was the camaraderie that was important. If you happened to win a gold medal, that was great, but it was a secondary goal and you didn’t lose sleep over it if you didn’t win. Now, it’s all about money, and athletes are driven by greed, not by soul. I think the television is mostly to blame. It’s sad in a way.”

After telling of his Olympic race experience, Zamperini opened a desk drawer in his YMCA office and pulled out a red flag with a Nazi swastika on it.  He explained that he and two other athletes were walking around town when they saw Hitler and his entourage pull up in a vehicle in front of the Reich chancellery. Zamperini saw the flag hanging from a pole in front of the chancellery and decided he wanted it as a souvenir. He took note of the guards goosestepping back and forth in front of the building and figured he had about 30 seconds when they had their backs to each other to run over and rip the flag from the pole. However, the flag was higher than he had anticipated and it took three jumps before he got hold of it.  “I fell on my butt, got up, and ran,” he recalled, “But then I heard a crack, like a gunshot.” With the guard’s rifle leveled at him and the guard yelling “Halten Sie,” Zamperini put on the brakes.  “I did the smartest thing I ever did in my life.  I halted.”

Some high-ranking officers came out and questioned Zamperini, who diplomatically explained that he simply wanted the flag to remind him of the “wonderful time” he had had in their country.  One officer went back inside, apparently talked with Hitler, and was told to give the flag to him and let him go. 

Before the Olympic Games, Zamperini had made a name for himself as a miler at Torrance High School in Los Angles, breaking the national high school record of 4:23.6, which had stood for 18 years, with a 4:21.2 in 1934.  That record would last until 1953.
Zamperini’s real story of endurance did not begin until May 27, 1943, when the Army Air Corps plane he occupied as a bombardier officer, crashed at sea, south of the Hawaiian Islands, while on a rescue mission.  He then spent 47 days on a life raft and more than two years as a prisoner of war.  His weight would drop about 100 pounds, down to 66 pounds, not much more than a skeleton.

Eating eyeballs

During his 47 days on the raft with two crewmates, Zamperini survived on a few raw fish, several uncooked birds, a couple of shark’s livers and rain water.  He recalled catching his first bird, an albatross that landed on his head as he was slumped over. “I got him by the neck and killed him, but we couldn’t eat it,” he said.  But a week or so later, he caught another bird and tore into it “like a wild man,” eating everything, including the eyeballs.

When their raft was fired upon by Japanese planes, the three men were forced to jump in the water and “play dead.”  There they came under attack by sharks.  “I’d straight arm them and hit them on the snoot and they’d take off,” Zamperini recalled, adding that one of the three men, the tail gunner, died shortly thereafter, on the 33rd day.

On the 47th day, they were picked up by a Japanese patrol boat and taken to the island of Maloelop and then to Kwajalein, where they were placed in small cages and given leftover fish heads and rice.  Back in the United States, it was reported that Zamperini was missing and presumed dead. Zamperini and the other survivor were put on a ship and taken to Japan, where they spent two winters in a prison, being liberated at the end of the war.
At that point, Zamperini had given up on God.  During all that time on the life raft and as a prisoner of war, he called upon God many times and didn’t seem to get a response. He wondered what kind of God would permit such hardships. After being freed and reunited with his loved ones, he turned to alcohol to relieve the post-traumatic stress.  He eventually attended a Billy Graham crusade and became a born-again Christian. More than that, he became an evangelist and devoted the rest of his life to operating a boy’s camp designed to teach physical, mental, moral and spiritual fitness to young people.

Man of Steele

No movie was made about Fay Steele, but one could have. He grew up an uncoddled youth in Tennessee, walking several miles to and from school, something today’s seemingly spoiled youth might see as “uncomfortable,” maybe even inhumane.  One night in February 1924, when he was just seven, Steele was awakened in the middle of the night by his older brother, Olaf, telling him that their two-story farmhouse was on fire. Olaf held the window open for young Fay and then directed him to the edge of the roof, instructing him to jump. “I jumped and as I did I glanced back into the room behind my brother,” Steele recalled with emotion in his voice. “It was now engulfed in flame. In the room, I thought I saw, a man standing just behind my brother watching our progress. My first thought was that it was my father, but this man seemed to have a beard. I wondered if it could be Jesus. Later I decided it could have been an angel and still later decided it must have been a guardian angel sent by the Lord to protect me.” Olaf, their father, and a relative all perished in the fire, something that haunted Steele until his dying day, though mitigated by the vision of the figure behind Olaf and his faith in God. 

Steele joined the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) out of high school and was initially stationed in Panama, where he decided to test his mettle by running the 52 miles across the isthmus, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. “I just enjoy challenges; it’s my nature,” he told me on one of my visits with him in Washington, D.C. “I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and it’s always been my belief that you should make the most of whatever God-given talents you have.”  He completed the trek across the isthmus and a race covering the distance was later dedicated to him.  Steele returned to participate in the race several times during his 70s, and in 1986 set an American 70-74 age-class record of 8 hours, 47 minutes, 28 seconds for a measured 50 miles.

After his assignment in Panama, Steele flew 78 combat missions during World War II, many on the “Classy Lassie.” He was awarded the bronze star for his dash across the field under heavy gunfire. His citation reads: “Serving as a combat cameraman in the great airborne operation near Wessel, Germany, Sergeant Steele landed by glider with the airborne troops.  Met by heavy enemy fire, both airborne troops and glider pilots were pinned down, several casualties having been sustained among them.  Sergeant Steele, volunteering to obtain whole blood from a medical glider a hundred-and-fifty yards away, ran through a hail of enemy fire and delivered the life-giving substance….”

After the war, Steele remained in the Air Force and saw duty at embassies around the world. While posted in Sumatra, he was ordered to track down and kill a Bengal tiger, and later to take on a killer elephant that was terrorizing a village. 

I visited Steele twice at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., where he kept busy by running four miles a day, assisting the Protestant chaplain with various church duties, and reading the Bible. He died at age 100 in 2016.

True Sportsmanship

Payton Jordan appeared on the June 19, 1939 cover of LIFE magazine as America’s track team captain in preparation for the 1940 Olympic Games, which, of course, never happened due to World War II. He ended up serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy. I was just a toddler then, but I saw Jordan compete in masters track (40 and over) a number of times.  He continually set sprint records in age classes into his 80s. He had a successful coaching career at Occidental and Stanford Universities and was coach of the U.S. track and field team at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. 

I was impressed by the way Jordan handled victory.  There was no need to punch the sky or do some kind of dance to celebrate.  He represented character rarely found in sports these days, taking victory in stride with nothing more than a smile and a nod.  “Live each stage of our lives to the fullest with grace, humility, and thankfulness for God’s gifts, strength, and comfort!” he expressed his philosophy to me in a 2006 letter as both he and his wife, Marge, were battling health problems. 

After Marge made her transition a month or so later, he wrote to me and others, describing Marge as his “rock” for 67 years. “Now the love we shared surrounds me with comfort and cherished memories wrap me in their warmth,” he continued.  “With faith in God, I am at peace.”  Interestingly, that seems to have been the motto of all three men mentioned here.

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:  August 28



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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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