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Searching for Evidence of Spirit Communication

A Scientist Conducts A Modern Day Home CirclePart I

by Carl F. Pihl
from The Beacon Home Circle


This article describes a modern-day home circle used as a means for scientific study of possible intelligent communications through physical and mental phenomena.

On the history of phenomena, Emanuel Swedenborg, noted scientist of the 1700's, is reviewed. He was the first to reach the conclusion, as a result of his communications with the spirit entities, that the earth and spirit worlds are the same in progression and order, while being governed by Natural Law. For him, "Death means no immediate change."

Phenomena and Spiritualism are linked in 1848 by the rappings that marked the beginning, in modern times, of recorded intelligent communication between the physical and spirit realms. Next, are mentioned the major scientists of that day who were attracted to investigate these claims. Psychic Science/Research was initiated and some of its terminology is given in this article. In the following 50 years a huge collection of empirical data were amassed; much of it to be filed away and largely ignored.

Parapsychology evolved in the 1930's to replace Psychic Science, but the author notes that the environment of rigid laboratory controls has mostly inhibited or prevented the occurrence of phenomena. In general it has failed to advance any significant knowledge or understanding of phenomena.

Several other, very interesting, recent-day sitter groups, working in circles, are mentioned briefly in connection with "traditional" methods of investigation.

The author describes the formation, members, methods and preliminary observations of a working home circle started in 1991. In the period of 1991-1993, the circle recorded 177 sessions at which some 92 distinct "visitors" accounted for 743 individual visits. With other noted investigators calling for a new Paradigm, a new model, the conclusion is that a return to a study of phenomena within its own environment, is reasonable. The home circle is one workable option and is being pursued.

The great mystery of what lies beyond the physical life has occupied the thoughts of thinkers, students, mystics, philosophers, theologians, scientists throughout the ages.

The question of the nature and details of an afterlife has, in many ways, determined how we live our life on earth and has given that same life its meaning.

One aspect of this study has been a search for the possibility of intelligent communication between the earth plane and the spirit realm. Throughout the ages, there has always been a means to demonstrate this communication by physical and/or mental phenomena. It may not have been recognized consciously as such. This was mostly the province of specialists such as oracles, prophets, holy men, seers, adepts and the illuminated.

Communication, then, requires the occurrence of phenomena either physical, or mental, or a combination of the two. For the most part, however, prior to the 1700's, there was hardly anything that would remotely resemble what might be called a "research program" on the study of phenomena. Certainly nothing to constitute a systematic approach to producing phenomena and especially finding conditions favorable to its production. One had to be content with participating in the occasional exceptional or extraordinary experience but more often depending upon someone's description of an event of an event located elsewhere. Thus it was necessary to wait with patience and with some degree of good fortune and inspiration.

Such was the case until we encounter some of the forerunners and pioneers of what was to become Psychic Science in the 1800's. The most notable of these was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), both a Scientist and a Seer. Born of the nobility in Stockholm, Sweden, the first two-thirds of his life was devoted to science and the last one-third given to spiritual activities. Here his "spiritual sight was opened to a view of the spiritual world with the ability to converse with the spirits and angels." He believed that he had been chosen for a higher mission in promoting spiritual enlightenment.

A graduate of Upsala university he became a noted scientist, an expert on metallurgy, a mining and military engineer, astronomer, physicist, zoologist, financier and political economist. He was also a profound Biblical student.

Swedenborg reached the conclusion that "Death means no immediate change." From his conversations with the entities in the spirit realm, both the physical and spirit worlds are governed by Natural Law and cause and effect. All things in both worlds have their counterparts. "Earth life is dependent upon the sun and in like manner the Spirit World depends upon Love and Wisdom." He states "cause and effect is the manifestation and development of love."

Swedenborg's demonstrations of psychic ability were extraordinary and considered by some to be beyond the possibility of doubt. One very well-publicized example was his description, in extended detail, of the great fire in Stockholm. This was given to well-known people in Gothenburg--some 250 miles away--on the very afternoon when it was happening. The fire had destroyed the home of his friend and was threatening his own home. Long before telegraph or telephones, it was two days before news of the fire reached Swedenborg, giving him the exact details. This is only one example of the many evidential cases of his clairvoyance which he termed "telaesthesia."

In the late 1800's, F.W.H, Myers, a founder of the Society of Psychical Research in England, in his book "Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death" states, "I regard [Swedenborg] as a true and early precursor of the great inquiry which is our present object to advance."

Myers also states," to Swedenborg goes recognition for it was to Swedenborg first that the unseen world appeared before all things as a realm of law, a region not of mere emotional vagueness or adoration but of 'definite progress' according to definite reactions of cause and effect."

Phenomena And Spiritualism

To gain a clearer perspective on phenomena and communication, it is necessary to consider both ancient and modern Spiritualism. Ancient Spiritualism, and its phenomena, had been with us always, throughout the ages, whereas the Advent of Modern Spiritualism is taken to be March 31,1848. That date marks the phenomena of the strange rappings heard in the humble wooden cottage of the Fox family in the tiny hamlet of Hydesville, near Rochester, in the state of New York. This was taken by many as proof that the living could "communicate " with the so called dead.

The modern Spiritualist movement was born, attracted millions of followers, and quickly spread to England, Europe and other parts of the world.

In this period, the "Home Circle" came into its own. It was usually a small group, meeting within the warmth and harmony of the private home setting. It was the thing to do. Every evening in the week, someone would either be holding or attending a home circle. No major decision would be taken without first seeking advice and guidance from those beyond the physical realm. During the great American Civil War, families would gather as men prepared to leave for battle and numerous accounts of precognition were given as to when and how they would be reunited.

Most of the noted mediums traced their roots and development to the home circle. These earlier seances often tended to be dominated by physical phenomena: levitation of objects, table tipping, trumpet, apports, and materialization to name just a few.

A remarkable book entitled "Modern American Spiritualism" by Emma Hardinge Britten, covers a detailed history of the first 20 years of the movement. She estimated that scarcely more than one per-cent of the millions of experiences had ever been given to the world. Her work listed only the most reliable and verifiable accounts that she could obtain. Even at that point in the early stages of Modern Spiritualism, she felt that it was vital to compile a good record for those to come later.

The Scientists Came To Investigate

Spiritualism and its claims attracted the greatest scientific minds of the day to study and investigate. Sir William Crookes and Sir Oliver Lodge ,in England; and Prof. Charles Richet in France are examples of the calibre of scientists involved. Sir William Crookes, Nobel prize recipient, Fellow of the Royal Society, and pillar of the scientific establishment is especially interesting for the 30 years he devoted to experimentation, observation and reporting.

Prof. Charles Richet proposed the term "Metapsychics" as representing the only science that deals with intelligent forces. This he had adapted from the Greek word for "Metaphysics" given by no less an authority than Aristotle. He states that it is, "..... a science dealing with mechanical or psychological phenomena due to forces that seem to be intelligent, or to unknown powers latent in human intelligence."

Richet further divided the subject into Objective and Subjective Metapsychics.

Objective deals with certain mechanical, physical, chemical effects perceptible to our senses--not proceeding from known forces, but seemingly directed by intelligence. Spiritualists demonstrate this through physical mediumship.

Subjective concerns phenomena that occur through an intellectual process that involves some unknown faculty of cognition--not explained by our normal senses. Richet proposed the term "Cryptesthesia" i.e. a sensibility whose nature escapes us. Spiritualists demonstrate this through mental mediumship.

A given phenomenon may involve both objective and subjective. Richet gives two examples where a sharp distinction exists:

  1. The assassination of Queen Draga was announced in Paris on June 11, 1904 at the exact time it was happening in Belgrade. The medium could have had no normal cognizance of the crime. This is an fact of Subjective Metapsychics.
  2. The medium Eusapia Paladino positioned her hands about 20 inches above a heavy wooden table. Her hands, feet, knees, waist, head and mouth were all held. The table rose off all four legs without contact. This is a fact of Objective Metapsychics.

Also we may quote Richet,

"Without drawing any inference, it must be admitted as a fact that powerful mediums attribute their powers to a 'guide', whether these powers be mechanical, objective, or subjective: and in order to carry out successful experiments, it is necessary to act as though this guide were really existent and incarnated in the medium. This is a working hypothesis in the strictest sense, nearly always essential to the production of the phenomena." (Richet, (1923/1975), "Thirty Years of Psychical Research", p.43), Arno Press, New York, NY.

The term seance is now some what out of fashion. Psychical researchers have long favored using the term "sitting" and the participants referred to as "sitters."

Main stream Science, however, for the most part remained unconvinced as to the origin and authenticity of these phenomena. Science is very slow and reluctant to accept anything that is elusive, often ambiguous and certainly non-repeatable. By contrast, the Law of Gravitation, a Natural Law, is an example of a fact that is readily accepted. This can be measured by anyone at anytime and no exceptions have been found in the normal course of every day events. Thus it would seem that no matter how remarkable or evidential or how unimpeachable the character of the persons making the account, the facts could always be rejected on the basis that they could not be believed to have happened by any reasonable process. Some would listen and nod their heads saying "Yes, that is very interesting, but I just cannot explain it."

Psychic Science evolved into Parapsychology in the 1930's with Drs. J. B. and Louisa Rhine. This was the era of strict Laboratory control, which ignored the huge collection of empirical data of the previous 50 years or so. The Laboratory approach appears to inhibit, discourage and suppress the very phenomena that were so readily demonstrated in earlier years. It should come as no surprise that there has been little, if any, progress in the understanding of the process of phenomena and communication during this latest era.

Sitter Groups Of More Modern Times

Working with "traditional" phenomena, however, was not completely discouraged even though it was for the most part ignored by the majority of investigators. The following are some very interesting examples of groups and individuals unwilling to cast aside the legacy of years of observation of the actual phenomena.

1. Silver Birch--Hannen Swaffer

From the spiritual aspect, we should mention a favorite: the famous home circle of Hannen Swaffer in London, England. There the guide, the great communicator, Silver Birch, manifested through the trance medium, Maurice Barbanell for some 40 years, starting around 1920. The medium passed to spirit in July, 1981. There were six permanent members of the circle with hundreds of guests attending over the years. A table was used at the beginning of each session to greet each of the 14 additional "entities" accompanying the guide, Silver Birch. A number of the "entities" insisted upon tipping the table in a unique way in order to show their presence.

Numerous books contain the transcribed records of the sessions including questions and answers. Hannen Swaffer, a noted journalist and critic , was an eloquent spokesman for Spiritualism and was affectionately known as the "Pope of Fleet Street." His book entitled "My Greatest Story" originally published in 1891, W. H. Allen & Co., London and republished in 1945, is an interesting collection of thoughts and experiences.

From the scientific point of view, we should mention several very interesting groups and situations.

2. The 'Philip' Experiment

One is the group in Toronto, Canada with their work on the 'Philip' experiment where they believed that they had created an imaginary person who had lived in Scotland in the 1600's. Table tipping was used and a documentary movie produced. I. M. Owen and M. Sparrow reported the results in their book stating that,

"In order to produce the 'Philip' phenomena, our group had to resort to the techniques used by the sitters in seance circles during the Victorian era." (Owen and Sparrow (1977), "Conjuring Up Philip", p.151, PaperJacks, Ltd., Markham, Ontario)

3. K. J. Batcheldor--Sitter-Group Research

Another group is represented by the work of Kenneth J. Batcheldor in England and reported in the highly respected journals of the (SPR), Society of Psychical Research and the (ASPR), American Society of Psychical Research. Again, table movement was involved in the study. He was no "arm-chair" investigator, his work was backed by 30 years of sitter-group research. They were not looking for a specific guide or spirit "entities" as such, but were searching for the conditions favorable to the production, and further understanding, of phenomena.

Both groups confirmed that the elements of "belief" and "expectation" are key items critical to the production of phenomena.

4. The Bendelof Story

A third example is given by Montague Ullman, MD, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and noted researcher in dream analysis and the group approach to dream studies. He relates group experiences from his earlier life (1932, at the start of second year in college) in a very interesting account called the Bendelof Story. Table tipping / tilting is but one of a number of phenomena demonstrated and discussed.

The Beacon Home Circle

Origin And Operation

With the preceding as background, we now turn to the present work of this group. It originated in February, 1991 following a chance social evening at the home of a local medium. Mental and physical phenomena were demonstrated. In the following days, it was an exciting discovery to learn that it was quite within the power of ordinary people to produce phenomena on a regular basis. Something from an era, long thought to be past, and now only found recorded in books. There was no turning back at that point, and the two permanent members continued for the remainder of 1991. In 1992, the circle expanded to six regular members but in 1993 settled back to four permanent members, and has remained at that level to this time.

Visitors come and go on an irregular basis, and when the two originators travel to other parts of the country, they usually find like minded individuals having an interest to participate. There is no attempt to promote or commercialize this in any way.

The circle has evolved into its own place in time and space where healing, quiet meditation and prayer, and intelligent communications with the unseen forces are sought.

Physical phenomena, by means of table tipping, are an important means of confirming impressions received through mental phenomena. The table has a code of its own for expressing degrees of affirmation or disagreement. This is expressed beautifully by Prof. Charles Richet,

"....the table answers as if it was alive, the emotions of the subconscious are faithfully translated by the kind of movements made by the inert object. This lifeless table seems to have a mind; it hesitates, it shows irritation, it affirms energetically, or it sways solemnly. No one who has witnessed such seances can imagine how well diverse sentiments can be expressed by the frequency or the forcefulness, the slow, hesitating, vigorous, or gentle movements. It is an actual language and always interesting....." (Richet, (1923/1975), pp. 401-2)

Phenomena, Identification And Goals

Over a period of time we have come to recognize certain "visitors" by their initial table movement pattern: their signature. In one case , this may be recognized to be a horseman (war-like protector) riding at full gallop: the table rocking back and forth at great speed, our hands barely able to maintain any contact with the table. Or it may be a very precise, metronome like beat ascribed to one of the teacher guides. Then, again, it could be a very slow, gentle and loving tipping of a healing presence.

At any given session, we never know exactly who is coming or in what sequence. There is no demand placed upon scheduling, thus we accept and greet whoever comes. Something always happens and is always interesting. Never have we been left empty handed, so to speak.

Once beyond the signature, the real work is to discover the content of any messages either for the individual or for the group as a whole. These messages concern applications both for our daily lives as well as for our higher goals, and thus involve the physical, material and spiritual pathways.

A primary goal of the circle is for whatever possible immediate value it may have for the individuals in providing help in their lives. Beyond this, the work allows the scientist to participate fully; to observe both physical and mental phenomena; to carefully document the messages and information in a journal as well as on both audio and video tape. From this, begins a process of analysis aimed at the question of spirit communication and whatever this may reveal on the issue of survival.

Members Of The Circle

Concerning the four permanent members of the circle, two are over 60 years of age and two are in their middle years, over 35. The younger members are professional managers in industry, very much employed, with no thought of retirement anytime soon.

Of the two somewhat more senior members, one is an Ordained Minister, active in teaching and lecturing, who also has the credentials of Commissioned Healer and Certified Medium.

The other is the Circle Conductor, acting as the principal investigator, and who is retired from a career of scientist/engineer in chemistry, solid state physics and chemical engineering. His work included University teaching and research and concluded with numerous years of research and development in industry. He is a trained observer: steeped in the scientific method. The very same scientific method that demands strict controls and repeatability of results. The one that has caused so much difficulty for other investigators, from the hard sciences, when dealing with the often elusive, ambiguous and [non-repeatable on demand] qualities of psychic phenomena.

The conductor is nearing completion of a full length book dealing with the circle and its observations, but in the meantime desires to share some of the material, on a more timely basis, with those who may be interested.

Some Observations


During the period of 1991 through 1993 the circle had 177 sessions or meetings. In those sessions we greeted and recorded a total of 92 distinct "visitors", making the best identification possible, through a combination of table tipping and mental impression. These "visitors" accounted for a total of 743 individual visits distributed over the 177 sessions.

The Cast Of Characters

It would be quite natural to ask, "What in the world did this cast of 92 characters have to say?" Some "visitors" came only once and were not heard from again while others became "regular attendees." The sequence of "visitors" was never known in advance, and the visits and topics could appear quite random.

However, over a long period of time, certain patterns have emerged. Each new member of the circle, as they were added, would appear to receive initial visits from a central core of "guides" more or less permanently assigned to the care and welfare of the individual.

These might be known as the PROTECTOR, HEALING, TEACHER and CHEMIST guides. Then came a troop of others: RELATIVES, FRIENDS, SPECIALISTS and the HIGHER FORCES for healing and meditation. Usually there no words as such that could be attached to the HIGHER FORCES. It would be only the "feelings" transmitted and received at the time, supplemented by the table movements. This has to be experienced as there is no way to put this into words.

The more or less permanent core of "visitors" eventually made known their individual spheres of expertise and interest.

Visits And Topics

We have taken the 743 visits and distributed them among 24 categories of topics. Each visit has a central theme or topic. It has been a major task of the conductor to insure that any special message was identified. Coming solely to express love and encouragement is also a valid topic. The topics cover a wide range of human activity. From [urgent warnings] of clear and eminent danger, [concerns] for health problems, [directions] for spiritual and personal development, areas where [service to others] is needed and should be given, [advice], sometimes unwelcome, from friends and relatives to the [special contact], for the higher self, given by the HIGHER FORCES, to list just a few.

Analysis And The Empirical Approach

The work of analysis at this time has concerned making a compilation and looking for broad patterns in these data while seeking any correlation among the variables. We will not try to give a complete and detailed analysis in this Part I. This can be given in following parts of the texts.

From the hundreds of visits, some are truly exceptional experiences. Some clearly demonstrate the extreme degree of protection available to the individual. A large number might be considered quite ordinary and mundane, but always important to the individual. Perhaps a reflection of much of our daily life. In a number of cases, there has been a profound effect on the lives of members of the circle.

The Direction Now Or
Where Do We Go From Here

The End Of One Experiment

Will we ever solve completely the whole mystery of life after death ?

A fascinating story involves F. W. H. Myers, a founding member of the SPR. Following his death in 1901, he and other founding members of the SPR, as they arrived in spirit, were supposed to have communicated through the mediumship of living people--using automatic writing. For the next 30 years over 2,000 automatic writings came, in a elaborate scheme, to widely separated mediums in the world--New York, London, India. Each medium received a fragment of the total message which when assembled together would make sense, hopefully. These were given the name of "cross-correspondences" which some would claim to provide the ultimate proof of survival after death. With the death of the last founding member, the "cross-correspondences" stopped but by then had accumulated into a huge volume of scripts that anyone, so inclined, can study at their leisure.

While no more "cross-correspondences" appeared, Myers did seem to carry on some communication. On April 2,1972, a young English psychic Matthew Manning received an automatic script, as follows,

"You should not really indulge in this unless you know what you are doing. I did a lot of work on automatic writing when I was alive and I could never work it out. No one alive will ever work out the whole secret of life after death. It pivots on so many things--personality--condition of the mental and physical bodies. Carry on trying though because you could soon be close to the secret. If you find it no one will believe you anyway."
signed 'F. Myers'

Looking Ahead

Today, there is an awakening of much general interest by individuals and a number of noted scientists/philosophers are calling for a new approach, a new model (a new Paradigm).

Scientists must be willing to go beyond the rigid parameters of the controlled laboratory experiment. They must go back to narrative and descriptive accounts and, if possible, become part of the experience. It is their responsibility to guard against fraud and to carefully document and authenticate to the extent possible.

Unfortunately, the work of earlier years often concentrated entirely upon phenomena and invariably degenerated into argument or controversy over whether or not the phenomena actually happened. Charges of hallucination, psychosis, mental illness came up frequently. It is perhaps quite understandable that many reputable scientists might prefer to avoid the whole subject and possible damage to their reputations.

Now it is time to set aside the emphasis on phenomena alone and look for the greater meaning in communication.

If we are to learn more, then we must communicate: it is just that simple. The threads of communication appear to be very fragile and easily disturbed or even disconnected. There is a great need for very careful recording and documentation of the experience at the time or soon thereafter. Otherwise, memory fades quickly leaving us only a hazy recollection of important facts. The Home Circle still appears to be one of our better options for doing effective Psychic Science/Research. The individuals, working within a group, provide the energy level such that they are able to establish the working connection between the spirit realm and those on the earth plane. This applies to both mental and physical phenomena. Once established, (the connection), the individual "visitors" can communicate with those on the earth plane.

As mentioned it is within the power of ordinary people to produce phenomena. There is no need to have special credentials or dispensation from the powers-that-be. What is needed, however, is the motivation to study, learn and apply the conditions most favorable to the production of phenomena. There was a general consensus among the original scientists of psychic science that certain methods were required to be followed in order to have success in promoting its creation. And, it appears that groups, working in more recent times, also have made the same observations. In one case, certain conditions were necessary for anything at all to happen and in another, the production of phenomena was greatly enhanced.

There is an opportunity to make an important contribution if done in a professional and dignified way. Perhaps it is a time to return to the original directions of psychic science before parapsychology became the vogue.

This scientist firmly believes that the empirical approach, in the end, usually wins. We have seen this over and over again in the field of archeology, and other fields, where we have had to wait patiently for new evidence to be "dug up", literally. Sweeping changes in theories were forced to be accepted. In any case, it is eminently clear that the methods in place since the 1930's are not going to work. Too many respected investigators are calling for a change in thinking.

If the whole business of phenomena was really a fraud, then it would have gone away and been forgotten long ago. However, remarkable phenomena and communications continue to come to individuals often enough to sustain our interest and need to investigate. It does appear unlikely that any rigid, mechanistic explanation for phenomena, that is satisfactory to the present hard sciences, will be found.

One does wonder, however, just what it would really take in order to be convincing? Perhaps, we must pick up the threads of "Psychic Science" as it was outlined and pursued, originally, prior to the 1930's. Thus our Research Program is to continue the process of observation, recording and looking for important patterns in these data--within the environment where they are produced.

According to an ancient directive, "Test The Spirits, By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them."

Further Parts follow later ...

Carl F. Pihl