Friday, July 18, 2014


Towards the end of the nineteenth century there were many intellectuals in England who felt the futility of the prevailing world-view very keenly. Among them was a small group of scholars and scientists who ... sought to 'put the final question to the Universe'.

Dissatisfied and depressed by the view of man as a mere machine, they set to work to investigate all sorts of phenomena which had been neglected by orthodox science, and which promised to throw more light on the true nature of man. The problem which occupied them more than any other, the 'final question', was: does any part of the human personality survive after the death of the body?

John L. Randall
Parapsychology and the Nature of Life


In my Father's house are many mansions, in my philosophy many levels of Being, and our normal existence trivial compared with spiritual truth. Even so, frightening events unfold worldwide seemingly at gathering speed; a star-struck, golfing Lenin occupies the highest office in U.S. politics; and various brands of dictators and terrorists use their window of opportunity to raise hell. It seems a little escapist to write a post about a conference on communication with spirits who have passed out of this life.

But despite our daily crises, we need -- perhaps more than ever before in our  time -- to consider the larger picture, one not limited to a materialistic, immediate understanding of reality.

I recently attended the conference sponsored by the Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (ASCS), "New Developments in Afterlife Communications." The setting was an Embassy Suites in Paradise Valley, part of the attractive northeast area of Phoenix.

Methods presented by speakers for contacting spirits (former inmates of this world) on the Other Side included the old tried-and-sometimes-true standby, mediumship; pendulum communication in which a spirit affects the path of a swinging pendulum when questions are put to it; meditation; dreams; mirror gazing (a form of scrying, in which images appear in a featureless surface like a polished crystal ball or water contained in a bowl); automatic writing; hypnotic recall of spirits encountered between incarnations; and various forms of electronic speech and images from the afterlife, today known as instrumental transcommunication (ITC).

As you might expect, ITC is the most recently developed in a society becoming ever-more dependent on electronic connections such as video, computers, smartphones, etc. Several speakers focused on ITC, and I was surprised how much progress seems to have been made since I attended another conference, sponsored by Association TransCommunication, a few years ago. That, if my memory serves, largely centered around recorded voices of the "dead," but while I found a few convincing, others were faint or distorted enough to leave too much room for interpretation -- auditory Rorschach blots.

A lot of the voices this time seemed quite a bit clearer and unambiguous. That isn't to say they sound like ordinary speech: spirits do not have physical vocal cords, so they must create sounds analogous to talking. How they do it nobody knows for sure, and it is apparently tough to learn, but some master it -- usually after a few tentative tries.

The sentences they speak, such as those we heard on the recordings, are almost always brief. The average duration is about a second and a half. But they are grammatically correct and seem to convey some meaning.

And the anomalous photographs of people who had passed on -- often children of grieving parents, some of whom were present to vouch for the resemblance -- generally looked more real than the ridiculous "ghost photographs" of a hundred years ago.

Rosemary Ellen Guiley had the unenviable task of explaining both dream and black-mirror gazing communication with afterlife inhabitants (plus leading a brief guided meditation) in a single hour. I had a chance to chat with her at the ITC conference and also heard her speak at the IANDS meeting last year. She rose to the occasion once again at ASCS with a clear and focused presentation. Author of dozens of books on all sorts of paranormal phenomena, she is a dedicated researcher and I believe one of the most intelligent people I've met.

Victor Zammit, whose A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife has attracted a great deal of attention and respect in paranormal circles, described his experiences with David Thompson -- one of the rare physical mediums around today. A physical medium is said to release a mysterious substance called ectoplasm that builds up into a sort of living replica of a spirit. While the idea almost passes my own "boggle threshold," Zammit (and many others) have seen it done, with all kinds of precautions against the phony exhibitions once performed and which did so much to discredit mediumship in the past century.

In some ways I was as impressed by the group of attendees as by the speakers. I'm not good at striking up conversations with strangers, but those I talked to and overheard showed no evidence of naiveté or New Age shallowness. Actually, the only bit of New Age twaddle (in my view) came from one of the presenters. A question-and-answer session got onto the subject of how to get acquainted with one's spirit guides. The gentleman of whom I speak said, "Just listen to your body." Oh, climb off it, mate. Maybe he connects with his guides through headaches and indigestion, but if it were that simple for the rest of us we wouldn't need speakers like him or conferences like the ASCS's.

There was much more of interest to learn about, but I'll stop here because I know you have other things to do. But congratulations to ASCS for a successful event.

I'm not wild about Phoenix in general, but the rich habitats of Paradise Valley and next-door Scottsdale haven't overwhelmed the magic of the Sonoran Desert; in some cases the houses and even commercial buildings reflect it. Contrary to what many people who've never been there imagine, it isn't bone-dry. It's even called the Green Desert because the summer afternoon rains of the "monsoon season," much looked-forward-to around this time of the year, give plants plenty to drink and people some relief from the intense heat.

The monsoons hadn't quite started yet, but clouds cast white and gray backdrops to the scenery as the days drew toward sunset. There is more variety to plant life in the Sonoran desert than in Virginia or Oregon. Some is native desert flora like the Saguaro cacti, found nowhere else on earth; palo verde trees (yes, they have green trunks); ocotillo. Others are exotic imports from the Middle East or tropics -- date palms, royal palms, bougainvillea. The total effect is enchanting.

On our last evening before returning home, we made our latest visit to T. Cook's, the restaurant at the Royal Palms resort. We've never stayed at the Royal Palms -- I think it's jolly expensive -- but I love the old-fashioned Spanish/Mediterranean atmosphere, with a courtyard and fountain, painted tiles and that. T. Cook's is not only the best restaurant I know in Phoenix, but among the best I've experienced anywhere.

My wife, Christy, is an adventurous eater. Antelope was on the menu. (You think that's something? In an authentic art nouveau styled Paris restaurant called Le Vagenande, she tried ox cheeks, which I don't even want to think of.) She asked our waiter about the antelope. He explained that they came from a 50,000 acre range in Texas. They are killed by expert riflemen who are like the army's sniper team ("one shot ... one kill!"). Yes, we were out West right enough. I don't like picturing such things. But I eat fish, and killing a beast with a single well-placed round is probably more humane than pulling a living fish out of the water. Anyway, Christy enjoyed the antelope, prepared with artistic ingredients. My sea bass was outstanding.

The Sonoran Desert is insanely hot in summer. You step outside or even walk onto the hotel balcony and it's like opening an oven door. It seems impossible even a swimming pool would be refreshing. Only mad dogs and Americans go out in the noonday sun -- actually, even mad dogs were nowhere seen. The lizards must have dozed in a (relatively) cool spot. One crazy jackrabbit did a 50-yard dash.


Some birds seem to tolerate the solar blast. White-winged doves, for instance. I remembered them from Tucson, where they filled our back yard, giving the cats who could see them through the glass sliding doors a fit. They look like the doves you see anywhere else, but when they lift their wings, the wings' undersides are angelic white. Then there are what Christy identified as boat-tailed grackles (she knows her birds much better than I do). Why boat-tailed? I guess because when they spread their tail feathers, they extend in a fan shape, like the wake of a boat.

I'd been looking forward to seeing hummingbirds resting in mid-air, their wings a blur, but none were hanging about. Christy saw a hummingbird from the balcony while I was at a conference session. I resigned myself to missing their company on this visit.

Just as we were leaving the Embassy Suites to head for Sky Harbor Airport (perhaps the only poetically named airport in the world), I was standing next to a palo verde waiting for Christy to drive the car around to the loop in front of the hotel, when I clapped eyes on a hummer standing on a branch. Its tiny body with a curved needle beak seemed like a wonderful omen.


Stogie said...

You give a beautiful description of the desert in those parts. I lived in Scottsdale for a couple of years, and since I am not a desert man, I could hardly wait to return to the cool San Francisco Bay Area. I did love the Saguaro cacti, though.

Sounds like the conference was exciting and informative.

Stogie said...

I purchased the latest Kindle edition of Victor Zammit's book and look forward to reading it. (I couldn't make the links work to get the free older version, but I'd rather have the latest edition in any case.)

Stogie said...

I finished Victor Zammit's book and enjoyed it immensely. It greatly expanded my knowledge of paranormal phenomena. Zammit mentioned another book, We Don't Die, by Sandra Champlain, and I am reading that now. I made note of several books and films mentioned by both of these authors, and will read more about this subject. Thanks for pointing these resources out.