by Harry Edwards.
(Harry Edwards has had a life long consuming interest in the Paranormal and is currently the National Secretary and Investigator for the Australian Skeptic, and Co-editor of their journal THE SKEPTIC. Since 10th of September he is visiting the Skeptic groups in India and lecturing on "Science & Skepticism in Australia. He will be in India from 10.9.1990 to 8.11.1990 visiting about 9 states in India. Courtesy to: THE SKEPTIC vol.9, No.4. (Summer 1989) published by The National Committee of Australian Skeptics Inc., PO Box.E324, St. James NSW2000 (Australia). Subscription: A$ 18 per annum or A$ 50 for 3 years.)
Occasionally, suveys are published showing that the least understood and most feared aspect of life is...death; a universal reluctance by much of the world's population to accept the inevitable finality of man's sojourn on this planet, resulting in widespread beliefs in an after life, reincarnation and communication with the spirits of the dead.
How did these beliefs arise? What their grounds? Are they valid?
This article, by a one-time pseudo-spiritualist (of "Do it yourself spiritualism", The Skeptic, Vol.7, No.2), sets out to examine one aspect of the above - communication with the spirits of the departed, a facility whose ramifications for the betterment of society would provide answers to age old mysteries, solutions to unsolved crimes, discourse with historical luminaries, and access to all knowledge both past and future.
In the beginning, the concept of supernatural beings or gods was established to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena; the ideas of a reward in the form of an afterlife, transmigration, immortality and communication with the dead, were all consistent with contemporary thinking.
These doctrines have captured and dominated the minds of intellectuals and laymen alike, forming the kernel of many a classical treatise and involved discussion.
Traditional theories in repsect of the soul are many and diverse, although in general they tend to revolve around its distinction from and relation to the body.
Aristotle sums up the controversy succinctly in the opening pages of his treatise, "On the soul", in which he says "To attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world", a view not shared by some mediums as we will shortly discover.
For the purposes of this article, I make no definitive distinction between the words "soul" and "spirit", as semantics in this instance are of secondary import - the popular definition of "soul" being accepted as "the disembodied spirit of one who has died".
Before we entertain whether or not communication with the dead is possible, it will be necessary to create a composite picture of a home brand, no frills generic spirit, based on the well documented evidence accumulated over the past 150 years. To do this, I have selected some well known examples to illustrate some of the qualities attributed to them.
In the process of piecing together this identikit, I will not be concerned with the veracity or otherwise of witnesses, chroniclers or sources, only the overall picture that emerges from the cumulative evidence.
Raps, taps, knocks and bangs and other disembodied noises are common to most exhibitions of spirit manifestations; the greatest impetus to these being accepted as a method of communicating with the spirits given by the young Fox sisters in 1848, who were allegedly in contact with the spirit of a dead peddler and communicated with him by these means.
The playing of musical instruments, table tilting and the levitation of chairs, tables, inanimate objects and even persons, soon became commonplace at seances convened by the Fox sisters and other mediums ostensibly for the sole purpose of proving the existence of spirits. Eusapia Palidino and Daniel Dunglas Home being the most famous exponents in the nineteenth century, the latter reportedly levitating out through a third storey window of one room and back through another window in an adjacent room.
Eusapia's "control" or spirit is also recorded as having proded, pinched and touched sitters at seances, untied shoelaces and removed their spectacles and cravats.
Best known, however, were the "prolongations" in the form of human limbs which emerged from various parts of Eusapia's body and which were given the name "psuedopods".
Franek Kluski's spirits (adults and children) would plunge a hand, a foot or even part of their face into parafin wax, enabling a plaster cast to be taken on which creases in the skin, the veins on the back of the hands and even the fingerprints were clearly discernible.
Marthe Beraud, otherwise known as "Eva C", specialised in "full form" materialisations - the emanation from the natural orifices of her body of an amorphous substance known as "ectoplasm" in forms resembling faces, limbs and in some cases full sized human figures.
Kathleen Golighor also produced ectoplasmic limbs from her navel and vagina, successfully mimicking human limbs to the extent that one psychic investigator testified to not only feeling the bones, fingers and nails, but could actually smell the flesh!
Florence Cook's "Controls" were possibly the most animated - John King could be met and shaken by the hand, and his daughter Katie became most agitated when grabbed by an experienced investigator of spiritualist phenomena, scratching his nose and pulling some of his whiskers. Other ghosts in her repetoire included BienBoa (whose exhaled breath, when tested by Charles Richet, the distinguished French physiologist and Nobel prize winner, was found to contain carbon dioxide), Dominica and the King of Bulgaria, all of whom were photographed for posterity at one time or another.
Carlos Mirabelli surpassed even Florence Cook with his astounding materialisations in front of as many as 60 respectable and qualified investigators at a time. One, a young girl who had recently died, apart from looking uncommonly pale, had a detectable pulse. On another occasion, a recently deceased poet suddenly appeared sitting between two investigators, and at yet another seance a well known member of the local community came back from the other side, spoke, and responded to tests by a doctor as though still alive!
The spirits were also adept at passing on their messages by means of automatic writing. Jean Doyle, wife of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, allegedly received a message from the dead mother of Houdini Writing which would mysteriously appear on covered slate boards were a favourite method of communication with "the other side" by many mediums.
Conversely, letters to the dead were, of course, a long established practise in Egypt dating back to the Old Kingdom (2780-2280 BC), when they usually took the form of messages written on pottery vessels used for making food offerings to the dead, in the belief that they would see the messages when they partook of the food.
Today, a Californian company known as Heavens Union run by Gabe Gabor, will, for 50 cents to one dollar a word, send messages to souls residing in heaven via terminally ill persons here on earth. The estate of the dying persons is paid $10 for each message conveyed and Heavens Union collects the rest.
Even more direct communication was established by spiritualist Mina Crandon, better known as "Margery", who would speak while in a trance in the unmistakable voice of her dead brother Walter; and Leonora Piper who had numerous "controls" enabling her clients to speak to their dead friends and relatives.
Elvis Presley and John Lennon have also been in touch with a chosen few consoling their fans and dictating more songs (see The Skeptic, (Vol.7, No.2),
Spirit voices have also been recorded. in 1959, Swedish film maker Friedrich Jurgenson heard what he believed to be his dead mother's voice on a tape of bird calls he had recorded. Since then, he has recorded hundreds of 'spirit' voices.
Other researchers claim to have recorded the spirit voices of Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and other famous men and women of history, and in recent times a group of American scientists and psychic investigators in the field of Electronic Voice Phenomena have reportedly accomplished two way communication using a "telephone like electronic instrument" with those who have "passed into higher planes".
In 1982, Mr. George Meek, founder of Metascience Foundation Inc. of Franklin, North Carolina, claimed to have established two-way communication with those "who had crossed over to another realm" by means of electronic etheric technology. When a cassette tape of the voices was played to reporters at a press conference, one described them as sounding like "Igor responding to Dr. Frankenstein through a closed door on a windy night in Transylvania". The unconvincing demonstration notwithstanding, Mr. Meek made public a technical manual and companion documents which he said proved the feasibility of communication between "different levels of consciousness", meaning people now living and others dead.
Having served my apprenticeship in radio and telecommunications, I naturally find the "telephone like electronic instrument" intriguing (albeit asinine!) and will digress a little to dispose of it.
Obviously physical connections in the form of wires can be ruled out, as can communication by chemical means or mechanical vibrations used by some animals, birds and insects, leaving either EUTS (energies unknown to science) or electromagnetic propogation as possible transmission media.
If the former existed (other than in the minds of psychics), then it would no longer remain in the realm of the unknown, and would be available to all desiring to communicate extraterrestrially.
The second option is more feasible but raises some awkward questions for believers. For example, do the spirits have access to conventional radio apparatus and therefore live in an as yet undiscovered material world?, are the vocal chords of the dead impervious to decay or the all consuming flames of the crematorium? if so, in the absence of lungs, what causes them to vibrate? or have their vocal chords been miraculously altered to enable the fundamental voice frequency range of 600-20,00cps to be extended to include the upper kilohertz and megahertz (radio frequency) bands?
Either way these transmissions would be detectable with the most basic of radio receivers, and furthermore, the location of such transmissions could be pinpointed using equally unsophisticated direction finding equipment.
Some spiritualists claim that the spirits construct for themselves vocal organs out of "ectoplasm" supplied by the medium. With these vocal organs they are able to speak to the sitters.
On the local scene, Cliff Dorian of the Lighthouse Spiritual Centre (see The Skeptic, Vol.7, No.4) channels "Joseph" who is, in Mr. Dorian's words, "a creation of my own subconscious who becomes such a reality that other clairvoyants can see him".
At a seminar held in March 1988, the channel's side kick, former hairdresser turned clairvoyant Joy Atkinson, whispering in a voice more suited to coaxing a frightened cat from underneath a house, persuaded Joseph to put on his pre-scheduled act. As her voice was barely audible at a distance of one metre, Joseph either has exceptionally sensitive hearing or was standing by waiting for his cue.
(to be continued)
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Last update: 21 July 1998