Is contacting the dead a true possibility?
Leonard George has taken it upon himself to discover the truth. George has a PhD from the University of Western Ontario in psychology, was formally employed as the clinical psychologist by Vancouver General Hospital, and currently works for Capilano University.
George, an esteemed writer and researcher, made the trek from British Columbia to upstate New York so that he could be at the global center of Spiritualism. Spiritualism is a religion that surfaced in the 19th century and is founded on the belief that humans can make contact with the spirits of people that have passed away.
“I wanted to go to where it all began. I wondered what it would feel like to be a medium. What better way to find out than to sign up (for a course),” says George.
At 11:30 am on Halloween, George is going to disclose the incredible and astonishing discoveries he made about the art of being a medium, as well as the possibility of a spirit world existing. The Capilano University Psychology Students Society is promoting his lecture.
“The Medium’s Apprentice: A Psychologist Explores Spiritualism from the Inside” is the name of the lecture and it will explore the mystifying aspects of the world that are related to ESP, hypnosis, séances, fortune-telling, and even the subject of levitation. George described himself as a “skeptical psychologist” who is mindful of the fact that so many people associate Spiritualism with deception and scams, so he set out to see for himself.
He chose to give his lecture on Halloween because October 31st is known as Samhain to neo-pagans who believe that, in the words of George, “the membrane between the two worlds (of the living and dead) is thinnest.”
Before we delve into George’s discoveries, and whether or not he successfully contacted the dead, it is best to give some history of Spiritualism.
Across Vancouver and many parts of the world, small spiritualist congregations still meet on a regular basis.
Canada, the U.S, Russia, and Britain all have a long history of Spiritualism. In fact, William Lyon Mackenzie King, the dominant Canadian political leader from the 1920s through the 1940s, possessed a crystal ball and was known to have made trips to Detroit to speak with a medium on a frequent basis.
Authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, William Blake, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, psychotherapists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, philosopher William James, and scientists David Bohm and Thomas Edison are other prominent figures who also supported Spiritualism and other parapsychological phenomenon that is associated with it.
In his effort to uncover this mysterious subject, George went to Lily Dale, N.Y, a small town situated near the Canadian border. “It’s the oldest and largest Spiritualist community in the world,” he says.
The city of Lily Dale is very close to where Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in the year 1823. This entire region of the state has been recognized as being a land of women’s rights, free speech, free love, and particularly of free religious expression since the early 1800s.
George, accompanied by about a dozen others, worked with Judith Rochester, a well-known and famed medium. Rochester received her Phd in philosophy from the University of Toronto
Rochester is an expert on the life of Ludwig Wittgenstein- an esteemed German philosopher- but she is more widely known for her ability to develop the gift of communicating with the spirits of the deceased in others.
Rochester considers herself to be a member of the group of mediums, mesmerists, mentalists, and channelers such as Maggie and Katie Fox, Andrew Jackson Davis, and Jeremiah Carter, who became prominent figures due to their ability to make interact and communicate with spirits.
Before making the trip to Lily Dale, George had published two books whose subjects were in the field of the paranormal. One of them was titled “The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics” and the other is titled “Alternative Realities: the Paranormal, the Mystic, and the Transcendent in Human Experience”.
Since George is a psychologist, he wanted to explore this mysterious universe with a scientific and possibly medical frame of mind. Aside from teaching basic psychology, he also teaches courses on neuroscience and mental illness.
In his office you will find a large number of mainstream books on psychology, as well as a small skull that he displays, and which he states reminds him of “memento mori”, a Latin phrase that refers to how our time here on Earth is limited.
On one wall he has a poster hanging up of Iambil-chus, also known as “the Second Century Syrian”; and who is his favorite philosopher. Iambil-chus was an big fan of Plato and of his theories about the nature of reality and divinity.
So what discoveries did George wind up making about Spiritualism? He states that the very first thing he noticed was that the New York spiritualists exuded “100% sincerity”.
He was blown away by the integrity, commitment, and kindness that Rochester and the others involved in Lily Dale displayed during the course.
Even though the spiritualists’ had moral standards of the highest degree and refused to use deception of any sort, this did not provide George with any scientific proof of their ability to communicate with the dead.
Even though George is a psychologist, he claims that he has always kept an open mind about these types of things. He has used hypnosis on clients before, and he has meditated almost all of his life. He states that the subject of parapsychology (the study of psychic happenings) has always fascinated him.
George tells of how he entered into a light trance while under his training with Rochester. He said that during this trance, some dream visions that he has seen all of his life all of a sudden became immensely realistic.
George has had a frequent otherworldly dream about “looking up at mysterious lights in the sky that seem to have an intelligence” ever since he was a young man. When he was at Lily Dale in the trance, these lights became even more extraordinary.
He describes what he felt; “I had an experience of rising up. I was perched on a mountain and the lights were right in front of me. These lights communicated that they were my spirit guides. It was quite shocking.”
In a different trance, George made contact with this father who passed away in 1982.
He said that at first he had the feeling that he was being buried alive, and then images of his father sitting on a bench made of marble came to him. In his words, his father was acting “calm, talkative, and reassuring. It was one of the weirdest things that ever happened to me,” he said.
Then came the part where George tried his hand at giving psychic readings to a woman who was in attendance; this is where it got even more supernatural.
He performed a reading for one of the female students in attendance, a woman that he had never met before nor had any previous contact with. While he was in an altered state, he meditated on the woman’s soul and states that an image of a woman who is short in stature and dark-skinned came to him. In his vision, this woman was inside a house that had been ravaged by a storm and that had Christmas ornaments covering it. He sensed that her name was something along the lines of Mabel or Annabel.
George told the woman about what he had seen, so that he can see if she could make any sense of it. Surprisingly, she knew what he was talking about. She told him that when she was just a little girl, her and her family lived in a rural, poverty-stricken part of the country and that anytime there were high winds, it would almost always knock out the family’s water supply.
When this happened, she had to walk through a forest so that she could be given water from a black woman named Mabel. Mabel liked to have her house decorated with Christmas ornaments all year long.
“When she said that, my hair was standing up. It’s standing up right now,” says George. “It seemed so accurate to me. I didn’t have anything to say for hours after that.”
What had allowed George to know this about the woman? Was he actually experiencing authentic psychic powers that allowed him to receive images and to hear realities that we are not usually able to detect via normal sensory experience?
When we look at the world with a scientific eye, we assume that the universe is much like a device that is made up of concrete parts. Therefore, it would seem that things such as ESP, clairvoyance, and other psychic phenomena couldn’t possibly exist.
However, there are a small number of scientists and philosophers who believe in something called “panexperientialism”. Wikipedia describes panexperientialism as “a view that credits all entities with non-physical properties that are precursors to phenomenal consciousness (or phenomenal consciousness in a latent, undeveloped form) but not with cognition itself, or with conscious awareness. Basically it is the belief that everything that is living has a certain trace of intellect in it, and that it is very possible to have psychic experiences that cannot be easily explained.
To support the possibility of paranormal experiences, George quoted one of his favorite American philosophers; a Harvard professor named William James. His words were “it only takes the discovery of one white crow to prove that not all crows are black.” The fact that he was able to successfully give a stranger an accurate psychic reading implies that psychic readings are possible and can be authentic.
However, George’s scientific side was not satisfied, and he contemplated a lot on his otherworldly experience. For example, does the fact that he saw a black woman named Mabel and who turned out to be a real person, and the fact that he saw his father sitting on the marble bench prove that there is an afterlife? Do the spirit guides that came to him in the form of celestial lights also prove this?
He feels that although his experience left a resounding impression on him, it is not proof that we are really able to contact the dead.
His answer to this is, “I didn’t cross the Rubicon.”
Since his medium apprenticeship in the summer ended, he has not embraced Spiritualism in his daily life. He also does not feel that he received “scientific proof” that we humans can make psychic contact with spirits.
“There is an unseen reality,” he says assuredly. He is keeping an open mind about the fact that it is a possibility and acknowledges that some people are more able to do this than others.
“But I’m not committed to what spiritualists say it is,” he adds.
He does however believe that most people practicing Spiritualism do in fact have valid experiences that provide “personal proof” of an entirely different realm. It is his opinion that these experiences have a tendency to make them tougher and more self-assured than the majority of people.
To follow up his Halloween day lecture, George has planned a distinctive psychology course towards the end of 2013 that he has named Concepts of the Imagination. In this course, he will utilize what he learned as a medium apprentice and he will expand on the subject, since he does believe that there is something more to it than we currently know.
During his unique psychology course, George is going to suggest that anyone who engages their spiritual imaginations are, in his words, “actually making contact with something real,” including things such as parapsychological phenomena.
He feels that it is unavoidable for sparks to fly when everyday people establish a relationship with the unseen world.
“There is something that is of us- and not of us. It’s impossible to disengage the two. I think, instead of debunking the mystery, we should be humbled by it.”