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A review of Psychical Research - Part One

By:Richard Rowley
Date: Tue,14 Aug 2012
Submitter:Richard Rowley

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Thousands of books and as well as many more reports have been written over the past 160 years by psychic researchers, mostly men, from all walks of life, probing different aspects of mediumship and psychic phenomena, demonstrating the existence of mind, soul and spirit beyond this life, beyond so-called death. Even more have been written by mediums themselves. How is it that in spite of all this evidence, the churches and most of our scientists ignore this area of investigation, outlawing it or turning a blind eye to it, while at the same time an increasing percentage of our population now believes in life beyond death and values that outlive the material existence?

There is now more evidence to support this belief in the ongoing nature of life from accounts of NDEs, OOBEs, UFOs, EVP and ITC phenomena and religious experiences, and the effects of prayer and paranormal energies contributing to the healing of disease. All this has been discussed in these various yahoo and google groups, but now I am going to continue to look further into the contribution made by these researchers, as well as the mediums, without whom our spiritual knowledge would remain scant indeed.

First of all, what drove these researchers to risk their academic standing to record their observations? It must have been that they were convinced of the existence of the greater dimensions of life they had stumbled upon, by the living demonstration of the powers of the soul and spirit coming from beyond the physical universe. Mediums at least can trust the validity of their own experience of spirit, even though they have risked their very lives sharing the full extent of their skills and knowledge within an ignorant society which includes for the most part a hostile religious, scientific and political authority. But researchers, unless they have second sight themselves, have to look into every possible reason and explanation for what they see and hear, until they are satisfied that the psychic phenomena they are experiencing are genuine, valid and authentic.

One researcher who had the gift of second sight, and who was one of the few women amongst psychic researchers, was Frances Banks. She had been an Anglican nun for 25 years and during that time her spiritual abilities began to stir. As an educator and psychologist she had been sceptical at first of what she called the pseudo-psychology of paranormal events. However, after reading more widely, outside traditional psychology and orthodox religion, her point of view broadened and she also started to have spiritual experiences, just like Helen Keller sitting in her library. Frances writes “It was as though my spirit shook free of the body, and rose spirally as if on wings. The experience was formless and unemotional, inspiring and immeasurably refreshing. It had a crystalline spiritual quality, unlike the heavily-laden downpour of the early days. It was not that power poured down; rather that some detachable part of me floated up.”

Shortly afterwards, on a weekend retreat in the countryside, she had her first experience of etheric vision, in the chapel after the evening service.

“I saw my companion as she stood, walked, sat and knelt – changed, as it were, into a thick, creamy, highly vibratory substance, interpenetrating through and beyond the body and the thick covering of a heavy overcoat, yet retaining their contours. Blink, move or re-examine as I would, the effect remained the same; a physical seeing, shorn of any vestige of imagination. Shortly afterwards I was to see the etheric in other people, whether patchy-grey or a glowing cream; also trees, flowers, and a whole bank of geraniums, all dissolving, as it seemed, into etheric substance. But nothing was ever again so startling and convincing a proof that normal vision (with perhaps a slightly different focus) could register the fact of a finer and more volatile substance interpenetrating the dense physical substance ordinarily seen. There was, I would emphasize, no hint of what is called clairvoyance.”

At around the same time in her life she had a flash-back, while meditating, to ancient Egypt, viewing a scene as if watching a movie, perhaps a glimpse of a past life. “The picture stood out as vividly as any mural painting I have ever seen and occupied my entire visual field. The colours shone with the translucency of after-images, such as I had studied in dark-room laboratory experiments. As I looked at the central figure which was turned towards me, I recognised my own build and features, albeit in the body of a man. I do not know how long the image lasted, some minutes probably, certainly long enough for detailed examination. It is as clear today as then, although at the time I dismissed it as nonsense. But when later I searched our college library in case it was some trick of memory-image, I could find nothing similar, although I had small doubt about the period it represented.”

On other occasions Frances would see shafts and pools of brighter, smoother light superimposed over natural or electric lighting. Sometimes this would occur between her and the audience she was lecturing to. At other times, the atmosphere would seem to thicken, and break up into cloudiness, swirling without form. On these occasions there would be intense concentration from the student audience, and a sense of unity.

On another occasion, walking home across country after dark with a colleague through seven miles of sandhills and bush in South Africa, she found it difficult seeing the way until she noticed a dim opalescent glow lighting her feet. “There stole over me a mysterious sense of, as it were, entering into another dimension – so difficult to describe, yet so characteristic of such encounters and so convincing. And now, from my entire person through the grey cotton habit I was wearing, there flowed this light I had never seen before – a soft opalescent rose-colour. Round our feet it made a circle, while for perhaps a score of yards ahead it etched the way of the cart-track as it wound up hill and down dale past the great bosses of palm trees. We walked in silence, the light bathing us both and issuing in a steady, just sufficient, radiance. Once I wondered whether I could walk without it. For a moment it disappeared from sight…and I could not walk a step without stumbling. I stopped and asked for its restoration, and once again the flow returned and guided us safely back to the hotel….I can only say that no outer light has ever shone for me with such numinous effect as this light from within. [Was it a coincidence that just before this trek in the dark of the night, she had been reading Ramacharaka's book, "Light on the Path!"].

“It seems that I am eye-minded rather than ear-minded, and yet during this period I was for much of the time aware of a musical accompaniment, a kind of deep-orchestration which had no earthly basis in oher than extra-sensory perception. Indeed, it was all rather as though some higher power or being, or even group of beings, were trying to force me to attend to supersensory aspects for a purpose but dimly appreheneded. This effect was further enhanced by remarkable concurrent healing demonstrations which seemed of deep significance. But spiritual healing turned out to be the most baffling and abortive aspect of her whole experience of psychical research. At first she had wanted to open a home of spiritual healing, but she did not gain much support from her spiritual community, and eventually she had to renounce her vows because her psychic investigations led her beyond the orthodox beliefs of her sect.. She then moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg. There she made a study of alternative methods of enhancing bodily health, and at the same time pursued a systematic and practical study of Spiritualism and psychic science. "I attended private sittings, and public demonstrations and lectures; met devoted research-workers, and sensitives of world-wide repute; and was permitted to see and hear valuable records and correspondence. The range of approach included trance and non-trance clairvoyance, clairaudience, and psychometry, as well as direct voice demonstration with the trumpet and on one occasion a part materialisation." When she suggested to one of these mediums to use her powers to enlighten the Church, the medium replied 'The Church? Useless! "Neither will they believe though one rose from the dead!"'.

She received some evidential readings, and much spiritual philosophy from unidentified saints and prophets, or from departed sisters and clergy known to her. "One example, however, stands out as irrefutable. We had spent an evening with a group of friends who had a closed circle of their own to which strangers were never admitted. While we sat over the supper table a fervent discussion had developed, chiefly between the leader and myself, about the importance of spreading the truth of survival from one's immediate environment, whether it be Anglican or Jewish, while their gifted medium sat opposite us in silence. Next evening when they sat in their weekly circle, [which I did not attend], a message came through for me clairaudiently, endorsing this conversation, encouraging me, and regretting that the communicator had not been bolder in this life to proclaim the fact that we live for ever. In answer to interrogation by the leader, the unseen visitor gave his full name, rank in the Church (a term quite unknown to these friends who were of part Jewish origin) and date of death, as well as my name, and the information that he had barely known me in this life and that I might not remember him. The message was both telephoned and posted to me. I recognised the surname as that of a departed Sister of the Community [I had belonged to] and remembered that she had had a brother or cousin in the diocese for Johannesburg many years before, whom I dimly remembered escorting round the Training College many years before. Thereupon I telephoned the Diocesan Office, without disclosing my object or identity, and obtained from the Clerical Directory an exact confirmation of Christian name, status, and precise date of death - using only his surname for the purpose. Moreover, enquiry within the Community produced the information that his sister had been perturbed at what she considered his spiritualistic tendencies. My friends at the circle had been impressed by the culture and courtesy of his address and conversation, points which were all in character."

To be continued. Reviewed from "Frontiers of Revelation" by Frances Banks. Max Parrish, London. 1962.

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