(Investigator 63, 1998 November)

The concept of supernatural beings or gods was established to explain otherwise inexplicable phenomena; the idea of rewards in the form of an afterlife, transmigration, immortality and communication with the dead, were all consistent with contemporary thinking. Traditional theories in respect of the soul are many and diverse, although in general, they tend to revolve around its distinction from, and relation to the body.

Aristotle sums up the controversy succinctly in the opening pages of his treatise, On the soul, in which he says, "to attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world." This view is not shared by mediums however, who claim that spirits exist and that communication with them is possible.

The popular definition of 'soul' or 'spirit' is accepted as, "the disembodied spirit of one who has died," and to establish whether or not spirits exist, it is necessary to examine the well documented evidence accumulated over the past 150 years.

Disembodied noises are common to most exhibitions of spirit manifestation and are accepted as a method of communicating with the spirits. The playing of musical instruments, table tilting and the levitation of chairs, tables, inanimate objects and even persons, soon became commonplace at seances first convened by the Fox sisters, in 1848. They were soon followed by other mediums, ostensibly for the sole purpose of proving that spirits existed and that contact with them was possible. Eusapia Paladino and Daniel Dunglas Home were two of the most famous exponents in the nineteenth century, the latter reportedly levitating out through a third storey window of one room and back through another window in an adjacent room.

Eusapia's "control" or spirit, is also recorded as having prodded, pinched and touched sitters at seances, untied shoelaces, and removed their spectacles and cravats. She is best known however, for the "prolongations" in the form of human limbs that emerged from various parts of her body and which were given the name "pseudopods".

Marthe Beraud, otherwise known as "Eva C", specialized in "full form" materializations – the emanation from the natural orifices of her body of an amorphus substance which became known as "ectoplasm" in forms resembling faces, limbs and in some cases, full sized human figures.

Florence Cook's "controls" were possibly the most animated – John King could be met and shaken by the hand, and his daughter Katie became most agitated when grabbed by an experienced investigator of spiritualist phenomena, scratching his nose and pulling out some of his whiskers!

The spirits were also adept at passing on their messages by means of automatic writing. Jean Doyle (wife of Sir Conan), allegedly received a message from the dead mother of Houdini; and writing which would mysteriously appear on covered slate boards was a method favoured by many mediums for communication with the "other side."

Even more direct communication was established by spiritualist, Mina Crandon, better known as "Margery", who would speak while in a trance in the unmistakable voice of her dead brother Walter; and Leonora Piper had numerous "controls" enabling her clients to speak to their dead friends and relatives.

Elvis Presley and John Lennon have also allegedly been in touch with a chosen few, consoling their fans and dictating more songs.

Some spiritualists claim that the spirits construct for themselves vocal organs out of "ectoplasm" supplied by the medium. With these vocal organs they are able to speak to the sitters. Claims to have recorded the voices of spirits have also been made.

On the local scene, Cliff Dorian of the Lighthouse Spiritualist Centre in Sydney, channels "Joseph", who is, in Mr Dorian's own words, "a creation of my own sub-conscious who becomes such a reality that other clairvoyants can see him." At a seminar I attended in March 1988, the channel's assistant, clairvoyant Joy Atkinson speaking in a mere whisper, persuaded Joseph to take over the body of Mr Dorian.

If the aforementioned characteristics, attributes and peculiarities of spirits are to be believed, then it will be seen that collectively they create remarkable entities retaining all the faculties and physical characteristics they possessed before departing this world.

The quantity and quality of knowledge that could be attained from past Earth dwellers, never-incarnated spirits and those purporting to come to us from the future is inestimable, and it is the self-appointed task of the Channelers or Spiritualists to speak and act on their behalf to pass on this wisdom.

What happens if we piece together all the information available on spirits to create a composite picture in an endeavour to show whether or not they exist?

Spiritualists, or channelers to give them their New Age name, change their voices and adopt peculiar accents when "taken over", but studies by specialists in language testify that all those investigated have proven phoney. Unlike the spiritualists of the previous century whose "controls" were generally of a contemporary nature, today’s channelers have moved with the space age. Daryl Anka, for example, channels "Bashar" from the Essassani civilization 300 light years in the future; Pamela Newstreet's "Soncha" is from Sirius; and Jamie Sams is closer to home with "Leah" from Venus. None of these visitors deem it necessary to explain how they spanned the enormous distances, or why beings from the advanced technological civilizations one would associate with such an undertaking, their mission seems merely to "hang around" at the beck and call of earthly nonentities!

A composite picture of a spirit then, confirms that previously said, a complete corporeal entity who has retained all the faculties and physical characteristics they possessed before departing this world! Furthermore, sometime during the life-death-life metamorphosis we are asked to believe that the spirits acquire some extraordinary and enviable powers, among them – the ability to appear and disappear at will or at the behest of a medium; an incomprehensible desire to dismember themselves then reanimate the parts; a remarkable propensity to communicate fluently, idiomatically and colloquially in all languages, some not even extant at the time they were alleged to have lived; a competence to transcend space and time at speeds not yet dreamed of even by science fiction writers; possess a built in anti-gravity system, and a natural talent for ventriloquism whereby the medium becomes the spirit's dummy!

The fountainhead of knowledge that could be attained from past Earth dwellers, never-incarnated spirits and those purporting to come to us from the future is unfortunately not forthcoming, because the spirits exhibit a singular reticence when it comes to parting with anything more edifying than convoluted pop philosophy, apocalyptic forecasts, homilies, and more often than not – shere unadulterated nonsense. Nevertheless, we are asked to believe that certain individuals are selected and privileged in an ad hoc fashion to speak and act on their behalf and make a business out of selling their services.

To live up to the claims made on their behalf, spirits would of necessity have to live in an invisible material world in extremely close proximity to our own – so close in fact if the evidence is to be believed, as to be within the range of a human whisper or even a thought. In view of the billions who have passed on since man first evolved, and the incredible pulsating celestial congestion such a concentration of spiritual and material matter would create just above our heads, one would have thought that this would have been an implausible concept even to the most credulous of minds. The all-transcendent metamorphosis notwithstanding, the activities of spirits are generally confined to simple party tricks, and comments incompatible with that which one would expect of the all seeing, all knowing.

They also engage in a sacriligeous disregard of the putative worth of their alleged knowledge and talents, by allowing themselves to become manipulated commercial puppets in freak side shows.

Without exception when interviewed, the spirits speaking through their mediums expect to be accepted without question, steadfastly evade questions which seek to authenticate their claimed origins, sententiously answer questions with a profundity lacking even a modicum of intellect, expertise or commonsense, and if taxed will explain away, rationalize or invent any excuse no matter how inane or infantile, subordinating communication to play acting by the medium. Why should they be so evasive?

The evidence to date, for the existence of discarnate and never-incarnated spirits from our own and other worlds, can be seen by the critical analyst as being a travesty of serious research, and in the absence of somewhat more substantive and tangible proof – to suggest that spirits exist and that communication with them is possible, is simply wishful thinking by the deluded, whose vulnerability makes them delectable pickings for the Carrion Crow.

[From: Skeptoon an illustrated look at some New Age Beliefs, 1994, Harry Edwards]