Canon Harold Anson, Master of the Temple, was part of a
committee appointed in 1937 by the Church of England and headed
by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to investigate
mediumship. He wrote "Concerning Prayer: Its Nature, Its
Difficulties and Its Value" (Macmillan and Company, 1916),
"Spiritual Healing: A Discussion of the Religious Element in
Physical Health" (University of London Press, 1923), "A
Practical Faith" (London: George Allen Unwin, 1925), "Thinking
Aloud" (London: George Allen Unwin, 1928), "Looking Forward"
(William Heinemann, 1938), "The Truth About Spiritualism"
(London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1941), "I Believe in
God" (Frederick Muller Ltd, 1943), and "T. B. Strong: Bishop,
Musician, Dean, Vice-Chancellor" (London: S.P.C.K., 1949).
THOSE WHO have studied the facts of psychical research are, as we have already
noticed, divided somewhat sharply in their conclusion. Some of them are
completely satisfied that there is good evidence that men survive the death of
the body and are able to make their presence known to us. These comprise, as I
believe, the majority of those who have made a prolonged study of this question,
but there are some others who, after equally prolonged investigation, remain
exceedingly doubtful as to whether any of the evidence leads us to any certain
conclusion on this subject. The difference of opinion is, so far as my own
belief goes, due very largely to our preconceptions. Those who reject the
evidence for survival would quite certainly also reject all the supranormal
facts upon which the great religions rest.
There is, however, a much deeper question involved, and it is this. What do we
mean by survival? This word is not so simple in its connotation as we might at
first suppose. What is the personality which does, or does not, survive? There
is a strong reason to suppose that the powers and experiences of our everyday
life are only a fraction of our potential powers and experiences. It seems
likely, as Bergson pointed out, that the human brain is an organ of inhibition
rather than of manifestation. By this we mean that just as you put blinkers over
a horse's eyes because you want to keep them fixed upon the road so that he may
not be terrified, or his mind diverted, by looking at the way-side view, so our
brain and bodily organs are given to us so that we may specialize on those
particular and restricted experiences which appertain to this terrestrial scene,
and may not be put out of tone with the happenings of this world by becoming
conscious of the vastly extended powers and experiences which would be ours if
it were not for the severe restrictions of our sensuous nature.
There would appear to be good evidence that, at all events in the case of some
people, there are times when the normal mind, which beholds the universe as we
all of us normally do, is superseded, and the human personality can become
conscious, if only in a flash, of an inconceivably greater range of knowledge.
The phenomena of the infant prodigy suggests to us how little we really know
about the potential capacity of the human mind. Mr.
Frederic Myers as collected instances
of the infant genius (Human Personality, section 309). He gives us there
is a list of thirteen geniuses who were able, in their infancy, to make almost
any calculation however elaborate, instantaneously, and without any idea how the
process was carried out. This power seems to vanish in almost every case when
adult life begins. Here is one instance. The child aged six says to his father,
"On what day and at what hour was I born?" His father tells him. The child asks,
"What o'clock is it at present?" The father answers "7.50 a.m." The child walks
on a few hundred yards, then turns to his father and states the number of
seconds he has lived. The father notes down the figures and makes the
calculation when he gets home, telling the boy he was 172,800 seconds wrong. The
boy immediately replies, "Oh papa! You have left out two days for the leap
years," which was the case. (Myers's Human Personality, section 310.)
In all these cases the child suddenly loses this power of instantaneous
knowledge of recondite mathematical calculation and afterwards shows no sign
whatever of having a greater power than any other child. Archbishop Whateley
gives the following account of his own powers:
"There was," he says, "certainly something peculiar in my calculating faculty.
It began to show itself at between five and six, and lasted about three years. I
soon got to do the most difficult sums, always in my head, for I knew nothing of
figures beyond numeration. I did these sums much quicker than anyone could upon
paper, and I never remember committing the smallest error. When I went to
school, at which time the above wore off, I was a perfect dunce at ciphering,
and have continued so ever since."
Professor Safford when he was ten years old could work out in his head in one
minute a multiplication sum whose answer consisted of thirty-six figures. When
he lost this power he had no greater ability than the ordinary man. Mozart began
to compose when he was three years old. He saw an elaborate composition as one
whole, without any succession of sounds in time. He then gradually worked out as
a succession of sounds the idea which first presented itself to his mind as a
single complete whole.
The poet Tennyson tells us that there were times when, his whole being at rest,
he had an extraordinary conception of reality which was the deepest, reality
that he ever knew. Wordsworth (The Prelude, Book 6) gives the account of
this sudden sense of overwhelming reality:
That awful power rose from the mind's abyss,
Like an unfathomable vapour that enwraps
At once some lonely traveller. I was lost;
Halted without an effort to break through;
But to my conscious soul I now could say -
"I recognize thy glory"; In such strength
Of usurpation, when the light of sense
Gives out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode.
There seems then to be a state of consciousness which comes very rarely and only
to a few people, in which the limitations of space and time completely break
down, and the universe appears with complete clarity, and without any of the
limitations which are forced upon us by our ordinary life. Mr. Dunne has pointed
out to us that if we take a careful record of our dreams, we shall find that a
considerable proportion of them refer not to the past or the present, but to the
future. Mr. Frederic Myers, in
Human Personality, gives us quite a long series of well attested accounts of
people who have dreamed of experiences which afterwards actually happened, and
in some cases of great dangers which were, in fact, avoided, because the dream
gave to the recipient a warning of what was about to occur. If we accept as true
this and similar experiences, it must lead us to modify very considerably the
ideas which we have concerning the nature and limitations of personality.
It would appear then that during the passage of the spirit through this earthly
life the power which controls the universe has placed upon our mind a veil which
temporarily obstructs our view of reality. We can well believe that this is done
for a wise purpose, in order that we shall keep our mind fixed upon the
temporary happenings which would, apart from this veil, cease to interest us.
Through the choices which we make and interests which we form while we are thus
prevented from seeing the larger aspects of reality, while, to use the words of
St. Paul, "we see through a riddle in a mirror," we are at the same time
progressing in our power of handling the things of eternity. It would appear
that the idea of incarnation does not apply only to that supreme instance of the
Incarnation of the Son of God, but in some measure applies to all of us.
If we now return to the idea of survival we see that we have to ask ourselves a
much more searching question than we may have imagined. It is not likely that
our very restricted earthly experience survives in anything like the shape with
which we are now familiar. "Flesh and blood," as St. Paul says, "cannot inherit
the Kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." It would
rather appear that the process which we call death is a removal of the veil
which, during the spirit's sojourn upon earth, has been placed over its highest
capacities. In the innumerable instances of the appearance of persons either
just before or just after death, it would appear that the crisis which we call
death reveals quite suddenly to the person who undergoes it astounding
revelations of an enlarged world, and enables them, either before or immediately
after death, to communicate their presence to those who are still under the
disabilities of the fleshly life. Communications with the departed seem to be
most frequent at the moment and generally to diminish rapidly in number and
cogency as the years go by.
The stories which we have of communication would seem to suggest that the
enfranchised spirit quickly forgets the limitations which had held it own during
the present world. All those relationships which were purely conventional and
which had to do only with the flesh, the relationships of parenthood, of
marriage, of neighbourhood, of nationality, in so far as they did not rest upon
underlying spiritual links, fall rapidly away. It is difficult, and becomes
apparently increasingly difficult, for the personality to remember names, times,
and places. It is quite comprehensible that this should be so. The relationship
of the liberated soul with those who are still upon earth is primarily a
relationship of their own enlarged spirit with the spirit of those on earth, and
to communicate with the spirit enclosed still in fleshly surroundings is not
likely to prove a permanent or satisfactory relationship, nor one to be desired
as a normal or frequent experience.
We shall, I think, now perhaps understand why it is that communications, if we
believe them to be real, are so often jejune and unconvincing. It requires
probably a great effort for the departed spirit to put himself back into the
condition in which present, past, and future, together with the limitations of
space, have great importance. In the communications of "Imperator" with Mr.
Stainton Moses, it is constantly
emphasized that it is a work of immense difficulty to communicate with this
present world. Mrs. Leonora Piper, one of
the best-known mediums, seems to suggest that the inhabitants of the next world
do not find us very pleasant, nor our surroundings at all congenial.
The conclusion to which I think we shall come is that there is a survival of
that which existed previous to the soul's entry into flesh. It is not a survival
of all those relationships due to the temporary limitations in which we now find
Dr. Walter Matthews says,
"Personal survival is the hypothesis that the centre of consciousness which was
in existence before death does not cease to be in existence after death, and
that the experience of this centre after death has the same kind of continuity
with its experience before death as that of the man who sleeps for a while and
wakes again ... One is sometimes tempted to believe that some power - whether
beneficent or malevolent I do not know - has determined that we shall never
reach certainty on the subject of the life beyond, and that to secure this it
has sent a lying spirit into the prophets. The records of psychical research are
full of deceit, fraud, and lies. But when one has discounted all this there
remains a residuum of established facts which, prima facie, suggest the
hypothesis of survival; that at least is my opinion."
I should myself go somewhat further, and say that the facts make survival an
assured truth, but that it is a survival of something deeper and more
fundamental than the personality with which we are ordinarily familiar in the
commerce of terrestrial life.
Source: "The Truth About Spiritualism" by
Harold Anson (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1941).