THE CASE for survival rests on two main kinds of evidence. The first consists in
communications received through mediums. Arguments both for and against
survival, based on that type of evidence, have been summarized in Chapters 5, 6,
8 and 9.
The second kind of evidence consists in apparitions of the dead, the dying, and
the living. Chapters 10, 11 and 12 will be devoted to the pros and cons of the
apparitional evidence. Then Chapters 13,
16 and 17 will seek to achieve a creative reconciliation of the case against
with the case for survival, taking account of both the mediumistic and the
What is an Apparition?
If you were to see what appeared to be the living
form of someone whom you had dearly loved, but who had recently died, you would
be greatly moved. If you saw that form standing close to your bed, smiling at
you with tender love, and speaking words of comfort and courage, that experience
of yours might well make it easy for you to believe in life beyond death. In any
case, what you had seen would be what psychical researchers call 'an apparition
of the dead'.
But apparitions do not always represent persons who have died. Apparitions of
those who are still alive physically are seen more frequently than of those
whose physical bodies are dead. In between those of the living and those of the
dead are apparitions seen at or very close to the time of death.
Apparitions are Facts
For more than seventy years, psychical researchers
have been collecting and studying case reports of apparitions. As far back as
1886, the SPR questioned over 5,700 persons about whether they had ever
perceived an apparition. The results were published in the classic work,
Phantasms of the Living. Three years later, a committee of the SPR followed
up this inquiry on a larger scale, in what was called 'The Census of
Hallucinations.' Seventeen thousand persons were canvassed. They reported having
seen 352 apparitions of living persons and 163 of dead persons.
From that time forward, study after study of apparitions has been published, in
England, in France, in Italy, in Germany, in the United States and in other
countries. Out of this long series of scientific studies there emerged, in 1956,
a report entitled 'Six Theories About Apparitions.' It developed out of papers
which I presented at international conferences at the University of Utrecht in
1953 and at Cambridge University in 1955. Between these conferences, this
investigation was promoted by forty-eight collaborators from twelve countries.
The 165 cases used in this study include reports of apparitions of persons who
had been dead for days, weeks, or even years, apparitions of persons who were at
or near the point of death, and apparitions of persons who were still living.
Let us look briefly at some samples, taken from this collection.
A collectively perceived apparition of a dead
As a carefully verified case in which a number of people, at the same time,
perceived the apparition of a man known to be dead, let us consider the
In June 1931, Samuel Bull, by occupation a
chimney-sweep, died in his cottage in Ramsbury, Wilts., England. His aged widow
continued to live in the same cottage with a grandson, James Bull, twenty-one
years of age. In August 1931, a daughter, Mrs. Edwards, gave up her own home and
came with her husband and five children to live with the widow for the purpose
of looking after her.
Some time in or after February 1932, Mrs. Edwards saw the deceased man ascend
the stairs and pass through a closed door into the room, then unused, in which
he had died. Almost immediately after Mrs. Edwards saw the apparition, James
Bull also saw it. Later all the members of the family together observed it. Even
the five-year-old girl recognized it as 'Grandpa Bull.' The appearances
continued at frequent intervals until about 9 April. Whenever the apparition was
seen, all the persons present were able to see it.
The Chaffin apparition gave information not
known to any living person
The evidence in this famous case was tested in court, and the judge accepted it
as the basis for his verdict:
James L. Chaffin, a farmer in North Carolina, had a
wife and four sons. In 1905 he made a will leaving his property to his third
son, Marshall, but leaving nothing to his widow and the three other sons. In
September 1921, the old man died, and the will was probated. In 1925, the second
son, James, made the following sworn statement:
'On a night during the latter part of June 1925, my
father appeared at my bedside, dressed as I had often seen him in life, wearing
a black overcoat which I knew to be his own.
My father's spirit took hold of his overcoat, pulled it back and said, "You will
find my will in my overcoat pocket," and then disappeared.'
James made inquiries, and finally in July found his
father's overcoat at the home of his brother John. He cut the stitches of the
inner pocket, and found inside, not the will itself but a roll of paper with the
words, 'Read the 27th Chapter of Genesis in my daddie's old Bible.' (This
chapter tells how Esau was supplanted by his younger brother Jacob.)
Taking his daughter and two neighbours with him as witnesses, James Chaffin,
Junior, then went to his mother's house, found the dilapidated Bible, and in the
presence of the testator's widow and two other witnesses looked up the 27th
Chapter of Genesis. Folded into the pages there they found a will dated 16
January, 1919, which had been made without witnesses, but which was valid by the
laws of North Carolina as being in his own handwriting. This newer will divided
the property equally among all the four sons, adding: 'You must all take care of
At first the heirs under the old will contested the new one. But when they were
shown the actual document at the trial they admitted it to be genuine, and they
withdrew their opposition. Ten witnesses were prepared to swear it was in the
testator's handwriting. In December, 1925, the second will was admitted to
probate, and probate of the earlier will was cancelled.
So far as can be learned, James Chaffin, Senior, before his death spoken to
anyone about his second will. His apparition, after death, would seem to have
been the vehicle of his surviving personality, seeking to complete the righting
of a wrong which he had done while still in his mortal body.
The authenticated apparition of a dying
The cases which have just been cited were apparitions of persons who had been
dead for months or years. Let us now consider a representative case of an
apparition at the moment of death:
On 3 January, 1856, Joseph Collyer was in command of
the steamer Alice, which was moored alongside the levee on the
Mississippi River just above New Orleans. Joseph had retired to his berth for
the night. Another steamer bore down upon the moored ship, and Joseph was
called. He ran on to the deck, clothed only in his nightgown. The other steamer
collided with the Alice. The concussion caused the flagstaff to fall,
striking Joseph's head and actually dividing the skull. This, of course, caused
On that same night, Joseph's mother, Anne E. Collyer,
at her home in Camden, New Jersey, had a remarkable experience which she
reported to another son in a letter dated 27 March, 1861.
'On the 3rd of January, 1856, I did not feel well,
and retired to bed early. Some time after, I felt uneasy and sat up in bed; I
looked around the room, and, to my utter amazement, saw Joseph standing at the
door, looking at me with great earnestness, his head bandaged up, a dirty
night-cap on, and a dirty white garment on, something like a surplice. He was
much disfigured about the eyes and face. It made me quite uncomfortable the rest
of the night. The next morning, Mary came into my room early. I told her that I
was sure I was going to have bad news from Joseph. I told all the family at the
breakfast table; they replied: "It was only a dream, and all nonsense," but that
did not change my opinion.'
Joseph's brother, Robert H. Collyer, M.D., who lived
in London, reported in a letter dated 15 April, 1861, that he had obtained the
details about Joseph's death from another brother, William, 'who was on the spot
at the time of the accident.' In October 1857, Robert visited the United States,
and learned from his mother about her experience. Her account was corroborated
to him at that time by his father and his four sisters. On 12 May, 1884, one of
the surviving sisters wrote a letter of corroboration.
Dr. Collyer stated that his father, who was a scientific man, calculated the
difference of longitude between Camden and New Orleans, and found that the
apparition occurred at the exact time of Joseph's death.
His mother had never seen Joseph attired as his apparition appeared to be. One
curious fact is that the bandaging of the head did not take place until hours
after the accident. William told Robert that Joseph's head was nearly cut in two
by the blow, and that his face was dreadfully disfigured, and the nightdress
A conscious apparition of a living person
For comparison with the samples given above, of apparitions of dead men, and an
apparition of a man at the moment of death, consider the following example of an
apparition of a man who was still very much alive. The experience was reported
by a bachelor farmer named Walter E. McBride, who lived near Indian Springs,
On 23 December, 1935, McBride had been concerned
during the entire day about his father. He was under the impression that his
father might be ill. Shortly after retiring, at about eight o'clock that
evening, he felt himself to be floating in the room, in a whitish light which
cast no shadows. He said that he was wide awake at the time. After moving upward
to a certain height, he felt himself to be turning vertical, and looking
downward he saw his physical body lying on the bed.
He then found that he was floating upward through the building. The ceiling and
floor failed to stop him. Almost at once he realized that he was moving through
the air towards the north, and he seemed to know he was going to his old home
several miles away. Passing through the walls of his father's house, he stood at
the foot of the bed in which he saw his father reclining. His father's eyes were
fixed upon him and he seemed to be surprised, but he did not seem to hear when
McBride spoke to him. The knowledge came to McBride that his father was well,
whereupon he found himself travelling back to his bedroom. He again saw his own
body, still lying on the bed where he had left it. Re-entering his physical
self, he was instantly alert, with no feeling of drowsiness. Throughout this
excursion, McBride was aware of a presence, which he was unable to
identify, but which he subsequently came to regard as a guide.
Upon recovering possession of his physical body, McBride got up, made a light,
and wrote down the time and the account of what he had experienced. Two days
later, on Christmas Day, 1935, he visited his father, who verified his
experience by saying he had seen McBride, just as he had stood at the foot of
the bed. The father, moreover, had written down the time of his vision, and it
tallied with the time put down previously by the projectionist. Mrs. J. E. Wires
and her son, Earl, of Shoals, Indiana, were also visiting the senior McBride at
the time. On 25 February, 1938, they each signed the following statement: 'I can
vouch that the above-described meeting and discussion did take place.'
Do they prove Survival?
If we believe what Walter McBride has told us, the
apparition which his father saw was actually the psychic body which McBride was
occupying at that time, and from which he saw his father looking at him from the
bed. Now suppose that we can quote a whole series of such cases, would that not
mean that apparitions of the living can be the active, purposeful vehicles of
conscious, living selves?
Grant (for the moment) that this is true. Then how about apparitions of the
dead? Suppose that these are found to be identical in character with the
apparitions of the living, would it not then follow that apparitions of the dead
can also be active, purposeful vehicles of conscious surviving selves?
Cases which support the above argument will be given in Chapter 12, after
arguments on the other side have been outlined in Chapter 11. But first another
kind of apparition needs to be considered.
In addition to the types which are sampled above,
there is a special type of apparitions of the dead, reports of which have roused
controversy. A good many cases have been published in which persons, during the
last stages of their fatal illness, have said that they were seeing and
communicating with loved ones who had previously died. Among such cases a few
stand out in which apparitions of persons not known to have died have been
recognized - with surprise - by the one who was dying.
The following is taken from Sir
William Barrett's book,
On January 12, 1924, a Mrs. B. was dying in the
Mother's Hospital, at Clapton, England. Her sister Vida had died on December 25.
1923, but her illness and death had been carefully kept from Mrs. B. because of
her own serious illness. As Mrs. B. was sinking, she said: "It is all so dark; I
cannot see." A moment later her face brightened, and she exclaimed: "Oh, it is
lovely and bright; you cannot see as I can." A little later she said: "I can see
Father; he wants me, he is so lonely." Then, with a rather puzzled expression:
"He has Vida with him," turning to her mother - "Vida is with him!" A few
moments later she died.
The case was first reported to Sir William Barrett by Lady Florence E. Barrett,
who as obstetric surgeon of the Mother's Hospital, was summoned to attend Mrs.
B. Independent signed statements were secured from Miriam Castle, Matron of the
hospital, and from Mrs. B.'s mother, Mrs. Mary C. Clark, both of whom heard Mrs.
B. make the statement about Vida.
James Hyslop obtained the following example from Dr.
Minot J. Savage, who gave him confidentially the names and addresses of the
persons on whose authority he told it:
Two little girls, Jennie and Edith, both aged about
eight or ten years, were schoolmates and intimate friends. In June 1889, both
were taken ill with diphtheria. On June 5, Jennie died. The parents of Edith
succeeded in keeping this fact from her. On the afternoon of June 8, Edith
realized that she was about to die. She selected two of her photographs to be
sent to Jennie, and asked her attendants to bid her good-bye. She appeared to
see various friends who she knew were dead. Then suddenly, and with every
appearance of surprise, she turned to her father and exclaimed: 'Why, papa! You
did not tell me that Jennie was here.' And she reached out her arms as if in
welcome, saying, 'Oh, Jennie, I'm so glad you are here!'
The fact that only apparitions of the dead, not of
living persons, are seen by the dying, at their bedsides, has been held, by
Barrett and others, to be consistent with the survival hypothesis but not with
any other plausible interpretation. In addition to the case cited above, Barrett
has presented accounts of six other more or less similar cases, in three of
which the death of the person whose presence was seen by the dying was not known
normally to anyone present.
It is worth remembering, as Barrett pointed out, that apparitions of the living
occur usually when the thoughts of the one who appears are concentrated on the
percipient who sees the apparition, rather than when the thoughts of the
percipient are concentrated on the appearer. If this should be true in the
present cases, it would indicate that the thoughts of the one who had gone
before were directed towards his friend at the crisis of the latter's death.
The Negative Arguments come next
In the current chapter some basic facts about apparitions
have been stated and illustrated, and the bare outline of the argument for
survival, as based on apparitions, has been sketched. Before developing the case
more fully, a candid examination of the anti-survivalist position on this
subject is needed. For that, we turn to Chapter 11.
Hornell Hart's "The Enigma of Survival. The Case For and Against an After Life"
(London: Rider & Co., 1959).