I. What Light on the Future Life is Available?
SOME ANTI-SURVIVALISTS have given the impression that no significant information
about the life beyond death has been given through mediums, and that this
alleged failure is one more argument against survival. Let us examine three
James H. Leuba, who for many years was Professor of Psychology at
Bryn Mawr College, was an active crusader
against beliefs in a future life. He complained, in 1916, about 'the vacuous
nature of the communications made by the alleged spirits regarding their states
and the circumstances of their existence'. He continued:
'They have been fairly loquacious; yet not any of
them, not even those from whom much could have been expected, have revealed
anything at all. More significant still than the insignificance of the remarks
of these alleged spirits concerning the other life, is their pertinacious effort
to avoid answering the many and pointed questions addressed to them on that
Whether the results of the SPR are regarded as proving survival or not, it must
be admitted that no amount of ingenuity in explanation and no optimism can hide
the unattractiveness of the glimpses that may have been caught of the other
life; there is no hint in these glimpses of any glorification; nor, for that
matter, of any retribution.'
In his 1934 essay on 'Why I Do Not Believe in Survival', Professor
E. R. Dodds wrote:
'It is, I think, fair to say that the "spirits" have
so far failed to convey to us any distinctive impression of their present mode
of life, their occupations, or their state of mind; and that they have never
explained this failure.'
In his 1953 chapter on 'The Question of Survival',
Antony Flew wrote:
'No Control or Communicator - however great was the
literary ability possessed by his earthly namesake - ever seems able to give a
plausible and distinctive account of his present mode of existence.'
But the literature is voluminous
S. Rowland Morgan published in 1950 an
Index to Psychic Science. From this, and from other sources, I have
compiled a list of 63 books, each of which deals with psychic communications
about the nature of life beyond death. Of these books, 25 were published before
Leuba issued his denial, while 25 more (making a total of 50) had been published
before Dodds issued his. Thus, plenty of literature is available, claiming to
give information about the nature of life beyond death.
Does it give real facts?
Critics like Leuba and Dodds may quite possibly seek to excuse themselves from
looking at any of these books, on the ground that these supposed accounts of the
after-life offer no proofs that what they say is true. This (it will be noted)
is a different objection from the one with which they started. But let us
examine the point with some care.
Most of the 63 books in my list do present their accounts of the life beyond
death in association with evidential messages relating to life here on earth.
Swedenborg, for example, was one of
the most famous pioneers in this field. His accounts of the future life are
elaborately detailed. And these descriptions gain some force from the fact that
Swedenborg gave evidences of extrasensory powers which have impressed many
investigators - from
Immanuel Kant on down to contemporary psychical researchers.
One of the most outstanding instances of tying in verified psychic evidence with
descriptions of the life after death is to be found in the writings of
Drayton Thomas. This close
association of verified psychic phenomena with messages about the after life
reached its climax in the book which he published in 1928 -
Death with Evidence. In it, chapters on evidence alternate with chapters
on the nature of life beyond death.
Drayton Thomas dealt with the topics which Leuba and Dodds missed
Dodds objected that the spirits had failed to convey any distinctive impression
of their after-death occupations. But Chapter 14 in Thomas's book devotes eight
pages to 'Occupations in the Life Beyond Death'. That chapter explains that
occupations in the world beyond are sufficiently related to occupations during
earth life so that continuity and natural development can be achieved, and yet
the after-death occupations involve new problems, capacities and opportunities
which certainly do distinguish them significantly from the occupations of
Leuba objected that in 'the glimpses that may have been caught of the other life
there is no hint ... of any glorification; nor, for that matter, of any
retribution'. But Drayton Thomas's father, communicating through
Mrs. Leonard, is reported to have said:
'Were I about to engage in difficult work - say a
mission of help to those on a lower sphere - I should first visualize Our Lord
and draw to myself actual power through consciousness of Him...
And that which I have alluded to as a light comes to me whenever I visualize Our
Lord's face, or call to mind His voice or touch. Whenever we do this we seem to
attract the light which illuminates every difficulty and everything we have to
Try to recall those brief flashes, coming at rare intervals on earth, of
complete consciousness of good, of everything being just as it should be. Well,
I now had that complete realization of a goodness, therefore of God, in
everything... I felt during those moments as if I understood everything; as if a
spirit of life, flowing through Jesus to me, explained even ugliness and sin, as
well as beauty and goodness. I felt only hope and ultimate good for
everything... Even now, under these very different conditions, I can feel the
glow of that wonderful presence, that revelation.'
Quite apart from sharing or failing to share the
distinctively Christian devotion expressed in the above passage, it would seem
that an objective psychologist should he able to detect in it some 'hint of
As to retribution, Mr. Thomas's book devotes Chapter 26 to 'The Place and
Condition of the Unprogressed'. In it appears this passage:
'Take an extreme case, one upon the lowest sphere to
which human life can go, say a man who has been very cruel, thoughtless and
selfish ... say a wealthy man who, by his vices, brought suffering and even sin
into the lives of others... On coming here he passes to that plane and place to
which he belongs because of what he really is... That means that he will find
himself surrounded entirely by those who have the same sins, vices, and
limitations as himself, ... The whole atmosphere and the very scenery of the
place are tinted with the hopeless drabs and greys of their mental and spiritual
outlook ... the darkness of evil, the greyness of misery ... surpassing that
known on earth...
The wakening comes slowly, very slowly to such people; and, therefore, that
which I shall term Judgment comes slowly. At first there is felt a resentment at
being in such a condition; this is followed by bitter disappointment at being
unable to buy, or to enforce, better conditions. Then, when they realize that
they cannot command different surroundings, they begin to wonder why...
When that seed commences to germinate it brings the realization, "I am with
these miserable people because I am of them, in fact, because I am like them."
When that happens there comes the desire to be different. Then follows the
awakening of which I have spoken. It brings that bitterness and remorse which is
the greatest and most terrible, punishment man can have. No torture which
another can inflict is so terrible as the remorse which one's own best self
inflicts when enlightenment comes.'
Thus, reports about the future life ARE
In view of the kind of communications just cited (which could readily be quoted
in vastly greater volume) it seems evident that the criticisms of Leuba and
Dodds must have been based upon unfamiliarity with available reports rather than
upon actual lack of such reports.
Yet how can anyone tell whether these supposed accounts of the life beyond death
give real facts or are mere fantasy? While the reports are usually associated
with verifiable materials, they are not in themselves evidential. In seeking
enlightenment about the nature of life after death we must apply tests of
rationality rather than the kinds of verification which apply to earthly psychic
phenomena. Let us test the logical rationality of believing in the kind of after
life which most of the purported communications describe.
II. The 'Astral World' is a Logical Necessity
Vivid dreams, shared by telepathy
That a world exists which is invisible to our physical senses, and which yet is
a realm of objective experience and of social contacts between conscious
personalities, is a conclusion which emerges out of two well-established facts.
Take, first, the fact of telepathy. Practically all intelligent and open-minded
people who have studied the available facts on the subject with any
thoroughness, accept telepathy as an established fact.
Add one further and fairly obvious fact: many people, at times, have extremely
vivid dreams, in which they feel wide awake, keenly alert and alive, and
surrounded by objects, people, and scenes which seem to them to be even more
detailed and full of meaning than are the scenes of waking life. If these two
facts are granted - telepathy and vivid dreams - it would seem evident that two
or more people might meet each other in their dreams, and might have shared
experiences which both might remember afterwards. Let us look at some actual
Three Actual Cases of Shared Dreams
1. He rescued this woman doctor from dream
The first of these three cases is an experience of a woman physician who was
rescued in a dream of terror by a man friend who remembered independently having
dreamed his part in their shared adventure:
'In Elmira, New York, on January 26, 1892, between
two and three a.m., Dr. Adele Gleason dreamed that she stood in a lonesome place
in dark woods, that great fear came over her, that the presence of her friend,
J. R. Joslyn came to her, that he shook a tree by her, and that its leaves began
to turn to flame. On the same night, at the same hour, in another house in
Elmira, Joslyn dreamed that he found Dr. Gleason in a lonely wood after dark,
apparently paralysed with fear, that he went to her side and shook a bush, when
the falling leaves turned into flame. Both dreamers submitted written accounts
within a month of the occurrence. The accounts agree that when the two dreamers
met, four days after the event, she mentioned having had a strange dream, but
that he at once stopped her and related his own dream first, without suggestion
from her. Dr. Hodgson made written inquiries and found that Dr. Gleason had made
a notation of the dream in her notebook the morning after it occurred, and
before she saw Joslyn.'
2. These two conversed in a dream park
Our second case is somewhat similar to the first. It occurred in England, and
was promptly documented:
'In July, 1887, a Mr. and Mrs. H., both on the same
night, dreamed that they were walking in Richmond Park with their friend J. They
were discussing an invitation to a party, to be given by Lady R. (In her dream
the invitation was prospective, in his dream it had already been received.) They
were talking of the difficulty of getting home, when J. remarked, "Oh, I will
manage that for you". Mrs. H.'s dream, as presented, contained the additional
details of seeing notices of the party posted up on trees, and of a carriage
driving up when J. struck a blade of grass with his stick. An account written by
Mrs. H. was signed by both dreamers and was submitted in the following month.'
3. Murder, in a triply shared dream
The third case involved three individual dreamers, each of whom remembered his
own part in the shared dream. The experience is related in a letter dated 3 May,
1869, by Henry Armitt Brown, who subsequently became a brilliant lawyer:
'In the fall of 1865 ... while I was studying law in
the city of New York, I retired to my room about midnight of a cold and
blustering evening. I remember distinctly hearing the clock strike twelve as ...
drowsiness crept upon me and I slept. I had hardly lost consciousness when I
seemed to hear loud and confused noises and felt a choking sensation at my
throat, as if it were grasped by a strong hand. I awoke (as it seemed) and found
myself lying on my back on the cobble-stones of a narrow street, writhing in the
grip of a low-browed thick-set man with unkempt hair and grizzled beard, who
with one hand at my throat and holding my wrists with the other threw his weight
upon me and held me down... Over and over we rolled upon the stones... Presently
I saw him reach forth his hand and grasp a bright hatchet... I made one more
tremendous fight for life, for a second I held my enemy powerless and saw with
such a thrill of delight as I cannot forget the horror-stricken faces of friends
within a rod of us rushing to my rescue. As the foremost of them sprang upon the
back of my antagonist he wrenched his wrist away from me. I saw the hatchet
flash above my' head and felt instantly a dull blow on the forehead. I fell back
on the ground, a numbness spread from my head over my body, a warm liquid flowed
down upon my face and into my mouth, and I remember the taste as of blood...
Then I thought I was suspended in the air a few feet above my body, I could see
myself as if in a glass, lying on the bark, the hatchet sticking in the head ...
I heard the weeping of friends, at first loud, then growing fainter ... With a
start, I awoke... My watch told me I had not been more than half an hour asleep.
Early the next morning I joined an intimate friend with whom I spent much of my
time... Suddenly he interrupted me with the remark that he had dreamed strangely
of me the night before ... "I fell asleep," he said, "about twelve and
immediately dreamed that I was passing through a narrow street when I heard
noises and cries of murder. Hurrying in the direction of the noise, I saw you
lying on your back, fighting a rough labouring man, who held you down. I rushed
forward, but as I reached you he struck you on the head with a hatchet and
killed you instantly. Many of our friends were there and we cried bitterly.
"What sort of a man was he?" I asked. "A thick-set man, in a flannel shirt and
rough trousers; his hair was uncombed and his beard was grizzly and of a few
Within a week I was in Burlington, New Jersey. I called at a friend's house. "My
husband," said his wife to me, "had such a horrid dream about you the other
night. He dreamed that a man killed you in a street fight. He ran to help you,
but before he reached the spot your enemy had killed you with a great club."
"Oh, no," cried the husband across the room, "he killed you with a hatchet."
An Oxford Philosopher Views Heaven and Hell
That something corresponding to 'the astral world'
emerges logically from a combination of clear dreams and telepathy is recognized
in the writings of at least two distinguished Philosophers C. J. Ducasse, of
Brown University, Providence, R.I., U.S.A. and
H. H. Price, of Oxford
University, England. Professor Price, in 1956, published two articles under the
title 'Heaven and Hell from the Point of View, of Psychical Research'. He
suggested that there are two different ways of conceiving the next world: (1)
first, as a kind of material environment in which embodied surviving spirits
observe and act; or (2) as a purely mental world of dreamlike experiences in
which personal identity continues.
Professor Price confessed that he found the second of these two conceptions more
helpful and easier to handle. In developing that conception he suggested that
'the dreams we have in this present life would be a kind of foretaste of the
experiences we might expect to have after death'. But this dreamlike world would
not be a state of individual isolation. Professor Price pointed out:
'Telepathy must be taken into account. After all,
there are telepathic dreams and telepathic visions even in this present life.
Indeed, it is likely that telepathy would operate on a far larger scale in the
next life than it does at present...
In the next life ... it is to be expected that only like-minded personalities
would share a common world-personalities whose memories and desires are
sufficiently similar to allow of continuous telepathic interaction. If so, each
group of like-minded persons would have a different next world, public to all
the members of that particular group, but private to the group as a whole...'
Having developed in some detail this idea of a
socially shared dreamlike world after death, Professor Price pointed out that
the 'mental' and the 'material' conceptions of the life after death are
complementary rather than opposed. He observed: 'Perhaps they reach the same
conclusion, though they approach it from opposite ends and express it in very
different words.' He observed:
'And now our dream-like Other World begins to look
rather more like the physical world. At any rate it has an existence independent
of any one percipient. It is the conjoint product of the memories and
desires of many different percipients. In this way we come closer to the idea
which we reached when we adopted the other starting point, and conceived of the
next world on the analogy of the familiar physical world which we perceive by
sight and touch.'
Let us recapitulate
Contrary to the denials of anti-survivalist sceptics, mediumistic and other
psychic communications have given elaborate and voluminous descriptions of life
after death, as we have seen in the first section of this chapter. In the
communications received by Drayton Thomas through Mrs. Leonard, these
descriptions were closely associated with evidential communications. But the
descriptions themselves could not be evidential in the usual sense.
Shared dreams give the clue
Yet we do have good evidence of a type of phenomenon which points inexorably
towards the existence of something corresponding to what many people have called
'The Astral World'. This phenomenon consists in shared dreams.
III. Reports from Explorers of the 'Astral World'
Both from the evidential cases of shared dreams, and
from the logic of men like H. H. Price and C. J. Ducasse, we are led to the
conclusion that a world exists which is invisible to our physical senses and
which yet is a realm of objective experience and of social contacts between
conscious personalities. But if such a world really exists, why have not
explorers come back to tell us about it?
The answer is: they have. The explorers whose reports are about to be summarized
were not primarily concerned with offering evidence acceptable to the SPR.
Whatever weight is given to their statements must rest chiefly on the strong
presumption that such a world does exist. When Columbus and the other early
explorers of the New World came back to Europe, their records may not have been
fully up to the standards required by the then-dominant organizations of
geographers. But after all, the world is round. Why not listen to these chaps
who say they have been over to the other side?
Levels of life in the after-world
Caroline Larsen, wife of a Vermont college professor, wrote a book, in 1927,
My Travels in the Spirit World. Her experiences have already been cited
Chapter 15 as illustrating how it feels to get outside of one's physical
body. But her book also has notable interest because of her descriptions of life
Like other writers on the subject, Mrs. Larsen found the afterworld divided into
zones or 'planes'. The 'first spirit plane' is described as the one on which
spirits arrive on leaving their physical bodies, and in which are all those.
whose emotional attachments still bind them to the physical world. On this plane
also Mrs. Larsen found an army of dark spirits whose main interest was to sway
mortals to low desires and to possess their minds for purposes of doing evil.
These spirits keep endeavouring to win over mortals to a life of vice and
cruelty, such as they themselves had indulged in when they were physically
embodied. Mrs. Larsen summarized.
'I did not, of course, see all of this first plane,
but I saw enough to know that every spirit is free to follow his own ideals and
inclinations. His destiny is in his own hands, limited only by his past life.
But since spiritual barriers are the strongest of all, class cannot mingle with
class. Should an earth-bound spirit stray into the region of higher souls his
darker aura would betray him, and the current, as of electric energy, proceeding
from the first spirit he would meet would sweep him back to his own place. There
is but one path upward - that of personal effort to become fit for a higher type
of existence. To this the activities of the place are directed; and toward this
end order and discipline prevail. No one is permitted to interfere with the
efforts of others. On the whole, life is good and pleasant among those on the
upward path, but words cannot express the dark hopelessness of the completely
earthbound souls. I found no "heaven" or "hell" - except as it exists in the
Mrs. Larsen then proceeded to tell about the second
spirit plane, which she 'found to be merely a continuation of the first plane,
except for the fact that there were there no earth-bound souls'. She also
visited what she called the third and fourth planes. She described the third
plane as 'a fair and glorious world, impossible of adequate description in the
terms of our worldly speech'.
Sylvan Muldoon's explorations
Sylvan Muldoon has reported that he himself has had hundreds of conscious astral
projections. He has gathered and published more reports of such projections by
other people than has any other investigator. His reports about the astral world
are of particular interest - both because of his outstanding leadership in
exploring these phenomena, and also because of their contrast with some of the
statements made by Mrs. Larsen. Muldoon says:
'There are no words to express the feeling of "prodigiousness"
which overwhelms the projector when he becomes perfectly conscious in the
purgatory of the dead - sees earth-bound phantoms, rides upon the air, sustains
himself by thought, passes through material beings and objects (which offer no
more resistance than the air itself) and listens to the chatter of those [still
physically embodied persons] who suspect not his presence...
And yet, for all the marvellous things upon the astral plane, it does feel good
to get back into the physical body again and "touch"! If one could only "feel"
things in purgatory! That is the "hell" of it, speaking seriously! It is a
wonder to me that some of the case-hardened earth-bound phantoms, under a
superstress of habit or desire to make "touchable" contacts, do not go insane.
There is but one cure for his condition, and that is to turn away from the
earthly - to "will" to break the stress of habit and desire to make contact with
In some respects, Muldoon's comments on earth-bound
spirits are in fairly sharp contrast with those of Mrs. Larsen:
'Earth-bound phantoms are not as numerous as one
might suppose. One of the greatest possible mistakes is to believe that, the
instant one is outside his body, he sees thousands of spirits all about him.
This is not the case, for although there are some, they are not numerous.
Usually, one never sees a spirit during projection. Usually he finds himself
alone - a stranger in a strange and yet familiar land. It is said that, on the
streets of large cities, hundreds of astral phantoms mingle with the
flesh-and-blood beings... This, like anything else, is not always true. In fact,
one can scarcely answer one single question concerning the astral plane without
saying: "Sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not true."
One might project and encounter one condition, interiorize again, and think he
knew all about the astral; yet he would know only about that particular
condition which he experienced. Because of these innumerable conditions, many
stories concerning the astral world are contradictory; what one medium sees and
hears and tells us, another will reject, because he has found a different
condition. This is true also of spirits. The mind of one spirit will be at
variance with that of another.'
Where Muldoon and Larsen agree
The Larsen and Muldoon accounts are like each other in a number of respects:
1. Both tell of an astral body which resembles the physical body, but which can
separate from it during projection.
2. Both state that the astral body is ordinarily unable to move physical
objects, and is ordinarily invisible to physically embodied persons into whose
presence it comes.
3. Both agree that the astral body is independent of gravitation, can penetrate
physical obstacles, and can move swiftly to a distance, by shifts of attention.
4. Both agree that the clothing of the astral body is formed, by conscious or
unconscious thought, out of the aura which surrounds that body.
5. Both agree that many phantoms of the dead remain on the earth plane, and that
some of these are very undesirable as associates, and may attempt evil actions.
Where Muldoon and Larsen differ
In spite of the five agreements listed above, Mrs. Larsen and Sylvan Muldoon
differ in a number of particulars, such as the following:
1. Muldoon lays great stress on the astral cable or cord which he says always
connects the astral body with the physical body so long as the physical body is
alive. Mrs. Larsen makes no mention of any such cord.
2. Mrs. Larsen says: 'Everywhere in my [astral] journeys I found these new
citizens of Spirit Land roaming the streets of cities... There are as many
spirits inhabiting this earth as there are mortals.' Muldoon says: 'Earth-bound
phantoms are not as numerous as one might suppose... Usually, one never sees a
spirit during projection.'
3. Mrs. Larsen tells of having visited four of the spirit planes. Muldoon
asserts: 'I have never had a conscious projection when I was not upon earth - as
much so as I am in the flesh, yet intangible to all earthly things.'
4. Mrs. Larsen told of having been conducted by a spirit guide. Muldoon asserts:
'These guides must have no liking for me - for I
have never yet seen one of them! In every conscious out-of-the-body experience I
have ever had I have never seen anyone but the earthly things I have always
seen. I have seen astral phantoms among the earthly but none whom I would choose
for a guide!'
Why accounts of the astral world vary
I once spent some months in attempting to collate various accounts given by
communicators who had claimed to have visited the astral world. I found that,
while these accounts seemed in general to be based on the same fundamental
facts, they failed, in many details, to agree with each other. In some respects
they seemed to contradict each other seriously. But these diversities among the
different descriptions of the astral world, and of the after life in general,
cannot be explained by claiming that all such accounts are mere fantasies. The
verified evidences of the reality of astral projection seems quite conclusive,
and the evidence that apparitions of the dead may often be and usually are
vehicles of surviving conscious personalities, seems also to be convincing.
Hence it seems evident that there is an objective reality to be described, and
that the various accounts are not mere inventions. Moreover, the accounts do
agree in many fundamentals, and they do fail to show anything like the amount of
disagreement which would certainly be expected in pure inventions. Thus again,
it seems evident that many and probably most of these accounts are dealing with
The theory which appears best to account for the differences is the one
intimated by Muldoon. With some additions and developments it may be summarized
as follows: What one sees in the astral world (if one actually does project into
it) will depend upon what one pays attention to, and what one is prepared and
able to receive. Muldoon says:
'Everything in the astral plane seems to be governed
by thought - by the mind of the projector... As one is in his mind he becomes in
reality when he is in the astral body... Most of the time, even before you can
complete a thought, you have already attained what you are thinking about...
It seems that the mind creates its own environment - yet the environment
is real! This condition could not possibly last indefinitely; it is a
sort of purgatory wherein one must learn to think correctly.'
Muldoon also points out that ordinary dreams are
quite different from astral projections, and yet that sometimes dreamers may
confuse the two.
The above factors seem adequate to account for all of the major differences
between all the more important descriptions of the astral world.
IV. Here are the Pertinent Facts in Belief
Some anti-survivalists make sweeping denials about
the content of mediumistic communications, without ever (apparently) having
familiarized themselves with the materials which they are criticizing. Leuba and
Dodds, for example, object that 'spirit communicators' never give definite
information about such subjects as after-death occupations, beatific
glorification, or retribution. Yet Leonard's communications discuss these very
topics specifically and meaningfully.
The existence of some sort of 'astral world' appears to be a logical necessity.
Vivid dreams do, of course, occur, and telepathy is a scientifically established
phenomenon. Hence there is no good reason to reject as inherently incredible the
numerous accounts of shared dreams. Eminent philosophers, both in America and in
England, have pointed out the rationality of conceiving of life beyond death in
terms of telepathically shared experience.
As to the character of experience in the 'astral world', many explorers have
reported. Two outstandingly interesting accounts are those of Mrs. Caroline D.
Larsen and of Muldoon. Their accounts agree in five important particulars, but
disagree in four others. Such disagreements appear to be explainable on the
basis of the principle that what one sees in the astral world depends upon what
one pays attention to, and what one is prepared and able to receive.
The above article was taken from Hornell Hart's "The Enigma of Survival. The
Case For and Against an After Life" (London: Rider & Co., 1959).