Is there anybody there?

Apart from the reincarnation evidence which I discussed in my last blog, the main area of research into life after death (“survival”) has been the study of mediumship. The Society for Psychical Research (“SPR”) was founded in 1882, shortly after the “birth” of Spiritualism. The work of the SPR initially focused mainly on mediumship, although they also investigated thought-transference, mesmerism and other paranormal phenomena. The investigation of mediumship declined, as the study of parapsychology became more experimental, but the popularity of recent television series such as Living TV’s Most Haunted makes it clear that both mental and physical mediumship are very much in the public consciousness.

To define these terms I’m going to give two quotes from the excellent book The Reality of the Paranormal by Prof. Arthur Ellison (a past president of the SPR).

“The psychic is called by Spiritualists a medium because he or she is assumed to act as a medium between this world and the next. According to the Spiritualist theory, when mediums’ minds are used in this way, they are called mental mediums. In other words, a mental medium is a person receiving data ostensibly communicated from the dead via the mind and body of the medium.”

“When the production of ostensibly paranormal physical effects take place during a séance then the medium is called by Spiritualists a physical medium and the phenomena, which are assumed to be produced by entities in the ‘next world’, are referred to as physical phenomena.” These phenomena include such things as cold breezes, whispered voices, table rapping and levitation and faint lights – the “orbs” familiar to viewers of Most Haunted.

The history of Spiritualism, and by extension that of psychical research, has been plagued by fraud; generally speaking, magicians are more competent investigators than scientists. Physical mediumship has always been particularly suspect, and in my view is largely irrelevant to the question of survival, but mental mediumship has provided some strong evidence.

In fact, there’s a huge amount of evidence, and I only have room here to give a very brief outline of two historical, related cases which appeal personally to me. The first is the Cross-Correspondences, apparently an experiment which originated from “the other side”. Communications ostensibly came from deceased leading members of the SPR, classical scholars who wove obscure literary references into automatic writing scripts received by several mediums living well apart, some even on different continents. This is such a vast subject in itself that the best I can do is refer you to online introductory articles at One of the mediums involved, Mrs Piper, was studied in great detail (not only in connection with the Cross-Correspondences) and is particularly highly regarded among psychical researchers.

Another of the mediums involved in the Cross-Correspondences was “Mrs Willett” (in fact Mrs Winifred Coombe Tennant, the first British woman appointed as a delegate to the League of Nations), who, after her death, apparently started communicating with another medium, Geraldine Cummins. The Cummins-Willett scripts have been published in edited book form under the title Swan on a Black Sea, and I can recommend it as strongly convincing evidence suggesting that Mrs Coombe Tennant’s consciousness lived on after her death.

As with other paranormal phenomena, I don’t think that there will ever be definitive unarguable proof that the living can communicate with the dead; the sceptic can always fall back on the “Super-ESP” argument referred to in my last blog. Any verifiable information received by a medium must exist somewhere in the world, either in writing or a living person’s mind, for it to be checked. But if you read communications such as those in Swan on a Black Sea, where Mrs Coombe Tennant’s personality clearly comes through, you would be justified in wondering whether Super-ESP is the simplest explanation.

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