Dr. Raynor C. Johnson

Obtained a First Class in the final Honour School of Natural Science, then worked under Professor T. R. Merton, FRS, in the field of spectroscopy, and continued this research at the Queen's University of Belfast, where he was appointed Lecturer in Physics in 1923. In 1927 he left Belfast for a Lectureship in the University of London, King's College. He was awarded the Doctorate in Science of this University. In 1934 he was appointed Master of Queen's College in the University of Melbourne.

Survival of Death: The Problem

 - Raynor C. Johnson -

Mysterious Night! when our first parent knew
Thee from report divine, and heard thy name,
Did he not tremble for this lovely frame,
This glorious canopy of light and blue
Yet 'neath a curtain of translucent dew,
Bathed in the rays of the great setting flame,

Hesperus with the host of heaven came, 
And lo! Creation widened in man's view.
Who could have thought such darkness lay concealed
Within thy beams, O Sun? or who could find,
Whilst flower and leaf and insect stood revealed,

That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind! 
Why do we then shun Death with anxious strife? 
If Light can thus deceive, wherefore not Life?
Blanco White

Life, that dares send
A challenge to the end
And when it comes, say, "Welcome, Friend
R. Crashaw

"The thought of death leaves me in perfect peace, for I have a firm conviction that our spirit is a being of indestructible nature: it works on from eternity to eternity; it is like the sun, which though it seems to set to our mortal eyes, does not really set, but shines on perpetually."

          IT CAN, I think, truthfully be said of F. W. H. Myers, famous author of that classic Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, that no man desired proof of this more passionately than he, and no one laboured harder to attain it. There is a story told of Myers that, finding himself seated one day next to a distinguished business man in circumstances that called for conversation, he thought he would try to find out what the latter's idea of a life after death was. The business man, however, quickly steered the conversation away. Myers tried again, but once more met with no success. In the end he was reduced to putting the question directly, "What do you suppose happens after death?" The other looked rather embarrassed and said, after an awkward pause, "We shall enter into the joy of the Lord, I suppose. But why bring up such an unpleasant subject?

I doubt if more than one or two per cent of those who believe that they will survive death would give any more illuminating answer to the same question. Religious-sounding cliché largely concealing fear or ignorance would probably be found in the majority of replies.

We are told by Bede that when the monk Paulinus was at the Court of Edwin, King of Northumbria, in A.D. 627, endeavouring to persuade him to accept Christianity, the King was in two minds about it until one of his warriors spoke:

"The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison to the time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through that house wherein you sit at supper in winter with your ealdormen and thegns, while the fire blazes in the midst, and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad without. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry tempest: but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter into winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all. If therefore this new doctrine tells us something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed."

Edwin was, in fact, persuaded to accept the new teaching, and built the first York Cathedral. We should not infer from this that Christianity once had something to offer which it subsequently lost, but rather that answers which satisfy the questionings of one age prove wholly unsatisfying in the thought-climate of another. In this scientific age we are not concerned with beliefs but with knowledge; we have rejected the sanctions of authority for those of understanding. This is all to the good. It is better that we should suffer and grow through our own adventure and discovery than remain as children in a paradise of dreams. I have quoted Bede, however, to remind us that a warrior of the seventh century and a Northumbrian king had longings and hungers like our own when faced with the mysteries of Life and Death. There is a moment which comes to all men when they look for the last time on features they have loved, now still and unresponsive. Nothing seems so utterly dead as this frail temple of mortality from which the tenant has departed. It is then that we hunger beyond all else to know whence the bright spirit has flown. Can we know? How gladly would the questing mind in such an hour exchange much consolation for a little reliable knowledge.

I am far from supposing that Reason and the application of the Scientific Method are the only means of gathering knowledge.

Those who, study the next section of this book will see unfolding vistas of the higher self which can apprehend Truth in virtue of its own intrinsic nature. But since for most of us these ranges are not at present accessible to the will, we must use to the fullest extent the powers we have on the level of Mind. Because the change involving death of the body takes place on a lower significant level of reality than that of Mind, there can be no doubt of the adequacy of the Mind's powers, if fully used, to provide us with a complete solution of our problem. What progress we have made in this direction, it is hoped to survey in this chapter.

1. The Nature of Survival

Mr. G. N. M. Tyrrell has reminded us on several occasions(1) that the answers which can be given to most of our biggest questions depend on the background of thought from which they emerge. When therefore we pose the question, "Shall I survive the change called death?" much depends on the concept of "I" - the self. This we have endeavoured to describe in Chapter 12. Death means that the physical body is no longer serviceable as an instrument of the self, for the exploration of, and the response to, a physical environment. It is therefore discarded. It never was the self, as the common man is prone to think: it was an instrument of the self created by it - an ambassador or representative of it in foreign territory. With the death of the body presumably the etheric structure may vanish, or possibly the lower substratum of this; for our chief knowledge of it suggests that its function is largely that of a bridge between lower-Mind and the Physical Body. If the latter goes, the bridge is no longer needed. Thus we shall assume that the "astral" vehicle (see Figure, p. 239) forms the new "body" of the self. The astral environment or level of reality then becomes for the self an objective world. It is the new world of appearance in the after-death state, and it conveys to the common sense of beings on that plane the same appearance of being "real" as the world of matter does to the ordinary man on our present one. Doubtless there will be materialists and idealists in that world also: there will be the sceptics and scientists who will tell their fellows it is the only reality, and the questing few who will urge the necessity for a deeper exploration if Truth is to be found!

(1) E.g., Apparitions: Myers Memorial Lecture, pp. 120-2.

The image-making faculty of the mid-mind levels is now probably incorporated in the outer bodily structure and accessible to the will, so that vistas of creative activity in modifying and beautifying the environment unfold before the self. The creative faculty (Tyrrell's "stage-carpenter"), which in Chapter 9 could but rarely sustain an apparition for a short time, should now have free exercise within the limits of the laws and of the basic world-structure sustained by the World-Mind on that level. The arts should flourish, for they will be built into the structure of life and not be peripheral, as on the physical level.

The psi-faculty, in the absence of the limiting effect of the brain, should now become freely accessible as a mode of communication, giving awareness of events in wide ranges of space and time. Again - though this is speculative - there will probably be the necessity for senses in the astral body, to canalise and concentrate the psi-faculty for intimacy of acquaintance with the near environment. It is, of course, difficult not to transfer our material common-sense concepts to this higher level and formulate a picture of existence incorporating all the richness of sense-data (probably enormously extended) together with freedom from the grievous limitations of a physical body. In doing so we may be making a mistake - but my own inclination is to think that we are not, for several reasons. 1) Some indications are available to us from what we already know of the structure of the self. Our inferences from these, though very limited, are not going to be widely astray. 2) We have indications in Chapter 10 of experiences outside the physical body which suggest pseudo-sensory perception, though greatly widened in scope, and embodiment in finite forms, though far less restricted in freedom of movement. A close study of these cases is very illuminating(2). Both worlds - the material and the astral-are worlds of "appearance". From the standpoint of higher-Mind, which is still subjective to denizens of these worlds (see Figure, p. 239), they are both worlds of dream or relative illusion. Their limited measure of reality is sustained by, and is only an aspect of, the higher, and of the two, the material is the more removed from reality. Now, space, time and finite form are creations and impositions of higher mind. We should therefore expect to find them still controlling - though probably with less domination - the astral world, as they do the material world.

(2) Cf. also Tyrrell's views in Science and Psychical Phenomena, pp. 277-80 (Methuen & Co., 1938).

By "survival of the change called death" in our initial question we therefore mean: will the whole hierarchy of the self continue in its richness of being when the body disintegrates? Shall I, this centre of consciousness which I know myself to be, with all my higher faculty of Love, of Creativity, of passionate hunger for Beauty and Truth, with my essential memories and my gathered harvest of wisdom (small though it be): shall I continue in unbroken communion with those I love and with these values? This is at heart the question we really want answered-and put in this form it takes us far beyond the realm where psychical research alone can give us complete information. Indeed, it is perfectly obvious that the answer has been implicit in our assumption of an ascending hierarchy of levels of reality in the self. Clearly the existence of the more real cannot depend on that of the less real: the very opposite is true. Putting aside the larger question for the present, let us endeavour to discover how much psychical research has established by the experimental method.

2. The Problem of Proof

What do we mean by "proof" of survival? It would be well if we asked ourselves precisely what sort of evidence we should be prepared to accept as proof, and then we can see if it is obtainable. Suppose an honest medium claimed that he (or she) was in communication with an intimate friend of ours who had died, what would satisfy us that the claim was true? Let us take the much simpler case: a friend is believed to be on one side of an impenetrable screen and we are on the other. It is opaque, and somewhat distorts the voice, although conversation is still possible. How should we identify our friend? We should undoubtedly be able to do so through the myriad subtle emotional, intellectual and moral distinctions which make each individual unique. I think we should particularly make use of (a) mannerisms or idiosyncrasies of thought, speech or action; (b) specific memories and interests which were shared; (c) reactions, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, to circumstance - which would reveal the underlying character. The problem with a medium is much more difficult: she is not an impersonal screen, but unconsciously adds to and colours all communications. Moreover, this is not all. It is unquestionable that in mediumistic trance the sensitive frequently achieves telepathic rapport with the sitter and in these circumstances may be "mind-reading". In other words, the memories shared with the "dead" friend, and perhaps with no other living person, may have been unconsciously drawn by the medium from the sitter's own mind and presented through the medium back to the sitter. Thus telepathy between the living, and not communication from the "dead", may be the source of intimate information and impressive memories. Even mannerisms or idiosyncrasies of the friend allegedly communicating may have been drawn by the medium from the subconscious memory of the sitter. Suppose the "dead" friend - through the medium correctly informs the sitter of some unusual happening which will occur to him within a week, this may be precognitive faculty of the medium's deeper mind. Suppose X informs Y that he proposes to leave a message in a sealed envelope in safe custody, and that after his death, should he die first, he will endeavour to communicate its nature to Y. Suppose this was done accurately: would it prove the survival of X? There would certainly be a reasonable presumption of it, but we have at least to recognise two theoretical possibilities. 1) That the clairvoyant faculty of the medium "read" this document, learning of its existence telepathically from Y. 2) That the message of X leaked telepathically into the subconscious of Y and remained there latent - i.e., never rising into Y's consciousness. The medium obtained it telepathically from this source. If X decided to leave a message in cypher and transmit after his death the key which would enable it to be decoded, this would be better evidence of survival in that 1) would be eliminated.

We see, then, that much intimate matter believed known to only two people, or much impressive information which might at one time have been assumed as only within the compass of a discarnate mind, has to be recognised as available to incarnate minds through the exercise of psi-faculty. It is rather an ironical situation, for the evidence of psychical research has brought to us a recognition of the vast sweep of Mind, of its extraordinary powers not tied down to one point of time and space, and in doing this has shown it to be most improbable that Mind depends on matter for its ability to exist and function. Never has the survival by Mind of the death of the body seemed so probable, on the basis of evidence, yet never has conclusive experimental proof of survival been so difficult to secure. If we knew definitely what are the limits beyond which extra-sensory faculty cannot operate, it would be possible to devise a conclusive experiment; but we do not know these limits.

We have surveyed some of the legitimate criticism which sees in the exercise of para-normal faculty by a medium an alternative explanation to communication from discarnate minds. We shall now look briefly at some of the experiments and tests designed to make the para-normal-faculty theory look less and less plausible.

3. Book Tests

Book Tests originated with the mediumship of Mrs. Osborne Leonard, who goes into a deep trance, in which she is ostensibly controlled by a little Indian girl called "Feda". This matter is discussed later in Section 5. Feda purports to control the physical organism of Mrs. Leonard and pass on messages from persons on the other side. Here is an example:

Sitters: Miss Radclyffe-Hall and Lady Troutbridge(3). "Feda" indicated a certain row of books in Miss Radclyffe-Hall's flat (where Mrs. Leonard had never been) and said that on p. 14 of the fifth book from the left something about half-way down the page gave her a feeling of heat; it might be heat like a hot fire, or it might be great anger spoken of as heat. The book indicated had not been read or opened by the sitters. Its pages had thirty-three lines. On line 16 of p. 14 occur the words "ardent patriot". Incidentally on line 15 of p. 15, almost adjacent when the book is closed, occurs the word "bonfire".

(3) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 30, p. 339 (1919).

"Feda" ascribes this information to clairvoyance by the communicating spirit, but of course clairvoyance by the mind of the medium or the sitters or a combination of both of these is a possibility. I give one other illustration - the most interesting and impressive I have read.

Sitter: Lady Pamela Glenconner(4). One of her sons, Edward Wyndham Termant, known within the family as "Bim", had been killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His father, Lord Glenconner, was extremely interested in forestry and planned and tended the forest areas on his own estates with great care. Lady Glenconner writes:

(4) From The Earthen Vessel, by Lady Pamela Glenconner (John Lane, 1921).

"... During walks through the fragrant woods, when expressions of admiration or delight in the lovely scenery arose, how often would the depressing verdict be uttered by the 'Master of the Trees' that the young shoots were being ruined by the 'beetle'. 'You see all those quirks - those sudden bends in the new growths? Those show the beetle has got at them. You wouldn't see the damage to the young trees as I do, and it's the greatest pest we have to deal with ...' and much more of the like in conversation. So familiar was the theme to the family that 'Bim' has been known to say to his mother sotto voce, 'See if we get through this wood without hearing about the beetle'. If his father was unduly pessimistic about something 'Bim' would say 'All the woods have got the beetle'."

We have here a homely instance of a family joke, something trivial but peculiarly characteristic of "Bim". In a sitting with Mrs. Leonard in December 1917 the control Feda", after giving other messages, said "Bim now wants to send a message to his father. This book is particularly for his father. Underline that, he says. It is the ninth book on the third shelf, counting from the left to right, in the bookcase on the right of the door in the drawing-room as you enter; take the title and look at page 37." The book indicated was in fact Trees (by J. H. Kelman), and on page 36 at the bottom, leading on to page 37 were the words, "Sometimes you will see curious marks in the wood; these are caused by a tunnelling beetle, very injurious to the trees..." Lady Glenconner says, "Had a chance observer been present when we traced this test, he would have said, 'This is no mourning family, these are happy people and he would have been right".

The alternative explanation to this would be that the medium (a) derived this convincing characteristic of "Bim" telepathically from the mind of one of the sitters, (b) exercised an extraordinary power of clairvoyance to find an appropriate illustration of it. Because we do not know the limits of psi, we cannot say these are impossible achievements. These examples will serve to illustrate the idea of book tests. Their implications have been discussed by many competent researchers(4), but I do not think we can say more than that they are most impressive evidence for the fact of clairvoyance, and a reminder that available to Mind there is a power of gathering detailed knowledge of the kind particularly desired which any librarian might envy! It is not, of course, unreasonable to suggest that clairvoyance of this quality may be available to the discarnate mind more extensively than to the incarnate mind tied up to a material brain(5) This supposition is reasonable enough - but we are concerned here with proof of survival, and we must admit that book tests do not help us in this.

(4) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 31, p. 242; Vol. 33, p. 606; Vol. 40, p. 129; etc.
(5) This should not be underestimated. Consider, for example, the Gordon Davis case of Dr. S. G. Soal (Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 35), where clearly a medium showed precognitive clairvoyance of a remarkable kind.

4. Proxy Sittings

If a person who possesses memories of his deceased friend sits with a medium, telepathy may quite naturally be advanced as the source of the medium's information. Where a stranger or a friend sits on his behalf with the medium - someone who knows no more of the deceased person than merely the name - we make the telepathic explanation much more difficult. To retain it we should have to assume that the medium (a) derives from the mind of the sitter the name and whereabouts of the person on whose behalf he is sitting, and (b) derives from the mind of this distant person knowledge about the deceased one. The necessity to postulate indirect linkage of this kind starts to undermine confidence in the adequacy of the telepathic theory. Those who desire to study the results obtained will find plenty of material available. The Rev. C. Drayton Thomas has given an account of twenty-four such sittings with Mrs. Leonard as medium(6). More impressive, and perhaps more valuable to the student, is a particular case (that of Bobby Newlove)(7), in relation to which Mr. Thomas held eleven sittings with Mrs. Leonard. He had received a letter from a Mr. Hatch of Nelson, Lancs, asking him if he would endeavour to obtain information about Bobby, aged 10, who had recently died of diphtheria and was his step-daughter's son. The information which Mr. Thomas was able to send to Mr. Hatch finally convinced the latter that Bobby had established his identity. This information included an intimate knowledge of Bobby's home, his surroundings, his friends, etc., including - and this is interesting - information not in the mind of Mr. Hatch but which he was able subsequently to verify. This is of some importance, for Mr. Thomas had taken Mr. Hatch's letter to his first sitting with Mrs. Leonard, and if we accept psychometry as factual, the handling of this letter would have made possible a degree of mental rapport between Mrs. Leonard and Mr. Hatch. Among this information was a reference to a broken stile on a walk which Bobby liked. Mr. Hatch later discovered from a friend that a stile had been there, but was removed shortly before Bobby's death. Another remarkable piece of information was details of a route to a place where Bobby played frequently for some weeks prior to his death. This place was unhealthy by reason of two drain-pipes and it was suggested that Bobby's illness may have derived from this. Many who read Drayton Thomas's detailed account will probably decide that the simplest explanation is that which assumes the survival of Bobby, and that he communicated directly or indirectly through Mrs. Leonard. Others will take the view that telepathic rapport having been established with Mr. Hatch (unknown, of course, to him), the clairvoyant faculty of the medium applied to his home and neighbourhood - with perhaps a flash or two of retrocognition - will account for these data.

(6) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 41, p. 139. 
(7) Ibid., Vol. 43, pp. 439-5 19 (1935).

It is again clearly a matter of balancing relative probabilities there are some who feel an explanation based on survival is much more probable, and vice versa.

5. The Problem of Mediumship

It is impossible to discuss the evidence for survival without considering the nature of mediumship. It is not a subject which is easy to deal with briefly, for the attempt to unravel its nature has been the subject of many papers and several books. (References to some of these are given in footnotes and will indicate sources of fuller information.)

We have already made clear the general conception of the self as a synthesis or hierarchy of principles or vehicles, recognising that on each of these levels there is a whole world of significant phenomena shared by the corresponding principles of other individuals. We have suggested that objectivity and subjectivity are terms relative to the individual, depending on the particular level on which the consciousness is focused for the time being. Wherever this is temporarily found is the growing point of the psyche, and on this level is made a sharp distinction between the world which seems external and is held in common (objective) and the worlds of the interior levels which seem private (subjective). A "medium" or "sensitive" is a person who can at will withdraw consciousness in some degree to a level interior to the normal waking one, and at the same time keep open a channel of communication with the latter, usually through writing or speaking. There are two general methods of study of mediumship available: 1) that which has been adopted by the Society for Psychical Research over the last sixty years, which is the method of objective analytical study of trance data and conditions, and 2) the use of highly developed clairvoyant faculty to " see" what is happening. It is, of course, true that the interpretation of what is "seen" is involved in the latter, but the chief difficulty is that there are so few persons with this faculty developed to the necessary degree. As an example of the second method of study I quote briefly from the findings of Phoebe Payne(8), who (apart from poltergeist mediums) makes a practical classification of mediums into five groups.

(8) Phoebe Payne: Man's Latent Powers (Faber & Faber, 1938). A recent study of trance phenomena has been published by Dr. and Mrs. Bendit (nee Payne), This World and That (Faber & Faber, 1950).

1. The medium who uses unconscious self-hypnosis. There is here no evidence of any external influence. There is a genuine degree of trance, but the phenomena are obviously crude impersonations or dramatisations carried out by a level of the subliminal mind. It adopts the role of an actor and plays one part after another - from General Booth to Queen Victoria - expressing sentiments the origins of which are not difficult to trace. The process is probably often compensatory for limitations in everyday life.

2. The medium who works in a semi-conscious state under partial control. This is not, as previously, characterised by the up-welling of thought-forms from within, but is described as the overshadowing of another personality. It appears as a "gradual superimposing of the mental and emotional bodies of the control upon those of the medium and the result is like a double exposure of a film or plate". On other occasions the linkage appears to be telepathic. Mrs. Bendit herself experimented at one time with this form of trance and has given a most interesting subjective appraisal of it.

"My ordinary consciousness of people and environment was still there but a long way off, and an increasing acuteness of perception began to manifest. This awareness extended in two directions: into the outer world with a strange penetration into people's thoughts and emotions and a greatly enhanced range of knowledge, and into the inner worlds so that their details became as clear to my perception as the physical plane... My own small thinking went on as an aside without any conscious volition and did not in the least interfere with the theme which was being expounded ... my ordinary personality was ... manipulated by something very much bigger ... to me infinitely more an influence than a person.

I think it is in Mrs. Bendit's mind an open question whether this "control" is really a distinct and presumably discarnate being or an up-welling of influence from the more central self. Possibly sometimes the one, sometimes the other is true.

3. The completely controlled or dead-trance medium. This is a comparatively rare type, in which the medium's own self withdraws from the physical-etheric vehicles in its astral body, and these vehicles are controlled by a quite different mind. The transformation thereby effected is sometimes remarkable - even the appearance of the face as well as the character and atmosphere are of a different personality.

4. The receptive but self-controlled psychic who remains self-conscious and directs his own psychism at will. In terms of the corresponding activity of the etheric body, Mrs. Bendit says that the solar plexus chakram is no longer the main active centre, but that the heart and throat centres become active. She says further that "the better the education and moral development of the sensitive, the finer will be the quality of his work, because it is almost impossible to transmit information with which there are no corresponding ideas in consciousness". 

5. The psychic using his own powers without extraneous aid. This is the fullest development of the preceding type, except that the head chakram of the etheric body is now dominantly used. Of this type Mrs. Bendit says:

"To him psychism is an art which he practises assiduously, as a dancer or musician practises in order to perfect technique; it is the background against which he sees the whole drama of life ... he lives naturally in several worlds at once except when he chooses to close his own psychic doors."

Mrs. Bendit's classification (based on her own psychism) is valuable, and, as far as I can see, conflicts at no point with the more general conclusions arrived at by the other method. If we are to advance substantially in our knowledge of this field, it will have to be through the development of a sufficient number of first-class psychics whose observations can be used as checks one against the other. This is a thoroughly scientific procedure.

Among the mediums subjected to very prolonged study by distinguished members of the Society for Psychical Research I shall refer briefly to two: Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Willett. The first of these is probably to be classified as Type 2 or possibly 3 at times, and the second, Type 4 in Mrs. Bendit's scheme.

Mrs. Piper was an American woman whose phenomena were studied for about twenty-five years-between 1886 and 1911. A brilliant, exhaustive and critical study of the whole of her record was made in 1915 by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick(9). Two conclusions were accepted by all the responsible investigators - that Mrs. Piper displayed super-normal knowledge in her trance, and that this was not acquired by fraudulent means or wholly derived telepathically from the mind of the sitter. From where, then, was it derived?

(9) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 28 (1915). This comprises over 600 pages. Tyrrell, in Chapter XII of Science and Psychical Phenomena, has given a very brief survey.

It should be explained for the benefit of those who are not familiar with these phenomena that when a medium loses consciousness and goes into a trance, another intelligence usually begins to speak through the medium (or use the medium's hand to write). This is called the medium's "control" or "guide", for he manipulates the medium's organism. He acts as a go-between, and professes to hand on to the sitter the words of the communicator or communicators - the deceased person or persons with whom the sitter desires to be in touch. A medium may have one control or several.

The underlying idea is that the manipulation of the medium's organism requires some skill and practice: hence the role of a "control" who takes charge. In the early years of Mrs. Piper's mediumship there were a number of such controls, who called themselves "Chlorine", Mrs. Siddons, Johann Sebastian Bach, Longfellow, Commodore Vanderbilt and Phinuit (the chief). In the years 1892-7 a new control appeared - George Pelham, a lawyer who had recently died and who had been a friend of Dr. Hodgson, an eminent investigator. From 1897 to 1905 a new group of controls, calling themselves the "Imperator Band", appeared: these had formerly been controls of the English medium, Stainton Moses, Finally, after Dr. Hodgson's death in 1905, there appeared a Hodgson control. These controls all claim to be discarnate spirits. The main questions to which we want answers are these. Are these controls what they claim to be? Is there any evidence that any spirit independent of Mrs. Piper at any time controlled her organism? If not, what is the interpretation of these controls? As to the communicators who speak via the controls, are they the spirits they purport to be? These are the questions, upon satisfactory answers to which hangs the issue of communication between the living and the dead. Space does not allow us to do more than weigh the answers which those most competent to judge themselves formed. Dr. Richard Hodgson studied Mrs. Piper's mediumship for about twelve years(10). His earlier report had been one of guarded scepticism. I shall quote from his later one:

(10) Proc. S.P.R., Vols. 8 and 13.

"In my previous report ... I urged that there were almost insuperable objections to the supposition that such deceased persons were in direct communication with Phinuit, at least in anything like the fullness of their personality ... but it seemed to me a hypothesis that should be continually borne in mind, that there might be some actual communication through Mrs. Piper's trance, but that the communication has been subject to certain unavoidable limitations. ... [later] At the present time I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the chief communicators to whom I have referred in the foregoing pages are veritably the personalities that they claim to be, that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us whom we call living through Mrs. Piper's entranced organism."

It was the evidence furnished by George Pelham (G. P.), who communicated - as a direct control - for several years after his death, which finally convinced Dr. Hodgson. I quote from his report on this:

"Nor has he [G. P.] failed in the recognition of personal friends. I may say generally that out of a large number of sitters who went as strangers to Mrs. Piper, the communicating G. P. has picked out the friends of G. P. living, precisely as the G. P. living might have been expected to do. (Thirty cases of recognition out of at least one hundred and fifty who have had sittings with Mrs. Piper since the first appearance of G. P. and no case of false recognition.) He has exhibited memories in connection with these and other friends which are such as would naturally be associated as part of the G. P. personality, which certainly do not suggest in themselves that they originate otherwise, and which were accompanied by the emotional relations which were connected with such friends in the mind of G. P. living.

"At one of his early communications G. P. expressly undertook the task of rendering all the assistance in his power towards establishing the continued existence of himself and other communicators, in pursuance of a promise of which he himself reminded me, made some two years or more before his death, that if he died before me and found himself 'still existing,' he would devote himself to proving the fact; and in the persistence of his endeavour to overcome the difficulties in communicating, as far as possible, in his constant readiness to act as amanuensis at the sittings, in the effect which he has produced by his counsels - to myself as investigator, and to numerous other sitters and communicators - he has, in so far as I can form a judgment in a problem so complex and still presenting so much obscurity, displayed the keenness and pertinacity which were eminently characteristic of G. P. living."

It must be admitted that such appropriate reactions to various friends are a subtle and very impressive psychological feature. It is difficult to see what better evidence than this could be expected.

On the other hand, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, after her lengthy study of all the evidence, came to the conclusion that the controls were probably dramatised phases of Mrs. Piper's own consciousness. The "hypnotic self" was impersonating a number of characters successively: they were not considered to be co-existing secondary personalities such as occur sometimes in abnormal psychology. When it is recalled that some of these purported to be Julius Cesar, Moses (of the Old Testament), George Eliot and "Imperator", supposed to be a very exalted spirit, but who talked vaguely and even immaturely, few intelligent people will think Mrs. Sidgwick's conclusion lacked considerable justification. She holds a similar opinion of the "communicators".

It is an extraordinary position: there is enough good evidence in the case of G. P. to convince able men like Dr. Hodgson and Sir Oliver Lodge of his genuineness as a communicator and control, and there is enough nonsense in general to make Mrs. Sidgwick conclude that the controls, in spite of all their asseverations, were dramatisations of part of Mrs. Piper's subliminal mind. I think we must come to the only possible conclusion: that expressed in the simple form already discussed the whole issue has been over-simplified. If we insist on "either/or" with unsatisfactory premises we are liable to find ourselves in a dilemma. Professor William James, who studied the Hodgson control of Mrs. Piper, believed that the processes were much more complex than those of the simple assumptions involved in the terms "control" and "communicator". He said:

"Extraneous 'wills-to-communicate' may contribute to the results, as well as a 'will-to-personate', and the two kinds of will may be distinct in entity, though capable of helping each other out. The will-to-communicate in our present instance would be, on a prima facie view of it, the will of Hodgson's surviving spirit; and it can make fragmentary gleams and flashes of what it wishes to say mix with the rubbish of the trance talk on this side. The two wills might thus strike up a sort of partnership and reinforce each other. It might even be that the will-to-personate would be comparatively inert unless it were aroused to activity by the other will..."

The fact is that the will-to-communicate may often be there; but to suppose that the trance material is wholly of this origin, or not at all of this origin, is to present extreme alternatives. Mrs. Sidgwick recognises frankly, "If the whole dramatic form were play-acting, it might still be the framework in which veridical communications come to us." I think we are also prone to forget the possibility that just as the medium withdraws consciousness from his normal state and loses awareness of the waking world in order to function as a medium, there may be some corresponding displacement of consciousness necessary on the side of the communicator. This may place him temporarily out of touch (wholly or partially) with his environment, and immerse him in the limitations of a normal human outlook, or even of a dream state. To achieve a poised state neither too projected nor too withdrawn may be a matter of great difficulty. It is possible that if a communicator retains his normal human state too closely, his possibility of communication is weak and wavering; if he departs too far from his norm, communication lines may be good but he may have nothing convincing to say because he is immersed in a dream-like state. It would seem likely that G. P. achieved considerable facility in maintaining the necessary conditions on his side, and it is equally evident that others were much less successful. It cannot be pretended that this is a very satisfactory conclusion: I think so far as trance medium - the Types 2 and 3 of Mrs. Bendit - are concerned, we do not know enough to generalise. A particular instance may give convincing evidence of the survival of a particular personality. I should be disposed to accept Hodgson's judgment about G. P. Many other instances of "communicators" through the same medium may be most unconvincing, an yet remarkable flashes amid a lot of nonsense may suggest to us the possibility that there is a will-to-communicate in the background.

The mediumship of Mrs. Willett is of quite a different kind from Mrs. Piper's, being characterised by her retaining a consciousness of self. It covers a period of about twenty years (1908-28), and a most valuable analytical study of it has been made by the Earl of Balfour(11). In its earliest form it was automatic script in a handwriting which differed from that normally characteristic of Mrs. Willett. The earliest communicators purported to be F. W. H. Myers and Edmund Gurney, but subsequently there joined them Henry Sidgwick, S. H. Butcher, A. W. Verrall and another whose anonymity is preserved. These names constitute, of course, the brilliant and scholarly group to whose enterprise the founding of the London Society for Psychical Research was due. Early in 1909 Myers and Gurney indicated in the script that they were going to attempt a new type of communication ("I don't want her to develop into a second Piper"). Thus "Myers" wrote:

(11) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 43, pp. 43-318 (1935).

"I am trying experiments with you to make you hear without writing, therefore as it is I Myers who do this deliberately, do not fear or wince when words enter your consciousness, or subsequently when such words are in the script. On the contrary it will be the success of my purpose if you recognise in your script phrases you have found in your consciousness. I know this must be for a while disconcerting and be filled with the fear of that eternal S.S. [subliminal self] which I hope we have succeeded in dethroning to some extent. Therefore be agreeing to be disconcerted and do not analyse whence these impressions which I shall in future refer to as Daylight Impressions - come from, they are part of a psychic education framed by me for you ..."

Balfour speaks in his report of silent D.I.s where the message is remembered and written down, or spoken D.I.s where it is taken down verbatim at the time by a sitter. Script combined with this became the most usual form of Mrs. Willett's developed mediumship. Her own subjective account is very interesting. In a letter to Mrs. Verrall dated September 27th, 1909, she writes:

"I got no impression of appearance, only character, and in some way voice or pronunciation (though this doesn't mean that my ears hear you know!). That is always so in D.I. I don't feel a sense of 'seeing', but an intense sense of personality, like a blind person perhaps might have-and of inflections, such as of amusement or emotion on the part of the speaker. If you asked me how I know when E. G. is speaking and not F. W. H. M., I can't exactly define, except that to me it would be impossible to be in doubt one instant and with E. G. I often know he is there a second or two before he speaks... I then sometimes speak first ... To me, by now there isn't anything strange in D.I.s except when I try to explain anything about them; then I realise suddenly they are unusual! But otherwise it gives me no more sense of oddness to be talking to these invisible people than it does to be talking to my son for instance. But I don't think I mentally visualise any sort of 'appearance' with regard to them - it is as 'minds ' and 'characters' that they are real to me, and yet not at all intangible or not-solid realities..."

In contrast with the Piper trance phenomena, not only does Mrs. Willett retain a degree of consciousness of the self throughout, but also there are no "controls". She is in her own person in touch with the communicators, who are the small select group referred to. The substance of the communications discussed by Earl Balfour includes much detail of the modus operandi of the process. Expressed in broadest terms, it is a telepathic process between the minds of the communicator and the medium, and the details of this are discussed in many scripts. The scripts of Mrs. Willett also cover discussions of telepathy, inspiration, the structure of the self and other metaphysical questions which clearly sometimes did not interest Mrs. Willett, but were wholly commensurate with the interests and the intelligence of the alleged communicators. A student of Lord Balfour's paper will feel the atmosphere of scholarship and of research which was so characteristic of the persons who purport to communicate, when they were alive on earth. Lord Balfour's judgment of the scripts is "they show a power of thought on difficult and abstruse subjects which, knowing Mrs. Willett as intimately as I do, I certainly should not have expected from her normal self". Mrs. Willett was a well-read and intelligent lady but not particularly interested in the psychological and metaphysical problems which are discussed so constantly in the scripts. What judgment, then, shall we pass on the status of the communicators?

In the introduction to his paper Lord Balfour, speaking of survival and the possibility and reality of spirit communication says, "My personal belief, arrived at after much study and reflection, leans strongly in favour of an affirmative answer." He also informs us that the scripts which he has been free to use are only a selection from the total and that:

"It would be impossible to do justice to the argument in favour of spirit communication on the basis of the Willett phenomena without violating confidences which I am bound to respect... If I had before me only those Willett scripts to which I have been referring, I frankly admit that I should have been at a loss whether to attribute them to subliminal activity or to a source entirely outside the personality of the medium... But having before me the whole of the Willett scripts, arid being in a position to compare them with the scripts of other automatists of our group and with facts known to me but not known to Mrs. Willett herself, I am personally of opinion that they contain evidence of supernormally acquired knowledge which no mere subliminal mentation will suffice to account for."

It seems clear that the private scripts must have contained intimate memories, and a wealth of mannerisms and characteristics of these scholars, some of whom Lord Balfour had known intimately. The fact that he was able to come to the conclusion he announced is one which must carry very great weight.

6. The Evidence of Cross-Correspondence

No resume of the various lines of experiment which have contributed evidence relating to survival of death would be complete without some account of Cross-Correspondence. Its peculiar interest lies in the fact that ostensibly it is a type of experiment devised and conducted by the group of distinguished friends, Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick, Butcher and Verrall, who in their lifetime contributed so much in the field of psychical research. The experiment was made possible through the fact that four ladies who were deeply interested in the work of psychical research had developed considerable facility in automatic writing. These were Mrs. Verrall, Mrs. Holland, Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Salter. The idea underlying Cross-Correspondence is this. Suppose an incident or a theme characteristic, let us say, of the deceased F. W. H. Myers appeared in an automatic script, it might be claimed by the critic that it had been drawn from the medium's own subliminal mind or derived by her telepathically from the minds of other living persons who knew Myers. Suppose, however, that Myers (whom we will postulate as surviving) divided his message into phrases and fragments, sending some of these through the script of one automatist and some through the script of a second and of a third. These fragments, which to the automatists would seem meaningless and incoherent, if pieced together skilfully by an independent person would show purpose and planning by a mind independent of the automatists. Evidence that such experiments were being attempted began to appear in scripts from 1907 onwards. Some of the more highly developed themes contain a wealth of classical and literary allusions which demanded from the solvers of the puzzle a like knowledge combined with considerable ingenuity.

It is not proposed to illustrate this here, but the student should study a case or two for himself(12). The chief criticisms which have been levelled against the obvious interpretation of this remarkable series of experiments are these. (a) That the pattern and design found in the scripts were illusory and that the data were, so to speak, forced into the supposed theory. (b) That the originating mind was Mrs. Verrall's (she being a classical scholar), and that in some obscure way fragments leaked over from her subliminal mind to those of her fellow automatists. To examine these possibilities experimentally, a dummy cross-correspondence experiment was devised(13); but no support for these criticisms was obtained from it. Moreover, if the suggestion that Mrs. Verrall's subliminal mind was the source of the experiments is seriously entertained, it is remarkable that at the time of the supposed "leakage" no indications of the same theme occurred in her own automatic scripts. It cannot also be overlooked that the Cross-Correspondence phenomena did not cease after Mrs. Verrall died in 1916. This criticism, moreover, attributes to the subliminal mind a degree of ingenious purpose, planning, and distribution for which we have no other evidence.

(12) Chapter 17 of G. N. M. Tyrrell's Science and Psychical Phenomena will give an impression of the work, or Evidence for Personal Survival from Cross-Correspondences. H. F. Saltmarsh (Bell & Co.).
(13) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 36, p. 526.

Mrs. Sidgwick cautiously said of the Cross-Correspondence experiments, "I myself think that the evidence is pointing towards the conclusion that our fellow-workers are still working with us". It is also very impressive to find that those who for many years were most closely involved in the solution and ordering of the Cross-Correspondence material, notably Mr. J. G. Piddington and the Earl of Balfour, endorsed the opinion expressed by Mrs. Sidgwick.

7. Important Opinions on Survival

Each student of the evidence must decide for himself what is his verdict about Survival. He is not limited to two contrasting judgments "proven" or "not proven". He may think it not proven and improbable; he may think it not proven but probable - in which case he will adopt it as a working hypothesis - or he may he confident it is proven - in which case he has found for himself an answer to one of Life's most heart-searching questions and should feel both relief and gratitude.

Expert witnesses may help us to arrive at our verdict. In any case, we should hear what they have to say before we decide. The names I quote are all distinguished by their critical caution and intelligence, and - what is most essential - the persons have in all cases spent many years of their life in first-hand study of the data.

Professor Charles Richet, who died in December 1935, was Professor of Physiology in the University of Paris. He was a Nobel prize-man for his work on anaphylaxis and a world authority on nutrition in health and disease, as well as a man of wide cultural and literary interests. He was a careful experimenter and observer, and no one would doubt that when Richet was satisfied as to a fact it could be relied upon. For a considerable part of his life he was profoundly interested in the field of psychical research, and he became wholly convinced of the facts of 1) cryptesthesia (his term to cover telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition), 2) telekinesis (his term for psycho-kinesis), and 3) the appearance of ectoplasm (i.e., the materialisation phenomena). He admitted these things, because he was an honest and courageous observer, and could do no other(14). He theorised very little about them. He saw that they were wholly apart from the orthodox scientific picture of the world, and he was oppressed by a sense of our abysmal ignorance. "We have understood nothing," he said, "absolutely nothing, of all these phenomena", and he felt it would be for the future to try to formulate hypotheses about them. He was a personal friend of F. W. H. Myers and his wife, and of Sir Oliver Lodge: they exchanged many friendly visits and discussed their differing views. To the end he remained an agnostic so far as Survival was concerned. He could not break away from conclusions which as a physiologist he felt compelled to draw from the data of this field, which he considered, "established by innumerable proofs, a narrow, rigorous parallelism between intellectual functions, otherwise called memory, and the brain". He continues: "I cannot believe that memory can exist without the anatomical and physiological integrity of the brain. Whenever there is no more oxygen, whenever the temperature is either too low or too high, when there are a few drops of atropine, or morphine or chloroform introduced into the blood, whenever the course of cerebral irrigation is stopped - memory alters and disappears." In his public utterances he maintained to the end a materialist position, but Sir Oliver Lodge has told us that in private he confessed "he was sometimes nearly bowled over by the evidence [of Survival]". Sir Oliver quotes from a letter written to him by Richet in July 1932 in which he says, "I am going to publish a book entitled 'The Great Hope'. And without being resolutely spiritist in the sense of Conan Doyle and Allan Kardec, I am approaching insensibly to your ideas."

(14) Thirty Years of Psychical Research (Macmillan & Co., 1923) is the title of the English translation of his great work Traite de Metapsychique. (See a review by Sir Oliver Lodge: Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 34, pp 70-106.)

H. F. Saltmarsh, who died in February 1943, was a man of great practical and business ability which he placed at the disposal of the Society for Psychical Research. He had also an interest in philosophical questions and had made contributions from time to time to the Proceedings. Two booklets are his-on Foreknowledge, and Cross-Correspondence - and he had made a careful first-hand examination of the mediumship of Mrs. Warren Elliott(15). The themes which interested him most were the basic ones: the nature of the human self, and the nature of time and causation. In two of his papers, "Is Proof of Survival Possible?" (Vol. 40) and "Ambiguity in the Question of Survival" (Vol. 46), he showed his deep and critical interest in this theme. It is of particular interest, therefore, to have a quotation provided by W. H. Salter from a letter Saltmarsh wrote to a friend bereaved in the war(16):

(15) See Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 39.
(16) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 47, p. 154.

"I suggest that we are wrong in identifying the 'me which I now recognise as myself' as the total true me. The first of these two 'me's' - call it for brevity the superficial me - is a composite being, largely composed of elements derived from the physical body; it is ephemeral, seeing that the compound will be broken up at death and one set of elements, viz., the physical, dispersed... I do not believe in the survival of the superficial me, nor do I desire it... In honesty, I must confess that I am not completely convinced that there is any survival at all. I am inclined to think there is, but am not quite sure."

Sir Oliver Lodge, who died in August 1940, was a distinguished physicist. In the early years of this century he arrived at a conviction of the fact of survival and maintained it consistently throughout his long life. Thus, towards the end of his book The Survival of Man, first published in 1909, he writes(17)

(17) The Survival of Man, Chapter 26 (Methuen & Co.).

"We find deceased friends - some of them well known to us and active members of the Society while alive - especially Gurney, Myers and Hodgson - constantly purporting to communicate, with the express purpose of patiently proving their identity and giving us cross-correspondence between different mediums. We also find them answering specific questions in a manner characteristic of their known personalities and giving evidence of knowledge appropriate to them.

"Not easily or early do we make this admission. In spite of long conversations with what purported to be the surviving intelligence of these friends and investigators, we were by no means convinced of their identity by mere general conversation - even when of a friendly and intimate character, such as in normal cases would be considered amply and overwhelmingly sufficient for the identification of friends speaking, let us say, through a telephone or a typewriter. We required definite and crucial proof - a proof difficult even to imagine as well as difficult to supply.

"The ostensible communicators realise the need of such proof just as fully as we do, and have done their best to satisfy the rational demands. Some of us think they have succeeded..."

There is no need to repeat similar statements which were maintained with conviction to the end of his life. The student will find an exposition of his views in a friendly answer to Richet's position in Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 34, pp. 113-29 (1924), and in several of his books.

Mrs. Henry Sidgwick (1845-1936) was associated closely with the Society for Psychical Research from its beginning. No name was held in higher esteem by its members and no critical judgment more valued than hers. The record of her own researches and critiques by Alice Johnson(18) is an impressive one. When, at the age of 87, she was made President of Honour, her address was read to the Society by her brother, the Earl of Balfour. At its conclusion he added these words,

(18) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 44, pp. 53-97 (1936).

"May I be allowed before we separate to add one or two sentences of my own? ... Conclusive proof of survival is notoriously difficult to obtain. But the evidence may be such as to produce belief, even though it falls short of conclusive proof. I have Mrs. Sidgwick's assurance - an assurance which I am permitted to convey to the meeting - that, upon the evidence before her, she herself is a firm believer both in survival and in the reality of communication between the living and the dead."

W. H. Salter has written(19): "The great impression which this declaration made among all who heard or read it lost nothing from the general and well founded belief that this assurance was fully shared by the speaker."

(19) Ibid., Vol. 47, p. 251 (1945).

F. W. H. Myers died on January 17th, 1901, leaving behind him as his legacy to the world two volumes on Human Personality which have become a classic. He was a Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge, a very good classical scholar and a minor poet: had he chosen to do so, he could have made a name in English letters. It is perhaps fitting to close the list of expert witnesses with him. Sir Oliver Lodge, an intimate friend, said of Myers:

"His was a keenly emotional nature. What he felt, he felt strongly; what he believed, he believed in no half-hearted or conventional manner. When he doubted, he doubted fiercely; but the pain of the doubt only stimulated him to effort, to struggle; to know at least the worst, and doubt no longer. He was content with no half-knowledge, no clouded faith, he must know or he must suffer, and in the end he believed that he knew.... In the strength of that belief he looked forward to perennial effort and unending progress:

"Say could aught else content thee? which were best,
After so brief a battle an endless rest,
Or the ancient conflict rather to renew,
By the old deeds strengthened mightier deeds to do?"

Sir Oliver Lodge continues:

"I never knew a man so hopeful concerning his ultimate destiny. He once asked me if I would barter - if it were possible - my unknown destiny, whatever it might be, for as many aeons of unmitigated and wise terrestrial happiness as might last till the secular fading of the sun, and then an end. He would not!"

Since his scientifically stated conclusions are in his volumes for all to read, I think we might allow Myers to give his judgment in his own verse:

Nay when all suns that shine, together hurled,
Crash in one infinite and lifeless world:
Yet hold thou still, what worlds soe'er may roll,
Naught bear they with them master of the soul;
In all the eternal whirl, the cosmic stir,
All the eternal is akin to her;
She shall endure, and quicken, and live at last,
When all save souls has perished in the past.

8. Conclusions

The student who has followed this survey so far may be disposed to speculate whether with the passing of the years, the pursuit of more research and the accumulation of an overwhelming mass of reliable data, the truth recognised by a few may not become the possession of the many. If by the possession of truth is meant intellectual assent to a proposition as having high probability, the answer is possibly yes. But we cannot really possess anything we do not love: nor can truths that really matter to us be other than our own discovery. Such truths, which affect our destiny and all that we value, we cannot accept on any authority but that of our own deepest self. In poets and great artists and mystics the voice of the deeper self speaks clearly and authoritatively: for most of us it speaks occasionally and faintly, so that we crave also the support which the laborious mind can give us.

For myself, I can only say that my intuition, such as it is, supports Myers, and my attempt to evaluate the data of psychical research and form a critical judgment leads me to conclude that if survival of death is not rigorously proven, it is nevertheless established as of that high order of probability which, for practical purposes, can be taken as the same thing.

Rabindranath Tagore, poet and philosopher, once wrote to his friend C. F. Andrews:

"My mind must realise itself anew. Once I give form to my thought, I must free myself from it. For the time being it seems to me that I want absolute freedom to create new forms for new ideas. I am sure physical death has the same meaning for us - the creative impulse of our soul must have new forms for its realisation. Death can continue to dwell in the same sepulchre, but Life must increasingly outgrow its dwelling-place; otherwise the form gets the upper hand and becomes a prison. Man is immortal; therefore he must die endlessly. For Life is a creative idea; it can only find itself in changing forms."

This I believe to be one of the truest and most inspired things ever said about Death. To sum up: we have enough trustworthy evidence to anticipate our survival of the change called death. If our conception of the Self as a hierarchy is true in broad outline - as I believe it is - we have enough to anticipate a great deal more. For myself, Birth and Death seem to be respectively the great Exile and the great Returning Home. I expect, when the immediate shock of change is over, to find myself with a body familiar to me (because it has always been a possession without my realising it), in a country from which come thronging back to me welcoming echoes of old familiarity. It will still be a world of Appearance; but since one veil at least will then have fallen from the face of Truth, I shall expect to find myself more responsive to her Eternal Beauty as I set out again - a pilgrim on the endless Way.


The article above was taken from Raynor C. Johnson's 1953 book "The Imprisoned Splendor" published by Hodder & Stoughton.


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