I. The Issue Between Thomas and Dodds
A Dilemma Develops
THAT VARIOUS mediums have given what many people regard as highly evidential
information about departed personalities through channels other than the
normal senses has been shown in Chapter 4. The evidence is so strong that few if
any careful students of mediumship deny the existence of masses of such
extrasensory information. Our search of the literature has failed to show any
exception, even among those who deny belief in survival. Extrasensory
information certainly does appear in messages transmitted by many of the
Moreover, a long list of investigators have reported what they believe to have
been genuine contacts with the personalities of friends who have survived bodily
death. The examples given in Chapters 5 and 6 show that Drayton Thomas and
various other careful and intelligent investigators have reached such
conclusions. For many psychical researchers, cross-correspondences have provided
capstone evidence of survival. Rightly or wrongly, these investigators, some of
whom were highly sceptical at the start, have recorded their strong convictions
that survival beyond the death of the physical body has been demonstrated to
them through their experiences with mediums.
Yet now we encounter a mass of at-first-sight contrary evidence, such as no
honest scientist can ignore. This factual evidence will be summarized in
considerable detail in later sections of this chapter. First, however, let us
focus our attention on the arguments of a learned professor who has taken a
position directly opposed to that of Drayton Thomas.
Why select Dodds?
Several excellent reasons justify taking Professor
E. R. Dodds as key representative of
the negative side in the debate. Among these are the following:
1. Dr. Dodds is one of the most outstanding examples of persons loyal to the
scientific method who have rejected the survival hypothesis.
2. As a professor in one of the world's most distinguished universities
(Oxford), his views have an intellectual prestige which makes them worthy of
3. In his article on 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival', published in 1934,
Dodds's summary of the negative arguments is arranged in a logical fashion which
attempts to be fairly exhaustive, and which provides at least a start towards
considering the negative case systematically.
II. Dodds and Others Rejected Spirit Possession
Dodds distinguished between two survival hypotheses
In his article on 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival', Professor Dodds wrote:
'The two current forms of the spiritualist
hypotheses - the theory of telepathy from the dead and the theory of possession
- seem to me to differ widely in their evidential status. Against the former no
conclusive objection has been drawn, or is likely to be drawn, from the trance
phenomena, for the excellent reason that we know nothing at all about the
conditions which might govern this kind of telepathy.'
Why Dodds rejected the possession hypothesis
In rejecting belief in survival,
Professor Dodds directed his major attacks against the hypothesis which was
actually central in Drayton Thomas's beliefs. He stated this hypothesis as 'that
which attributes [mediumistic communications] to possession of the medium's
organism by surviving spirits of the dead'.
In rejecting that hypothesis, Dodds said:
'Against direct possession there is evidence which I
find insuperable. It has been presented by
Mrs. Sidgwick in her two
masterly papers on the Piper phenomena; and it is not necessary here to do more
than recall its general character. The main points are the shiftiness displayed
even by highly veridical communicators like "George Pelham"; their confident
statements in cases where they can hardly fail to know that they are lying; the
habitual lameness of their attempts to answer direct questions; and above all
their acceptance of bogus personalities as genuine spirits (e.g., "George
Pelham" guaranteed the authenticity of "Phinuit", "Hodgson" upheld the objective
reality of a "Bessie Beals" whom Hall had invented, "Frank Soal" described "John
Ferguson" as a spirit, and none of Mrs.
Leonard's communicators, as far as I know, has given "Feda" away). These
facts are not incompatible with telepathy from the dead; but I do not know how
to reconcile them with the theory of direct possession, although I have read
many attempts to do so.'
Gardner Murphy developed the same argument
Dodds's repudiation of the possession
hypothesis (it will be noted) was based upon citation of specific facts -
phenomena observed in the trance utterances of various mediums. He was not alone
in taking this position.
Whereas Professor Dodds's article, 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival', was
published in 1934, Gardner Murphy brought out a much more recent (and, in some
respects, even more effective) statement of the negative position in 1945 and
1957, in his articles on 'Difficulties Confronting the Survival Hypothesis', and
'Triumphs and Defeats in the Study of Mediumship'. In these articles, Dr. Murphy
referred to several of the same cases cited by Dodds, and added a number of
Much the same evidence and arguments were presented by Anthony Flew, in the
chapter on 'The Question of Survival' in his book: A New Approach to
Psychical Research (Watts, 1953.).
Since the scientific approach is based on the objective study of facts, it is
essential that we examine in more detail the data on which Dodds, Murphy, Flew -
and a series of other rejecters of simple spirit possession - have based their
In Mrs. Piper's Trances Various Pseudo-Personalities
The impressiveness of the evidence received through
Mrs. Leonora Piper has already been set
forth in Chapters 4 and 5. So outstanding was she that a leading psychical
researcher, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, made a study of the Piper mediumship which
occupies 671 pages of the 1915 Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research. In preparing this report Mrs. Sidgwick consulted fourteen previous
studies which occupy a total of more than 2,600 pages.
Mrs. Sidgwick accepted belief in survival. And yet she concluded that the
'spirit' personalities who professed to communicate through Mrs. Piper were
actually dramatizations produced by the medium's unconscious mind, in a state of
self-hypnosis. What were the facts which led Mrs. Sidgwick to such a conclusion?
Phinuit, one of Mrs. Piper's chief controls was evidently fictitious
For more than a dozen years, from 1884 to 1897, Mrs. Piper was controlled during
her trances by a 'spirit' who gave his name as Phinuit. He claimed that he was a
departed French physician who once practised medicine in Marseilles. He made
numerous other statements as to his life on earth. Not one of these statements
ever proved to be capable of being verified. Moreover, he was never able to
explain the fact that he knew practically nothing of the French language.
Her 'Imperator' controls also appear to have been fictitious
In 1897, Phinuit was displaced by controls who professed to be a group of lofty
spirits who had communicated in the 1870s through a famous medium named Stainton
Moses. This group of guides had communicated under such pseudonyms as Imperator,
Rector, and so on. The real names which they said had been theirs during
earth-life had been communicated in confidence to a few people, but had not been
published. When these supposed spirits communicated through Mrs. Piper, they
were never able to tell what their real names had been, though, when asked about
it, they solemnly gave out incorrect names.
When questioned about scientific matters, they gave nonsensical answers dressed
up in pseudo-scientific jargon. When Dr.
Richard Hodgson sat with Mrs. Piper, Imperator undertook to instruct him in
the true inwardness of Old Testament history and of the mystery of Christianity.
Imperator claimed to be a lofty spirit, who should be in touch with such
matters. But he confined himself to vague generalities, and uttered a vast
amount of nonsense.
Bessie Beals was another pseudo-personality in Piper trances
The famous psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, invented an imaginary niece, named
Bessie Beals, and solemnly requested Mrs. Piper's control to establish
communication with her. There was no trouble at all in getting the same sort of
'communications' from this purely fictitious 'spirit' as had come through under
the guise of messages from the dead.
Mrs. Sidgwick's summary
From the massive evidence which she had analysed, Mrs. Sidgwick derived the
following conclusion in 1915:
'Veridical communications are received, some of
which, there is good reason to believe, come from the dead and therefore imply
genuine communication with the background. But the dramatization of even genuine
communications, with the whole dramatic machinery implied, is probably merely
We have presented to us in Mrs. Piper's trance a number of soi-distant
different personalities - some of them known to have lived and to be now dead,
some of them living, some probably imaginary. The statements and the
intellectual calibre of many of them are utterly inconsistent with their claims,
and even in the best personations there are lapses which cannot easily be
explained if we are in direct communication with the professed communicator.
These lapses and limitations, and other characteristics of the communications,
are just such as have been frequently observed in secondary personalities, and
in particular correspond to what we should expect to find in Mrs. Piper's
secondary personality under the suggestive influence of the conditions of the
sittings. I am, therefore, driven to the conclusion that Mrs. Piper's
trance-intelligence has a strong tendency to unconscious dramatic personation;
and is continually dreaming itself to be a number of different persons under the
influence of suggestion (including self suggestion) somewhat as an ordinary
hypnotic subject can be made by suggestion to assume different characters with
startling dramatic effect.'
Probably the best comprehensive analysis of mediumship which has hitherto been
published is contained in G. N. M. Tyrrell's Science and Psychical Phenomena,
which was published in 1938. He summed up his conclusions from the above
evidence as follows:
'Thus, reasons for regarding the communicators, as
well as the controls in the Piper case, as being hypnotically constructed
pseudo-personalities, appear to be very strong.'
Are all 'Spirit Controls' Secondary Personalities?
Was Feda a secondary personality?
Mrs. Leonard's control, Feda, has already been presented in Chapters 4 and 6.
Drayton Thomas was convinced that Feda was a genuine spirit, existing
independently of Mrs. Leonard's personality. But a serious challenge to that
conclusion was offered, in 1935, by Whately Carington.
He tested the reactions of both Feda and the normal Mrs. Leonard to lists of key
words. It was found that Feda tended to respond slowly to various words to which
Mrs. Leonard responded promptly. And Feda tended to react promptly to words to
which Mrs. Leonard, responded slowly. This 'counter-similarity' would not be
characteristic of an independent spirit. Rather it is explained by assuming that
Feda was a secondary personality, representing in dramatized form certain ideas
and tendencies which were repressed in the normal Mrs. Leonard.
Carington's statistical conclusion was all the more impressive in view of the
fact that it reinforced some qualitative findings which Lady Una Trowbridge had
published in 1922. In her detailed and highly intelligent analysis of sittings
which were held with Mrs. Leonard she found that Feda never conveyed any
impression that she liked Mrs. Leonard. She frequently expressed scorn of her,
and there was abundant evidence of a basic antagonism between her and her
medium. These facts are closely consistent with the theory that Feda was a
secondary personality of Mrs. Leonard's, built up around materials which had
been repressed in her unconscious mind.
Has Uvani also been a secondary personality?
Mrs. Garrett's usual control is Uvani,
who claims to be an Arab. Word-reaction tests applied to normal Mrs. Garrett and
to Uvani show the same sort of counter-similarity as appeared between Mrs.
Leonard and Feda.
Drayton Thomas maintained his belief
In spite of the above experimental evidence, published by Carington in 1935, Mr.
Thomas said in 1947:
'Personally I believe Feda to be a distinct
individual, usually resident in the Beyond, but allotting some of her time to
work on earth. In that aspect of her personality which one sees during her
control I am more familiar with her character, idiosyncrasies and habits of
thought than I am with those of the majority of my acquaintances on earth; but
then I have listened to her at fairly frequent intervals during the last
Do fictitious controls invalidate 'spirit
A good many psychical researchers are prone to separate 'controls' and
'communicators' into two groups, and to assume that the controls might be
secondary personalities while the communicators might be genuine, independent
surviving spirits. But Professor Dodds points out that, in general, the
communicators consistently maintain the independent existence of the controls.
Could genuine surviving spirits be thus deceived on so basic a question?
As a possible solution of this difficulty, the Persona Theory will be presented
in Chapter 13.
Pseudo Spirit-Personalities in Blanche Cooper's
Mrs. Piper was not the only medium whose 'spirit
communicators' could not always be taken at face value. Dr. Samuel George Soal
(the British mathematician and psychical researcher who is referred to in
Chapters 2 and 3) published, in 1926 and 1954, reports on some communications
received through Mrs. Blanche Cooper, an
English direct-voice medium. From those reports the following cases are
John Ferguson - fictitious 'spirit'
At two sittings with Mrs. Cooper, held early in November, 1921, a communicator
manifested who gave the name of John Ferguson, and claimed to have connexions
with an address at 'Westcote' Road in the Town of Brentwood (Essex). Soal had
never visited Brentwood, though he had travelled through its railway station
almost daily for many years. At subsequent sittings with the same medium 'John
Ferguson' said that he had died from a chill contracted from a boating accident
on March 3rd, 1912, at the age of 33 years. He also mentioned that he had a
brother Jim, ten years younger than himself, and still living. Later, this John
Ferguson personality was found to be fictitious.
Apart from the unsolved mystery of the medium's getting the name of an obscure
street in Brentwood and what afterwards proved to be a correct description of
Highland Avenue, the most satisfactory interpretation of this remarkable case is
to suppose that the alleged communicator was largely a joint fabrication at the
subconscious level by the minds of Mrs. Cooper and Dr. Soal. In this telepathic
collaboration, the fictitious John Ferguson confirmed one by one the unspoken
conjectures made about him by Soal.
Week by week he had appeared at each sitting strong and confident, never making
statements that conflicted with his earlier ones. He had a subtle answer for any
attempt to trap him. The object of all this subconscious collaboration was
clearly to deceive the conscious mind of the sitter. When, at the end, this
became no longer possible, 'John Ferguson' collapsed immediately into a confused
and feeble ghost.
Did James Miles communicate?
Towards the end of a sitting which Dr. Soal had with Mrs. Cooper on 9 January,
1922, there spoke a boyish voice saying in rather pathetic accents, 'Oh! where
am I? I don't know where I am.'
This communicator then said that his name was James and that he had fallen into
the water 'while trying to catch' something. At this sitting he was unable to
give his surname but said that he was only 13 years old and had lived at Bath.
He had fallen into the River Avon. At home they called him 'Jimmy' and he was
very anxious that his father should hear from him. In reply to a question by the
sitter he stated that he had 'passed over' only a few days ago.
In the sitting of January 16th, 'James' appeared again. The boy said that his
father was a painter, who lived at 'Clarence Place'. He gave James Miles as his
A careful inspection of the London press reports and comparison with the records
of the sittings on January 9th and 16th, showed that all the verified facts
given at those two sittings were published in at least one London newspaper, the
Daily Express. Further we see that there is no correct statement obtained
at these two sittings that could not have been deduced from the account in the
Daily Express of December 30th. An interesting feature of this case is
the remarkable way in which every scrap of information given in the London press
was utilized to support the impersonation of the deceased lad.
When the wealth of accurate detail given at the first two sittings is compared
with the press account and then contrasted with the poverty and inaccuracy of
the later 'communications', no doubt is left that the newspapers were the source
of the information. To suppose that Mrs. Cooper had read the account of James
Miles' death in the Daily Express and unconsciously dramatized it is, on
the whole, the most rational explanation.
Dr. Soal added these comments:
'By the study of such cases as [that of James Miles
and of John Ferguson] we learn that the mere dramatization of a communicator by
tricks of intonation, peculiar and consistent style of address and the like,
affords no guarantee that we are in touch with discarnate agency. The tendency
to impersonate seems to be a native tendency of the unconscious mind. It is by
the quality of the information they communicate and by that alone that we must
test the claims of so-called "spirits".'
'Spirit Communications' from a Man Not Actually Dead
Trance communications by 'Gordon Davis'
In his 1926 article, Dr. Soal presented a case which has been cited by Dodds in
1934, and by Murphy in 1945, and again in 1957, as evidence against the belief
that spirits of the surviving dead take possession of or communicate directly
through mediums. The crucial facts of the case may be summarized as follows:
At a direct-voice sitting which Soal had with Mrs. Cooper, in January, 1922, a
"voice well articulated and extraordinarily clear and strong began to speak",
and gave the name Gordon Davis.
Soal had indeed known a boy of that name who lived at Rocheford near Southend.
He had been in the same class as Soal for geography and he sometimes brought
poison spears and other savage weapons in order to illustrate the lessons. Soal
lost sight of Davis after he left school and did not meet him again until the
summer of 1916. One Sunday when Soal was returning from leave Davis recognized
him on the platform of Shenfield railway station. Davis and Soal, who were both
cadets at that time, travelled together to Liverpool Street, and Davis told Soal
that next day he had to give a lecture to his fellow cadets on the ceremony of
mounting guard. He did not even mention that he was married. Shortly afterwards
both went to France and one day in 1920 Soal heard from a man at Rocheford that
Davis had been killed.
The 'spirit' of Davis who spoke through Mrs. Cooper mentioned a wife and child
and also volunteered correctly several names of persons connected with Rocheford
and known to Soal. He recalled bringing 'harpoons and things' to school and said
he 'was for brighter geography'. Soal asked him where they had last met and
'Davis' answered at once, 'It was on the train. We talked about guards but not
train guards.' The communicator spoke, in Dr. Soal's opinion, with a voice and
accent closely resembling Davis's so closely that early in the first sittings
Dr. Soal was impelled to cry out, 'By Jove, it's like Gordon Davis!'
But Davis was actually alive
Three years after the sitting described above, in April, 1925 Soal found that
Davis was still alive and practising as an estate agent in Southend. When Davis
was shown the record of the sitting he agreed that the communicator had
reproduced so successfully a number of Davis's mannerisms that the record was
indeed very like Gordon Davis. But, by means of a diary which he had kept in
1922, it was established that, at the very time when his 'spirit' was so
realistically communicating through Mrs. Cooper in London, he himself was
actually interviewing a client at Southend.
Did the 'spirit' of Gordon Davis show precognition?
At a second sitting in 1922, 'Davis' did not speak in person but 'Nada', Mrs.
Cooper's 'control', gave a detailed account of Davis's house, which Soal noted
down. This proved to be an accurate description of the environment and interior
arrangements of a house which Davis himself did not occupy until a year later.
Soal's commentary on the above case
In his 1926 article, Dr. Soal offered the following observations:
'For mediums to obtain knowledge supernormally about
a living person is not an infrequent occurrence. But cases in which the living
person appears to "control" the psychic and is dramatized and made to speak in
the first person are, I believe, extremely rare, although not unknown.
In the case under consideration the supernormal knowledge shown is of a high
order. Not only is there penetration into the past of the "communicator" but
there are considerable indications that the future was also anticipated.
One very interesting point arises. This dramatized personality, so accurate in
its other statements, apparently believes itself to be a deceased person.'
The Réallier case was similar
Gordon Davis was not the only man who, while still alive, appeared in a séance
as if dead. The following case was reported by Henry Holt in 1919:
Canon Douglas had a French chauffeur named Réallier who, at the outbreak of the
First World War, returned to France to enter the army. Canon Douglas heard from
his chauffeur after this only at long intervals. During a sitting with Mrs.
Effie Halsey in America, Réallier appeared as communicator. A deceased nephew of
Canon Douglas's, whose name was correctly given, purported to be 'helping' the
chauffeur to communicate. A profusion of good evidential material was given,
some of which the sitter knew at the time to be true. Other details were unknown
to him, but were corroborated later. In this category can be placed a
description of a 'toolchest in disgraceful disorder, with several of the tools
broken and useless', and a description of an expedition to Salonika.
But it was found later that the chauffeur actually was alive at the time when
his 'spirit' seemed to be communicating through the medium. At no time was he
near the point of death nor in a critical condition.
III. What about Telepathy from the Dead
Mrs. Sidgwick herself did not reject survival
While Dodds avowedly drew much of his evidence against the possession hypothesis
from data provided by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, her own ultimate conclusions differed
from his. In 1932, as a consummation of her long career in psychical research,
she wrote a paper on the activities of the society from the time of its
inception. Lord Balfour, who read the paper for her, made this announcement:
'I have Mrs. Sidgwick's assurance that she herself
holds a firm belief in survival, and in the reality of communication between the
living and the dead.'
She allowed it to be known that she accepted the
identity of communicators through Mrs. Willett. Even in connexion with what she
regarded as the hypnotically constructed pseudo-personalities of the Piper
trances, Mrs. Sidgwick said in 1915:
'If the whole dramatic form were play-acting, it
might still be the framework in which veridical communications come to us. In
fact, the question of what is the nature of the communicator as dramatically
presented to us, is distinct from the question whether there is any real
communicator in the background.
Veridical communications [have been] received, some of which, there is good
reason to believe, come from the dead and therefore imply genuine
Murphy reiterated the hypothesis of telepathy
from the dead
While Gardner Murphy agreed with Professor Dodds and Mrs. Sidgwick at least to
the extent of finding great difficulties in the possession hypothesis, he did
present in a favourable light the hypothesis which Mrs. Sidgwick had offered as
an alternative to possession - namely, telepathy from the dead. In 1957 he
summarized this alternative hypothesis as follows:
'It was Mrs. Henry Sidgwick who over fifty years ago
pointed to the most likely reality in the situation, a reality far indeed from
both of the competing hypotheses. She pointed out that according to any
psychological criteria the controls and communicators, for example, the
Imperator Band, and the various individuals who communicated with the living
through Mrs. Piper are all of them created by the anticipations, hopes, fears,
and modes of inference which we can broadly subsume under the term "suggestion".
As a matter of fact one can produce mediumistic phenomena in this way and get
characteristic, mediumistic results. Yet, she continued, the evidential material
produced in the communication can be derived telepathetically either from the
deceased or from the living. The hypothesis would thus provide for real survival
evidence. It would also provide for the well-documented cases in which
communicators appear, report themselves to be deceased, give authentic facts
unknown to anyone present, and are accepted as deceased communicators - all this
to be followed by the discovery that the persons involved were actually still
alive. I am referring especially to S. G. Soal's Gordon Davis case and to Canon
Douglas's Réallier case. Mrs. Sidgwick pointed out that the only reasonable
means by which one could derive such information would be a telepathic
interchange with some source possessing the facts. The dynamics, however, of
such interchange would probably be the same whether the source of such
information is incarnate or discarnate, alive or deceased. In other words,
brilliant telepathic material appearing as evidence of individuality can be
attributed either to the deceased or the living, depending upon internal
evidence and circumstantial detail.'
Dodds has rejected both spirit possession and
telepathy from the dead
Much of Dodds's article on 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival' is directed
specifically against 'the theory of possession', along lines indicated in the
earlier sections of this chapter. But he not only rejects possession: he rejects
the entire spiritistic hypothesis, including the version which depends on
telepathy from the dead. That hypothesis, he argues, involves a large number of
assumptions which, in his view, the evidence does not require us to make.
IV. Summing up the Anti-possession Evidence
The hypothesis against which Dodds directed his main
attack is that which attributes mediumistic communications 'to possession of the
medium's organism by surviving spirits of the dead'. That phraseology describes
quite accurately the central position taken by Drayton Thomas. As opposed to
that hypothesis, Dodds assembled factual evidence, consisting largely of
specific cases. Following him up, Murphy (as an agnostic rather than an
aggressive disbeliever) extended further the list of cases which seemed to be
basically inconsistent with Thomas's position. The major groups of such
counter-cases are as follows:
Mrs. Piper's chief controls included Phinuit and the 'Imperator' group, all of
whom gave considerable evidence of being fictitious. Even her most authentic
communicators showed frequent confusion.
Carington demonstrated that Mrs. Leonard's control, Feda, and Mrs. Garrett's
control, Uvani, were secondary personalities, organized around repressed
material. Yet communicators through these mediums insisted that the controls
were genuine, independent personalities.
Blanche Cooper's trances produced a wholly fictitious 'spirit' personality, and
offered dramatic 'communications' from a drowned boy, which proved to contain no
information not previously published in newspaper accounts.
In the Réallier and Gordon Davis cases, persons still alive 'came through' in
mediumistic communications, presenting themselves as spirits of the dead.
Theories which have been developed in connexion with such cases need to be
Chapter 8 has been devoted to the presentation of the counterevidence which
Dodds, Murphy and others have offered in refutation of the possession theory, as
held by Drayton Thomas and others, and against the spirit-telepathy theory, as
set forth by Sidgwick, Murphy, and others. But these cases have called forth
certain anti-survivalist theories which must not be ignored - among them the
theory of 'super-ESP'. To the exposition and discussion of such theories Chapter
9 will be devoted.
The above article was taken from Hornell Hart's "The Enigma of Survival. The
Case For and Against an After Life" (London: Rider & Co., 1959).