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A Review of Psychical Research - Part Two

By:Richard Rowley
Date: Wed,15 Aug 2012
Submitter:Richard Rowley

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Emanuel Swedenborg in the middle of the Eighteenth Century had much communication with the other side, but he advised others against contacting spirits as he had done, since a person without focus and spiritual discipline might be led astray by low-level entities. This is advice is also given by most reliigions, and by mediums themselves. How many channellings do we receive at the present time claiming to come from the Buddha or Jesus and other prophets whose source cannot be verified, but only assessed by the quality of thought presented? This perennial wisdom may be coming from the subconscious mind of the medium, picking up ready-made philosophy from the New Testament or trance teachings from other mediums. Much of it is sheer waffling. We can be flooded with great blocks of such material, but really we have to think and reason for ourselves, and also enjoy in moderation our animal nature and all its senses, which are God given in equal measure with our higher spiritual qualities. Our task on earth is to walk the middle path, and control our animal and human nature and have respect and reverence for all life. We cannot deny our passions, and our material existence, but we can learn to control our behaviour. We can obtain help from the spirit world, and from the example of the saint, prophet or hero we admire and from the precepts of the religion we follow, but we must do so with our wits about us, and not blindly believe what the spirits, or our priests, guides and mediums, tell us. We must test them, if we do listen to them. Above all, we should not look into the paranormal just out of curiosity, or for a cheap thrill and certainly not distort our psychic abilities into practising cultish black magic rituals.

So Swedenborg was right to give a warning, but it is up to us to decide what to accept and what to reject. Mervyn, the Bishop of Southwark at the time that Frances Banks brought out her account of psychic research in “Frontiers of Revelation” in 1962, said that the Anglican Church had lost touch with its spiritual roots and was very much in need of this type of psychical research. He quotes Lord Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who stated the “Set Church dogmas are nothing more than the experience of people who have preceded us, and all experience should be constantly under review. That is what the Church means when it says that it is looking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The people who do harm to our Church are those who teach the dogma of a thousand years ago without any attempt to review it to suit modern experience.”

Southwark himself said “So many beliefs need to be scrutinized and re-stated if the Church is to establish contact with contemporary thought, and this is of particular importance in the field of psychical research. Interest in death and what lies beyond it is natural, but too often the questioner cannot find reputable people to guide him. The Church is embarrassed and Spiritualism is embarrassing. A man will not be content with a vague assurance that there is a life after death; nor, if he is intelligent, will he be edified by the banality of the average séance. He needs to face more basic issues – the nature of personality, extra-sensory perception, the limitations of space-time, the concept and reliability of psychic phenomena, the effectiveness of spiritual media [the different types of mediumship], and of prayer in particular. “Frontiers of Revelation" sets out to examine these things, and Miss Frances Banks is well qualified to act as guide……a natural mystic…..her interest in psychic research was quickened by etheric vision through the super-sensory organs. This experience compelled her to consider a level of reality of which orthodox Christianity had left her entirely ignorant, and in her quest for truth she has studied widely and questioned thoroughtly.”

So her work has been continued by others in a similar vein of inquiry, by Alister Hardy and the findings of his Religious Experience Research Unit at Oxford, now housed at Lampeter College in Wales, and by theologians such as Bishop John Shelby Spong, Tom Harpur and Matthew Fox. Frances made her own study of religious experiences by preparing a questionnaire and analyzing the statements of 200 respondents. Her book can be placed alongside the work of Joseph Banks Rhine and Louisa Rhine, and the more recent publications by Professors Archie Roy and Gary Schwartz, Montague Keene and Roy Stemman, and the research done at Stansted Hall, the College of Psychic Studies and by the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies.

“Frontiers of Revelation” as well as recording the psychic experiences of the 200 respondents, also reviews other sources of investigation in earlier times. Frances quotes Evelyn Underhill commenting on the medieval “Cloud of Unknowing.” ....... "Psychic phenomena, too, seem to have been common: ecstasies, visions voices, the scent of strange perfumes, the hearing of sweet sounds. For these supposed indications of Divine favour, the author of the Cloud has no more respect than the modern psychologist."

Evelyn Underhill was cousin of Dean Francis Underhill, later Bishop of Bath and Wells, who was the driving force urging Archbishop Cosmo Lang to appoint his committee to review psychic research and Spiritualism just before World War II. Evelyn was on the committee, but withdrew early on, since she did not think that it was the Church's place to review paranormal events. For her, religion was a matter of faith, not the result of scientific, factual investigation. We will look into that committee's report later on in this series reviewing psychical research.

Frances laterr compiled a small volume on four mystics: Plotinus, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. “Four Studies in Mysticism” was published posthumously in 1967. All four mystics had personal communications with the spirit world, even though they adhered to the orthodox rituals of their own times. Plotinus seems quite modern in his thought, and likens contact with spirit to a joyful dance: “We have at all times our centre there [in spirit], though we do not at all times look thither. We are like a company of singing dancers, who may turn their gaze outward and away, notwithstanding they have the choirmaster for centre; but when they are turned towards him, the they sing true and are truly centred upon him. Even so we encircle the Supreme always and when we break the circle, it shall be our utter dissolution and cessation of being, but our eyes are not at all times fixed upon the Centre. Yet in the vision thereof is our attainment and our repose and the end of all discord. God in his dancers and God the true centre of the dance.”

St. Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) was gifted with clairvoyance and clairaudience for which at that time she could have invoked the wrath of the Inquisition and been tortured and burned at the stake. However she accounted for and interpreted her visions and visits to the astral regions within the doctrines and religious imagery of the times, and so was able to avoid the pitfalls of heresy and blasphemy. But clearly, had she been alive in modern times, she would have been an outstanding medium. Following the path of devotion, she saw angels and spirits and even did some soul rescue work.

St. John of the Cross (1542 – 1591) was a poet and academic, withdrawing from life in almost Buddhist-like asceticism. In “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” he writes “Many spiritual men err who, having exercised themselves in attaining to God through images, and forms, and meditations, which are suitable for beginners, find God desiring them to gather more good qualities through more spiritual, inward and invisible means [that is, through the direct experiences of second sight, in other words, our modern mediumship]. But they do not decide, or dare, or feel able to rid themselves of those material modes to which they are accustomed [the rites and rituals], so they still make every effort to hold on to them, desiring to advance by formal consideration and meditation [the outer forms of worship]. And they toil much and find little or no spiritual energy: firstly, dryness and fatigue, and disquiet of the soul increase.” Frances Banks notes that there are frequent reference in “The Dark Night of the Soul” to the two-way traffic of the soul and the Divine energy; first, there is the soul’s receptive passivity in absorbing the emanations of the Divine light and wisdom from above; secondly, there is the reverse action of the soul in climbing the stair or ladder which reaches into God. “The soul mounts aloft, and scales, rung by rung, to the heights and [attains] the knowledge and possession of the wealth and treasures of Heaven…. The tenth and last grade of this ladder of love makes the soul to be entirely assimilated to God, by reason of the lucid vision of God which the soul then possesses… one single glance the soul sees both the reality of God in His total being, and what there is of God in every creature.”

St. Juan of the Cross warns teachers and spiritual instructors to interfere as little as possible in spiritual evolution, since no two souls are alike, and the individual inner spirit is the best guide, if only they can be left to “solitude, freedom and tranquility.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a born seer. In “Le Milieu Divin” he mentions that from childhood he saw “the inner light through the incandescent surface of matter plunged in God….with a particular and unique resonance which swelled each harmony, with a diffused radiance which haloed each beauty…All the elements of psychological life were in turn affected; sensations, feeling, thoughts….Then the vague note, and fragrance and light began to define themselves. And the, contrary to all expectation and all probability, I began to feel what was ineffably common to all things. The unity communicated itself to me by giving me the gift of grasping it. I had in fact acquired a new sense, the sense of a new quality or of a new dimension. Deeper still: a transformation had taken place for me in the very perception of being. Thenceforward being bad become, in some way, tangible and savorous to me; and as it came to dominate all the forms which it assumed, being itself began to draw me and to intoxicate me.”

His “Phenomenon of Man” summarises his philosophy of evolution. Co-extensive with the outer universe, there is a “Within” to things, an inner spark of life….that is, spirit. “Right at its base, the living world is constituted by consciousness clothed in flesh and bone.” He conceives of our planet as ringed by a thinking envelope, a phosphorescent film of psychic life, woven as it were in once piece. To this he gives the new name of Noosphere. “The earth gets a new skin. Better still, it finds its soul …the thinking layer..A glow ripples outward from the first spark of conscious reflection. The point of ignition grows larger. The fire spreads in ever-widening circles till finally the whole planet is covered with incandescence.” The unity of all this, the union, or omega point, is explained in “Le Milieu Divin.” “In the divine milieu all the elements of the universe touch each other by that which is most inward and ultimate in them….In this place the least of our desires and efforts is harvested and tended and can at any moment cause the marrow of the universe to vibrate.” That is to say, the least and most insignificant of us, down to the simplest particle, has relevance, purpose, meaning and importance.

These three Catholic mystics all had trouble with the church authorities, and the followers of the two saints were even more harshly treated after their teachers’ deaths. There was a ban by Rome of Teilhard de Chardin’s writings, and they only came to be published and translated after his death in 1955. So, even in the Twentieth Century there continued to be censorship of controversial literature. Plotinus, born in Egypt around 205 C.E. lived in Rome for the last 26 years of his life, and was able to teach without opposition, and his written lecture notes and reports survived in his six books of Enneads, which Porphyry his biographer arranged for publication.

Our modern psychic researchers are doing no more than rediscover what shamans, mystics and mediums have known and experienced all throughout human history. All this dedicated work has been done on the whole quite outside the mainline orthodox churches, and if the latter wish to increase the size of their congregations, they need to let in the light of the living spirit which is seen in evidence through the contemporary work of our researchers and mediums. Frances Banks died shortly after the publication of “Frontiers of Revelation” but she was soon back with us, communicating through Helen Greaves in “Testimony of Light.” That report gives irrefutable evidence of her own personal survival of death and at the same time provides an invaluable source of information about life and work on the other side, perhaps the most uplifting and optimistic spiritual document of modern times.

To be continued, with examples of spiritual and psychic experiences written in answer to Frances Banks’ questionnaire. Richard R

"Frontiers of Revelation" by Frances Banks. Max Parrish, London. 1962
"Four Studies in Mysticism" by Frances Banks. CFPSS 1967
"Testimony of Light" by Helen Greaves. CFPSS and Neville Spearman 1969

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