ARTICLES

Gerald N. M. Tyrrell

G. N. M. Tyrrell

Educated at Haileybury and London University. In 1923 he decided to devote himself entirely to Psychical Research. Wrote several highly acclaimed works. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1908 and became President in 1945.

Mrs Willet

Communications Ostensibly Proceeding from the Dead

 - G. N. M. Tyrrell -

          THE automatic writing of Mrs. Willett (pseudonym), the principal automatist in the Ear of Dionysius, underwent a remarkable development as time went on. This development was spontaneous, so far as those supervising the writings were concerned, but had all the appearance of being engineered by the communicators who appeared to be controlling the writing. The latter explained quite clearly what they were doing and why they were doing it.

The report on Mrs. Willett's case by Lord Balfour is one of the most interesting documents in the history of psychical research.(1) It is impossible to form any valid opinion on the question of whether there are such things as communications from the dead without studying this report.

(1) "A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett's Mediumship and the Statements of the Communicators concerning Process", by Gerald William, Earl of Balfour, P.C., LI.D., in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. xIiii, pp. 41-318.

Although Lord Balfour speaks of Mrs. Willett's "mediumship," she was not, in the ordinary sense of the word, a medium. She possessed the faculty of automatic writing and during that writing underwent a certain kind and degree of mental dissociation; but her "mediumship" was really an advanced state of automatism and nothing more. Mrs. Willett never had a "control" such as mediums usually have; nor did she relinquish her own consciousness in favour of any kind of secondary personality. In this respect she resembled Mrs. Curran. She discovered her power of automatic writing in early girlhood, but having no one to guide her, gave it up. In 1908 she became interested in a report on Mrs. Holland's script, and felt impelled to try again. In a letter written at that time she said: "After a few feeble attempts the script seemed to come very rapidly, but it is too definite, and therefore I distrust its being from an external source. There are, however, one or two curious points in it (I have torn it all up). What worried me was the words seemed to form in my brain before the pen set them down, just before as if tripping on the written word - a sort of hair's-breadth beforeness. Most are signed Myers or F. W. H. M., but I can't say I think them of value..."(2)

(2) This and the following quotations in this chapter are from the report mentioned above.

It would seem that Myers, or the communicator purporting to be Myers, used Mrs. Willett as a channel of communication from the first, when the writing was done in a nearly normal state of consciousness. In order to indicate the personality ostensibly communicating through Mrs. Willett's script, without begging the question of its identity, it will be convenient to put a "W" in brackets. Thus Myers(w) means the communicator through Mrs. Willett calling himself Myers, and so on.

We must first notice that there is more to be observed in Mrs. Willett's case than the writing (or speech) itself. Just as vivid scenes appeared to Mrs. Curran as she was spelling out the descriptions, so Mrs. Willett experienced a sense of the direct presence of the communicators who were supplying the messages. She could sense their qualities and characters in an immediate way, quite different from anything known in normal perception. She could even sense their words without actually seeming to hear them. Thus, she says: "I became so suddenly and strangely aware of F. W. H. M.'s presence that I said 'Oh!' as if I had run into someone unexpectedly. During what followed I was absolutely normal. I heard nothing with my ears, but the words came from outside into my mind as they do when one is reading a book to oneself. I do not remember the exact words, but the first sentence was 'Can you hear what I am saying?' - I replied in my mind 'Yes'." "I got no impression of appearance, only character, and, in some way, voice or pronunciation (though this does not mean that my ears hear, you know!) ... 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 amusement or emotion on the part of the speaker.'' And again: "It is as 'minds' and 'characters' that I know them..."

This is very suggestive. Is it a type of perception which, normally, we do not know? It may be objected that all this is purely subjective and imaginary and not perception of any kind. But this view has to meet the difficulty that these personal traits of the communicators, which Mrs. Willett said she sensed, were actually characteristic of them as they had been in life, and not by any means all of them were previously known to her.

In so far as Mrs. Willett's case was experimental, the communicators were the experimenters rather than those who supervised the scripts. Whatever we think they were, they quite obviously "ran" Mrs. Willett. In particular, they were very insistent that the automatic state in which she worked, wherein she retained her consciousness while she worked should not be allowed to lapse into the "control" type of trance. Thus, on one occasion, Gurney(w), communicating through the script, said:

Gurney(w): She is very dazed. Look.

(Sir Oliver Lodge, who was sitting with her, saw Mrs. Willett seemed to be a little in trance.)

O. J. L.: Ought I to wake her up?

Gurney(w): I will. I don't want her to develop into a second Piper.

O. J. L.: No, I know you consider we have had that, and that now you are arranging something different.

Gurney(w): New.

It will be noticed that the Willett communicators, whoever they were, were thoroughly on the spot. They spoke just as they would have in life and were quite natural. When Sir Oliver Lodge was conducting a sitting after a long absence, Gurney(w) greeted him as follows:

Gurney(w): Lodge, is that you?

O. J. L.: Yes, that's me.

Gurney(w): Glad to see you after such a long interval. Very glad, Lodge. How are you?

O. J. L.: All right. Very glad to see you again, too.

Gurney(w): We are getting on. People are beginning entertain ideas as to the possibility of our existence and even of our identity.

O. J. L.: Yes, quite true.

Gurney(w): Spade work and on it we hope to raise the foundation of the temple. Have you anything special to speak of, because Myers is here and once he is "on", so to speak, I may not be able to break in.

When Myers did come "on," the script changed in a characteristic way and a slow and deliberate writing began. Some people state that communications purporting to come from the dead are always vapid and silly; but one can find no trace of it here.

The communicators were justified in their insistence that the Willett method of communication was better than the ordinary trance-control. They said it gave them an opportunity to use a method of communication in which direct telepathy from themselves played an important part instead of the round-about method of communicating through a control. Yet the process was much more complicated than direct telepathy. Gurney(w) described at length the way in which ideas had to be shepherded through the subliminal region of Mrs. Willett's personality, and how, very often, only words with which she was familiar could be used, He brought out the need for employing trains of association already present in Mrs. Willett's mind, and the danger that such associations might switch the train of ideas on to a wrong track. All this was explained and illustrated by the communicators. It is worth while quoting a rather long passage which illustrates some of these points. It occurred in a script of 11th May, 1912, Lord Balfour (G. W. B.) being present. It must be explained that, before this sitting, Lord Balfour had read a paper at Cambridge entitled Parallelism and Telepathy. He had also dealt with the same theme in an article previously published in the Hibbert Journal for April, 1910. Mrs. Willett may possibly have been aware of this article, but philosophy did not interest her, and she is unlikely to have read it with any comprehension. Probably she did not read it at all. In the lecture and article taken together, the three philosophical doctrines of mind-body relation, Parallelism, Epiphenomenalism and Interactionalism, were all dealt with or at least touched upon. The script was as follows:

"Yes ... Oh, how did I get here? It's like Alice in the looking-glass. I see a glass that seems to shut out, and then someone seems to put out a hand and pull me through. Sweet after rain ambrosial showers. [A misquotation from Tennyson's In Memoriam.]

(Pause) Oh, I'll try. Tennyson. (Pause) I'm seeing thoughts but I'm not catching them. What are the three tenable - I don't get that next word and then it goes on - in regard to the phenomenon of consciousness? Somebody asked a question.

Do you know Henry Sidgwick has sometimes such a quizzical look in his face. He said to me, Don't make two bites at a cherry but bolt this whole and see what happens.

(Sighs) Sounds to me, very stupid. I've hunted about in my mind and I don't find anything else. What does it mean? It's only words. (Gesticulating with both hands) There, just like that is - then there's a word that long - (motioning with hands) consciousness.

I've got it - Oh it's disappointing when my lips won't say it.. L    touched me, and I can say it now. [L    was a deceased relative of Mrs. Willett's who did not communicate but sometimes seemed to help the communications in some way.]

Epiphenomenal - that is the last of the three words.

Oh! Sidgwick said (waving her hands) something to do with a room and a lot of people.

Listen not to the specious lure of the parallelistic phantasy, but nail unto the mast that complicated fragment of truth-nail unto the mast? - the flag of - Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm afraid I've lost it. ["Nail unto the mast" was spoken interrogatively, as if the automatist was asking whether she had the right words.]

Don't go (entreatingly) I'll try again. Oh, how gentle and strong he is.

He says, Tell him to nail to the mast the flag with one word on it, which is a symbol for a complicated fragment of truth - but he says it's the right line, he says like that - though baffling and perplexing, cleave thou to it. It's because it's only partially apprehended, that the timid and the lazy mind slips back from it into, the barren and easy and absolutely worthless theory, he says, of a dual (placing her two hands parallel to each other) dual, side by side, presumably independent. Oh, he says, the whole thing's full of fallacies, you can't stretch it to that, he says. 

He's telling L    something. It's so odd. L   's knowing something which I'm not knowing, but I'm knowing that when L    touches me I shall know it too. It's the flag word. (Triumphantly) I've got it! Oh, but now I've got to give it out.

Oh, I'm all buzzing. (Waving hands) I can't think why people talk about such stupid things. Such long stupid words. (Sighs and stretches herself: then places her hands side by side, saying) That's gone away now.

Now it's a thing like this (drawing with her finger in the air) [Drawing of wriggly line.] It's like a plait, - it's woven strands.

Oh! I see it a hundred ways but I can't get it out.

(G. W. B.: "I understand".)

Somebody says, Don't help her.

Oh, I think I can draw it better. [Drawing of some lines and underneath' is' written INT UR AC SHUN.]

Edmund makes me laugh. He says, Well think of Ur of the Chaldees. He's making a joke, and they're very angry with him: but the point of it is the terrible effect of disembodiment on one singularly sensitive to shades of sound. He says that Ur would make Fred shudder.

I must try it you know, it's perfectly ridiculous. (Here INT UR AC SHUN was added at the foot of the drawing.)

Henry says, Thread the maze, but don't lose that strand. There's a lot of confused thinking suggested by that word to many minds. You've all of you only been fingering at the outsides of the theory, but it's there where the gold lies.

Consciousness (waving hands) and matter, mind and matter; and he says, There was a line about the will that felt the fleshly screen. [Browning, The Last Ride Together.] Oh, oh, there are some very mystical [word omitted from the record here: perhaps "meanings",] wrapped up in those lines of Tennyson's. He says, I have quoted Browning, but the mind of Tennyson playing on the mysteries of consciousness - the phenomena of consciousness - is extraordinarily interesting to anyone studying the mysteries.word - of Oh, what a word - of in-terac-tion-alism (pronounced slowly, syllable by syllable).

What is the parallelistic theory? (Expression of great disgust.) To have to come all the way to talk about these things! He says, just to say that. He says, that Frank, I and Frank, he says, are a splendid combination in studying the interaction of mind and matter, because you want biological and philosophical knowledge. But, he says, I can't now say what I want to.

I simply cannot go on any longer; that must be all. [Probably a remark by the automatist on her own account; at least so I thought at the time from the tone in which the words were uttered.] (Laughs heartily) Edmund says, This is really the last bite. The interaction - I'm not sure that word's quite right. It's either action or interaction. It isn't interaction [? Int ur ac shun], though he says it might be interaction for the interactionalist.

The light cast upon interaction by the researches into human faculty. It's very odd: do you know they can have machines for telling you the pressure in boilers? Well, there's a machine they've got 'to find out what's the pressure in me, and all that (putting her hands to her head) is too full, It's full to painfulness.

(G. W. B.: "Hadn't you better stop?")

He says, Just let me throw, this, and then that's all. You can't make parallelism square with the conclusions to which recent research points. Pauvres parallelistes! They're like drowning men clinging to spars. But the epiphenomenalistic bosh (pronouncing with difficulty) that's simply blown away. It's one of the blind alleys of human thought.

Oh! I don't want to hear any more: I'm tired:

And the other and perhaps more specious kind of bosh has got to go too.

(Laughing) Edmund spoke of the philosophic omelettes. He said research is breaking lot of eggs, and some schools had best get their egg-whisks ready."

There are a number of interesting points here. In the first place, if these are the dead speaking, they have all their wits about them. Then there is Mrs. Willett's running commentary. She is always there, interjecting her own comments. The misquoted line from Tennyson apparently occurs because certain passages in Tennyson were thought by the communicators (as appears later) to bear on their views about personality. They are emphatic about them. They will have nothing to do with parallelism or epiphenomenalism and accuse thinkers of not looking deeply enough into the interactionist theory, which they consider to be on the right lines. But it is far from easy to get all this through the channels of Mrs. Willett's subliminal self; and she is bored by philosophy and cannot grasp the long words. Even when she has got the word "interaction," there is the greater difficulty of giving it out. In some way L    seems to help, though he does not communicate. Gurney's irresistible impulse to be humorous (quite characteristic of the living Gurney); Henry Sidgwick's interjections on the philosophical issue; Mrs. Willett's comments, such as: "Don't go... I'll try again ... He's telling L    something ... Oh, I'm all buzzing... ", etc., make up a piece of dramatisation which it is difficult to believe is feigned. If it is, then the best of our dramatists may learn a good deal from the subliminal self of the ordinary person.

The communicators uphold the view that there are grades in the personality. It seems to me that the whole of psychical research points this way, and to the view that the personality is a multiplicity in unity of a kind which it is almost impossible to express in words. We find in Mrs. Willett's scripts such phrases as the following: "He says, Ranges of varying depth." "It's One: and an enlightening point of view - I think it is - is to conceive of it as allied and distinguishable - I missed a word - and then grouped round one nucleus." "He says, There are many gradations… He says, There is an ascending chain." "He says, The ascending scale bound by gold chains round the feet of God." [A reference to Tennyson's Morte d'Arthur.] Again, Gurney(w) speaks of "the profundities of the subliminal self which grade up and merge into what I have spoken of as the transcendental self, the central unity..." It is this view of personality as extended and also graded in some hierarchical fashion, now emerging from psychical research, which seems to be so important. The facts, when we look into them, not only support this view; they demand it.

There is another example of this unity in multiplicity in Mrs. Willett's case, this time not occurring in connection with any of the communicators. On 30th October 1913, she had the following experience. (Her statement was taken down the same day.) 

Her letters were brought to her bedroom in the morning and she opened a large envelope and took out the letter while some larger papers remained inside. After reading the letter, she says: "I picked up the envelope to take out the enclosures when I suddenly felt a thundering sort of knock-down blow conviction that I must not do so. I looked at Sir O. J. L.'s letter again and I now (2 p.m.) remember of it this much; that he sent me a copy of a script of mine ... having been directed by Mr. G. W. Balfour to do so. I think he said I was to compare it with the original. But still I felt that not to be conquered 'push' not to take out of the envelope the enclosures. Then an odd thing happened. I did not know clearly what I was going to do and my mind seemed not to work - or rather two minds seemed to be at work and not to be acting together. Mind No.1 got my body up and walked it across the room to the door and put me outside... But Mind No.2 (which was 'me' as I know myself) couldn't make out why it was that I was there. X stood a few seconds and then looked down at my hands, and saw I had Sir O. J. L.'s envelope in one, and his letter in the other. Mind No.1 took my hand and put the letter back into the envelope and walked me down a flight of stairs and up another flight. Mind No.2 looked on and wondered. When I reached the outside of Mr. Willett's door the two minds flashed together, and I at once knew, somehow, what I was to do. I went in and handed him the envelope, made him fetch a pencil and write down the time and date and what I told him-viz: that I had read a letter it, the envelope, contained(3) but not the enclosures."'

(3) Ibid. pp. 112-3.

It was better for evidential reasons concerned with her work that Mrs. Willett should not read the enclosures; but the interesting thing is the way in which the personality divided. Mrs. Willett felt herself to be identified with Mind No.2; yet she regarded Mind No.1 as part of her own personality and not as a stranger. It performed intelligent actions and made use of her body to do so. Finally, it united with Mind No.2. The lesson is surely that identity of selfhood is not dependent on numerical separateness in the way we habitually think it is. The category of number seems in some way to be superimposed by the body on that which is not itself either singular or plural, as though one looked at some continuous substance through a grid, and saw it as divided though it was not so.

There are many other highly instructive things in this report. The kind of experiences she has, for example, at the end of a sitting: "I must come back you know. It's just like waking up in prison from a dream that one has been at home. Don't you ever walk out of yourself? Aren't you tired of being always yourself? It's so heavenly to be out of myself - when I am everything, and everything else is me." And at the end of another: "Oh! Fred Fred! So strange to be somebody else. To feel some body's heart beating inside you, and somebody else's mind inside your mind. And there isn't any time or place and either you're loosed or they're sudden know everything there ever was. You understand everything. It's like every single thing and time and thought and everything brought down to one point." Or: "I can see the thoughts but it's so difficult to get the words."

It is interesting to follow Gurney's(w) account of, the parts played by telepathy, telaesthesia, inspiration and "excursus" in getting the messages through. It is also interesting to note that Gurney(w) says to Lord Balfour: "I can't see your mind, Gerald, but I can feel you in some dim way through her." But, to appreciate all this, it is necessary to study the report itself.

One other thing is worth illustrating at some length - the extraordinary wealth and completeness of the (apparently self-created) sense-imagery with which Mrs. Willett can, on occasion, be surrounded when in her automatic state. The following was dictated by her when in this state on 17th December, 1913. "It's a picture - a picture that I love and often see. Marble pillars everywhere - a most heavenly scene. A company of men small company discussing everything in heaven and earth and really reaching the heights of reason - almost unconscious of their visible surroundings. It is a sort of parable of life... Oh, how I wish I could tell what I know. You know, to ordinary people those men who sat talking there long ago are just historical figures, interesting from a hundred points of view, but dead men. For you know there's nothing dead in greatness, because there can't be, because all greatness is an emanation from the changeless absolute. That's why I know those people as if they were alive to-day. I know them much better than many of the people I live with- especially the older man, the Master. He had disciples, you know... The meal is for the most part over, and there's a sort of hush of the spirit; because in that quick interchange of thought new ideas have arisen, and the man that they all look up to, he's borne very far aloft on the wings of the Spirit. And suddenly on the quiet of it all there bursts the sound of revelling coming nearer and nearer - flute-players! (ecstatically) Oh! Is it Bacchus and his crew? Anyhow there's something rather Bacchanalian about it. They're getting nearer and nearer, and they're hammering on the door, and then in they come. My people are all disturbed, and there's great toasting. They take it all in very good part, and they revel away. There are wreaths of flowers, and cups passing, loud jokes. And then, do you know, by degrees some of the crowd melt away, and some of the people go to sleep. And then the whole thing ends up, with such a majestic thing I think; just that one figure, when the interruption is over, he stays, there like some great beacon shining out above the clouds, walking on the heights of thought; and the absolute silence reigns, and there he sits. Do you know that man's as real to me as if I could touch him! He's an ugly man, only I feel he's sublimely great. You know I've not got to be tied up always to myself. I can get up and walk about in other worlds; and I very often like to walk through the room where that scene took places.'' Then came an interruption, and she finished with the words: "How nothing time is. All human experience is One. We are no shadows nor do we pursue shadows. Pilgrims in Eternity. We few - we few - we happy band of Brothers."

This reflects some literary passages; but the point is that the scene is, to Mrs. Willett, so real and so convincing, that, for the time being, she seems to herself to be in another and perfectly real world. Yet she (that is to say some subconscious element in her personality) must have created that world. The scene is taken from a passage in Plato's Symposium; yet Mrs. Willett, when told this, did not know what it meant. Even the word "symposium" appeared to convey no meaning to her. It is a striking example of the kind of thing which is possible when consciousness is displaced from its normal position of control, and of the divided, yet unitary, character of personality. We are apt to take this faculty for creating an entire sensory environment far too lightly. It is a staggering achievement.

It is curious that the lucid Willett communicators have next to nothing to say about the conditions of their present existence. Gurney(w) did, on one occasion, say that no words could express them. Critics will seize on this assertion as a convenient evasion; but, if we read the account given by Gurney(w) of the psychological machinery involved in passing messages through Mrs. Willett's personality, we see that, if it is true, the sensitive only has access to that part of the communicator's mind which can link itself with incarnate thought. Much that Gurney(w) understands perfectly well would, according to this view, be untransmissible. This, after all, is very natural; in fact, almost inevitable. Our thought is formed for dealing with the physical world and must be highly specialised. How can it deal with things beyond its range? Lord Balfour comments: "The suggestion seems to be that the subliminal of the discarnate uses categories which are beyond the reach of incarnate minds, much as the categories employed by the human mind are beyond the comprehension of the mind of animals." If there is difficulty in transmitting even the common word "interaction," how much more difficulty would there be in describing a type of existence in which spatio-temporal relations, and perhaps many other things, are different from those we are accustomed to? Yet, it seems probable that the Willett script provided an unusually good and clear channel of communication. The average control-medium probably distorts' in a grotesque manner what is being transmitted. Even relatively good automatists may provide a pretty poor channel. It is worth noting that in the early days of Mrs. Holland's automatic writing, Myers(H) said: "The nearest simile I can find to express the difficulties of sending a message - is that I appear to be standing behind a sheet of frosted glass - which blurs sight and deadens sounds - dictating feebly - to a reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretary. A feeling of terrible impotence burdens me - I am so powerless to tell what means so much - I cannot get into communication with those who would understand and believe me."(4) Another point is that the communicators are always averse to wasting time on things which cannot be evidential. As Gurney(w) once said about an irrelevant topic: "You won't get proof of survival that way." They probably would not waste time in trying to transmit a description of the world they live in when they know that there is practically no chance of its getting through in recognisable form, and no possibility of its being evidentially confirmed.

(4) Proceedings S.P.R., Vol. xxi, p. 230.

Although they claim to have a wider experience than we have in this life, they do not lay claim to any transcendental knowledge. Indeed, they are emphatic in stressing their ignorance. Thus, Myers(w) says:

"Remember there is as much room in some ways for speculation here as with you, and many mysteries remain mysteries only approached from other and higher standpoints.

"I am now going to begin fresh experiments, you might tell Mrs. V., when opportunity occurs, that the need for experiment from this side has not been sufficiently grasped on your side.

"Much more than you suspect is absolutely hidden from me [Myers.] The small amount in one way of accretion of knowledge which succeeds [Myers] bodily dissolution is a surprise to every spirit that crosses the Rubicon."

While Gurney(w) says:

"You never seem to realise how little we know. I'm not - sometimes I know and can't get it through, but very often I don't know."

It is impossible in an epitome as brief as this to give any adequate idea of the impressiveness of Mrs. Willett's scripts. But my hope is that a few readers, who value fact before pre-formed opinion, will turn to the original report. Meanwhile it is worth asking what those who watched the production of the evidence thought of the communicators. Unfortunately, Lord Balfour could not publish the most cogent portion of the evidence on account of its privacy. "It would be impossible to do justice to the argument in favour of spirit communication," he says, "on the basis of the Willett phenomena without violating confidences which I am bound to respect." And again: "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. Probably, like Dr. Walter Prince, I should be content to suspend judgment. But, having before me the whole of the Willett scripts, and 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. My readers are not in this position, and for reasons stated in the introduction to this paper I cannot put them in possession of the considerations that have chiefly weighed with me. All they have to go upon in the way of evidence of supernormal communications is that provided by the papers already published in the Proceedings of the Society and mentioned in the introduction. I cannot complain if they do what I should probably do in their place and suspend judgment." 

In the end Lord Balfour became convinced, cautiously and slowly, 'that the communicators were indeed those whom they purported to be. There are certain personal touches in the scripts, possible no doubt for an outsider to explain away, but especially cogent to those who knew the purporting communicators in life. For example, at one time a certain new and disjointed type of script began to appear and the investigators wanted to know how far it was intentional on the part of the communicators and how far due to difficulties of transmission. Questions were asked about it as follows:

O. J L.: There is another question I want to ask. We have had lately long list of quotations, so many and so widely supplied that it would appear as if cross-correspondence must occasionally occur by accident. Some of the group feel that. They want to know whether you are sending these of set purpose.

Gumey(w): Yes, who says so?

O. J. L.: Well, we have been talking it over lately with G. W. B. and J. G. P. and Mrs. S.

Gurney(w): Do they suggest shorter scripts?

O. J. L: No, they do not want to suggest anything definite, only to find out whether the scripts which are arriving are considered on your side quite wise and satisfactory.

Gurney(w): Do you mean the M.V. case or W.?

O. J. L.: Oh, I do not mean W. only; I mean Verrall and Holland also. We think that sceptics will claim that the cross-correspondences are accidental; also that the meaning is so obscure that we may miss it, for we assume that besides cross-correspondence you wish to convey a definite meaning too.

Gurney(w): They were allusive. You must get through a good bulk of matter to get in what you want said from our standpoint. They are not without threads of connection. But listen. Those threads extend also in subliminal of automatist. Thus if I would say fire, I, Gurney, might make allusion to Phoebus or to Zoroaster. Her subliminal may conceivably go one better and shove in Salamander.

O. J. L... Yes, well, that is what we rather suspected, that subliminal activity was mixed with your intention.

Gurney(w): What?

O. J. L. repeated.

Gurney(w): Who? Woven strands. Pick out the golden thread...

The above passage gave the first clear hint that there was something peculiar about the process by which disjointed scripts were produced. It was not until some months later that the subject was resumed. In the interval Gurney(w) had been expressing a strong desire to be placed in direct communication with me, but Mrs. Willett herself, whom I had met for the first time only a few days before the date of the script just quoted, had felt a very natural reluctance to add a comparative stranger to the number of her "sitters" hitherto confined to Mrs. Verrall and Sir Oliver Lodge. Gurney, however, insisted (he and I had been close friends in days gone by) and it was ultimately arranged that I should have a sitting on June 4th, 1911. It is evident from the subjoined script that Gurney was anxious to explain to me certain aspects of the process of communication.

Script of May 21st, 1911:

Gurney(w): I wish I could get you to understand why I wanted to speak to Gerald. What I wanted to say was for his information and not yours - that is why I refused to put it into script. You don't understand his point of view. But it is completely intelligible to me. He is interested in the process as distinct from the product. And it was about the process that I wanted to speak. And the less you know of the process the better... because the recipient is best left in ignorance of the method. But it does not follow that the investigator need be..."

A very long script follows dealing further with this question of process. The point of what I have quoted is the complete understanding shown by Gurney(w) of this whole question of the process involved in the new type of script and of Lord Balfour's interest in it and of the desirability of going into the matter directly with him and not pouring it out before Mrs. Verrall, who was one of the automatists. It was perfectly true. Lord Balfour was, as the whole of his report on Mrs. Willett shows, emphatically interested in the process of the communications.

If this is all a piece of play-acting on the part of some fragment of Mrs. Willett's personality, it discloses a quintessence, of dramatic skill which strikes one dumb with amazement.

Mrs. Sidgwick, too, was gradually convinced of the genuineness of the communicators. She was a woman of outstanding ability and soundness of judgment, and in 1913 disclosed the position she had reached in a paper which she then read. "In the meanwhile," she said, "I should like to conclude by saying that, though we are not yet justified in feeling any certainty, I myself think that the evidence is pointing towards the conclusion that our fellow workers are still working with us." Further experience deepened this conviction. Her brother, in a paper read in 1932, said: "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." Many will disagree; but none are likely to be in a better position to form a valid judgment so far as the present evidence is concerned.

Source: "The Personality of Man. New Facts and their Significance" by G. N. M. Tyrrell (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1946).

 

Other articles by G. N. M. Tyrrell

• Alternatives to Discarnate Theory
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 1
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 2
• What is Psychical Research?
• What is Science?
• The Significance of the Whole
• The Subliminal Self and the Unconscious
• Psychical Research and Religion
• Is there Anything Besides Fraud in the Physical Sιance Room?
• The Case of Patience Worth: An Outstanding Product of Automatic Writing
• What is Science? The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism
• Discarnate Agency: More Evidence on the Discarnate Problem
• Trance Personalities
• Sense-Imagery
• Modus Operandi of the Mediumistic Trance
• The Boundary of the World of Sense
• The Movement of Modern Spiritualism

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