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Frederic Myers - Proof of Life After Death

Swapping identities

Excerpts about the life of Frederick Myers from the book by Ian Currie
"You Cannot Die: The Incredible Findings of a Century of Research on Death"
Edited by Peter Shepherd

Frederick Myers was a founder of the Society for Psychical Research. Within a few weeks of Myers' death in 1901, he began to communicate through different direct writing mediums in England, the United States and India, sending information about what happens when we die. His scripts made no sense on their own but the mediums were told to forward them to a central location where they fitted together like a jigsaw. They were signed, "Myers." More than three thousand scripts were transmitted over thirty years, some of them more than forty typed pages long. Read more about these "cross-correspondences" and Myers' discoveries about the afterlife - plus read the full books, here online, written by Geraldine Cummins, one of Myers' correspondents…

Personal development has, as one of its aims, to transcend the human condition. If consciousness is limited to one's current lifetime, and if one's only route to immortality is to reproduce one's genes and to try to make one's mark on the world for the benefit of future generations, then still these are worthwhile aims.

But if, instead, one's consciousness survives death, then the motivation to transcend the human condition becomes far stronger. One's personal development in this lifetime will affect one's situation in the after-life, and it will determine one's future - whether it be to reincarnate in this world (in a worse, similar or better condition than one is now) or to fulfill one's potential by moving on to higher purposes and responsibilities.

Frederick Myers recognized this as a critical question for all intelligent people and worked relentlessly to provide us with a solid proof of life after death.

1. Frederic Myers

Frederick Myers was a professor of classics at Cambridge University in England. He was born in 1843 and he died in 1901. One overriding interest characterized this man: a passionate curiosity about the meaning of human life. He devoted most of his adult years to trying to satisfy this curiosity, but he did it in a rather unusual way. He did not pore over theological writings and philosophical speculation. He felt that if human life did have a purpose, then it could be discovered in only one way: through the study of human experiences. This conviction led him, in 1882, to found the first Society for Psychical Research with some of his Cambridge colleagues.

In particular, Myers and his associates wanted to know if human beings survived bodily death. If they did, then life in a body must have a discoverable purpose. Myers was a man of enormous energy and great intellectual ability. After twenty years of intensive investigation, he concluded that he had answered this question. He wrote a book about what he had learned that became a classic - probably the most important work ever written in this fascinating field - called "Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death".

Myers had a strong interest in mediumship, and grappled to the end of his life with the problems involved in interpreting its results. The difficulties lay not with the limitations of the mediums' powers, but with their scope. When a medium became entranced, and a voice, remarkably like that of a dead person, issued forth from her mouth, claiming to be that person and showing an encyclopedic knowledge of that person's life, then it seemed to Myers that contact was being made with the dead. Or when a medium, in a half-trance, seemed to be talking to someone who had been in his grave for some time, and was able to answer detailed questions about his life, Myers at first reached the conclusion that the dead still live.

But his research, in the end, didn't turn out to be quite that simple. For he became aware of cases in which those attending a seance had been given such detail about a person they knew who claimed in the communication to be dead. Later, however, they would discover that he was still alive! And in a few cases, as an experiment, someone had gone to a medium and mentally concentrated on an entirely fictitious personality, only to receive 'communications' from that 'personality,' claiming to come from beyond the grave! In other words, when mediums went into trance states, they could at times pick up accurate information about living or fictitious persons telepathically and deliver it as if it came from the dead. In other words, the medium may be unable to distinguish between telepathic communication from the living and telepathic communication from the dead.

So this posed a problem. Mediums did not seem to do such things in a fraudulent spirit; they were sometimes unable to tell whether information came from the living or from the dead, but tended to make the sometimes false assumption it was from the latter. Myers never solved this problem during his life. What he did was even more impressive. He solved it after he was dead!

2. The Cross-Correspondences

Within a few weeks of Myers's death in 1901, some very strange communications began to be received by psychics in England, the United States and India. They came through automatic writing to a total of a dozen psychics and continued for a period of thirty years and then later by his fellow leaders of the Society for Psychical Research, Professor Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney as they too died. What was strangest about them was that they made no sense. Or perhaps they did - for they were so mysteriously worded that it almost seemed their meaning was being deliberately concealed. And most of them were signed, "Myers." In all more than three thousand scripts were transmitted over thirty years. Some of them were more than forty typed pages long.

But although the text of the messages seemed indecipherable, the 'instructions' which often accompanied them were clear. These instructions repeated a number of themes. The 'script' should be sent to a particular person, who would turn out to be one of the other psychics involved. Or it should be sent to the Society for Psychical Research. And that although its content may seem to be senseless, it was in reality anything but: it was an attempt by the deseased communicator to prove his continued existence. These instructions and explanations were, in fact, frequent and explicit. "Record the bits," wrote Myers, "and when fitted they will make the whole." And again, "I will give the words between you that neither alone can read but together they will give the clue."

It was some time, however, before the people involved fully realized what was happening. When they did, they gathered the fragments together and found that they had communications which were clear, coherent and continuous. Most of these scripts consisted of references to and quotations from both classical and modern literature. Some were so obscure that only a scolar, and a specialized one at that, would recognize them. The intention was to make these scripts seem random and pointless to the individual psychics, in order to avoid giving clues to the train of thought behind them. They would only become meaningful and show evidence of design when pieced together by an independent investigator. The interest lies in the question: Who selected them to convey a train a thought which could not be deduced from any one person's script? The answer was the dead communicator.

Myers was trying to prove that the mind of the medium could not be the creator of the message: how could it be when the message was only a fragment which made no sense unless linked with other, equally 'meaningless' fragments. Myers was quite explicit about what he was doing. He was causing a dozen psychics, in various widely separated parts of the world, not only to refer to the same topic - often a highly obscure one - but to do so in ways which were complementary. Like the parts of a jigsaw puzzle, these 'pieces' did more than refer to the same theme; they did so in ways which were intricately intertwined. Those who studied and tried to interpret these 'jigsaw puzzles' called them cross-correspondences.

The simplest case involved the repetition of particular themes drawn from various language and literary sources. On April 24, 1907, while in trance in the United States, an American medium named Mrs Piper three times uttered the word "Thantos," a Greek word meaning 'death,' despite the fact that she had no knowledge of Greek. Such repetitions were often a signal that cross-correspondences were about to begin. But it had begun already. About a week earlier, in India, Mrs Holland had done some automatic writing, and in that script the following enigmatic communication had appeared: "Mors [Latin for death]. And with that the shadow of death fell upon his limbs." On April 29th, in England, Mrs Verrall, writing automatically, produced the words: "Warmed both hands before the fire of life. It fades and I am ready to depart." This is a quotation from a poem by nineteenth-century English poet, Walter Landor. Mrs Verrall next drew a triangle. This could be Delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet. She had always considered it a symbol of death. She then wrote: "Manibus date lilia plenis" [give lilies with full hands]. This is a quotation from Virgil's Aeneid in which an early death is foretold. This was followed by the statement: "Come away, come away, Pallida mors [Latin for pale death]," and, finally, an explicit statement from the communicator: "You have got the word plainly written all along in your writing. Look back." The 'word,' or 'theme,' was quite obvious when these fragments, given in the same month to three mediums thousands of miles apart, were put together and scrutinized. And in view of the lifelong interest of the communicator, it was certainly an appropriate theme. Death.

This gives some indication of the complexity of even the simplest cross-correspondence. And most of those who have studied them have concluded that they were exactly what they claimed to be: an experiment conducted from beyond the grave to establish that Myers still lived.

Myers pursued this task with a diligence characteristic of him in life. From 1901 to 1932, more than three thousand scripts were communicated. Receiving and interpreting such a vast body of material was often burdensome to those involved. But for Myers, the whole enterprise was a source of anguish. He had survived physical death, as others do, and now he was desperately eager to communicate this fact in a fashion which would convince his still living colleagues. But, because he had no body, he had to use the minds of others. He had to struggle to 'get through.' And in the scripts he sent, he refers again and again to the suffering that this cost him.

"Oh, if I could only leave you the proof that I continue. Yet another attempt to run the blockade - to strive to get a message through. How can I make your hand docile enough - how can I convince them? I am trying, amid unspeakable difficulties. It is impossible for me to know how much of what I send reaches you. I feel as if I had presented my credentials - reiterated the proofs of my identity in a wearisomely repetitive manner. The nearest simile I can find to express the difficulty of sending a message is that I appear to be standing behind a sheet of frosted glass, which blurs sight and deadens sound, dicatating feebly to a reluctant and somewhat obtuse secretary. A feeling of terrible impotence burdens me. Oh it is a dark road."

Myers, for all the grand scope of his interests, was a very modest man. And he was also a very systematic one. These two qualities perfectly explained the style and timing of his after-death communications. He had first to prove to his friends that he still lived and he devoted thirty years to that. But what was of even greater interest, once that was established, was his description of what it was like to be dead. Myers, always the scholar, was not about to run hastily into a discussion about such a momentous subject. He was very systematic and cautious about that too. He had been dead for nearly twenty-three years before, at last, he started to communicate on that most mysterious of all geographies - the world of the dead.

Myers was not, of course, the first to describe life after death. Plenty of other communicators had done that in spiritualist seances, but although their reports had at first been examined with fascinated anticipation, thay were soon dismissed with snorts of derision. For Heaven, the afterlife, had always been something very special to man - a transcendent paradise where the pain and struggle of this life would be surmounted and the mysteries of human life and death would at last be revealed in the very abode of God himself. But what was reported was quite something else indeed. For what the communicators described was nothing but an earth-life. It was terribly beautiful, and the 'dead' were very happy, and active too. What exactly did they do there? Well, pretty much what they had always done - they played golf, for example, and drank Scotch. They had sexual adventures and they smoked cigars. They played cards, lived in houses like those they had occupied on earth, and even went to work! Now this, obviously, could not be Heaven: it was clearly spiritualist self-delusion. Myers, however, was to show that these communicators were right - at least in part. For it had never occurred to the critics that if men were going to transcend their earth-lives after death and move onwards to a 'divine' realm, then it would certainly be a kindness to them them to start them off with something familiar - to match the lives and beliefs they were familiar with on earth.

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