Confessions of an ex-spiritualist
“…the nearest simile I can find to express the difficulties of sending a message – is that I appear to be standing behind a sheet of frosted glass – which blurs sight and deadens sound – dictating feebly – to a reluctant and very obtuse secretary.’’
This is the classicist Frederick Myers (1843-1901) complaining to a Mrs. Holland about her inability to grasp the meaning of what he wants to convey. One can sympathise. After all, this was about 1907, and Myers had been dead for six years, a circumstance that was obviously cramping his style. Mrs. H. was a spiritualist medium, acting as his amanuensis. The quote forms part of the ‘Cross Correspondences’, the record of an experiment allegedly initiated by Myers after his death to demonstrate the survival of consciousness when the physical body has fallen away, and to eliminate the possibility that the medium was simply cleverly reading the sitter. The Cross Correspondences are records of messages supposedly communicated to mediums in different parts of the world who were unknown to each other. The individual messages are opaque, but are supposed to take on significance when matched up with a message from another communicator. These Cross Correspondences provide strong evidence for life after death – google them and see for yourself. Be warned that they are also brain-curdlingly tedious, which is why hardly anybody has read them. It is in this dull, dusty, disregarded stuff from the beginning of the last century where anything approaching proof of survival resides.
1990. Following the death in a car crash of a new friend and potential lover, I was very much into what I liked to think of as 'serious' spiritualism, centred on the writings of those early explorers who founded the Society for Psychical Research. I rather liked the idea of myself as researcher rather than believer. I saw about twenty mediums do their stuff in Cambridge that year, and although I think most were deluded, I don’t think I saw one instance of deliberate deception. Perhaps five were just possibly, just maybe, just perhaps, the real thing: channels for messages from people who we, quite mistakenly, think of as dead.
If they are dead, how do we seem to get messages from them? The explanation I was prepared to entertain was that just as the air is full of interpenetrating radio waves to which one can tune in with the right equipment, so the universe is full of similar waves of consciousness, and we are tuned into the wavelength of physical matter. The brain excludes information from other wavelengths, and when it dies, the individual consciousness does not die with it. If you drop your radio and smash it, it does not mean that John Humphreys is no more, just that you no longer have the equipment to receive him. Psychic development, then, means stilling the mind and attempting to broaden the range of wavelengths it can pick up. See? Simple!
I moved to Athens at the back end of 1990 to work as a teacher trainer. I was ecstatic to find an ad in an English language magazine for a psychic development circle. This was convened by a lady I’ll call Lynette, who was welcoming and talkative: more talker than listener, in fact, but humorous and friendly. When I could get a word in, I told her about Nicolas, my dead nearly-lover. Our first session was attended by three stylish German ladies, ex-fashion models turned photographers, and one Greek lady, and what we did has faded from memory. In the second session, which the Greek lady did not attend because her husband feared we were working for Satan, Lynette presented me with a single rose, bought for me, she said, at Nicolas’s request. I remember someone commented that I had gone very quiet.
‘He’s thinking about the rose’ Lynette said.
What I was not thinking at the time was that this was just a cheap trick to keep me coming. I was too needy, and certainly too self-absorbed, to entertain that idea. I wanted this rose to be a token from him. I was also probably thinking what a good story my rose from a dead boyfriend would make at dinner later on. So much then for the ‘researcher’ – I was more like a creationist looking for evidence for a set of beliefs I had already assented to.
The same evening the German ladies and I were asked to take part in a group meditation for the benefit of humanity, in which the five of us would all imagine we were floating above the earth and raining down rose petals to blanket the ground in pink, fragrant tenderness. Sitting in the candlelight pretending to shower rose petals onto the earth was mind-bendingly tedious for me. I wanted apports, ectoplasm and disembodied voices. I was restless and useless in all such meditations, especially a later one in which I had to focus positive energy on a trainee to whom I had taken an instant, visceral dislike. Far more satisfying, and true to my real feelings, was my usual daydream of working him over with an electric cattle prod.
I liked psychometry better. Here you are given an object to hold, and you just free-associate, relating whatever images come into your head. Fingering a military medal belonging to a relative of Lynette’s Greek husband, I saw an island, a house, a cuckoo clock and a jovial old man. Lynette said I was right in all details save one: the old man in question was a miserable git. I said I felt as if I were holding a shot, for the track and field event. She knew nothing of that, but said she would ask her husband. Sure enough, the following week I learned I had been right about the shot-putter as well. And sure enough, I took this as evidence of my growing psychic powers, not of Lynette’s exploitation of my gullibility.
I ran out of money and could no longer afford the sessions. By this time I had met crystal healers and past life counsellors, and lent my body to a reikki teacher for her students to practise on. Perhaps it was the sheer battiness of reikki that finally led me to see the whole racket. Five women had stood around me as I lay on a massage table, supposedly sending energies into my body. At the end, their teacher gently reproved them for forgetting to shake the energies off their hands. Sheepishly they all began to flick invisible droplets from their fingers, before depositing their five thousand drachma notes into the teacher's cashbox.
I met one of the German ladies by chance in the street a while later, and learned they too had packed it in. I dismissed Lynette as a fraud on the make, but to be very charitable, let us wonder if she really was consciously manipulative. Perhaps she believed in what she was doing. Perhaps her instincts led her to home in on what she sensed we wanted, and she supplied it. Mediums who fish for leads (‘can you give me an Edward in spirit? Or perhaps a George? Or is it Alfred?’) are not necessarily trying to fool you. They think their gropings and eventual homing in on the ‘right’ person are signs of their talent.
I did a bit of googling today to see if I could find what Lynette was up to eighteen years on. I found her website. She is still in Greece, where she prospers, aided by angels, divas, guides from the higher planes, and what-not. She has a page full of glowing testimonials, some from people I know, and she includes the phone numbers of their shops and tavernas, along with a plug, which might even be free. I wish her well, although with all that back-up from the higher plains, she hardly needs my endorsement. After all, I never managed to amass enough money to set myself up on one of the most expensive islands in the Aegean.