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Psychical Research

Spirit is the great life on which matter rests, as does the rocky world on the free and fluid ether. Whenever we can break our limitations, we find ourselves on that marvelous shore where Wordsworth once saw the gleam of the gold. —Mabel Collins.

Two great races, the Aryan and the Semitic, have given to the world the greater part of its religious thought. We, as a people, belong to the former; but we take our religion from the latter. The Aryans probably had their origin in India, and thence spread over Europe. The Semitic race remained in Asia, with the exception of the Jewish branch, which became scattered over the face of the earth; and for two thousand years its members have been the shunned outcasts of all nations. It is from this branch that we have taken our religion, although we are of a different race—the descendants of a people whose religion antedates that of the Jews. We have looked upon the Jews as our inferiors; but we have gone to them for our religion, and the only authority on religious questions recognized by Christians is that derived from the writings of the Jewish people in the Old and New Testaments.

Prior to the coming of Jesus, the Jewish people had no strong conceptions concerning immortality. Occasional passages are found in the Old Testament intimating a belief in immortality; but these occur only among the most “inspired” writers. Many passages give a very different impression; for instance, Ecclesiastes iii. 19-21: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”

In fact, among the whole Semitic race—the Syrians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, and the Egyptians, as well as the Jews—immortality never was explicitly taught. The belief of the ancient Egyptians was that the soul left the body at death and could go where it willed—during the day, but must return to the body at night. The soul would continue to live so long as the body remained intact; but as soon as the physical structure was disintegrated the soul was annihilated. Consequently, every effort was made to preserve the body. Pyramids were built, and in them were placed the embalmed bodies of the kings; tunnels were dug under the Nile, and bodies placed in caskets were hidden there. The Chaldeans’ belief was about the same, but they differed from the Egyptians in one respect. They believed that the departed soul retained all its earthly desires; therefore, the family or friends of the dead placed food and drink near the tombs—otherwise the deceased persons would wreak vengeance upon the living. There were no thoughts in connection with the dead to cheer the living. In the Hebrew mind even of today it is very doubtful if a belief in immortality is firmly grounded. Go to any of the large Jewish cemeteries in Europe or America, and on certain days you will find them filled with people mourning and lamenting—crying in anguish over their departed. It is a sight never to be forgotten.

Prior to the Christian era, there was a gloomy grandeur about all the religions of the Semitic people, but not much to inspire the soul with hope concerning a future state. In order to find a religion of hope, we must resort to the Aryans, who began early to burn their corpses. This very fact proved that they did not regard the dead body as necessary to the soul. The word epitaph (from the Sanskrit) means “the place of burning.” The practice of cremation would not have been introduced unless the people believed that the departed soul could not return to the body. The very names of the Aryan gods conveyed the idea of hopefulness to the mind. There were Devas, the bright and glorious one, and Yuma, the great god of the departed. The meaning of Yuma is “self-restraint.”

In the early Aryan religion the worship was extremely simple. There was no priesthood, but people prayed to the gods and sang hymns of praise. They believed that when the outer body 'passed away they would have a body very much like it, but more ethereal, which would live eternally. After the coming of the priesthood, however, different castes arose, and religion became largely ceremonial. But the idea of immortality never was obliterated. Thus we see that the Aryans and the Semites differed much with regard to immortality. Among the latter it was either not believed in at all, or was made dependent on the preservation of the body or on some other condition. So far as we know, not until the coming of Jesus was immortality declared a fundamental principle. Thus we can readily understand what a New Testament writer meant when he said that Jesus brought life and immortality to light. With Jesus, the spirit was ever the quickening and renewing power: the body was of very little consequence. Again, we find Paul basing his hope of immortality on the fact that, if it is possible for one soul to attain it, then, according to the eternal and unchanging law of God, all souls must do likewise.

We come now to the question, Can we know and realize immortality in the present? This brings us face to face with another question, intimately related to it: Can we know anything, while in this life, of the life that lies beyond this plane of mortal sense? The two questions are so closely related that we will consider them together. Not long ago, the Right Honorable Arthur J. Balfour, leader of the British House of Commons and a member of the Royal Psychical Research Society, declared in a public lecture that there could be no doubt whatever that under favorable conditions communication could be established between persons in this life and those that had passed to another plane. The greatest living English scientist, Alfred Russell Wallace, and many others of like eminence, take exactly the same position. Thus we see how men of importance and influence in the world regard the matter. ' It is claimed by many that we can know nothing concerning any plane other than our own material one; but that claim is based largely on the assumption that because they have not proved otherwise, no one has. Usually, people that assume this attitude give but little evidence of spiritual development; while, on the other hand, many who are highly developed, spiritually, declare that nothing could shake their belief in the realities of another plane of existence. Those claiming to have developed certain soul powers say that they not only see but converse with the departed. Still others are sometimes under an influence that is apparently foreign to themselves, and while in that condition talk of things of which in their normal state they have no conscious knowledge. We find yet others who are impelled to write many things that it is not possible for them to know through external means. How is this done? Some of our occult scientists say that it is through the action of the subconscious mind; but this hypothesis utterly fails to explain many occurrences that have come under my own observation. Many of the world’s greatest teachers of spiritual thought have made statements similar to the following:

“As it is in the heavens, so is it on the earth.” “As it is in the highest, so is it in the lowest.” What do they mean? Simply this: There is one universal law acting in and through all things, and, if we understand the operation of that law on any one plane of thought, we have the key that unlocks the secrets of the universe.

How are spiritual phenomena that come to us from other planes of thought to be considered—disregarding, of course, the opinions of those who are entirely skeptical? Many fully believe in “spirit-communications,” but with opinions greatly at variance. Some seem to have an idea that departure from its physical body endows a soul with correct knowledge of all things spiritual, and that, no matter what the communication may be, it must be accepted as truthful. Others are never so happy as when engaged in obtaining certain kinds of “physical manifestation”—rappings, table tipping, playing on banjoes, etc. If the matter were to end here, we might well say, Deliver us from a knowledge of such things! But does it? Why not apply a little of the common sense we use in other matters? Why not “try the spirits,” and find out if they are of God? Why not follow the injunction of the apostle?—“Beloved, believe not every spirit.” Why not recognize the working of universal law here, as well as in purely physical phenomena?

If very ignorant persons, still in the body, should come to us claiming to he possessed of great knowledge and understanding, it would not take us long to discover that they were impostors and that we could not depend upon their statements. It would not make an uncivilized Indian a professor of mathematics to take him from the plains and place him in Yale College. The mere fact of his being there would not give him an understanding of mathematical law. If a man is a liar or an ignoramus in this world, his passing out of the physical form will not make him a Washington nor an Aristotle. The law of spiritual development is that man must work from within his soul outward; and growth is a question, not of place, but of earnest desire on the part of the ego.

When considering "spirit-communications,” many persons, apparently wise in matters pertaining to the physical world, lose all their common sense and believe anything that purports to come from a departed soul. An untutored Indian, whose advice is neither asked for nor accepted in this world, is considered competent to advise on the weightiest subjects after passing into the “spirit world.” Let us look at these facts in a rational manner, Without being either bigoted or gullible. There is a “happy medium” between the two extremes. When statements purporting to come from Socrates, Carlyle, or Emerson, are infinitely below the standard of thought left by such men on this plane, the fact is alone sufficient to bring discredit on the communication. The law is one, no matter what the plane; and if our application of it is true regarding mundane affairs, then its truth is only a question of degree on the higher plane. Look at the different planes of thought existing in this world: do you suppose that in another world people will be equal in development? Far from it; the mere discarding of the body will produce no change of soul. If a man is a liar here, he will be a liar there until he learn better. If he goes out of this world with a mind filled with hatred and malice, he will take that with him; and until light and truth enter his soul, dispelling the darkness, these attributes will continue to characterize him.

Messages that come from highly-developed souls on the “other side” show that the moral and spiritual natures are not greatly changed by what we call death. People that go out of this life retaining their sense desires and a love for earthly pleasures live close to the earth plane.

Their forms are gross and non-luminous, unlike those more spiritually developed. They do not look to the higher influences of their own plane for light, but rather to the people on earth with whom they have more in common. Neither can the spiritually illuminated of their own world help them until they become awakened by the aid of souls on this plane, because there is no point of contact. When once awakened, however, they may be acted upon from both planes of thought. In the light of this we can see why the early Christian Church prayed for the souls of the departed, and why one of the greatest Churches of today continues to do so. There is no “hell” on the other shore bounded by time and space, but there is one formed out of the conditions of untrue thoughts; and its duration' is extended only by preferring darkness to light. What men sow they must reap, here or elsewhere.

The quality and condition of the spiritual body are determined by the spiritual nature. We know this to be true on this plane; and that which is true here must hold good on all other planes. Again, there are thousands of people in the slums of our great cities that have no point of contact with the spiritual-minded; their bodies must be cared for and their minds quickened before there can be that spiritual awakening which can bring them in touch with the spiritually developed, who would be willing and glad to help them if the time were ripe. On earth we find conditions analogous to those said to exist on the “other side.” Take the city of New York, for instance. We find here people living on many different planes. The sun shines for all; the same atmosphere is for all: yet some are cold, miserable, and hungry, while others have everything that heart can desire. We see many degrees of physical and spiritual development; yet all are living in one place, and the place that is heaven to one man is hell to another, according to the way he relates himself .to his environment. He becomes wrongly or rightly related to his environment through the use or misuse of his mental and spiritual powers.

There is, as we know, a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Spiritual scientists believe that when they are in accord with law on this plane they must obtain true results, and when in opposition they obtain false results. In psychical research, therefore, whatever may .arise, we should always apply the law. Idle, curious, heedless investigation can bring no gain, but rather harm. ~One’s own mental and spiritual condition will determine the class of souls one calls about him from the unseen world. If one earnestly strives to unfold his own innate .spiritual powers, the endeavor will aid him in comprehending all the mysteries that perplex him. Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” When we step out of the houses of clay we now inhabit, those that we shall enter next will be beautiful or otherwise as our thoughts have been good and true or the reverse. We may select a mansion that is beautiful if we will to do the Will of the Father. “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” (I. John iv. 1.)

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Charles Brodie Patterson

  • Canadian New Thought author
  • Born in Nova Scotia in 1854 and died on June, 22nd 1917

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