When Dr. Jan W. Vandersande wrote his outstanding 2008 book Life After Death: Some of the Best Evidence he described astounding mediumship that convinced him – a physicist – that there is, indeed, life after “death” and that those on the “other side” can, when conditions are right, return and converse with us here. Part of the séance room evidence that convinced him and his wife was materializations of spirits who visited the Vandersandes and others gathered for regular circles over a period of eight years. Vandersande was not the only scientist involved – he also mentions Jack Allen, professor of anatomy at the University of the Witwatersrand’s medical school in
“Skeptics will say that all materializations are fraud and point at the many
mediums who have been caught cheating,” Vandersande writes. “There are,
however, too many cases that appear genuine (conducted under strict test
conditions by reliable researchers) that eliminate the notion that it is all
The materializations he witnessed were of spirit children who attended an annual Christmas party held especially for them by the mediums. At other sittings Vandersande experienced ectoplasm forming a voice box that was used by spirits to produce voices heard in the séance room far distant from the medium. This is called direct voice mediumship and often the sound of voices is amplified by spirit use of an aluminum megaphone-like instrument called a trumpet. The trumpet moves around the séance room unassisted by the medium or the sitters, swishing about and gently touching them in total darkness.
In 2010 I talked with Dr. Jan Vandersande and he said that his scientific training helped him to objectively examine the séance evidence he and his wife experienced. After meticulously ruling out all possibilities of fraud or deception he had to reach the remaining conclusion, that the voices were truly who they claimed to be – spirits of departed individuals. He added that he could not doubt the existence of ectoplasm because he had actually felt and seen it.
Furthermore, Vandersande concluded his book by reporting a conversation between him and Victor Zammit, the Australian attorney who has spent more than 20 years researching evidence of the afterlife (see the link to his website at the left). Zammit asked Vandersande what he considered the best evidence for survival after death. “After giving it some thought I replied that I thought that the trumpets flying around the room in the complete dark was the best evidence I experienced,” Vandersande replied. “He [Zammit] was surprised and asked me why. I replied that the only explanation for the trumpets flying around the room, without hitting anything and gently touching the sitters on the head and other places, had to be due to an intelligence, other than that of the medium, directing the trumpet to move using ectoplasm from the medium. This directing intelligence would imply that there is another dimension where this intelligence/spirit resides and that is in the ‘hereafter.’ The subconscious of the medium cannot be responsible for the trumpet moving since the medium was in trance and the room was completely dark.”
This physical mediumship that includes materialization and direct voice to Dr. Vandersande was convincing. However, he acknowledges that nowadays it is rare with so-called “mental mediumship” being the most often seen. In spiritualist church services there is usually a time set aside for a medium to speak from the platform and direct alleged messages from spirits to members of the congregation. There is no outward manifestation – the medium merely says what he/she reportedly hears from the spirits. This is also the form of mediumship that is popular on television where audiences gather to get spirit messages from mediums such as John Edward or James Van Praagh. Less well known psychics gather at public events such as psychic fairs and offer to do a “reading” in exchange, usually, for some cash.
Speaking of mental mediums he sat with, Vandersande admitted, “I would have to say that of all my sittings probably a large majority (say about 75%) were a waste of time. Very little, if any, correct information was given in those cases and what was correct was very general, like ‘you are married.’ Those ‘psychics’ were either not very good, had an ‘off day’ or were total frauds just out there for the money.”
Here I’m reminded of two dear friends – married to one another but both are now on the other side – who felt they were constantly in touch with spirits who were continuously giving them information about the most trivial things such as the color to paint a room or when to change the sprinkler on the front lawn. After awhile it became tedious to here, “Spirit is telling me this…” or “I am picking up such and such….”
Many believe the proliferation of those self-proclaimed “psychics” who deliver less than desirable information has given spiritualism a black eye. I hasten to add that there are good mental mediums and, for example, John Edward is one who has been rigorously tested by Dr. Gary Schwartz and found to score above 90% in accuracy. (See Schwartz’s The Afterlife Experiments mentioned below in my Commentary on our Links post)
Physical medium Stewart Alexander in his 2010 autobiography An Extraordinary Journey: The Memoirs of a Physical Medium matter-of-factly states that overall, “mediumship, the very bedrock of the [spiritualist] Movement upon which it was established and built, and on which it rests or falls, has, in recent years, mainly transmuted into mediocrity. As a direct result, Spiritualism has paid a heavy price so that today it bears little comparison to what it once was, when the grave held no fear for its adherents who understood and accepted that under certain circumstances communication between the living and the dead was possible. Sadly, the days when its leading mediums could command vast audiences at large demonstrations, because the evidence of survival they consistently presented was startling in its accuracy, have long gone. And, although not commonplace, back then there existed trance mediums who channeled philosophy and the so-called ‘higher teachings’ which left little doubt as to their spiritual source. Yet today, with precious few exceptions, there are few who are capable of doing either. Evidence of survival has largely given way to ‘cold reading’, counseling, fortune telling or a mixture of them all. Profound philosophical communications are new rarely transmitted and in their place alleged communications are generally poor and can only be described as confusing at best, and at worst an insult to intelligence. Indeed, so often I have regrettably found myself bewildered by what I have considered to be incoherent and mystifying nonsense delivered from the Spiritualist platform.”
Alexander points to spiritualism’s better days when small home circles sat regularly. “It was a time when thousands of people sat in impassioned silence in an effort to develop the gifts of the Spirit and commune with the spiritual world. It was a time when Spiritualists listened intently to the inner voice of their own convictions, thus enabling the process of development to commence and expand in an atmosphere of harmonious aspiration. It was a time when wonderful mediums, both mental and physical, emerged from the obscurity of their circles to work publicly.”
Alexander proposes several actions which should help salvage the movement over time, beginning first with a call for different groups, organizations and splinter movements to unite “for the sake of the greater good.” Next, he urges spiritualists to become “clear-sighted and free from egotism.” With this change of heart in place, adherents next need to focus their attention on the spirit world and hear what their message to us might be. Too often, perhaps, spiritualists have mistaken their own prideful imaginings for messages from beyond; turning this around is essential.
Lastly, Alexander has few kind words for commercialization of mediumship training. Perhaps some commercial courses have value but, Alexander stresses, the key to developing mediumship is to be found in the home circle. Instead of taking a glitzy and expensive course, he says, “Spiritualists interested in development should rather be encouraged to sit in, or to form, their own home circles. As previously stated – once, these were the very bedrock of the Spiritualist Movement, and it is from them – a whole new generation of such circles – that tomorrow’s good mediums could well emerge.”
Perhaps with such a turnabout within the ranks of those who believe in survival after so-called death we, with Arthur Findlay, could yet see spiritualism emerge as the “coming world religion.”
[Note: All books mentioned above are all in print and available online through amazon.com. I personally recommend each title.]