I love the Victorian ghost hunters, especially F.W.H. Myers, W.T. Stead, William James and other founders and luminaries of the Society for Psychical Research. They were passionately dedicated to producing evidence of the survival of consciousness after physical death that would meet the scientific standards of their day. They attended séances and tested mediums, bringing their inner skeptics with them while keeping their eyes on the prize: evidence that the soul has a life beyond the body. In that cause, the ghosts they tracked were not only spirits of the deceased but “phantasms of the living”, a phrase that became the title of a hefty study of the mobility of consciousness and paranormal phenomena including poltergeist activity and sightings of doppelgangers.
Stead was also a social reformer and a very active editor and reporter, dubbed “the first investigative journalist” because of his role in exposing scandals that lifted the tablecloths from the dirty legs of Victorian society. He developed considerable personal psychic powers of the kind that Myers called "supernormal". He claimed to communicate with his assistant by telepathy. For five years he practiced channeled writing in front of invited groups at his home in Wimbledon, bringing through a description of life on the Other Side by a young woman friend, Julia Ames, after her early death.
Stead was among the passengers on the Titanic, and drowned when the supposedly unsinkable luxury cruise ship hit an iceberg in 1912. One of the curious facts of his life is that twenty years earlier, Stead had published a short story in which a ship called the Majestic hits an iceberg. Stead called the captain of the Majestic Smith; the Titanic was commanded by a Captain Smith. This seems to have been a case of precognitive fiction, though Stead evidently failed to make the connection when he boarded the doomed ship.
Stead promised family and friends that after he died, he would endeavor to communicate from the other side with first-hand information about what life is like there. Stead – or an intelligence operating in his name – succeeded brilliantly in a beautiful little book called The Blue Island: Experiences of a New Arrival Beyond the Veil. It was channeled by male mediums in the presence of Stead’s daughter, who provided the psychic link to her father.
Stead begins his account, in a brisk, no-nonsense way, by describing what it’s like to be a new arrival on the other side. The beginning was choppy – first hundreds of bodies in the water, then hundreds of souls being carried through the air, some very reluctantly, still fighting and struggling to hold onto their physical possessions. “We seemed to rise vertically into the air at terrific speed.” They travel for an uncertain length of time and come to a place of “brightness” where they are received by old friends and relations. At first everything appears as “physical and quite as material” as on earth.
Stead’s father and an old friend welcome him and show him around. “It was like nothing else so much as merely arriving in a foreign country and having a chum to go around with.”
The life just passed now seems very different, as if fifty years have whizzed by. No sense of grief at this stage.
There are a couple of anomalies. One is that Stead’s father looks much younger than he did at the time of his death. Another is the quality of the light that suffuses everything. It is “a light shade of a deep blue.”
Stead and his companions walk along a beautiful deserted beach to a huge domed building whose interior is a lovely shade of blue. And Stead is seized with the desire to write again. His father explains over a delicious lunch that Stead realizes he does not actually need that this building is a way station, “a temporary rest house” – one of many – constructed to resemble earth conditions and cushion the adjustment to the other side. In this phase, individuals are able to engage or indulge in whatever activities please them, since “the chief work on this island is to get rid of unhappiness at parting from earth”. You can swim or read or ride. After a while, activities that are rooted in physical rather than mental or creative experience will begin to pall, but creative individuals and thinkers will find tremendous opportunities opening to them.
In this phase, life is amazingly similar to life on earth. “We are only a very little way from earth, and consequently up to this time we have not thrown off earth ideas.” For example, people lie down to “sleep” out of habit, even though sleep is no longer required in this permanent dream state. And they continue to dress and occupy bodily forms resembling those on earth. It’s a phase of gradually shedding old habits and addictions and yearnings for physical life.
When an individual has reached the point of actively desiring new learning and growth, “he will be drawn like a piece of steel to a magnet, into contact with this or that house or organization dealing with the subject on which he desires knowledge.” Now the departed person is going to school – perhaps a whole succession of schools.
One of the things you get to learn here your thoughts are actions and “accomplished things” here. You’ll do far better if you arrived with some prior experience of monitoring the contents of your mind and choosing the thoughts to which you gave energy and attention. “There are so many thoughts possible, and all of them are registered here.”
Not surprisingly, given Stead’s vigorous interest in communication between the living and the dead while he was among the living, it does not take him long to start checking out communications options on the other side. This produces one of the most interesting sections of his afterlife tour. He cautions that there is no sense of time as it is experienced on earth, so the departed may not understand that they have been on the other side for years or decades – or alternatively only for hours or days – when they start communicating with survivors.
Stead describes a communications center, “an amazingly well organized and businesslike place” constantly filled with ex-physicals. “Those who had on earth believed and those who had not, came to try and wire a message home.” The ones who feel a “heart call” always get priority. When Stead’s turn came, he was surprised that there was no gee-whiz equipment, “all and only the human element”. A “man of some importance” explains the system to him.
They had a system of travelers, whose work was very close to physical earth. They had the power of sensing people who could and would be used for this work at the other end.
Stead, ever the intrepid correspondent, tries various ways to get his messages back to survivors and file his stories. In his first efforts to get through, he has a helper. They enter a room that seems to have walls made of muslin. With the aid of the “official”, Stead discovered he can see and move through these curtain walls. Stead sees and hears several people gathered for a séance. The official teaches him that he can make his presence known by visualizing himself among these people in a physical form, and then imagine that a strong light is cast over him. He fails on his first try. But he practices and practices until he makes an impression, and some of the sitters see him. Then he practices repeating a message until one of the sensitives picks it up and says it out loud.
He discusses how the living can reach to the departed in a similar way. You concentrate on an individual in the spirit world, and if you put enough energy into that thought, the individual you have in mind will feel you and you may be able to open a communications channel. “We are practically always able to come in close contact with the person who is thinking of us.”
Anyone who sits for a moment and allows his mind to dwell on some dear one who has “died” will actually draw the spirit of that person to himself. He may be conscious or unconscious of the presence, but the presence is there.
The unknowing receiver may pick up a tremendous flow of inspiration and information he may think is his own, even while dazzled by the quantity and quality of what is streaming in.
He describes the sadness of the departed who find that their survivors refuse to understand that they are alive. They will break off efforts to communicate if their survivors persist in regarding them only as dead – and wait for their loved ones to join them.
There are lands beyond the
– travel to them is like traveling among the stars. These are the Real World;
the Blue Island
is a transient environment, a place of acclimatization. In the world beyond it,
people create homes or palaces for themselves according to taste – but can lose
them if they don’t progress.
One stage that cannot be avoided is the life review. “Each one is interviewed by one of the Advanced Spirit Instructors and the whole record of earth is discussed and analyzed”. An individual may now be required to live for a time in renewed contact with people on the earth plane “in order, by influence, to make good for our past misdoings”
In a later progression, the spirit enters what Stead calls the Return Or Stay Sphere where reincarnation may become an option. We have greater or lesser degrees of choice in such matters according to how successful (or otherwise) we have been in cleansing ourselves of guilt and fear and in developing into a deeper understanding of what all of this is about – which is love and courage and growth and creation.
Part of this article is adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.