Identity
Establishing the identity of spirit communicators has been
a difficult problem for psychical researchers. Nineteenthcentury
Russian Spiritualist A. N. Aksakof conceded, ‘‘Absolute
proof of spirit identity is impossible to obtain; we must be content
with relative proof.’’ Psychical researcher Charles Richet
agreed, saying, ‘‘Subjective metapsychics will always be radically
incapable of proving survival.’’
Sir Oliver Lodge suggested that the question of identity in
spirit communication could be established (1) by gradually accumulated
internal evidence based on thorough and meticulous
records; (2) by cross correspondences, that is, the reception
of unintelligible parts of one consistent and coherent
message through different mediums; or (3) by information or
criteria especially characteristic of the supposed communicating
intelligence and, if possible, in some sense new to the
world.
The role of the communicating spirit in a Spiritualist séance
is somewhat complicated. The spirit acts like a prompter in the
theater. The automatic script or trance speech delivered
through the medium is seldom in his or her own hand or voice.
The medium’s organism acts like a freshly painted sieve; it tints
whatever it lets through. Besides, communication is an art itself
and has its own inherent difficulties. Direct voice séances,
materialization in good light, lifelike personation of the departed,
or the transfiguration of the medium, which afford
more dramatic evidence with less opportunity for selfdeception,
are comparatively rare.
Many spirit entities claim to be ancient or historic personalities,
and the problem of establishing the identity of such entities
is almost impossible. Impersonation frequently occurs. According
to the entity ‘‘Imperator,’’ in a script of Rev. William
Stainton Moses, ‘‘There is much insanity among lower spirits.
The assumption of great names, when it is not the work of conscious
deceivers, is the product of insanity. The spirit imagines
itself to be some great one, fancies how he would act, and so
projects his imaginings on the sphere of the medium’s consciousness.’’
If the information claimed as proof of identity of famous
personages is verifiable, it cannot be proved that such facts
were not fraudulently gathered by the medium before the séance,
that the information was inaccessible to the medium’s
subconscious mind, or that it was not obtained through clairvoyance.
Furthermore, ‘‘Rector,’’ another control of Stainton
Moses, purportedly had the power to read books. Such power
would open up a storehouse of pertinent information for socalled
deceiving spirits.
Therefore, the difficulties of proof of spirit identity are almost
insurmountable, a major reason why psychical research
has largely abandoned the task. On a practical level, however,
the human element—personal information embedded in the
complexity of life—often provides convincing material to an individual
who receives a communication through a medium.
One of the earliest cases of such convincing identity proof
was registered by the Rev. J. B. Ferguson in his book Spirit Communion
(1854). According to Ferguson’s account, his cousin O.
F. Parker died on August 5, 1854, in St. Louis. On the following
day, in Maryville, Kentucky, Mrs. Ferguson was controlled by
his spirit. Part of the communication was ‘‘My books I ordered
to be sold to defray my funeral expenses, but it was not done.
I am afraid, too, that there will be some flaw picked in my life
policy, and if so I wish you to order my books to be sold to pay
my debts, and if they fail, do not fail then from any delicacy of
feeling to write to my mother, and she will have all properly settled.
The policy is now in the hands of Mr. Hitchcock.’’
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The Reverend Ferguson affirmed that until the communication
the only account they had of his cousin’s death was a short
telegram. Because every detail was found correct, he considered
the evidence of identity overwhelming.
C. H. Foster was visited in 1874 in San Francisco by the
Honorable Charles E. de Long, a perfect stranger to him. Foster
said he had a message for Ida and asked the visitor if this
name meant anything to him. It was the name of de Long’s
wife. Foster asked him to bring her, and when she came he delivered
the following message by means of automatic writing
‘‘To my daughter, Ida. Ten years ago I entrusted a large sum
to Thomas Madden to invest for me in certain lands. After my
death he failed to account for the investment to my executors.
The money was invested and 1,250 acres of land were bought,
and one half of this land now belongs to you. I paid Madden
on account of my share of the purchase 650 dollars. He must
be made to make a settlement. Your father, Vineyard.’’ This
story proved to be true. Madden admitted it and made restitution.
An often-quoted case in Spiritualist literature is that of the
steamroller suicide. The notes of Rev. Stainton Moses are as
follows ‘‘February 20, 1874. Dr. and Mrs. Speer and I dined
with Mrs. Gregory, to meet the Baron du Potet, the celebrated
magnetist and spiritualist. Mr. Percival was of the party. During
dinner I was conscious of a strange influence in the room and
mentioned the fact. The Baron had previously magnetised me
very strongly, and had rendered me more than usually clairvoyant.
He also recognised a spirit in the room, but thought it was
the spirit of a living person. After dinner, when we got upstairs,
I felt an uncontrollable inclination to write, and I asked the
Baron to lay his hand upon my arm. It began to move very soon
and I fell into a deep trance. As far as I can gather from the witnesses,
the hand then wrote out ‘I killed myself to-day.’ This
was preceded by a very rude drawing, and then ‘Under steamroller,
Baker Street, medium passed,’ (i.e., W. S. M.) was written.
At the same time I spoke in the trance and rose and apparently
motioned something away, saying ‘Blood’ several times.
This was repeated and the spirit asked for prayer. Mrs. G. said
a few words of prayer, and I came out of the trance at last, feeling
very unwell.
‘‘On the following day Dr. Speer and I walked down Baker
Street and asked the policeman on duty if any accident had occurred
there. He told us that a man had been killed by the
steamroller at 9 A.M. and that he himself had helped to carry
the body to Marylebone Workhouse.’’
The only flaw in this case is that the Pall Mall Gazette published
a short account of the suicide the same evening and this
might have been subconsciously seen by the medium. The
name was not known, nor was it disclosed by Moses.
Dr. Isaac Funk, the New York editor, handed a letter to
Lenora Piper containing the word mother. Piper gave the Christian
name of Funk’s mother, told him that she was walking on
only one leg and asked, ‘‘Don’t you remember that needle’’
She had hurt herself by thrusting a needle into her foot. Piper
also described a grandson, Chester, of whom Funk knew nothing.
Upon inquiry, however, he found out that a grandson of
that name had died 20 years earlier.
Dr. Joseph Vezzano established the identity of a materialized
form in a séance given by Eusapia Palladino and describes
it in Annals of Psychic Science (vol. 6, September 1907, p. 164) as
follows ‘‘In spite of the dimness of the light I could distinctly
see Mme. Palladino and my fellow sitters. Suddenly I perceived
that behind me was a form, fairly tall, which was leaning its
head on my left shoulder and sobbing violently, so that those
present could hear the sobs; it kissed me repeatedly. I clearly
perceived the outlines of this face, which touched my own, and
I felt the very fine and abundant hair in contact with my left
cheek, so that I could be quite sure that it was a woman.
‘‘The table then began to move, and typtology gave the
name of a close family connection who was known to no-one
present except myself. She had died some time before and on
account of incompatability [sic] of temperament there had
been serious disagreements with her. I was so far from expecting
this typtological response that I at first thought this was a
case of coincidence of name, but whilst I was mentally forming
this reflection I felt a mouth, with warm breath, touch my left
ear and whisper in a low voice in Genoese dialect, a succession of
sentences, the murmur of which was audible to the sitters.
These sentences were broken by bursts of weeping, and their
gist was to repeatedly implore pardon for injuries done to me,
with a fullness of detail connected with family affairs which
could only be known to the person in question.
‘‘The phenomenon seemed so real that I felt compelled to
reply to the excuses offered me with expressions of affection,
and to ask pardon in my turn if my resentment of the wrongs
referred to had been excessive. But I had scarcely uttered the
first syllables when two hands, with exquisite delicacy, applied
themselves to my lips and prevented my continuing. The form
then said to me ‘Thank you,’ embraced me, kissed me, and disappeared.’’
According to Theodore Flournoy, this case was nothing
more than the objectification of the emotional complex existing
within the subconscious mind of Vezzano. There is food for
thought, even for those who incline to differ, in his following
remark ‘‘The invasion or subjugation of the organism of the
medium by a psychic complex belonging to a strange individual
is not more easy to explain if that individuality be a spirit of
the dead than if it is or belongs to one of the sitters in flesh and
blood. And in this equally difficult question there is no reason
to attribute to the discarnate or to the spirit world phenomena
which can as readily be explained by the phenomena of our
empirical world.’’
The pearl tie-pin case of Sir William Barrett has been frequently
cited. Through the medium Hester Dowden, a Mrs. C.
obtained a message spelled out on the Ouija board ‘‘Tell
mother to give my pearl tie-pin to the girl I was going to
marry.’’ The message allegedly came from a cousin of Mrs. C’s,
an officer who had been killed a month earlier. The name and
address was returned and the whole message was thought ficitious.
Six months later, however, it was discovered that the officer
had been engaged to the lady. The war office returned his
effects—a pearl tie-pin among them—and it was found that he
put the lady’s name in his will as his beneficiary.
Ernesto Bozzano recorded that in a sitting held on July 23,
1928, with the Marquise Centurione Scotto in Millesimo Castle,
a voice addressed him as follows ‘‘O Ernesto Bozzano, O
my dear, my dear, I sought you in London, I sought you in
Genoa, at last I find you.’’ He immediately recognized the
voice; the words carried a strong southern accent like that of
Eusapia Palladino. He later noted ‘‘This, her first manifestation,
was a great revelation to me from the point of view of personal
identification of the communicating spirit; because, without
the faintest shadow of doubt, I recognised the person who
was speaking to me the moment she pronounced my name. In
life she had her own particular way of enunciating my surname,
for she pronounced the two z’s in an inimitable manner. Not
only so, for when she spoke to me in life, she never called me
simply by my surname, but invariably added my Christian
name, though she never used the word ‘Mr.’ These small but
most important idiosyncrasies of language are really what constitute
the best demonstration of the real presence of the agency
which affirms that it is actually present. I must add that she
spoke with the identical timbre of voice which she had in life
and with the very marked accent of her Italianized Neapolitan
dialect.’’
Many visions of deceased soldiers were recorded by clairvoyants
during the world wars. Mrs. E. A. Cannock of London described
at a Spiritualist meeting a novel and convincing method
employed by the fallen soldiers to make their identity
known. In her vision they advanced in single file up the aisle,
led by a young lieutenant. Each man bore on his chest a large
placard with his name and the place where he lived inscribed.
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Cannock read the names and the place. The audience identified
them one after the other. After recognition the spirit form
faded and made way for the next one.
There has been no shortage of evidence of communication
from servicemen who died in World War II. One of the most
distinguished champions of such communication was Air Chief
Marshal Lord Dowding, who was head of fighter command in
the Battle of Britain. He obtained convincing evidence of spirit
communication from servicemen at sittings with such famous
mediums as Estelle Roberts, which he later compiled in his
books Many Mansions (1943) and Lychgate (1945).
Of course, such convincing personal evidence of identity in
spirit communications does not reach the level demanded by
scientific criteria. However, thousands of people from all walks
of life have been assured of and based their affirmation of survival
upon such impressive clairaudient and clairvoyant messages
through a medium or psychic.
Sources
Baird, Alexander T. One Hundred Cases for Survival After
Death. New York Bernard Ackerman, 1944.
Christopher, Milbourne. Search for the Soul An Insider’s Report
on the Continuing Quest by Psychics and Scientists for Evidence
of Life After Death. New York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1979.
Currie, Ian. You Cannot Die The Incredible Findings of a Century
of Research on Death. New York Methuen; London Hamlyn,
1978.
Ducasse, C. J. Paranormal Phenomena, Science, and Life After
Death. New York Parapsychology Foundation, 1969.
Garrett, Eileen J., ed. Does Man Survive Death A Symposium.
New York Helix Press, 1957.
Hart, Hornell. The Enigma of Survival The Case For and
Against An After Life. Springfield, Ill. Charles Thomas, 1959.
Hyslop, James H. Contact With the Other World The Latest Evidence
as to Communication with the Dead. New York Century,
1919.
Kastenbaum, Robert, ed. Between Life and Death. New York
Springer, 1979.
Murphy, Gardner. Three Papers on the Survival Problem. New
York American Society for Psychical Research, 1945.
Richmond, Kenneth. Evidence of Identity. London G. Bell,
1939.
Salter, W. H. Zoar; or, The Evidence of Psychical Research Concerning
Survival. London Sidwick & Jackson, 1961.