Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The man who invented telepathy

F.W.H. Myers, poet, classical scholar and psychic researcher of the Victorian era, knew the power of naming things. He valued words so highly that he chose to start, rather than merely end, his magnum opus Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death with a glossary, which is studded with his own coinages. This essential work sits on a shelf at my right hand, its home for many years.
    Every time I open these pages, another word jumps out that was invented by Myers. Some are part of our common vocabulary, like telepathy. Myers defined telepathy as the communication of impressions of any kind from one mind to another, independently of the recognized channels of sense.” The term literally means “feeling at a distance”; he chose to emphasize the emotional tone, the importance of feelings in telling you that a message is coming through. This takes us to the wisdom of the body and the emotional charge between people who are connected and/or in crisis.
     Many of Myers’ coinages have not entered common English or even the technical lexicons of parapsychology; many will almost certainly never do so. Yet there is inspiration here for whole books:

           Psychorragy – bursting through of psychic phenomena. 

Cosmopathic – Open to the access of supernormal knowledge or emotion, apparently from the transcendental world, but whose precise source we have no way of knowing.

Methectic – of communications between one stratum of a man’s intelligence and another; as when he writes message whose origin is in his own subliminal self.

Sometimes his verbal brilliance consists in repointing or combining more familiar words to give us a way to discuss things we could not easily express before.

Subliminal – Of thoughts, feelings, &c, lying beneath the ordinary threshold (limen) of consciousness, as opposed to supraliminal, lying above the threshold.

Supernormal – Of a faculty or phenomenon which goes beyond the level of ordinary experience, in the direction of evolution, or as pertaining to a transcendental world.

Myers goes on to explain that the word “supernatural” is often misapplied to phenomena which are part of nature though beyond the norms of common observation or experience:

The word supernatural is subject to grave objections; it assumes that there is something outside nature, and it has become associated with arbitrary interference with law. Now there is no reason to suppose that the psychical phenomena with which we deal are less a part of nature, or less subject to fixed and definite law, than any other phenomena. Some of them appear to indicate a higher evolutionary level than the mass of men have yet attained, and some of them appear to be governed by laws of such a kind that they may hold good in a transcendental world as fully as in the world of sense. In either case they are above the norm of man rather than outside his nature.

I confess to a great sense of affinity with Frederic William Henry Myers (1843-1901) and his lifelong quest to demonstrate that human consciousness can operate outside the body and survives it. In his privately printed Fragments of Inner Life (1893) he declared that “It has been my lot to be concerned in a work more important and more successful than anything in my own capacity or character could have led me to expect. I have been one of the central group concerned in a great endeavor; the endeavor to pierce, by scientific methods, the world-old, never-penetrated veil.” He is referring to his work with the Society for Psychical Research, of his he was a founder and remained a moving spirit throughout his life.
    His quest to find evidence that consciousness survives the body deepened after the suicide of a woman he loved but could never have. He carried it with him to the Other Side. Before his death he promised that he would seek ways to send back reports of his experiences in the afterlife. He appears to have kept that promise in remarkable narratives recorded in sessions with the remarkable Irish medium Geraldine Cummins.
     I dreamed a decade ago that I discovered a rich trove of materials from Myers. The materials were both manuscripts and recordings. Some of the transcriptions were faulty and needed to be revised; some of the recordings sounded as if the speaker had a cleft palate. But there were riches here quite unknown to the informed public. Walking and talking with a friend about how I would honor the dream, I played with the idea that I could reenter the dream space, bring back materials and produce corrected and finished versions. I sensed a stir of supernormal activity around me as I talked, of spirits fluttering like birds or bats. There was nothing sinister about these lively shades; their presence added to my enthusiasm for my project. However, this is one of many ventures that are still in my pending box.
     I do honor Myers by trying to come up with new words to describe interesting supernormal phenomena One of my recent coinages is kairomancy, the art of divination by special moments, or navigating by synchronicity.

Portrait of Frederic William Henry Myers by William Clarke Wontner exhibited 1896; in  National Portrait Gallery. London

Talking through Frosted Glass: a Psychic Researcher Tries to Communicate after Death


An eminent psychic researcher, trying to communicate with the living from his new residence on the Other Side, complained that getting through is as difficult as trying to dictate to an obtuse secretary through frosted glass. The whole quotation is marvelous: 

"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. A feeling of terrible impotence burdens me - I am so powerless to tell what means so much - I cannot get into communication with those who would understand and believe me."

The speaker is the Victorian classicist, poet and pioneer parapsychologist Frederic W.H. Myers, one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research. He used his language skills and poetic imagination to give us a rich vocabulary for the workings of consciousness, from "subliminal" and "supernormal" to "telepathy" and "psychorragy" (the last one did not catch on). He dedicated himself to producing evidence admissible by the scientific establishment of his day that would prove of the survival of consciousness after physical death. 

Like several of his colleagues engaged in psychic research around the beginning of the 20th century, he promised to report back from the other side of death after he got there. He came through to many mediums, and some of the transcriptions are fascinating. He was credited as the author of several books on conditions in the afterlife channeled by receivers such as the gifted Irish medium Geraldine Cummins.

The frustration "Fred" Myers expressed above was part of a session with the medium the S.P.R. identified as "Mrs. Holland"; she just happened to be Rudyard Kipling's sister.

I found the quote in an extraordinary book, The Eager Dead: A Study in Haunting, by Archie Roy, a founder of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research. The odd title The Eager Dead is derived from the statement of one of the early luminaries of the Society for Psychical Research (the Australian Richard Hodgson) that he could not wait to get to the afterlife in order to report from there. The book includes a passage from Jean Balfour describing a family home where there was the sense of the dead pressing in eagerly to feel out and communicate with certain visitors – and hiding away in the presence of a certain guest, the medium “Mrs. Willett” (Winifred Coombe-Tennant) who is a principal in the main story.

Roy was both a distinguished Scottish astronomer, a researcher of the paranormal, and an author of horror fiction (Devil in the Darkness). I am delighted by the novelistic skills he brings to the long prologue to The Eager Dead (“Shears of Atropos”) in which he presents his characters in vignettes, starting with Queen Victoria always sleeping with a picture of Albert on his deathbed on her own headboard.   

Archie Roy beavered away for years tracking the famous “Cross Correspondences” by which Myers and other Victorian ghosts gave partial messages to mediums in different places that made sense only when the transcripts were put together by the psychic detectives of the S.P.R.  Thus Myers gave partial notes on a place in Florence, larded with bits of Greek and Latin, to a medium in England and another in America who had no knowledge of each other. Put together, the notes made a coherent message. This sort of thing was taken to be evidence of authentic communication by a specific individual from the Other Side.

The astonishing central plot of The Eager Dead appears to be an endeavor by the dead ghost hunters to put a spirit into a body on this side – by arranging for the spirit of Edmund Gurney to be born to a spirited young woman in a conventional marriage to a much older man, whose natural psychic gifts had been enhanced through the tragic loss of her infant daughter. The woman was “Mrs. Willett”. Conception would require a living male, and Gerald Balfour, brother of  Arthur Balfour, a British Prime Minister, was chosen. A deep love affair blossomed, with a spiritual marriage in a chapel, and the result was a child who was named Augustus Henry. He grew up in ignorance of his supposed origins, was decorated for valor, escaped a Nazi P.O.W. camp and presented himself as a skeptic about survival when he enlisted a medium to talk to his mother after her death. (He is the subject of a recent biography by Welsh historian Bernard Lewis, Soldier, Spy, Monk: The Life of Henry Coombe-Tennant.

Archie Roy had access to a vast amount of material from the Balfour family that was not fully available to previous writers. Though all the detail on the Cross Correspondences experiments is exhausting as well as exhaustive there are gems in his book, like Fred Myers' complaint about frosted glass. 

In the spirit of his subjects, Archie Roy was quoted in his Times obituary (published on January 16, 2013) saying “If when I die, I find out I have not survived, I’ll be very surprised.”

Photo by RM


Saturday, October 1, 2022

Your Dream Key to Many Lives in Many Worlds


In physics, the hypothesis of Many Interactive Worlds suggests that we live, right now, in one of countless parallel universes that impact each other. Part of the secret logic of our lives may be that our paths constantly interweave with those of numberless parallel selves. The gifts and failings of these alternate selves may influence us, when our paths converge, in ways that we generally fail to recognize.  

We are connected in a multidimensional drama and this may generate events in both our lives that will appear as “chance” to those who cannot find the trans-temporal pattern. The hidden hand suggested by synchronistic events may be that of another personality within our multidimensional family, reaching to us from what we normally perceive as past or future, or from a parallel or other dimension.

When you experience déjà vu and feel certain you have been in a certain situation before, you may be close on the heels of a parallel self who got there before you. Serial dreams, in which you find yourself returning to people and places not on your current event track may also be glimpses of a continuous life your parallel self is leading in a parallel world, in which you made different choices. Physicist Brian Greene speculates that we all have "endless doppelgangers" leading parallel lives in parallel universes.

When you wake up to the fact that serial dreams may be glimpses of continuous lives you are living in other realities, you may be ready for the good stuff: to journey as a lucid dream traveler into a parallel life to dismiss old regrets and claim gifts and knowledge from your selves who made different choices. This can effect a quantum shift in your present life.

Way of the Kairomancer


Synchronicity is when the universe gets personal. Though the word “synchronicity” is a modern invention — Jung made it up because he noticed that people have a hard time talking about coincidence — the phenomenon has been recognized, and highly valued, from the most ancient times. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that the deepest order in our experienced universe is the effect of “a child playing with game pieces” in another reality. As the game pieces fall, we notice the reverberations, in the play of coincidence.

When we pay attention, we find that we are given signs by the world around us every day. Like a street sign, a synchronistic event may seem to say Stop or Go, Dead End or Fast Lane.  Beyond these signs, we find ourselves moving in a field of symbolic resonance which not only reflects back our inner themes and preoccupations, but provides confirmation or course correction. A symbol is more than a sign: it brings together what we know with what we do not yet know.

Through the weaving of synchronicity, we are brought awake and alive to a hidden order of events, to the understory of our world and our lives. You do not need to travel far to encounter powers of the deeper world or hear oracles speak. You are at the center of the multidimensional universe right now. The extraordinary lies in plain sight, in the midst of the ordinary, if only you pay attention. The doors to the Otherworld open from wherever you are, and the traffic moves both ways. 

I invented the word kairomancer to describe someone who is ready to recognize and act in special moments of synchronicity when time works differently and opportunity strikes. It incorporates the name of Kairos, a Greek god who personifies a kind of time that is altogether different from tedious tick-tock time: that special moment of jump time when more is possible than you imagined before.

To become a kairomancer, you need to check your attitude as you walk the roads of this world, because your attitude goes ahead of you, generating events around the next corner. You need to develop your personal science of shivers. You want to take dreams more literally and the events of waking life more symbolically. You need to take care of your poetic health, reading what rhymes in a day, or a season. You want to expect the unexpected, to make friends with surprises, and never miss that special moment when the universe gives you an invisible wink or handshake.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Borges, again

I go back again and again, to Jorge Luis Borges and his jewel-like stories, essays and poems. So many glinting facets in such elegant, miniature creations! So much effortless mastery of literature and philosophy, such love of English poetry, so many tigers.

 El tiempo es un río que me arrebata, pero yo soy el río; es un tigre que me destroza, pero yo soy el tigre; es un fuego que me consume, pero yo soy el fuego. El mundo, desgraciadamente, es real; yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges.

"Time is a river that sweeps me away, but I am the river; it is a tiger that destroys me, but I am the tiger; It is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire. The world, unfortunately, is real; I, unfortunately, am Borges."

At the start of Borges' story "Ragnarök" there is this excellent counsel for those who must deal with sleep monsters:

"The images in dreams, wrote Coleridge, figure forth the impressions that our intellect would call causes; we do not feel horror because we are haunted by a sphinx, we dream a sphinx in order to explain the horror that we feel."

He is fascinated with the theme of the double, and blames this on his love of R.L.Stevenson). A couple of his stories of the double made an especially strong impression on me because I came to them just after re-reading Gérard de Nerval’s Aurélia where – in his descent into madness – he thinks that his dark double is getting married to the woman he loves, though she is already dead.

In one Borges story (“Borges and I”), he feels empty and abandoned, while watching a second self write his stories and claim his fame. In another (“August 25, 1983”), as a man already 70, he walks from a station to a hotel at night to find he has already checked in, to room 19, a number with great significance. The clerk recognizes him with difficulty. 

He goes up to the room and finds his older self, now blind and 84, staring up at the ceiling, with an empty bottle nearby. His older self tells him he has come here to die – he says to commit suicide – and tells Borges things he will do before he arrives at the same situation. When Borges denies that this is what his future holds, his older self insists that things will proceed as he says, but that when the younger Borges reaches this point, he will remember the encounter, if at all, only as a faded dream.

Watercolor by Gisela Robinson. 


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Putting a Stopper in the Dream Door

Do your dreams fly away like fireflies escaping from a jar, as you leave the fields of dreaming? Here's a game I invented for catching lost dreams.

Picture a door to your dream world.

When you return from a dream excursion, you step through this door, back into your body in the bed.

Often, as you come back, you have dreams fluttering around you. Perhaps you have some of them in your pocket or what you think of as a safe container. I picture a glass jar like the ones I used as a boy to catch fireflies on summer nights.

But a strange thing happens. As soon as you step through the door, back into an ordinary space, your dreams take flight. They won’t stay in your pockets. The container won’t hold them. They swirl away through that door, which closes so fast you can’t prevent them leaving. Now the door is sealed tighter than a bank vault and you can’t find a way to open it.

Try this: as you return from your dreams, imagine that the door to the dream world stays open for a while, because there is a door stopper. I picture this stopper as a black dog. He’s alive, of course, though he may remain very still while his role is to keep the door from closing. Gradually he will let the door close. Close it must, so your waking life is not so full of dream creatures that you can’t tell where you are any more and end up on the couch of the mad-doctors.

But you have enough time now to catch some of those escaping dreams. You are permitted to go back through that ever-so-slowly closing door, go in a little ways, and grab what you can.

When I did this in an initial experiment, I was surprised to see that a flight of steps began at the threshold. As I climbed the steps, I found myself in a pleasant wooded setting, with dreams gathered on the branches or flitting about.

I invited them to play with me, and some consented to accompany back to the ordinary side of everything, which gets less ordinary in their company.

I brought back three dreams that had flown off before, one of them quite spicy.

I noticed that the black dog I had stationed at the door to hold it ajar was now bigger and even more noble: a guardian, not merely a stopper.


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A Cartesian makes friends with his dreams


I dreamed that I was struggling to explain something important in my faulty French. I woke, checked online, and read a message (in French) from a friend in France. He was trying to help a man who was struggling to understand what he describes as "an absurd experience for a Cartesian spirit like mine."

The "absurd experience" was a dream in which the skeptic met his departed father. His father was eating breakfast, wearing a beautiful blue shirt. In ordinary life, the man did not believe such an encounter was possible. In the dream, he rushed to his father, gave him a big hug, and was deeply moved.

Trying to make sense of what happened, the dreamer exclaimed, "We need to be taught how to make friends with our dreams."

That is my loose translation. What he actually wrote, in French, was: "On devrait nous apprendre, quelque part, à apprivoiser nos rêves."

"Apprivoiser" is a very interesting word. It is often translated as "to tame" or "make gentle". Its most famous use is in the beloved story of The Little Prince, who learns from the fox that in order to find the secret of life he must "tame" the fox in the sense of making friends with something wild.

My friend in France thought that I might be able to help the man who had dreamed of his dead father. I could hardly refuse this appeal to help after seeing the word "apprivoiser", You see, I wrote a book called The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. It explains why contact with the deceased is neither weird nor even unusual, since they are alive somewhere else. They call on us and we visit them, especially in dreams. We discover that healing and forgiveness are always available, across the apparent barrier of death.

When foreign rights to The Dreamer's Book of the Dead were sold, my French publishers came up with this title for the translation: Apprivoiser la mort par le rêve.

I wrote to the Cartesian who had the "absurd" experience of a loving encounter with his father on the Other Side:

"I have seen it so many times: a man encounters his deceased father in a dream. He discovers that to die in this world is to live in another world. This transforms his understanding of what it means to dream, to live and to die."

I wrote this in my faulty French, My dream had rehearsed me for this minutes before.

How do you get to know that dreams are real experiences? Run a tingle test. Truth comes with goosebumps, Then let synchronicity give you a wink or a nod, as in "apprivoiser". Test, check, verify. Then: practice, practice, practice.