Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Automatic Writing Champions

April 15 was the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic and here at Spirit Communion we joined the commemoration by taking note of Michael Tymn’s interesting new book on spirit communications from some of the ship’s victims (March 25 post). As noted in the blog, one of the principal communicators was William T. Stead, a British journalist, reformer and well-known spiritualist who went down that night with more than 1,500 others.

What we didn’t mention about Stead was the fact that he was a gifted automatic writer (automatist) who had given the world important messages from the world of spirit. After Death or Letters from Julia was a slim volume of observations from the other side dictated to Stead by his friend Julia who had passed over to spirit in 1891. The messages provide Julia’s interpretations of what happens upon death of the physical body and awakening in the realm of spirit. After being available for more than 100 years the letters are still captivating reading and nowadays can be downloaded from the Internet.

“Automatic writing, I may explain for those unfamiliar with the term, is writing that is written by the hand of a person which is not under control of his conscious mind,” Stead explained in the book’s introduction. “The hand apparently writes of itself, the person to whom the hand belongs having no knowledge of what it is about to write. It is a very familiar and simple form of mediumship, which in no way impairs the writer's faculties or places his personality under the control of any other intelligence. This writing may proceed from his sub-conscious mind, or it may be due to the direct action of independent, invisible intelligences. What is certain is that it does not emanate from the conscious mind of the writer, who often receives messages containing information as to past events of which he has never heard, and sometimes perfectly accurate predictions as to events which have not yet happened. It was in this way that I began to receive the communications, some few of which are collected in this little volume. All the ‘Letters from Julia’ were received by me in the same manner. Sitting alone with a tranquil mind, I consciously placed my right hand, with the pen held in the ordinary way, at the disposal of Julia, and watched with keen and skeptical interest to see what it would write.”

Stead was certainly not the only medium in those days who was being given information via automatic writing. Early spiritualist literature is full of messages that were conveyed that way with some mediums, like Stead, fully conscious and aware during delivery and others who practiced their talent while in a trance state.

Frederick Bligh Bond
Certainly one of the most novel uses of automatic writing was during excavation of the buildings at Glastonbury Abbey in the U.K. An architect, Frederick Bligh Bond, was hired by the Church of England to supervise archeological investigations of the ancient abbey in 1908 and he remained in that capacity until 1921. Throughout the project Bond consulted an automatic writing medium, Captain John Allan Bartlett, who wrote down detailed instructions and maps allegedly dictated by deceased Glastonbury monks. Bond even recorded that he usually read out loud unrelated literature to Bartlett while the automatic writing was in process in order to make certain that the medium’s conscious mind was occupied with things other than what was being written by his hand. Messages – written in Middle English, Low Latin and modern English – often had to be deciphered or translated but they were always on target which resulted in amazing finds at the site. Bond recorded the experience in his book The Gate of Remembrance (available for download on the Internet). Another Bond book which reveals even more about Glastonbury and automatic writing predictions of World War I is The Hill of Vision, also available online.

Pearl Curran
Perhaps the most remarkable automatist in North America was Pearl Leonore Curran, a poorly educated woman who lived in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1913 while passing time with the Ouija board she made contact with a seventeenth century Englishwoman named Patience Worth. Over a period of several years Patience Worth dictated to Curran a string of literary masterpieces including complete novels, poetry and plays, each being far beyond Curran’s capability. For example, in a compilation of America’s best poetry of 1917 appeared five of Patience Worth’s creations alongside fewer compositions each by other acclaimed poets such as Amy Lowell, Vachel Lindsay and Edgar Lee Masters. Some of the Patience Worth titles are still in print nearly 100 years later and scholars continue to marvel at the quality of the material Curran received. Also, several in-depth studies of Curran’s career have been published.

A modern-day Pearl Curran would be Stella Horrocks, a retired teacher in the U.K., who has in longhand written down complete novels under the pen names of several well-known deceased authors. She claims the material is given automatically and that she breathlessly awaits unfolding of the plot just as any reader would.  There is an interesting British TV video of Stella available on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TTmIibV30s) but, unlike Pearl Curran, I cannot find that any of the books dictated through Stella Harrocks have been published.

Chico Xavier
The all-time champion of automatic writing title will have to be given to a man who never wrote a word of English and who is largely unknown in North America or Europe – Chico Xavier (1910-2002). This humble, slightly educated Brazilian holds the record as being the second most prolific author in the Portuguese language and every word of it, he claimed, was dictated by spirit guides. His output was greater than 458 published books which combined by 2010 had sold more than 50 million copies.

Chico’s books cover a wide range of literary fields from historical novels, poems, and religious teachings to philosophy and medicine. He took no payment for any of the books, donating all proceeds to charity which, in part, earned him a nomination in 1982 for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“When I am writing automatically,” he said, “I can see, hear and I have often registered the presence of the communicator without knowing anything about the subject matter on which he is writing.” Indeed, most of what came through Xavier’s pen was beyond his capability and understanding.

Chico Xavier (born Francisco de Paula C├óndido) was a Spiritist, the philosophy and religion very similar to spiritualism that emanates from the teachings of Frenchman Allan Kardec. Spiritism is very prominent in Brazil and followers make “a clear distinction between…automatic writing and what they call psicogr afia. The former is held to be no more than the manifestation of one’s subconscious, while the latter – ‘psychography’ – is that of a separate entity, presumably a spirit.” (Quoted from the amazing biography and analysis of Xavier, Chico Xavier, Medium of the Century by Guy Lyon Playfair; published in 2010 in the U.K. by Roundtable and the International Spiritist Council.)

Regrettably, few of Chico Xavier’s works have been translated into English.

* * * *

Finally, I want to share one last thing this week, a communication from W.T. Stead who was referred to above (in the first few paragraphs). He was, of course, a Titanic victim who returned through mediums within hours of his tragic demise on the ship and he continued to reappear for decades. The transcript below comes from the book My 4,000 Ghosts by Australian actor Edwin Stanley Brookes published first in 1968. In addition to a few Titanic comments, Stead shares some profound thoughts about the importance of sitters in circles to focus upon their spirituality. These truths relate directly to posts on this blog concerning the current state of the spiritualist movement (several posts, actually, but especially the one of Feb. 2). This transcript from the book was courtesy of Richard Rowley who posted it on the Yahoo Spiritualist group. Thank you Richard.  

“Spiritualists and others, when they arrive here from the earth, are surprised to find how hard and rare it is to have direct and true spiritual communication with those they have left behind.  Often you people sitting in circles on the earth are victims of lower spirits, but this happens only when the spirituality of the sitters is on a low plane. Like attracts like.  When sitters have progressed to a higher spiritual plane, it is almost impossible for deception by lower orders of spirits, or for impersonation to take place.  People have visions that are positively misleading , because they are in low grade of spiritual development, and actually believe all they are told – and many want to be directed in practically all they do. 

“These people are not Spiritualists, they are ‘Egyptian mummies!’

“In the Bible we are told to “Try the spirits and prove them.”  Too few do this.  We should ever be at the door to check those spirits who come through who claim to speak with such positive authority.  I think our Spiritualism is scoffed at so often because of those who TRADE on it, and it becomes mixed up with outright fortune-telling, which certainly is not any part of our religion and philosophy.  What we know as fortune-telling must be completely separated from our movement, if we are to expect a greater degree of respect from the people at large.  People get one or two correct messages, and they believe that they must forever be guided by those who conveyed the messages. This is wrong – terribly wrong and stupid.  But those who seek truth and honesty, will receive guidance from the Beyond according to their entitlement.  To watch the ordinary low type of uninformed and irresponsible Spiritualist meeting is enough to make the angels weep.  Not by sitting in circles and ever seeking “tests” will man develop spiritually, but he can do this only by growing closer, day by day, to the Giver of all Light.  Each man must be his own savior – there is no other way – and we all more or less have the power within us to do this.  Even angels are powerless to raise up a spirit – every man is spirit, here and now.  We must first learn to do this ourselves.

“As your father told you years ago, soon after he found himself in the Beyond, spiritual advancement comes from trying to lift others to something higher – and there it is.  When you on earth become sufficiently civilized to do away with war, then and then only, will you begin to evolve out of the slimy mess that, to our vision here, covers your earth. Your world is filled with men in high places who want war.  War is the greatest cause of all the troubles on your earth.  If your warmongers could see the millions of lives here blasted by wars, some from wars fought hundreds of years ago, they would freeze with horror. For some reason or other, I had to tell you of these heartbreaking things.  Now we will end on a brighter note.

“Materialized forms on the earth are more common than is known.  Many spirits walk your streets and would not be distinguished from an ordinary person. Photos of these have been taken, as you know … without a camera. The ordinary mind would not understand this, because it would try to understand a spiritual thing, with a material mind.  Man makes the mistake of looking for spiritual realities in material things. This is the answer to a question asked at your last sitting, I am informed.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Are Spiritualist Groups Really Necessary?

Our last blog focused on research that shows aging of the organized religious spiritualist movement in the U.S.A. This trend bodes poorly for the movement unless younger blood is attracted to keep things advancing. However, it also should be noted that many new “converts” are joining – but the vast majority of those are at least in middle age.

It is a sad reality, though, that in many parts of the nation (U.S.A. again) there are no spiritualist congregations any more and in others their numbers have been drastically reduced.

In light of this decline, one could ask, “Why bother? Maybe organized spiritualism has seen its day and eventually all the congregations will be gone. So what?”

Before we get to possible answers to those questions, let’s first try to pin down what spiritualism is. As I see it, the core of modern spiritualism can be summed up in two statements: (1) Every human is more than a physical body – each individual is a spirit occupying a physical body and when that physical body dies, we live on in the etheric world; and (2) Those in the etheric world can, under certain conditions, communicate with us who are residing on earth.

These ideas were central to the movement that began in New York state in 1848 with the rappings in the Fox home. After the rappings became public there was rapid emergence of mediumship and investigations by people from all walks of life who confirmed over and over again those two fundamental principles of spiritualism. In a short time there were folks around the world who were convinced and they flocked to those who apparently possessed mediumistic skills. Unfortunately, many charlatans were ready to take advantage of the situation so spiritualists got together, formed associations and churches. These evolved into centers where spiritualists could get together and, just as important, they were able to set some standards that tended to expose the fraudulent mediums while at the same time provided a ready-made audience for the genuine ones.

Since most of these new spiritualists had emerged from other Christian churches, they brought to their new groups the familiar trappings from those traditional orthodox bodies. These included hymns, structure of services, and the tendency to codify or reduce their new religion to a set of doctrines, albeit a shortened and very liberal collection of doctrines.

I am not aware that any organized spiritualist denomination (with the possible exception of Spiritism launched by Allan Kardec) that were established after clear instructions to do so from those on the other side so I will step out on a limb and contend that they were all man-made institutions – but, nevertheless, spirit has worked mightily within those institutions. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have received proof of survival and had their grief abated by it. A massive amount of evidence for survival has been accumulated as well, much of it probably due in large part to the existence of organized spiritualism. Those churches have also been channels for healing and education, touching the lives of many over the past 160 years.

So, in looking at what spiritualism is and at what its organized groups have accomplished in the past we can begin to sense why it is still hanging around and why a particular subset of our population finds it so attractive and helpful. One of the reader comments posted for our last blog made some very good points about the type and age of people attracted to spiritualism. Let me quote: “…the loss of a loved one tends to spur a person to seek explanations and possible hope. In effect, one needs to have lived a while before becoming cognizant of one's physical mortality. In that sense, there is a natural selection in which people who are motivated to understand their relationship with the greater reality are more attracted to Spiritualism than are the idle curious.” This certainly provides an understandable and rational explanation about why spiritualism tends to attract older folks as well as those of all ages who are looking for a deeper understanding of spiritual realities. It has no doubt always been so.

Coincidentally, on the Psychic News website there are two recent articles discussing the so-called “failure” of modern organized spiritualism. The first is rather negative but the second, while acknowledging problems, provides some hope. Lis Warwood’s rebuttal makes the valid point that spirit communication was initiated by the “other side” with the express desire to prove to humankind that there is life after so-called death. That message is still vitally needed and apparently spirit has been successful in impressing a vast majority of the human race that life does continue indefinitely. Polls indicate belief in life after death is still entrenched and, furthermore, those believing that communication with the spirit world is possible far outnumber the members of spiritualist congregations. Television programs featuring mediums are common nowadays and several popular dramatic series have afterlife communication as part of their plot line. While these statistics and trends dismay the materialistic skeptics, they are somewhat encouraging to the rest of us because of the possibilities they present. The central message that we are spirit and that those beyond the grave can communicate is still interesting to many people worldwide. If our spiritualist churches and associations are finding an eager audience with this message then they are bound to continue. If their presentation of this message is not receiving much notice, then eventually there will come a time when either a change or a termination will be necessary.

I encourage my readers to peruse the Psychic News articles and the many comments that were posted there by readers. They can be accessed at  http://psychicnews.subhub.com/content/hydesville-debate .

A couple of blogs back I made the comment that it is difficult if not impossible to be a solitary practicing spiritualist – the very heart of spiritualism is communication with the spirit world and communication by definition requires two or more individuals. Also, the New Testament promise stating that spirit will be present where two or more are gathered together in spiritual agreement is very true. That premise is the working framework for each and every spiritualist circle and it also holds true for other spiritualist gatherings as well – both religious and secular. This all leads me to believe that there will always be spiritualist groups of some sort. The message is there, the need is there and the interest is there. Those gatherings may or may not resemble traditional spiritualist church services – I tend to think the churchlike structure will probably continue to diminish over time. But get-togethers of like-minded folks are still helpful and necessary. What form they may take we can only guess at this point. But if we ask spirit for guidance and direction I’m sure it will be gladly given.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spiritualism – A ‘Graying Religion?’

A few days ago the Annual Proceedings for The Association for the Scientific Study of Religion – Southwest appeared on the Internet and it was refreshing to see one of the papers presented at their March 9-11 symposium concerned organized spiritualism.

Titled “Messages from Heaven: A Research Study on Spiritualist Ministers and Their ‘Calling’ to Serve Spirit,” the paper was written by Dr. Todd Jay Leonard, a professor at Fukuoka University of Education in Japan. I read one of his books shortly after it was published in 2005 – Talking to the Other Side: A History of Modern Spiritualism and Mediumship and he promises that this current research paper will later appear as part of another book he is writing on spiritualism.

While I found the entire paper very interesting, by far the most intriguing paragraphs were those where Leonard talked about the relationship between spiritualism and the New Age movement. This, of course, was the topic of my March 3 blog and it’s flattering to see that Leonard and I largely agree about this topic. After going through all the demographic discoveries his research dug up (which I’ll summarize below), Leonard concedes that “in many ways, Spiritualism has become a part of the ‘mainstream’ over the years, adopting a system that is still on the fringes of the more traditional belief systems but ‘churchified’ enough to be considered somewhat mainstream. Many younger people currently prefer more freedom of choice and flexibility in their religious proclivities, choosing belief systems that offer even less structure and dogma than Spiritualism.”

Coincidentally, Victor Zammit’s weekly Afterlife Report opens today with some similar remarks about today’s young people. “Youth around the world in the twenty-first century has become more questioning and cynical than ever before – demanding proof for the ancient religious beliefs they are asked to accept blindly, without questioning. Youth is rebelling against some of the most obscene beliefs in religious writings none of which can be independently supported. The Old Testament for example makes God an ethnic cleanser, a cause of genocide, inspiring murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children. This God is viciously against women – and is described as a 'God of War', a 'jealous' God, and an 'Envious God'. That is NOT spirituality. That is not inspirational. That is not acceptable. Youth – and others – are protesting with their feet, abandoning the Churches and causing a serious crisis to religion around the world. Youth is rejecting the traditional beliefs created by a few men in ancient times who gave themselves AUTHORITY and POWER to control the minds and hearts of people using horrific fear.”

Absence of structure and dogma has drawn many of these young people out of mainstream Christianity to the so-called New Age movement, Leonard notes. Spiritualism, of course, is a “creedless” religion like the far-flung New Age movement, but the difference according to Leonard is that the New Age is still a “trend” while spiritualism has set itself apart as a religion. (Spiritualism is much more than a religion, but for this discussion we need to limit ourselves to its religious aspect.) Spiritualism is, like most religions and Christian denominations, a “group thing.” To be a spiritualist, one usually belongs to a spiritualist community of some sort such as a church or perhaps only a small home circle. That requires some commitment such as attending meetings, contributing money, reading and study. None of these traditional “churchly” activities are associated with the New Age because that “trend” has not coalesced into structures comparable to churches. Yes, there are meditation groups, yoga groups, and similar organizations out there working loosely under the New Age banner, but each only represents a small part of what is considered “New Age.” Spiritualist churches, on the other hand, try to incorporate it all under one roof. Unlike spiritualism, Leonard says New Age “is more culturally than religiously based, focusing on spirituality as it pertains to various peoples and traditions, rather than to a singular belief system.”

I might add that one can consider him/herself a “New Ager” and never participate in anything outside of the home. To be a spiritualist, however, is to interact in some way with others sharing that belief system. Leonard hints at this by saying that “Spiritualism requires a certain degree of dedication and perseverance, and not mere dabbling.”

Eleven years ago Dr. Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard University, wrote a compelling book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The strange title comes from research that showed the number of lines bowled in American bowling allies was going up but that the number of lines bowled by league players was dropping drastically. This launched Putnam’s research that concluded that Americans were withdrawing in droves from group activities and staying at home or doing things outside the home on an informal basis with only close friends or family members. In other words, institutions such as churches, lodges, bowling leagues, Boy and Girl Scouts, and many more, were hurting for members – especially active and engaged members. In the back of Putnam’s book is a listing of many membership and volunteer groups with statistics showing declines in participation, many of them drastic, over the previous two decades.

This research relates directly to our current discussion about spiritualism and the New Age movement. My generation and those before it grew up with parents and other relatives or neighbors who were generally involved in one or more organization. Today’s youth as a rule has missed that experience and, hence, they do not flock to organizations themselves. Instead, they “hang out” in commercial locations – shopping malls, night spots, theaters, school activities, etc. If they think about such things, the New Age is appealing but it is pretty much of a solitary activity requiring nothing.

This leads me to the title of this posting – “Spiritualism, a ‘Graying’ Religion?” Leonard’s demographic research points quite clearly to the fact that leadership in spiritualist communions is held almost entirely by middle-age and, predominantly, elderly individuals. In his study sample of ordained spiritualist ministers, none were under the age of 35 and only 3% were between the ages of 35 and 44. A whopping 39% were aged 55 to 64 and 35% were older than that. What’s more, these ministers also provided revealing statistics about when they became a spiritualist. Only 12% were raised in a spiritualist church while 11% more became involved as a “young adult.” A huge majority (70% of the total) became spiritualists in middle age.

These numbers indicate two things: First, the majority of those sitting in the pews at a spiritualist church are sporting a lot of gray hair and, second, those in charge are even older because they were attracted to spiritualism at an older age and then began their long development of mediumship plus additional years of study for ordination. “Spiritualist mediumship and the ministry as we know it may eventually reach a state of extreme crisis if more younger people do not begin to pursue studies toward ordination,” Leonard summarizes. This, I contend, will be difficult to resolve given the downward trend of the general population in all organizations.

As I’ve indicated here before, and Victor Zammit apparently feels the same way, young people today in the Western world are generally educated enough and shrewd enough to reject the religious status quo. Many of them drift toward the New Age ideas because they long for spiritual fulfillment without the church trappings. Somehow we need to draw their attention and enlist their involvement and support – for their good as well as ours. “Spiritualist churches must work to devise a way to attract these ‘spirituality seekers’ if they are to survive the current crisis of being a ‘graying religion,’” Leonard says.

Some of the other demographics Leonard outlines are equally interesting. Although his focus was entirely on ordained spiritualist ministers, we can probably be comfortable in extending these figures to the entire congregation but further research would be necessary to determine if that is fitting. Leonard’s sample showed that 70% of spiritualist ministers were female and this he attributes to two factors: (1) Unlike most other churches, organized spiritualism since its inception has been totally open to female participation and, indeed, its presence today is no doubt due largely to efforts of women; and (2) the majority of those with mediumship abilities are female. Leonard also discovered that 28% of responding clergy were gay, lesbian or bisexual and this, too, illustrates positively the open attitude of spiritualists concerning gender issues. He also theorizes that mediumship tends to function best when the medium possesses an abundance of “feminine energy” but quickly adds that he does not suggest the gay mediums and clergy “are ‘feminine,’ but that perhaps the spiritual aspect and vibratory energy needed to make spirit contact is somehow feminine in nature.” He then goes on to quote a male heterosexual spiritualist minister: “When you do this kind of work, we are all electromagnetic, and we all have male/female energy – which is not sexual. When you do mediumship, you use the ‘feminine’ energy more than the ‘male’ energy. Many straight men are uncomfortable with tapping into this female energy. Gay men are more comfortable tapping into it, so more male mediums tend to be ‘gay.’ Straight men are often conditioned from childhood to deny their feminine energy side, so they do not tap into it very much. Society tends to emphasize to men that they are not supposed to ‘feel,’ for instance, ‘real men don’t cry.’ You can’t be a medium without being able to feel deeply.” This, I feel, is an excellent description.

Another finding in Leonard’s study reveals a great deal about the religious background of spiritualists and their quest for spiritual understanding. Remember that only 12% were raised in the faith meaning that 88% converted to spiritualism – most in their middle-age years. Almost all of those had previous experience in other Christian denominations and went searching for something that would meet their spiritual needs (implying that their previous church home was not doing so). Thirty-nine percent of those came from Catholicism with the second highest group being Methodists at 24%. Baptists came in third at 17%. Nearly 13% identified themselves as former atheists or agnostics and many other groups were also represented including Judaism and Buddhism.

The link to this important study appears at the end of this post.

Another research paper in the Proceedings also caught my eye and it has some relevance to the current discussion – “Jesus at Disneyland or Spiritual Innovation: The Enmeshment of Consumer Culture and U.S. Evangelical Religious Practices” by two sociologists at Stephen F. Austin State University, J.B. Watson Jr., Ph.D., and Walt Scalen, Ed.D. They identify our current culture as being predominantly consumerist in nature and point to the rise of the so-called “mega-churches” as evangelicalism’s answer to the shopping mall. I’ve been to one of these “new paradigm” churches complete with its coffee and snack bar, soda machines, gym and so forth. On Sunday morning most of the parishioners stand around in this food area, chatting and munching, many not even bothering to enter the assembly hall to hear the sermon. When they do, they are treated to a pretty bland presentation devoid of the fire and brimstone and altar calls common in traditional evangelical churches. Down the hall is the office of the staff psychologist and on the calendar board are listings for various support groups meeting at the building through the week. All in all, I found the experience to be very much like a friendly shopping mall!

This seems to be evangelicalism’s answer to today’s spiritual needs. These huge mega-churches with membership in each reaching into the thousands are to be found in most large cities. In no way would I criticize bringing friends and neighbors together in a social venue and these churches do that. But for what purpose? Helping families with problems and presenting good ethical standards to live by is wonderful, but for many of us that isn’t nearly enough. There’s much more to learn on this walk through life on earth and, for me and many others, spiritualism and afterlife research fills the bill much better than a coffee bar in a church. That reality makes examination of Leonard’s findings even more important – spiritualism has a great deal to offer today’s spiritual searchers but the organizational arm of the spiritualist religion and philosophy is suffering. Let’s put our heads together, listen to spirit, then come up with some answers. It would be wonderful in a few years to read a scholarly report on how spiritualism has rebounded again! Let it be so!!!

The Proceedings in which these research papers can be read in full are located online at www.envirecon.com/assrproceedings2012.pdf .