Life beyond Death: evidence for survival
Part 2 of 2
7. Mental mediumship
8. Physical mediumship
9. Spirits and astral shells
7. Mental mediumship
Mental mediumship refers to communication with invisible entities – usually assumed to be the spirits of the dead – though a medium, who may or may not go into trance. The entities may communicate through the medium’s own voice, or through raps or a ouija board, or through automatic writing. Some mediums do not contact the entities directly but through a ‘control’ or ‘spirit guide’. Physical mediumship, which includes the materialization of ‘spirit’ forms, is covered in section 8.
Spiritualism (or spiritism) had its heyday from the 1840s to the 1920s, and attracted millions of followers. It was strongly opposed by the church, which believes that communication with ‘the other side’ is a satanic art. Mediums competed for paying, and often rather credulous audiences, and there is no doubt that fraud was widespread. Nevertheless, certain remarkable mediums, especially those producing physical phenomena, were tested under rigorous conditions without any fraud being detected. Scientists who took the trouble to investigate spiritualist phenomena – e.g. Sir William Crookes, Alfred R. Wallace, N. Camille Flammarion and Sir Oliver Lodge – generally concluded that that they were not explicable in terms of orthodox science.
Many communications received through mediums are of the ‘having a lovely time’ variety. But sometimes sufficiently detailed information is provided from the communicating entities to convince sitters that their deceased loved ones really are present. ‘Drop-in’ communicators claim to be deceased persons not known to any of the sitters and provide information about their identities that is later verified. Mediums who assume the voice, gestures, mannerisms and speech patterns of a dead person make a particularly strong impression. There are also cases of mediums speaking in a language they do not know, or showing new skills, such as producing music, poetry or prose; sometimes they claim to be receiving the inspiration direct from famous writers or musicians who are now dead.
Where communication with a deceased human really does take place, this is likely to involve their astral souls rather than their higher human souls. But the information provided by mediums may also be obtained clairvoyantly or telepathically from the minds of the sitters or other living people, and also from the vast store of information imprinted on the astral plane (the ‘akashic records’). David Fontana challenges the notion of akashic records, or a ‘cosmic memory bank’, asking: ‘Who or what is responsible for organizing the billions of pieces of experience generated daily by the population of the world into a cohesive whole?’ (Fontana, 2005, 157). The answer is that nobody organizes it; it is a natural, automatic process. Everything that happens leaves an impression on the substance of nature, and ordinary psychics may access this information haphazardly, while skilled occultists, with their minds correctly attuned, can do so accurately and at will.
In the latter half of the 20th century, channelling became very popular. After channellers have gone into trance, some kind of intelligent being allegedly speaks through them, often in a completely different voice. They claim to channel not only the ‘spirits’ of the dead, but also angels, extraterrestrials, ‘ascended masters’ and even ‘God’ himself! However, they rarely provide any useful or verifiable information.
Trance medium Leonora Piper (1857-1950) conducted seances at which she often astonished and consoled sitters with detailed communications from departed loved ones. The information was provided to her by her ‘control’, but sometimes the ‘spirits’ spoke through Piper’s vocal apparatus, often reproducing the voice, tone, and manner of the dead person. Richard Hodgson, an investigator for the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR), hired detectives to find out whether she got information about her clients by normal means, but nothing she ever did aroused any suspicion.
A young acquaintance of Hodgson, George Pellew (GP), died in a horse-riding accident. Pellew had promised Hodgson that if he died first, he would try to ‘makes things lively’ for him. Within weeks of his death, a GP persona began to manifest as Mrs Piper’s control, and gave abundant evidence of his identity. Some 30 of Pellew’s friends attended the seances without announcing who they were, and GP recognized all of them without error. Pellew’s family and friends, and Hodgson himself, eventually became convinced that they were dealing with the discarnate Pellew (Grosso, 2004, 81-3).
After Richard Hodgson had died, an entity calling itself ‘Hodgson’ became Piper’s control. Stanley Hall and Amy Tanner attended her seances and asked about a certain dead niece, Bessie Beals. In due course a personality claiming to be the dead Bessie showed up. After talking with her at several sittings, Hall told ‘Hodgson’ that they had invented Bessie, who didn’t really exist. ‘Hodgson’, however, stubbornly insisted that she was real, and that there must have been some mistake (Grosso, 2004, 136). This case demonstrates the need for caution when assessing the claimed identity of communicating ‘spirits’.
Sir Oliver Lodge’s youngest son Raymond was killed in action near Ypres in September 1915. ‘Raymond’ communicated through several mediums and spoke of a photograph showing himself in a group of people, and referred to a walking stick. The Lodges knew nothing about such a photograph. Two months later, the mother of a fellow officer wrote to say that she had a group photograph that included Raymond. Before it arrived, Lodge visited a medium called Mrs Osborne Leonard, and ‘Raymond’ said, through her control, ‘Freda’, that the photo had been taken outdoors, that someone had wanted to lean on him, and that it would show a black background with vertical lines. When the photograph arrived a few days later, the description proved to be more or less accurate (Inglis, 1984, 48-52). Lodge saw this, and other communications from ‘Raymond’, as proof that his son had survived death. It would be more accurate to say such messages are consistent with survival, rather than proving it.
Raymond Lodge is the second from the right in the front row.
Frederick Bligh Bond was an ecclesiastical architect, and in 1908 was placed in charge of operations to excavate the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Britain. The previous year, he and his friend Captain John Allen Bartlett had started to receive information about the abbey through automatic writing. The psychic source identified itself as a band of long-dead monks, the Company of Avalon, who claimed to have built and lived in the Abbey. The messages continued to be received until 1920. Over a dozen personalities, including abbots, knights, medieval publicans and a farmer, communicated, each in a different handwriting. On the basis of this information, whose origin he initially kept secret, Bond made a series of important discoveries, including Edgar Chapel and the remains of two large and previously unsuspected towers at its west end.
Brother Johannes Bryant appeared at the second sitting and became a dominant personality among the sources. In 1911 another source spoke of him as follows: ‘Johannes mystified and bewildered by its beauty gave [Glastonbury Abbey] his heart as one gives his heart to a beloved mistress; and so, being earthbound by that love, his spirit clings in dreams to the vanished vision his spirit eyes even still see.’ In August of the following year, another monk again speaks for Johannes, saying: ‘Johannes [is] now very far away; far, in that the force is weake ... but the weakness here is strength gathered for other duties.’ The implication is that his conversations with Bond had freed Johannes from his obsession with the abbey, enabling him to move on. Bond himself became increasingly convinced that, instead of contacting the personalities of dead monks, he was accessing a kind of universal memory bank containing personalized thought-forms, which he was able to tap into because of his own passionate interest in the abbey (Schwartz, 1978, 1-56).
Researcher James Hyslop received a communication from a medium in Ireland to the effect that a spirit calling itself ‘William James’ had asked him to contact Hyslop and ask him if he remembered some red pyjamas. William James, a well-known American psychologist who died in 1910, had agreed with Hyslop that whichever of them died first should try to communicate with the other. At first, the message about red pyjamas meant nothing to Hyslop, but then he remembered that when he and James were young men, they went to Paris together. Since their luggage had not yet arrived, Hyslop went out to buy some pyjamas, but could only find a bright-red pair. For days James teased Hyslop about his poor taste in pyjamas. But Hyslop had long forgotten the incident. Hyslop was convinced that the red pyjamas message came from the dead William James (Wilson, 1987, 144).
The ‘cross correspondences’ were messages received through various mediums (using automatic writing) on different continents from entities who identified themselves as various founding members of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR), including Frederick Myers, Henry Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney, and later Henry Butcher and A.W. Verrall, who were all gifted classicists. Some of the mediums, such as Mrs Verrall, were also classical scholars. While alive, Myers had often remarked that one way communicators could prove they were spirits of the dead would be to give separate bits of a message to several mediums so that they only made sense when fitted together. The communications continued from 1901 to about 1930. The messages received are extremely vague and ambiguous and incredibly complicated. The puns and puzzles are only solvable by people with erudite knowledge of Greek and Latin classic texts and English poetry (Grosso, 2004, 95-101; Fontana, 2005, 175-85). The discarnate minds of some of the Cambridge scholars could have been involved, but as Brian Inglis (1992, 417) comments: ‘All the cross-correspondences could reasonably be held to have demonstrated was that if Sidgwick, Gurney and Myers were indeed trying to communicate, they were finding it extremely difficult ...’
In 1937 an entity who used bad language and would not reveal his identity communicated through the Icelandic medium Hafsteinn Björnsson at a seance held in Reykjavik. When asked what he wanted, he replied, ‘I am looking for my leg. I want to have my leg.’ This continued at many sessions until a new sitter, Ludvig Gudmundsson, joined the group. Ludvig owned a fish-processing factory and a house in Sandgerdi, a village 36 miles from Reykjavik. The communicator expressed pleasure at meeting Ludvig and after a few sittings he said that his leg was in Ludvig’s house. Somewhat later he revealed that his name had been Runolfur Runolfsson and that he had drowned in 1879. He had been walking home along the seashore, and had stopped to drink, fallen asleep, and been carried out by the tide. His body later washed up onto the shore, ‘where dogs and ravens came and tore me to pieces’. Three months after his disappearance his bones were found dismembered, and his remains were buried in 1880.
In 1940, a long thighbone was found between the inner and outer walls of Ludvig’s house. Although Runolfur was known to be a very tall man, it is impossible to know for sure whose femur it was. It was buried in the churchyard of Runolfur’s old parish, and Runolfur expressed his gratitude at the next seance. The many details given by Runolfur about his life could only be verified from three different sources: the parish records in the national archive, an obscure manuscript not published until long after the relevant sittings took place, and information obtained from his grandson (Haraldsson, 2008; Grosso, 2004, 87-8).
In 1972 a group of eight members of the Toronto Society for Psychical Research decided to invent an imaginary ghost to see whether he would then communicate. They gave him the name Philip and invented a detailed life history for him. For a year they attempted without success to get him to communicate by meditating on him. Then one evening they were sitting round the table in a light-hearted mood when the table began to vibrate, so they asked if this was the work of Philip. A single rap on the tabletop signified assent, and from then on, Philip started to respond to their questions. At one point the table began to levitate when no one was touching it and chased one of the sitters across the room. The table kept time when the sitters sang a song, and Philip produced coloured lights on request. The performance was filmed live in 1974 by Toronto City Television (Fontana, 2005, 112). Instead of all the phenomena being produced by the collective psychic powers of the group members, it is possible that mischievous elementals and the astral residues of deceased personalities were also attracted to the seances.
Nowadays, machine-mediated mediumship – or instrumental transcommunication (ITC) – is becoming increasingly popular. It involves trying to pick up messages from the dead or pictures of them on a variety of electronic devices, including tape recorders, fax machines, telephones, television sets and computers. Some people think they can make out faint words or sentences above the hiss of static heard when a radio is tuned to a frequency carrying no transmissions; this is one of the techniques used for electronic voice phenomena (EVP). Detailed studies of ITC have produced mixed results, but some information has been received that has later been verified – whatever its real source may be (Fontana, 2005, 352-81).
This photograph of Air Vice-Marshal Sir Victor Goddard’s squadron was taken shortly after the end of the First World War. The faint face of Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic, can be seen – capless and smiling – peeking out behind the fourth man from the left in the top row (see the blow-up on the right). Three days earlier, Jackson had been killed instantly on the same tarmac when he walked into the whirling propeller of an aeroplane (Inglis, 2004, 85-6).
8. Physical mediumship
Physical mediumship refers to the production of physically perceptible manifestations at seances, supposedly through the agency of ‘spiritual’ entities and forces, facilitated by the presence of a medium (often in trance). The phenomena include loud raps and noises, the sound of bells ringing, disembodied voices, apports (appearance of objects such as flowers and jewellery out of thin air), movement of objects, levitation of people or objects, inexplicable lights, extrusion from a medium of semi-material ectoplasm, and materialization of ‘spirit’ bodies or body parts such as hands (sometimes visible, sometimes purely tactile).
Most mediums who produced physical phenomena did so in darkness, as light is said to disturb the subtler astral substances and forces involved. Naturally, darkness also provides a useful cover for anyone intent on fraud. Nevertheless, the rigorous tests carried out by competent investigators, often in good light, prove beyond all reasonable doubt that extraordinary phenomena did indeed take place – and still do.
Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-86)
The most remarkable medium of the 19th century was Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced ‘Hume’), who performed his astonishing feats in broad daylight and never accepted any money (Inglis, 1992, 225-32, 243-6; Fontana, 2005, 247-58). He retained his powers for more than a quarter of a century, except for a period of one year when the ‘spirits’ decided to punish him. None of the phenomena took place in his own home and none of the objects he caused to move or levitate belonged to him. He was tested dozens of times by scientists and other sceptics, and was never detected in any trickery. Famous conjurors came to his seances hoping to catch him out but all went away disappointed.
At Home’s seances, the table would typically shudder, before starting to move around, rear up on two legs, and rise in the air while the sitters’ fingertips were on top, touching it lightly, or without any contact at all. Once a table with a candle on it tilted at an angle, and the candle flame went on burning at the same angle, as if it was resting on a horizontal surface. Disembodied hands would often appear and circle round the table; sitters could touch and shake them, but if anybody tried to cling on to them they melted away. In 1857 Home levitated a table while Prince Murat, a sceptic, held its feet, and Napoleon III, himself an amateur conjuror, watched from above. Empress Eugénie and the Emperor both felt her dead father’s materialized hand, which they recognized from a characteristic defect. At another seance, a disembodied hand appeared, took a pencil, and wrote ‘Napoleon’ in Bonaparte’s own writing.
Sometimes Home himself levitated, floating over the sitters’ heads. He once floated out of a third-floor window in moonlight and reentered through a window in the next room. Sometimes he appeared to elongate or shrink by up to 10 inches. He would play with fire, stirring up the hot coals with his hands, carrying them around, and even bathing his face in them. At one seance he placed a burning coal on a man’s head, who said it felt warm but not hot. He also caused apports of flowers to be brought to sitters, withdrew the scent from flowers at will, and caused his head or hands to become luminous. The scientist William Crookes investigated Home and several other mediums, beginning in 1871, under tightly controlled conditions, and came to the conclusion that an unknown ‘psychic force’ was at work, directed by some form of intelligence (Crookes, 1874).
In an experiment designed by William Crookes, Home held an accordion in a special cage beneath a table with one hand, and it started to play. It continued to play melodies even when he removed his hand, and could be seen floating about inside the cage. Passing electricity through the cage did not affect the accordion’s performance (Crookes, 1874, 10-14).
The following seance took place in 1863 at the home of Mme Jauvin d’Attainville; the guests included Princess Metternich and her husband, the Austrian ambassador (Wilson, 1987, 110-11). The 15 guests sat at a table in the brightly lit drawing room, while Home sat in an armchair a few yards away. After going into a light trance, he asked whether his spirit guide, Bryan, was there. Sharp raps came from the table, the chandeliers began to swing, and a chair moved across the room and stopped in front of the guests. At the same moment, Princess Metternich screamed, as she felt a powerful but invisible hand grip hers. Others also felt hands lightly touching them. The tablecloth rose into the air, and something seemed to be moving underneath it towards them. Prince Metternich dived under the cloth and tried to grab the ‘creature’, but there was nothing there. Another man pulled the cloth away, while others dived under the table to find the source of the raps; again, they were disappointed. As they scrambled out again, a hailstorm of raps sounded, as if in derision. Home pointed to a corsage of violets on the piano and asked for it to be brought to them. The violets glided across the piano, floated unsteadily across the room, and fell into the princess’s lap. Prince Metternich bounded forward and grabbed them, but found no thread attached. Home now demanded an accordion, and the princess stood alone in the middle of the room, holding the instrument high above her head. There was a tug on the accordion, and it proceeded to move in and out, playing a soft, moving melody. The seance then finished.
Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918)
Another remarkable medium was the Italian peasant woman Eusapia Palladino (Inglis, 1992, 379-95, 419-32; 1984, 23-7). For 20 years, from 1890 to 1910, dozens of eminent scientists in Italy, Poland, Germany and France subjected her to tests in rigorously controlled conditions, in light good enough for them to watch what she was doing. Most were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that her phenomena were genuine.
The seance room table would shift around, rising up on one leg and often leaving the floor altogether, though her feet and hands were being held; sometimes she levitated, seeming to lie on the empty air as on a couch. Objects at a distance from the sitters would move, and fly around over their heads; musical instruments would sound (though they did not play as well as they had for Home); she produced raps, cold breezes, and luminosities (sometimes in the shape of a hand or other limbs); sitters felt themselves being prodded or pinched by hands (usually invisible), which removed their spectacles and untied their cravats or shoelaces; she could imprint the image of a hand or face on a layer of clay placed at a distance from her; and knots tied and untied themselves in pieces of string in full view. Once, when the light was turned up, she was found to be wearing a coat belonging to one of the investigators, even though her hands had been held. Sometimes, while her limbs were being held, other limbs (extrusions of her astral body, also known as ‘pseudopods’) could be seen protruding from her body or melting back into it. At seances with Home and several other mediums, too, observers sometimes noticed that a hand that was carrying objects or writing notes appeared to be connected to the medium’s body – though no physical pieces of apparatus were ever found.
Levitation of a table during a seance with Eusapia Palladino in 1892. (museumofthemacabre.com)
Eusapia Palladino was known to cheat whenever she could, clumsily ‘levitating’ tables with her feet. But she said that when in trance she was unaware of what she was doing, and that it was up to her investigators to control her movements. When Eusapia was invited to Cambridge to demonstrate her powers, Richard Hodgson let her cheat in a test, and then claimed to have ‘exposed’ her as a fraudster. During tests in the US, Eusapia was again allowed to extricate a foot from control and the investigators triumphantly declared that this invalidated all her phenomena. One of the investigators admitted that before she had been caught, the phenomena had been very impressive: she had managed, while her hands were securely held, to insert a freed foot under her chair and up behind the curtain at their backs, without the slightest change in the position of her body, and had then grasped his hip, arm and neck with her toes. To achieve this feat, Eusapia, who was by then a fat, elderly lady, would have had to be an extraordinary contortionist, able to elongate her leg to almost double its length and use her toes as if they were her fingers and thumb!
Carlos Mirabelli (1889-1951)
Carlos Mirabelli was born in Brazil, of Italian parents, and rose to prominence in the 1920s (Dingwall, 1930; Inglis, 1984, 221-7, 297-8; www.fortunecity.com). His mediumship began to manifest after he had begun a business career, causing him to lose his job. He then spent some time in an asylum, where physicians became convinced that his manifestations were genuine. They often occurred spontaneously in public places. Once, at a national festival, the sound of drums and trumpets could be heard in his presence, and bottles and glasses that were standing together then began to strike one another, playing a well-known military march. In 1926 the Cesar Lombroso Academy of Psychical Studies published a report of 392 sittings with Mirabelli, at 337 of which phenomena occurred.
While in trance, he would produce automatic writing at high speed in 28 different languages, including three dead ones, or speak in 26 languages, including seven dialects, on a wide range of subjects, despite having little formal education. He believed that the spirits of various famous personages, such as Galileo, Dante and Jesus, were controlling him. Most impressive of all were the full-form materializations he produced of deceased individuals known to the witnesses. He did this in broad daylight or powerful artificial light before numerous investigators and hundreds of witnesses. He allowed himself to be stripped and searched, then tied up in his chair, where he remained clearly visible to all witnesses throughout the seances. The rooms were searched before and after, and remained locked and sealed during the sittings. His bodily condition showed the following anomalies: major changes in temperature (36.2 to 40.2ºC) and pulse (48 to 155 beats per minute), dramatic changes in respiration, anaesthesia of skin and organs, contraction and relaxation of muscles, tremors, marked pallor, glassy looks, extreme flow of saliva, chills, and catalepsy.
Mirabelli used to levitate, and remain floating for minutes at a time. (Inglis, 1984, 224)
At one sitting, a chair with Mirabelli in it rose two metres into the air and stayed there for two minutes. At another, three knocks came from a table and a child’s voice cried ‘Papa’. One of the investigators recognized it as his daughter’s, who had just died of influenza. Her form gradually materialized, in the dress she had been buried in, and her weeping father embraced her. Apart from looking deathly pale, she seemed to be just as she had been when alive, and she conversed with her father for half an hour in a sad, monotonous voice. She was photographed before floating into the air and dematerializing. The following then happened:
A noise came from a closet, as of something beating against the doors; they opened and a skull emerged, floating and gradually accumulating bones until it became a complete skeleton, when it began to stumble round the room. The bones were hard and damp to the touch, and it stank like a corpse. After twenty minutes the skeleton gradually disappeared, leaving the skull to descend on a table.
Then, a sweet smell of roses preceded the formation of a glowing mist in the room, which suddenly dissipated to reveal a materialised bishop who had been drowned not long before in a shipwreck. He, too, responded to medical examination as if he were living, before he slowly dematerialised. (Inglis, 1984, 225)
At another seance Mirabelli himself seemed to dematerialize, and was later found in another room, though the seals on his bonds were intact, as were the seals on all the doors and windows of the seance room. At a seance in 1934, flowers materialized, bottles, a chair and keys moved about the room, and a picture was lifted from the wall, floated through the air and then hit one of the sitters on the head. While this was going on, Mirabelli wrote an essay in French of nearly 2000 words.
The look of alarm on the part of Dr Carlos de Castro (right) is due to the fact that a deceased poet (centre) has just materialized between him and the entranced Mirabelli (left), in the course of a test seance at the Cesare Lombroso Academy of Psychical Studies. (Inglis, 1984, 225)
The Scole group
In the mid-1990s, several psychical researchers investigated the activities of a mediumistic group in Scole (Norfolk, United Kingdom) that claimed to produce a wide range of physical phenomena with the assistance of a team of spirit communicators (Fontana, 2005, 324-47; thescoleexperiment.com). Seances were later held in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and California. Two members of the group (a husband and wife) acted as mediums, and remained deep in trance throughout the proceedings. The sittings eventually stopped because the communicators said that some form of interference was disrupting the experiments and posing a danger.
The dialogue that sitters held with the ‘spirits’ was intelligent, witty and technically precise. The communicators were consistently friendly, courteous and patient, and spoke in distinct voices with their own characters, accents and mannerisms. They usually spoke through the two mediums but at times their disembodied voices were heard at specific locations in midair. Physical phenomena included moving lights the size of a pea but sometimes larger. Montague Keen, an SPR investigator, writes:
Points of light would appear from above, dart at great speeds around the small chamber, describe elaborate aerial patterns, alight on our heads, frequently responding to spoken or silent requests, appear to enter bodies, ‘dive-bomb’ the table top with a sharp ‘ping’ and emerge from below it ... On one occasion a light settled on a crystal poised on the edge of the table inches from our hands, spread its effulgence throughout the crystal, which was then levitated before our gaze and gently placed in the base of a translucent kitchen bowl, from which Ellison, sitting on my right, was invited to retrieve it and then replace it. This he did. On being asked to repeat the process he found his fingers closing over the shape and essence but not the substance of the crystal, and his fingers touched each other. (Keen, 2001, 169)
Other phenomena included: displacement of furniture and other objects; a huge array of apports; materializations of moving and walking forms and parts of bodies; taps, raps and sustained touches from materialized fingers and hands; floating ‘angelic’ forms that brushed against people’s hands and faces; trumpet sounds from an instrument whose mouthpiece had been removed; and production of inexplicable pictures on films. All the phenomena occurred in darkness except for a dim red light. But many of the ‘spirit’ lights were sufficiently bright and sustained to allow restricted viewing of the seance room, and group members wore luminous armbands fastened with velcro. Conjuror James Webster testified that even top-class magicians could not duplicate the phenomena he witnessed at Scole even after lengthy and expensive preparations.
Magicians in general are very dismissive of seance-room phenomena, but usually go no further than to speculate on how fraud could theoretically have taken place. Although competent magicians can reproduce many of the phenomena if they are allowed to install their equipment in the seance room beforehand and clear it away afterwards, these are not the conditions enjoyed by the mediums pronounced genuine by serious investigators.
In 1873 John Maskelyne, the founder of the famous Maskelyne dynasty of stage magicians, admitted that some spiritualistic manifestations were genuine. He later said that at a seance with no medium present, he and a group of friends had produced movements of a heavy table without any trickery. He suggested that this was due to some kind of psychic force, but added: ‘there is not one iota of evidence which proves that departed spirits have no better occupation than lifting furniture about’. The French conjuror J.E. Robert-Houdin stated that ‘levitations without contact as produced in the presence of mediums were feats utterly beyond the power of the professional juggler’ (BCW 3:237). Regarding a seance with Home, he wrote that he was ‘as astounded as I could be, and persuaded that it is perfectly impossible by chance or adroitness to produce such marvellous effects’ (Fontana, 2005, 321).
The later magician and escapologist Harry Houdini wrote a book aimed at discrediting mediums but it contained little more than speculation. He took part in tests of a medium known as ‘Margery’ (Mina Crandon), who was locked in a special box he had designed, with only her head and hands protruding. But he secretly inserted a small rubber eraser in a bell to make it harder for the medium to ring. The trickery was immediately exposed by Margery’s control, ‘Walter’, who claimed to be her dead elder brother, who denounced Houdini in unprintable terms. Margery was again locked in the box, but ‘Walter’ again started swearing at Houdini and accused him of putting a ruler in the box – this again proved correct. The aim was to make it look as if Margery might have used it to ring the bell if she’d managed to free a hand (Inglis, 1984, 163-9). But Houdini, too, privately admitted that a materialization he had witnessed at a seance with another medium must have been genuine (Fontana, 2005, 322).
Occult forces and powers
Some researchers claim that physical mediumistic phenomena prove the existence of ‘spirits’ because the human mind alone is incapable of producing such manifestations. This is a feeble argument. Such phenomena prove the existence of occult, elemental forces, but there is no reason to assume that only disembodied ‘spirits’ can wield them. A host of lower, semi-intelligent astral entities may also be involved, with the medium’s ‘magnetic aura’ enabling physical effects to be produced. As already mentioned, there is evidence that some phenomena are the result of the unconscious use by entranced mediums of their own astral limbs. Furthermore, some humans can manipulate occult forces at will.
Many travellers and missionaries have brought back reports of psychic feats performed by fakirs and wonder-workers from all over the world. For instance, Louis Jacolliot, Chief Justice in French East India in the 1860s, tested several fakirs under strict conditions. One of them lowered one side of a pair of scales by placing a feather on it, even though on the other side there was an 80 kg weight. Covindasamy, the most celebrated fakir, caused a huge bronze vase full of water to rock and then move to and fro in accordance with Jacolliot’s instructions, while it gave forth noises as if it were being struck by a rod. He also levitated, sitting cross-legged, to a height of two feet, his only contact with the ground being a thin Ceylon cane of Jacolliot’s which could not have borne his weight. In addition, he materialized flowers and also hands, which looked and felt human (Inglis, 1992, 289).
For several decades, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91) performed marvellous occult phenomena at will, in full consciousness and in full light, often in response to specific requests by witnesses, with no possibility of preparation. She produced raps, bell sounds, music, scents, and luminosities; she precipitated writing and pictures; showed remarkable clairvoyant abilities; and materialized, dematerialized, duplicated, moved, levitated and teleported objects (see ILMB; OW; Caldwell, 2000). In 1885 the British SPR published a thoroughly incompetent, biased and hostile report by Richard Hodgson (then just starting out on his career), labelling Blavatsky a charlatan, impostor and Russian spy, and accusing her of producing fraudulent psychic phenomena, inventing the mahatmas, and ‘forging’ their letters with the help of accomplices. As many authors have shown, the allegations are baseless speculation, and are contradicted by a mass of counter-evidence that goes unmentioned (see e.g. Harrison, 1997; Gomes, 2005, Endersby, 1969).
Blavatsky was very psychic from an early age, and it took her several decades, and the assistance of her adept teachers, to bring her occult powers under full control. As a young woman, she sometimes produced communications – through ‘spook raps’ or direct writing – for friends and family, either in answer to their questions or in the form of messages from the dead (e.g. famous writers), though these were never claimed to come from the genuine spirits of the dead. For this purpose she would read the thoughts of those present, which she usually saw around their heads, and use her willpower to produce the raps. Sometimes, she allowed the semi-intelligent elementals greater scope to reflect the thoughts of those present, in which case the communications became less serious. On rare occasions she would use another method, which produced far more profound communications, ‘made not by but in the spirit of the great defunct personage in whose name they [were] given’ (ILMB 94-5, 109-11; BCW 14:477, 480-1; Cranston, 1993, 63-77):
She would compose herself, and, seeking out with eyes shut, in the astral light, that current that preserved the genuine impress of some well-known departed entity, she identified herself for the time being with it, and, guiding the raps, made them to spell out that which she had in her own mind, as reflected from the astral current. Thus, if the rapping ‘spirit’ pretended to be a Shakespeare, it was not really that great personality, but only the echo of the genuine thoughts that had once upon a time moved in his brain and crystallised themselves, so to say, in his astral sphere whence even his shell had departed long ago – the imperishable thoughts alone remaining. Not a sentence, not a word spelt by the raps that was not formed first in her brain, in its turn the faithful copier of that which was found by her spiritual eye in the luminous Record Book of departed humanity. (ILMB 109-10)
In 1874, Blavatsky attended seances given by the mediums William and Horatio Eddy at Chittenden, Vermont. It was there that she first met Henry S. Olcott, who spent several months investigating the Eddy brothers’ phenomena (see POW). The Eddies were poor, almost illiterate farmers, and the only payment they received from visitors was a small fee for food and lodgings. While William was sitting in a small cabinet, a series of materialized apparitions – men, women and children – would emerge and talk with those present, occasionally dissolving away in full view of the spectators. The figures were usually Red Indians, Americans or Europeans, but after Blavatsky’s arrival other nationalities began to appear: e.g. her former Georgian servant from the Caucasus; a Moslem merchant from Tiflis; a Russian peasant girl; a Kurdish warrior armed with scimitar, pistols and lance; an African magician with a coloured band tied around his head, from which projected four oryx horns with bells at their tips; and Blavatsky’s dead uncle.
Drawing of a materialized squaw, Light-Heart, dissolving. (POW 148a)
Materializations of a Kurdish warrior (left) and African magician (right), both known to Blavatsky. (POW 322, 329)
At that time Olcott was still a ‘rabid spiritualist’, as Blavatsky called him, and believed the apparitions were the ‘spirits of the dead’. He refused to accept Blavatsky’s explanation that such apparitions were produced by the astral double escaping from the medium’s body and clothing itself with other appearances. Knowing nothing of the plastic nature of the double, he did not think this could account for the figures’ varying height, bulk and appearance. He later learned that Blavatsky had evoked some of the apparitions herself by means of her own psychic powers (ODL 1:7-10; BCW 1:53). She explained that the materialized form of her uncle was a picture sent from her own mind: ‘It was like an empty outer envelope of my uncle that I seemed to throw onto the medium’s astral body’ (ILMB 132-3; BCW 14:482-3). She also evoked Michalko, her former Georgian servant, whom she thought was dead, but who later turned out to be still alive. ‘So much for “spirit identification”,’ she comments (BCW 6:291).
Drawing of a materialized ‘spirit’, Michalko Guegidze, who spoke Georgian and played
Georgian tunes on a guitar. The real Michalko later turned out to be still alive. (POW 296)
During the seances, Blavatsky could see how the ‘shades’ of the dead, ‘from which in most cases soul and spirit had fled long ago’, fed on the vital energies of the medium and visitors.
[I]t was a sight to see the welcome given these umbrae by the spiritualists! They wept and rejoiced around the medium, clothed in these empty materialized shadows. ... [It] made my heart bleed for them. ... If they only knew that these simulacra of men and women are made up wholly of the terrestrial passions, vices, and worldly thoughts, of the residuum of the personality that was; ... At times I used to see one of such phantoms, quitting the medium’s astral body, pouncing upon one of the sitters, expanding so as to envelop him or her entirely, and then slowly disappearing within the living body as though sucked in by its every pore. (ILMB 178-9; BCW 14:491-2)
Elementaries, she says, ‘are treated almost as gods by sentimental ignoramuses’ (BCW 7:208).
Blavatsky, with the help of mahatma M, also produced materializations under test conditions during seances held by another medium, Mrs Holmes, but again without publicizing the fact at the time. That explains why Mrs Holmes, who often resorted to fraud, was so shocked, as she knew that these particular apparitions were genuine (ODL 1:13-14; BCW 1:73, 120).
From a theosophical perspective, there are three possible explanations of ‘spirit’ materializations (Ocean 48-9, 168-9; Echoes 1:183-6, 384-8):
1) The medium’s astral body is exuded and assumes the appearance of a dead person by reflecting their astral image, and becomes visible by collecting particles from the air and the bodies of the sitters.
2) The astral shell of a deceased person becomes visible and even tangible when the condition of air and ether is such as to alter the vibration of its molecules to the necessary degree.
3) An unseen mass of chemical, electrical and magnetic matter is collected from the atmosphere, the medium, or other people present, and a picture of any desired person, living or dead, is reflected on it out of the astral light.
9. Spirits and astral shells
Spiritualists have often gullibly accepted any banal nonsense as a message from the ‘spirits of the dead’. For instance, in 1928 the Rev Charles Drayton Thomas published a book about his contacts with his deceased father and sister through mediums. The messages included the following:
We have roads, but the surface is unlike the stone or macadamised roads of England. ... The appearance is something like natural soil, but without mud or anything disagreeable. ...
We have London, but it is not your London. ... There is some likeness in the parks and beautiful buildings, but with us they are all finer. ... I have seen no snakes or lions here. ... We have horses, dogs and cats but very few monkeys.
The father and sister also describe an interview with Jesus himself, who – rather predictably – radiated ‘a great majesty, together with great sweetness and humility’ (Wilson, 1987, 230-1).
In 1916 Sir Oliver Lodge published a book entitled Raymond about the communications that had convinced him that his son had survived his death in the First World War. ‘Raymond’ explains that the afterlife is not all that different from earth life. Most people, he says, wear white robes though many would prefer to wear a suit. They can also eat if they want to, and even have a cigar or a whisky and soda. ‘There are laboratories over here and they manufacture all sorts of things in them,’ we are told (Wilson, 227). It all sounds rather silly.
Communications have been received through a medium from someone claiming to be the British army officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia (Wilson, 231-2). According to ‘Lawrence’, a spirit called Mitchell, who had become his mentor, told him that since he had lived a monk-like existence on earth, it was now time to ‘go on a proper spree’ and experiment with all the experiences he had missed – including women. He is taken on a tour of celestial brothels and told: ‘These girls are not prostitutes ... they are women who have missed sexual experiences during their earth life and need to work out this lack before they can progress.’ ‘Lawrence’ then waxes lyrical: ‘We two have wandered happily in an enchanted land exploring the delights of an intimate companionship crowned by the magic of union.’ Whoever or whatever is responsible for such claptrap, it is unlikely to be the true spirits of the dead.
In the October 1882 issue of The Theosophist, an Indian correspondent described how shortly before his young niece’s death, two of his sisters saw an apparition of their dead brother while the dying niece called out: ‘Tell sister, I am coming.’ After the girl’s funeral, the correspondent heard someone whispering or trying to speak to him, and his youngest sister, while sick and seemingly entranced, heard footsteps in the next room. The following night his mother heard the dead girl telling her to turn round; his elder sister was woken by someone calling her name, and saw and felt the girl’s hand over her own; the dead girl’s grandfather saw her distinctly, clothed in her usual dress; the correspondent saw the girl’s head and shoulders; and strange lights were seen in the room. The next day they left their home town and went to Allahabad. On the first night there the correspondent’s youngest sister again fell into a trance and saw her deceased niece dressed in luminous garments.
Commenting on these phenomena (BCW 4:243-50), H.P. Blavatsky says that they could be the result of a variety of causes, and only an adept could say for certain what the explanation was. She points out that a human soul that has just escaped from its bodily prison is in a dazed condition and unlikely to be able to act with deliberate intent. Nor is this necessary to explain the events. The dying girl’s last thoughts would probably have been occupied by those around her. The trances of the correspondent’s younger sister suggest she was mediumistic and helped trigger the phenomena – the hearing of the ‘astral’ echo of the girl’s voice and the perception of her ‘astral reflection’.
The July 1883 issue of The Theosophist (BCW 4:583-98) contained a letter by ‘M.A. (Oxon.)’, the pen name of the medium William Stainton Moses, who took issue with the theosophical standpoint that it is mostly astral shells that communicate at seances. He cites a case involving a communicator whom he calls ‘John Lilly’, who had died several decades ago. The ‘spirit’ communicated mainly by producing a very distinctive rapping sound on a table, and provided various autobiographical details that Moses was able to verify. Gradually the communications died out and Moses heard no more from him. Some years later, while staying at a friend’s house, he was awoken by raps and noises all over the room, but did not receive any message. The raps were the peculiar sound used by Lilly, and the next morning Moses learned that Lilly had once lived in the house. He concluded that the most satisfactory explanation was that the communicator was the genuine spirit of the dead John Lilly.
Blavatsky disagreed, saying that the astral shell of ‘John Lilly’ could have performed all the phenomena, as it still possessed his ‘grosser personal consciousness and memory’, and these were reactivated at every contact with the medium’s brain molecules, which acted like a galvanic battery. She says it is far more likely that a genuine disembodied spirit would have avoided communicating through a table, when he had at his disposal a fine medium’s clairvoyance and spiritual consciousness. And why did the familiar sound of his presence die out gradually rather than abruptly, as might be the case with a ‘spirit’ who had a real mission to perform? ‘Why should an everlasting semi-material, quite conscious entity use such eccentric ways?’ she asks. And during the bedroom incident, why did he not rap out what he wanted to say instead of keeping Moses half-awake and ‘repeatedly disturbing his sleep with raps and noises at the risk of giving him a bad headache’? Lilly had impregnated the bedroom with his emanations during his life, and his fading astral shell was galvanized once more into producing audible sounds by the presence of Moses, on whose organism it had been living for years.
Blavatsky ends by citing the story of a haunted house, as reported by a spiritualist. A family moved into a house where inexplicable noises, crashes, footsteps and voices were sometimes heard. In the night following the death of the husband, a passionate lover of music, the piano began softly playing the last piece he had composed. After the funeral, knocks were heard in the house and the children heard their father speaking to them. Several nights running, the eldest boy woke up screaming as someone had touched him on the shoulder. A friend on a visit felt her bedclothes being pulled, and the noises prompted her to leave. Soon after, a servant was taken ill owing to the ghostly happenings. One night the wife went into her husband’s study and lit a candle. Then a breeze seemed to sweep round the room, blew out her candle and shut the door. Terrified, she made a quick exit. She locked herself in her children’s bedroom, but soon heard a noise like a gong striking the window bars, then a rumbling accompanied by knocks and voices. She heard her husband telling her to ‘Come up here’, but she replied that she wanted to live for her children’s sake. The doors all over the house then slammed, and footsteps were heard moving up and down the stairs until daybreak. Blavatsky asks whether such antics are more likely to be performed by the good spirit of a loving husband and father or by a malicious, half-crazy astral shell.
The Dec.-Jan. 1883-84 issue of The Theosophist (BCW 6:127-9) contained the following report: Two unmarried German brothers were living together in the family home. The elder brother noticed that considerable sums of money were disappearing from his cash-box. Although the younger brother led a dissolute life, he was not suspected as his brother gave him all the money he wanted. The younger brother was then killed in a duel. While his cousin, Mrs A, was alone with the corpse in the mortuary chamber, she saw the drapery over a door to the deceased’s private room part, and an old gentleman emerge with a book under his arm. He stood at the foot of the coffin and said, ‘May thy offence be forgiven thee for the sake of thy mother!’ Without seeming to notice the young woman, he walked to the opposite wall and pressed a hidden knob, uncovering a recess full of books and documents. He wrote something on a page torn from the book he had brought with him, placed the book and paper in the recess and closed it. Then he returned to the deceased’s room. The young woman’s parents told her that the man she described was the two brothers’ father, who had died long before. They opened the previously unknown recess, and found that the note he had written revealed that the real thief was the dead brother. It ended with the injunction that the surviving brother should pay off a debt to a person in another town to save the family’s honour. The book the phantom had been carrying was the younger brother’s private account book and confirmed everything.
Commenting on this case, Blavatsky says that at the time of his death, the father may have been very anxious about his younger son’s future, especially as his mother was already dead, and she notes that ‘fear or great anxiety for everything left behind on earth is capable of retaining a shell, which must otherwise have dissolved, for a longer period in the earth’s atmosphere than it would in the event of a quiet death’. The young man who met with a tragic end was probably a medium to his father’s shell, giving it a knowledge of all the incidents of his wild and sinful career. The woman who witnessed the materialized shell must also have been psychic, thereby helping the phenomenon to take place. Blavatsky concludes that the dying young man’s contrition for his vicious life and anxiety to save the family’s honour were reflected intensely on the father’s astral shell and gave rise to all that followed.
Masters and mediums
In 1882 the English medium William Eglinton visited India and spent some time with two spiritualists and theosophists, Alice Gordon and her husband, Lt.-Col. W. Gordon. In a letter to A.P. Sinnett, received on 18 March 1882, mahatma KH said that Eglinton had made Mrs Gordon wonder if she had been deceived by the theosophists as he denied the existence of the mahatmas (or ‘Brothers’), and his ‘spirit guides’ seemed not to have heard of them. But on a subsequent occasion the ‘spirits’ suddenly changed their tune, and KH explains that mahatma M (Morya), in his mayavi-rupa, had stalked into the ‘motley crowd’ of kama-rupic spooks and taken them ‘by the skin of their throats’, resulting in the unexpected admission that the mahatmas did exist (ML2 248 / MLC 149). Mrs Gordon was amused when one of Eglinton’s guides spoke about ‘the Illustrious’ – a pseudonym given to mahatma M. She reports that when Eglinton came out of trance and was told what he had said, he ‘was not at all elated at having a belief in the “Brothers” forced on him, their alleged superiority to mediums being rather a sore point between us!’ (Damodar 187). His guides also announced that, after he had left India, some occult phenomena would be performed through the Brothers.
On 22 March 1882, KH, in his mayavi-rupa, visited and talked with Eglinton on board the Vega, the ship that was taking him back to England. On the 24th, during the voyage, Eglinton wrote a letter to Alice Gordon, saying that KH’s visit had forced him to accept that the Brothers were distinct living persons (years later he changed his mind and said he had probably seen an unusual ‘spontaneous materialization’!). With the help of the mahatmas, this letter, together with one to Blavatsky, were transmitted to Blavatsky and other witnesses in Bombay almost instantaneously by occult means. The letter to Mrs Gordon was later tied together with a message from Blavatsky (written on three cards) and taken away again, and dropped down a few moments later among a group at Calcutta, composed of Mr and Mrs Gordon and Col. Olcott; the latter saw KH and M in their mayavi-rupas outside the window, and one of them pointed to the air above Mrs Gordon’s head as the package fell from the ceiling. It included Eglinton’s letter, Blavatsky’s cards, and also a large card (as used by Eglinton at his seances) bearing notes from KH and M, all of them threaded together with a piece of blue sewing string (OW 169-75; Damodar 185-95; Caldwell, 2000, 174-8).
Once when the cleric C.W. Leadbeater, who was developing an interest in theosophy, visited Eglinton in England, the latter’s control, ‘Ernest’, spoke of the mahatmas with great reverence and said he had had the privilege of seeing them on several occasions. Leadbeater asked whether Ernest was prepared to pass on a message or letter to them, and Ernest said he would deliver it at the first opportunity. It was however never delivered. Several years later, some spiritists wrote that the mahatmas could not possibly exist because Ernest had told them they didn’t. This shows, says Leadbeater, how unreliable entities like ‘Ernest’ are, as they often reflect the thoughts of the questioner (M&M 128fn).
In a letter received by Sinnett in January 1884, mahatma M tells of his presence at one of Eglinton’s seances. It was held at the London home of American theosophist Sam Ward, and was also attended by Sinnett (ML2 431-2 / MLC 404-6; M&M 206-10). The seance attracted M’s attention when the astral ‘spooks’, or bhutas, began to forge Blavatsky’s handwriting, and then produced a message supposedly from himself. He says he was not in Ladakh as indicated in the message, but in Lhassa. He immediately travelled astrally to the seance room, invisible to all except the ‘spooks’. He helped himself to a sheet of Sam Ward’s stationery, which his present letter was written on, to show he had been there. He said that because Eglinton fervently wished to join the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, his ‘astral ticks’ had fabricated the ‘M’ letter. He told Sinnett that he should have realized it was a forgery because it was not preceded by certain passwords they had agreed on. M says that the ‘spooks worked remarkably well nothing abashed by my presence’; their work was hindered by too much light coming from a Piccadilly Street but the emanations of a downstairs bookseller helped a good deal. M calls Eglinton a ‘poor entranced wretch’ and an ‘epileptic subject to fits’, but says he is ‘really honest in his way and to be pitied’, as two elementaries had ‘fastened on him like barnacles’.
The medium William Stainton Moses had a ‘spirit guide’ called Imperator (sometimes designated ‘+’). In July 1882 Blavatsky told Sinnett that in the early days of Moses’ mediumship, Imperator was a mahatma, but that was not true of the present Imperator (LBS 22; ML2 205, 285 / MLC 74, 77). The latter was a ‘high disembodied shell’ and sometimes Moses’ own higher self (ML2 43, 173-4 / MLC 61, 329).
The medium Mary Hollis-Billing had a ‘control’ known as Ski. In January 1879 Olcott attended a seance at which Ski acknowledged that he was a messenger of the mahatmas and mentioned the names of several of them (ODL 2:7). In a letter received in January 1883, KH tells Sinnett that Ski ‘has more than once served as carrier and even mouthpiece for several of us’, and that the ‘shortcomings and crimes’ of several other ‘Skis’ had been fathered on the real Ski (ML2 417-18 / MLC 352-3; LBS 84-5). KH acknowledged that his own astral form had occasionally been seen by clairvoyants, and that he had ‘controlled’ a medium, but does not specify who it was (BCW 4:19).
William Q. Judge writes: ‘Many times have learned living occultists entered into the sphere of mediums and compelled them to tell the truth ...’ (Echoes 1:184). As an example he mentions one of the guides of Mrs Hollis-Billing, known as Jim Nolan, who, he says, was not the ‘spirit’ of a dead man or an elemental, but
the spirit of an intelligent living person who sought near the descending arc of the cycle of ‘spiritualism’ to inject a new method and bring about if possible a revival of true psychic investigation and demonstration in a body of people already largely prepared. But he was denied and ignored. (Echoes 1:387, 186)
Nolan makes clear that ‘spirit’ materializations are not genuine spirits; particles from the atmosphere and from the medium and sitters are gathered together, and, drawing on the images recorded on the astral plane, they are made either into a surface on which faces of different dead people are reflected, or into a form that can be given different appearances or ‘coatings’ and is animated by some astral entity. As Judge says, those attending seances ‘are rewarded by the ghosts, the ghouls, the vampires, the senseless, wavering shapes, the useless images and reflections of human thoughts and acts of which the vast reservoir of the astral light is full’ (Echoes 1:183-6, 384-8, 3:136-7). A great deal of deception therefore goes on, not in the sense that nothing occult takes place, but in the sense that the ‘spirits’ who manifest or communicate and are recognized as deceased relatives or other figures, are virtually never what they seem to be.
Although there have been occasions when the mahatmas have worked through mediums, Blavatsky (writing in 1889) sounded a note of caution:
Great are the desecrations to which the names of two of the masters have been subjected. There is hardly a medium who has not claimed to have seen them. Every bogus swindling Society, for commercial purposes, now claims to be guided and directed by ‘masters’, often supposed to be far higher than ours! (Key 301)
Nowadays the internet is awash with ‘channelled’ messages allegedly from ‘ascended masters’, including Blavatsky’s teachers Kuthumi and Morya (or ‘El Morya’ as he now supposedly calls himself). One of the countless channelled messages from Kuthumi begins as follows:
I come forward this day on the blue Christ Ray, merged with the Golden ray of God. It is a most Blessed day this day, the day I Kuthumi, Maha Chohan, Sanat Kumara and Ra Mu choose to speak to you, to tell of the greatness of the new energies – the Golden Vortex of Light – now available to you. The planetary energies have assisted in your preparation. Now, in your time, the very beginning of the energies merging, preparing for a monumental Solar Eclipse. etc. etc.
This gushing drivel stands in marked contrast to the genuine letters written by KH and M in the 1880s and the profound philosophical works they inspired, notably The Secret Doctrine.
Another channeller informs us that El Morya ‘came from the planet Mercury to represent the Will of God’. She says that in a previous incarnation he was Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation; 2000 years ago he was Melchior, one of the three wise men; after that he was King Arthur, and led three bloody crusades; then he incarnated as Thomas Becket, who was assassinated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170; and later he became an Irish poet, Thomas Moore. Anyone in need of further ‘revelations’ from this channeller can obtain them for £40 an hour!
Theosophy and spiritualism
Helena Blavatsky says that the Theosophical Society was formed with the intention of becoming an ally of the spiritualist movement by helping it to develop its higher, more philosophical aspects (BCW 12:127). It tried to help the spiritualists understand that the spiritual world was far above the astral world, that their summerland was a vague and distorted intuition of the devachan, and that the ‘returning spirits’ were the astral remnants of humans – but they would not listen (FSO 574-5). Instead, the spiritualists became bitter enemies of the TS, because the majority were unwilling to abandon their belief that most communications received through mediums came from the spirits of the dead, and that we would achieve eternal personal reunion with our loved ones after death.
Blavatsky writes: ‘Theosophists believe in spirits no less than spiritualists do, but, as dissimilar in their variety as are the feathered tribes in the air. There are bloodthirsty hawks and vampire bats among them, as there are doves and nightingales’ (BCW 12:190). She stresses that both Western occultism and Eastern philosophy come to us from an immense antiquity. And Eastern traditions, neoplatonic writings, and the writings of medieval theosophists all testify to ‘the extremely various and often dangerous nature of all those genii, demons, gods, lares, and “elementaries,” now all confused into one heap under the name of “spirits” ’ (BCW 12:197).
She continues: ‘Theosophists give only the product of an experience hoary with age; spiritualists hold to their own views, born some forty years ago, and based on their unflinching enthusiasm and emotionalism.’ There is no difference, she says between the ‘vampire-bride’ or succubus from whom Apollonius of Tyana delivered a young friend of his, who was slowly being killed by the nightly phantom, and the ‘spirit’ wives and husbands with whom some mediums boasted of having sexual intercourse. Blavatsky adds that in addition to elementals, astral shells and elementaries, there are also ‘grand spirits’ who can communicate with mortals – but there is little trace of such contacts in mediumistic communications. The bulk of them are simply ‘nonsensical twaddle’, in G. de Purucker’s words (SOP 589), or ‘idiotic gush’, as mahatma KH calls them (ML2 241 / MLC 54).
Mediumship is not so much a gift as a misfortune, because mediums tend to become helpless instruments controlled by an external power or consciousness. Blavatsky calls mediumship ‘one of the most dangerous of abnormal nervous diseases’ (BCW 12:372), and contrasts it with adeptship, which signifies full, voluntary control over psychic powers and forces. She says that holy men such as Apollonius, Iamblichus, Plotinus, and Porphyry radiated ‘an atmosphere of divine beneficence’, causing evil spirits to flee before them; thanks to the ‘power of their own souls in close unison with their spirits’ and the morality and sanctity of their lives, they were active mediators, rather than passive mediums (Isis 1:487-8).
G. de Purucker says that true spiritualism has nothing to do with necromancy, but teaches that the world is one vast organism composed of cosmic spirits, and that everyone in their inmost is a cosmic spirit and should seek to enter into communion with the spiritual realms through their own inner god (FSO 578). As W.Q. Judge says, ‘Inspiration from or by one’s own higher ego is not mediumship; it is illumination. It cannot be secured save by discipline, altruism, charity, deep love, and highest aspiration’ (Echoes 2:350).
Theosophy teaches that every monad or consciousness-centre, whatever the kingdom in which it is manifesting, evolves through repetitive reembodiments, i.e. by periodically taking on new vehicles or bodies, whether physical or nonphysical. In the human and animal kingdoms this process is called reincarnation (lit. ‘reinfleshment’). In each successive kingdom, the ego-soul becomes more awakened and developed; in the human kingdom, individualization reaches its peak and selfconsciousness is attained, allowing self-directed evolution.
Reincarnation is a fundamental tenet of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism and Sikhism. It is also part of most western religious traditions, though largely confined to their mystic or esoteric branches. It was taught by Orpheus, Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, then rejected by Aristotle, but revived by neoplatonists such as Plotinus. It was taught by the Gnostics, and by many Christian Church Fathers, but was rejected by the ecclesiastical authorities in the 6th century. Some Christian sects, such as the Cathars (or Albigensians) continued to believe in reincarnation, and some modern Christian theologians are sympathetic to the idea. In Judaism, reincarnation (‘gilgul’) is taught by Kabbalism and the modern Hasidism movement. In Islam, it is taught among the Sufis, who claim to know the esoteric meaning of the Qur’an (Head & Cranston, 1991; Algeo, 1987; Rosen, 2004).
In the East, 4 out of 5 people are convinced that reincarnation is a fact. In the West, the number of adherents is on the increase; a 2003 survey found that 27% of the US population believed in reincarnation, a figure that rose to 40% among persons aged 25 to 29.
Theosophy denies that it is normal for humans to be reborn as animals. Humans can act brutishly, but that does not mean that they will be reborn as animals, as many orthodox Hindus and Buddhists believe. Humans possess selfconsciousness and are therefore responsible for their actions, whereas animals act on the basis of natural instinct. So saying that brutish humans are ‘no better than animals’ maligns animals; only humans can be purposefully cruel. Humans regress to the animal kingdom only if they are exceptionally and persistently evil. However, when our physical and astral bodies fall apart after death, the atoms composing them may be attracted to bodies or entities in the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, as well as in the human kingdom.
In the mineral kingdom, monads reembody virtually instantaneously. In the plant kingdom they reembody within moments or a few days, or as soon as the changing seasons allow. Animal monads reincarnate after a period ranging from a few days to about a year (FSO 617-18). In the human kingdom, due to the awakening of selfconsciousness, the general rule is that the period between lives lasts 100 times longer than the previous incarnation (FSO 593-4). In reality, the period varies enormously from person to person, and in different eras, depending on the qualities and needs of different souls and the conditions prevailing on earth. That is why the human population is far from constant (see Reincarnation and population growth). In exceptional cases humans may reincarnate within a few years (ML2 106, 127 / MLC 195, 209).
In order for humans to progress from life to life, there has to be a logical, causal link between our present life and past lives. According to the doctrine of karma, we reap what we have sown in previous incarnations, and we also reap where we have sown – here on earth, not in some other sphere. And it is not just individuals who are confronted with the consequences of their actions, but also families, communities, nations, races, etc. Our souls, which are sexless, take on a male or female body according to their karmic needs, and incarnate in the most suitable nation, race and social circumstances. We inevitably meet up again with people we have known before, but in new situations and relationships. The challenges and experiences we encounter are ultimately our own responsibility and provide an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, further develop our nobler qualities, such as altruism, forgiveness and compassion, and gradually unfold our full intellectual and spiritual potential.
Since we are reborn with new physical and astral bodies and brains, we do not normally remember our past lives. This is a blessing as it allows us to make a fresh start, instead of being haunted by conscious memories of past errors, misfortunes, conflicts and grudges. Those with advanced clairvoyant powers can access information on their own and other people’s past lives; mahatma KH, however, said that he did not like to exercise that power (ML2 145 / MLC 304). Moreover, our new personality is not an entirely new creation but reflects the characteristics, habits, impulses, abilities and other tendencies we have acquired and developed in previous incarnations, or at least those relevant to the karma we have to work out in our present life. So in that sense we do ‘remember’ our past incarnations.
In rare cases, some people – especially children – appear to remember their past lives, and provide details that can be verified.
In The Cathars and Reincarnation (1970), British psychiatrist Arthur Guirdham describes his treatment of a patient called Claire Mills who had been troubled in her teens by vivid dreams and visions of what seemed to be an earlier existence as a Cathar (Albigensian) in the Languedoc area of France in the early 13th century. She provided accurate descriptions of the lives and customs of the Cathars and told of their massacre; she also gave a graphic description of being burned at the stake herself. Many of the details she provided were verified in medieval records, including names and descriptions of people, places and events. She also made accurate drawings of old French coins, jewellery and the layout of buildings. She spoke of being kept prisoner in a certain church crypt. Experts maintained that it had never been used for that purpose, but further research showed that some people were once kept there because the prisons were full. She insisted that Cathar priests wore dark blue as well as black. This was not previously known but was confirmed in the records of the Inquisition. She recalled several medieval French songs, and four were found in the archives and proved to be correct word for word. Guirdham subsequently found evidence that he, too, had played a role in his patient’s Cathar life, as did six other people with whom they came into contact (Head & Cranston, 1991, 398-401; Fontana, 2005, 435-6).
In Born Twice (1974), Edward Ryall chronicles his life as a yeoman farmer, who was born in Somerset, England, in 1645, and was killed in 1685 by a cavalryman in King James II’s army (Head & Cranston, 403-7). Ryall was born in 1902, 217 years later. His memories were part of his waking consciousness, and – unusually – his recollections increased during his lifetime instead of fading. When he was a boy, his father had pointed out Halley’s Comet in the sky. When the boy remarked that he had seen it before, his father sternly reprimanded him. Ryall then told no one of his memories for many years until reaching the age of 60, by which time his father and other older family members to whom he says he talked of his memories were dead. Ryall’s description of life in 17th-century England proved to be very accurate, and included many obscure details that only rare studies of the period would mention. His statements as to the time of appearance of Halley’s Comet three years before his death as Fletcher were verified, as were the dates and days of the week for events described, the names of local clergymen and other notables, his descriptions of numerous customs, coins, agricultural, commercial and domestic objects, and words and expressions that he claimed to be current in that area and period. However, Ryall’s story also contains several errors and anachronisms. The sexual scenarios he remembered are melodramatic and mildly sensational, and are also improbable for the time and place (Algeo, 1987, 73-5).
Ian Stevenson (who died in 2007) and his associates have documented over 3000 cases of children who spontaneously remember past lives. Such children are found most easily in countries and cultures with a tradition of belief in reincarnation, but they also occur in Europe and North America. The children generally start speaking about a previous life between the ages of 2 and 4. They give details about the lives of their previous personalities that are subsequently verified, show behaviour patterns that match their past lives but are at odds with their present circumstances, and sometimes have birthmarks or birth defects that correspond to injuries, often fatal, suffered in their previous life. Over half the children concerned remember dying violently, often at a fairly young age.
Reincarnation memories may explain certain features of human behaviour such as likes and dislikes (including phobias), talents, and gender confusion. Several children who claimed to have drowned in their previous life displayed marked phobias of water. For instance, a girl in Sri Lanka hated baths so much as a baby that three adults had to hold her down. By the age of six months, she also showed a marked phobia of buses. Later she described the life of a girl in the village who had been walking along a narrow road between flooded paddy fields when she stepped back to avoid a bus going by, fell into the flood water, and drowned. Many Burmese children who reported lives as Japanese soldiers killed in Burma during the Second World War displayed behaviour unusual in Burma but typical of the Japanese, including wanting to wear Japanese clothing and to eat raw or partially cooked fish instead of spicy Burmese food. Some children who remember a previous life as a member of the opposite sex have shown a marked propensity for dressing and behaving in a manner appropriate to that sex and a few have become homosexual.
Birthmarks and birth defects are generally ascribed to genetic accidents. They are sometimes caused by maternal impressions during pregnancy, but mainstream science nowadays ignores this phenomenon as there is no conventional physical mechanism to explain it. For example, a pregnant woman who saw a man in the street with mutilated feet became anxious that her child would be born with mutilated feet; her baby was later born with part of his feet missing. Reincarnation seems to offer an explanation in some cases. For instance, a boy who remembered being murdered in his former life by having his throat slit had a long reddish mark resembling a scar across his neck. A boy who remembered committing suicide by shooting himself in the head in his past incarnation had two scarlike birthmarks, which lined up on either side of his head. Another boy had a birthmark resembling a surgical scar complete with a line of red marks resembling stitch wounds in the exact location where his previous personality had had surgery (Talbot, 1991, 218).
In a high-crime district of Uttar Pradesh, India, a woman dreamed of a man who had recently been murdered, called Maha Ram, who told her he was coming to her; he then lay down on a cot and the dream ended. Soon after, in 1955, the woman gave birth to a son, Hanumant, who was born with a large birthmark on his chest. At the age of 3 he began to say he was Maha Ram, and had been shot in the chest. The man in question had been killed accidentally while standing by a teashop in September 1954. Eventually Hanumant went back to Ram’s neighbourhood and recognized people and places he used to know. Ian Stevenson was able to study Ram’s medical records and autopsy report, which showed that the gunshot pellets had struck him in the lower chest in a pattern almost exactly matching the location of Hanumant’s birthmark (Grosso, 2004, 116).
AL was born in 1983 near Loei in northeastern Thailand. Shortly before his mother became pregnant with him, she had a dream in which her deceased father-in-law, WL, said that he wished to be reborn as her child. WL had been fatally injured in a vehicle accident in 1981, when he was 64 years old. A motorcycle hit his trailer and the impact knocked him off his bicycle and resulted in him being dragged on his abdomen for some distance. At least one handle of the bicycle became driven into his abdomen, and he bled profusely. The photos below, taken in 1997, show extensive areas of increased pigmentation and scarlike appearance on AL’s abdomen and lower chest. Whether reincarnation is the explanation in this case is not certain as AL never spoke about a previous life. Once when he was shown a photograph of WL, he looked at it for a long time, smiled, but said nothing (Pasricha et al., 2005).
AL’s lower chest and abdomen (left) and right side (right) at age 14, showing scarlike areas.
Mahatma KH mentions the following possibility: ‘a child may be born bearing the greatest resemblance and features to another person, thousands of miles off, no connection to the mother, never seen by her, but whose floating image was impressed upon her soul-memory, during sleep or even waking hours, and reproduced on the sensitized plate of living flesh she carries in her’ (ML2 286 / MLC 75).
NK was born in the village of Kharwa in Rajasthan, India, in 1982. He had a linear area of abnormal skin (nevus) on the left front area of his head. When he was still a toddler and was told off, he would walk away from his family’s house, saying that he was going to his village, Sarnia (6.5 km away). He also said that his real name was Babu, his wife was called Dakho, and his son Madan. He talked about the life of Babu until he was 5 or 6 years old, despite his family’s disapproval. He described how robbers had killed Babu by hitting him with an axe. The details corresponded to the life and death of a man called Babu who had been murdered in 1978 by being struck on his head and elsewhere with an axe, while returning from his teashop in Sarnia to his native village of Gwadia. NK’s family knew about the murder, but the two families became acquainted only after Babu’s family learned about NK’s statements. NK spontaneously recognized five members of Babu’s family when they met him. According to the postmortem report, the fatal wound included fractures of the bones on the left side of the skull with a deep penetration into the brain; this corresponded to the area of abnormal skin on the left side of NK’s head (Pasricha et al., 2005).
Nevus on NK’s head (1998), showing hairless, wrinkled skin with areas of unusual roughness.
In another case, a boy, IA, was born in Kanoi, Uttar Pradesh, in 1982 with severely malformed fingers and toes. During his infancy these sometimes bled and became infected, and one finger had to be amputated. After learning to talk, IA said that he was from Dapta Balia, and described his life and death there. He said that he had been a dacoit (bandit) who had killed many people, and that his own gang members had suspected him of cheating them in the division of the loot, so they tortured him by chopping off his fingers and toes with a large knife, choked him, and left him to die. The person thought to be IA’s previous personality was a dacoit called Jagan, who had lived 1 km from Dapta Balia. However, most people thought he had been killed by villagers. IA rejected his present family and was eager to return to Dapta Balia, saying he wanted to recover his buried treasure and marry off his daughters. He also showed surprising familiarity with the geography of the area around Dapta Balia. He grumbled at finding himself in a Moslem family, considering himself to be a Hindu of a fairly high caste. He refused to eat meat and say Moslem prayers until he was 8, but never missed an opportunity to participate in Hindu festivities. When he was 3 to 4, he played at banditry, using a branch as a gun and organizing his friends into a gang, with himself as leader. He sometimes showed repentance for having killed so many people as a dacoit (Pasricha et al., 2005).
Severe malformations of IA’s fingers and toes.
In many cases where children seem to remember past lives, the previous personality cannot be identified. There are also cases where several people seem to be the ‘reincarnation’ of the same past personality – suggesting that reincarnation is not always the explanation. For instance, among the Gitxsan, a native group in British Columbia, Canada, 12 people were locally regarded as the rebirths of a certain elder who wished to come back as several people simultaneously. It is of course possible that biased observations influenced some of the identifications. In a Turkish case, two subjects provided fairly detailed information about the same deceased personality, and at one stage that person’s relatives accepted both children as reincarnations, though later they only accepted the child who had visited them first. There are also cases where the ‘reborn’ child was apparently born a few days or weeks before the ‘previous personality’ died, and it seems unlikely that all these cases are due to the date of death being incorrectly recorded (Keil, 2010). In a few cases, the subject was born within a few weeks or even days of the suspected previous personality’s death, which means that the subject had already been conceived before the previous personality had died.
Some researchers believe that cases where people seem to remember past lives may really involve extrasensory perception (ESP) rather than reincarnation. It is certainly possible to access information about people’s previous lives clairvoyantly. However, children with apparent memories of an earlier life do not usually show any signs of being generally gifted with ESP ability, and it’s unclear why they would only pick up information about one particular deceased individual. Moreover, they would need to possess super-psi to acquire such a large number of correct details about the life, relatives and circumstances of a particular dead person. It would be even more remarkable if such ESP also enabled them to display the behaviour and skills of that person, and to possess birthmarks and malformations corresponding to injuries they had sustained, especially since birthmarks and malformations begin to form during the development of the embryo.
The ability to remember past lives is clearly not usual for the mass of humanity today. From a theosophical point of view, reincarnation within weeks, months or just a few years is far from typical, but where this does take place there is a greater likelihood of remembering details of past lives. Stevenson stresses that remembering a previous life is almost never a pleasant experience, as the children concerned are often confused about their identity, and sometimes feel a division of loyalties between present and previous families. Fortunately, their memories of a past life tend to fade between the ages of 5 and 8.
As a rule, the younger the age at which people die, or the more materialistically minded they are, or the more undeveloped they are intellectually and spiritually, the shorter the time needed to digest the life just ended and the more quickly they reincarnate. If the period between lives is extremely short, souls are more likely to be drawn back to same culture and neighbourhood to complete their interrupted experience. Usually the personality (the kama-rupa and astral model-body) has time to disintegrate before we are reborn. Where this does not happen, the similarities between the character and behaviour of the previous personality and the present personality are likely to be more pronounced.
Another method used to recover ‘memories’ of past lives is hypnosis, but this approach is distinctly unreliable. Under hypnosis the mind is freer to remember things previously forgotten, but it is also freer to fantasize, fabricate, dramatize and play-act, and perhaps even psychically tap other sources of information. John Algeo (1987, p. 71) writes:
In general, the theosophical tradition discourages casual use of any technique – such as hypnotism, drug-taking, or mediumship – in which the conscious mind is artificially bypassed and the subconscious is made into a passive receiver of influences from whatever source. We do not improve our grasp of reality by anesthetizing the mind.
The intense emotions people may display under hypnosis do not prove that they are relating an authentic experience (see UFOs, section 8); hypnotically regressed individuals may become passionately involved with lives that are blatantly inaccurate historically. As with ‘past-life’ readings by psychics, most hypnotically induced accounts of past lives are too vague and unspecific to allow rigorous checking. It is widely recognized, however, that ‘past-life’ regressions are sometimes therapeutic and beneficial, and can help people to deal with their present psychological problems.
Under hypnosis, a 26-year-old man named Matthew relived an earlier life as a French aviator, Jacques Gionne Trecaultes, who was shot down by a German plane over Belgium in 1914. The French he occasionally used was poor and obviously that of a foreigner. Although he had an impressive store of information about the First World War, the technical details of earlier military aviation, and the geography of France, his descriptions contained twice as many factual errors as correct statements. All his ‘hits’ involved information commonly available, whereas his ‘misses’ were fairly evenly divided between facts commonly available and those available only in recondite sources. So in this case Matthew’s subconscious may have invented the personality of the French pilot and fleshed it out with accurate information acquired from public sources and with imaginary details (Algeo, pp. 66-7).
Another case of past-life regression concerns a man born and raised in Canada, who had had an inexplicable British accent as a child.
He also had an irrational fear of breaking his leg, a phobia of air travel, a terrible nail-biting problem, an obsessive fascination with torture, and as a teenager had had a brief and enigmatic vision of being in a room with a Nazi officer, shortly after operating the pedals of a car during a driving test. Under hypnosis the man recalled being a British pilot during World War II. While on a mission over Germany his plane was hit by a shower of bullets, one of which penetrated the fuselage and broke his leg. This in turn caused him to lose control of the plane’s foot pedals, forcing him to crash-land. He was subsequently captured by the Nazis, tortured for information by having his nails pulled out, and died a short time later. (Talbot, 1991, 214-5)
This is a plausible tale but without further verification does not provide strong evidence of reincarnation.
Under hypnosis, some people begin speaking languages unknown to them.
While reliving an apparent past life as a Viking, one man, a thirty-seven-year-old behavioral scientist, shouted words that linguistic authorities later identified as Old Norse. After being regressed to an ancient Persian lifetime, the same man began to write in a spidery, Arabic-style script that an expert in Near Eastern languages identified as an authentic representation of Sassanid Pahlavi, a long-extinct Mesopotamian tongue that flourished between A.D. 226 and 651. (ibid., 215)
The criticism is sometimes made that people only remember past lives as famous or historical personages. However, Helen Wambach carried out numerous hypnotic regressions, often in groups, and found that only 7% of her subjects reported belonging to the upper class, while some 23% reported belonging to the middle class and 70% to the lower class. None remembered being anyone famous, and most reported rather bleak and unhappy lives. Her subjects were very accurate when it came to historical details, even obscure ones. Although many females reported lives as males and many males reported lives as females, the percentages were 50.3% males and 49.7% females – close to the actual birth ratio between the sexes (Fontana, 2005, 432-4). There has been no large-scale attempt to repeat this work. At the very least, hypnosis seems to enable people to tap into information they don’t normally have access to.
When regressed to the period between lives, people have reported finding themselves in a peaceful, light-filled realm in which there is ‘no such thing as time or space as we know them’. Here they were acutely self-aware, had a heightened moral sense, and learned the lessons of their past life without rationalizing away their faults. Some reported being accompanied by dead relatives and friends. People also described planning their next life, sometimes choosing unpleasant experiences or to be reborn with people they had wronged in a previous life (Talbot, 215-16; Fontana, 434-5). The idea that we selfconsciously plan our next life is rather unlikely. It would require extensive consultations and coordination with all the other souls that are to play key roles in our next life. It is far easier to believe that this is an automatic process, based on karmic needs and attractions, which unerringly results in us finding ourselves in the right place with the right people at the right time.
People have also been hypnotically ‘progressed’ to future lives. Some people described a joyless, sterile future in which most people lived in space stations and ate synthetic food. Some reported happier, more natural and harmonious lives dedicated to learning and spiritual development. Others described a bleak, mechanical future in which people lived in underground cities or cities enclosed in domes. And others described themselves as survivors of some global disaster (Talbot, 224-5). So that seems to cover the main possibilities!
The purpose of life
Trying to find out about our past lives is an idle distraction. Everything we need to know about our past existence can be determined by honestly assessing our own characters and behaviour, our motives and aspirations, here and now. For our various strengths and weaknesses are largely the product of our thoughts and actions in previous lives. Our present life offers us an opportunity to actively continue our evolutionary journey: to learn more about the nature of reality and our place within it, to change ourselves for the better, and to help those around us in whatever way we can. It is impossible to realize our full potential unless we recognize the spiritual unity of all living beings and make universal brotherhood the keynote of our lives.
Abbreviations: BCW H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House (TPH), 1950-91 Damodar Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, Sven Eek, TPH, 1965 Dialogues The Dialogues of G. de Purucker, A.L. Conger (ed.), Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1948 Echoes Echoes of the Orient, W.Q. Judge, San Diego, CA: Point Loma Publications, 1975-87 ET The Esoteric Tradition, G. de Purucker, TUP, 2nd ed., 1973 FSO Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974 ILMB Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky, A.P. Sinnett, New York: Arno Press, 1976 (1886) Isis Isis Unveiled, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1877) Key The Key to Theosophy, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1972 (1889) LBS The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, TUP, 1975 (1925) M&M Masters and Men, Virginia Hanson, TPH, 1980 ML2 The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, A.T. Barker (comp.), TUP, 2nd ed., 1975 MLC The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, TPH, chron. ed., 1993 Ocean The Ocean of Theosophy, W.Q. Judge, TUP, 1973 (1893) ODL Old Diary Leaves (series 1-6), H.S. Olcott, TPH, 1900-1941 OW The Occult World, A.P. Sinnett, TPH, 9th ed., 1969 (1881) POW People from the Other World, Henry S. Olcott, Rutland, VE: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1972 (1875) SD The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky, TUP, 1977 (1888) SOP Studies in Occult Philosophy, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1973
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Life beyond Death: Contents
Our after-death journey
Visitors from the twilight zone
Where reincarnation and biology intersect
Reincarnation and population growth