N. B. Wolfe's experiences with medium Mary Hollis
Already other times, in the pages of this site, some of the communications obtained through mediums have been examined and commented on: as we have seen, some of these communications have a didactic or philosophical content, sometimes presenting themselves in the form of real teachings or exhortations, while others give us more or less interesting information on what we can call the spirit world, therefore relating to the environment of the dimension in which the conscious Ego goes to live once its human adventure is over, and the experiences it can have in that world. In addition to the various communications reported in the pages of the section dedicated to the Life of an Italian medium, more examples of information relating to the spirit world can be found on the pages on Victor G. Duncan, Experiments with materializad ghosts, Samuel Soal's investigation on the identity of spirits, and The alien spirit. Furthermore, various topics relating to the identity of the entities that manifest themselves as spirits and the dimension in which they live have been dealt with in some pages of the blog: The weird case of Mediator (July 2019), The spirit life (August 2019), The communication of Cerchio Firenze 77 (August 2019), Conversations with entity A. (September 2019), The control of the psyche (October 2020), The interactions between mental entities and physical reality (July 2022).
As we have seen, these communications as a whole, more than giving us reliable and coherent information about the experiences that await our conscious Ego once the bond that links it to the human organism has been dissolved, are the testimony of a contact with intelligent entities. belonging to a dimension other than that of our physical world. These entities, which we call spirits and which define themselves as such, often take, in addition to the name, the personality and the appearance – if they succeed in materializing – of human beings who have already lived. Sometimes the consistency of the spirit personality with the corresponding human personality is only superficial and almost conventional, so much so that some scholars of mediumistic phenomena believe that the spirit entity is nothing more than an expression of the memories of the human personality present in the mind of some of the sitters, or, in the case of famous persons, a mannered and idealized representation of the character and human traits of that personality, drawn from the imagery of the medium or the sitters. However, in some cases the entities provided detailed and precise information about their human personality, of which none of the sitterss were aware, and whose correspondence to our reality was verified only later. These convincing identification proofs, although not very frequent, are sufficient to confirm at least the existence of a transmission channel that consents to transfer information relating to the events of our life and the psyche's attunements in which we are involved as humans to the spirit world. Although we cannot claim anything for certain about it, it is likely that more or less wide, consistent and organized mental structures of our human personality can be transferred to the spirit world upon the death of our organism, or even while we are still alive.
The testimonies we have got about the spirit world and the communicating entities that manage to get in touch with our physical reality through mediums confirm the existence of a psychic dimension that extends beyond the boundaries of our organic life, producing forms of thought, feeling and action that do not differ substantially from those that the conscious Ego experiences in the course of this organic life. Indeed, in many cases one gets the impression that the personalities of those who have lived in this world, or in any case a part of them, are transferred into another inorganic dimension, while maintaining the interests and feelings that bound them, even emotionally, to the human environment and the psyche's dynamics that the Ego experiences during this life. Some spirits, who often take on the role of guide, are able to show their own well-defined personality, coherent and endowed with an intense communicative energy, while others manifest and express themselves in a more larval, stereotyped, schematic and often repetitive way, giving the the impression of not having a well-developed autonomous personality, or of not being able to overcome the barrier that prevents direct communication between our physical dimension and the spirit world. The fact remains that there are remarkable differences between the experiences in the Spirit dimension, as they are reported to us by many of those who had an NDE, and those relating to the spirit world that we can deduce from mediumistic communications. This is a topic that deserves to be explored, especially in relation to the orientation of the conscious Ego in its path of liberation from the psyche's dynamics in which it is involved during this organic life.
To better understand the reality of the spirit world and the effects, including physical ones, produced by the entities operating in that dimension and objectively perceived by us through the sensory and mental system of our organism, I would like to examine an interesting and enjoyable book, published in Chicago in 1873 – thus a century and a half ago – by Dr. N. B. Wolfe (where N. B. stands for Napoleon Bonaparte, a name probably due to the admiration of the author's mother for the famous French leader, in relation to which Wolfe, in his book, mentions an amusing anecdote). The book, titled Startling Facts in Modern Spiritualism, can be directly downloaded from our Library. Born on 25 Dec 1823 in Columbia (Pennsylvania), N. B. Wolfe spent most of his life in Cincinnati (Ohio), a city in which he was well known and practiced as a specialist in diseases of the respiratory system, and where he passed away in 1891. With the exception of this book on spiritualism, his other publications are of a professional nature, as they concern the therapies of asthma, consumption and bronchitis. He was an esteemed, frank and determined person, endowed with a typically yankee pragmatism that led him to engage his energy in what aroused his interest, aided in this by the fact that he had achieved a certain economic wealth. His critical spirit and his positivist orientation, alien to any indulgence towards the supernatural (especially if deified), did not prevent him from a healthy curiosity that led him to want to ascertain the reality of non-ordinary or, as they say today, paranormal events, which he became aware of, or that he sometimes firsthand experienced.
In Wolfe's book the interested reader will be able to find various references to the author's interest in ascertaining the facts, to his preference for physical phenomena objectively perceivable in conditions of good lighting, and to his unwillingness to be enchanted by the didactic and edifying contents of many communications attributed to spirits by personalities of his time, whom Wolfe did not hesitate to describe as false mediums and swindlers, some of whom enjoyed a remarkable popularity. Although at that time the collective inclination to accept the reality of certain paranormal phenomena was higher than that we find today, truly gifted mediums were still rare, and almost all people of a good cultural level did not hesitate to express their skepticism towards mediumistic phenomena, which were considered a priori as the product of more or less skilled magician's tricks. Well aware of this fact, Wolfe did his utmost to ensure the genuineness of the spirit phenomena he witnessed and to obtain the qualified testimonies of well-known personalities in the field of information (journalists and publicists), able to give public evidence to the events they had observed and verified firsthand at Wolfe's home. For these experiments Wolfe was able to rely on the mediumistic resources of Mrs. Mary J. Hollis, whose frank personality, alien to any form of exhibitionism or self-interest, and whose dedication to what she regarded as the mission that the spirits had entrusted to her, constituted in themselves a solid starting point for verifying the genuineness of the phenomena that occurred.
Mary J. Kerns (Hollis was her husband's surname) was born in 1837 in Jeffersonville (Indiana). In 1871, when she was introduced to Wolfe by a mutual lady friend, she was 34, a mother of four, and lived in Louisville, Kentucky, not far from Cincinnati. Since childhood she saw spirits and heard them speak. Of course, all this was attributed by her family members to her imagination, even though among her paternal and maternal grandparents, coming from German and Swiss families, had been reported cases of precognitive faculties. However, she had a quiet childhood and adolescence: she married at the age of 17 with Captain E. J. Hollis and only in 1861 did she hear about Spiritualism, when three different followers of this belief informed her that she was a medium. As she had little faith in the performances of mediums, she received the claim that she would become a public active medium with feelings of discomfort: yet she could not resist the temptation to test her faculties. She and her mother had séances by themselves, as they did not want anyone to know that they were interested in Spiritualism. In this strictly private way she was able to produce various phenomena: raps, clairvoyance and writing. It was only after five years of investigation that she became convinced these manifestations were produced by spirits: for a long time she had entertained the prevailing idea that they proceeded from the action of some undiscovered force in nature. Over time, news of her mediumistic gifts spread in and around Louisville, and many people came to consult her, engaging her for several hours a day in an activity that she carried out for free, with unassuming and committed attitude, and despite sometimes burdensome family duties, believing that her task in life was to allow the spirit world to get in touch with our dimension.
When Wolfe first met and hosted Mrs. Hollis at his home in Cincinnati, he was rather skeptical about the quality of mediumistic phenomena he might witness, especially since he was wary of dark séances. The medium did not go into a trance, but her performances in full light were initially limited to the appearance of messages written on a slate she held with her right hand under a table top covered with a blanket or a tablecloth. Being able to carefully observe both the medium's left hand and her right arm up to the wrist, and noticing that no arm muscles were moving as the messages were written in his presence, Wolfe was convinced of the genuineness of the phenomenon, since all the material had been provided and controlled by himself, that all happened in a room in his house and that the only people present were the medium and himself. Wolfe was very attentive to the observation, validation and description of the facts. As he wrote in his book (page 97): «Facts are the foundation of all philosophy... I am free to declare I have more confidence in the physical than in mental phenomena. The first crystallizes itself in facts, the second diffuses itself in fancies». Regarding sitting in the dark (dark circles), Wolfe expressed his skepticism in these terms (page 123): «...if Mrs. Hollis's spirit manifestations can only be produced in a dark room, that at the best her mediumship is not better than that of the charlatans noticed in a preceding chapter». Anyway, the first séance in the dark was held in the room where Wolfe used to carry out his medical examinations (without the medium being informed on it), and it did not go well at all: the lively description of that evening and the effects that the chronically ill spirits had on the medium are reported on page 126 and following of the book.
As for the first experiment of slate writing witnessed by Wolfe, it is worthwhile to read the lively dialogue between the doctor and the medium which begins on page 138 of the book. After having checked, with the full cooperation of Mrs. Hollis, all the conditions in which the phenomenon should have occurred, and after the medium had explained to Wolfe very calmly that he had better witness the experiment firsthand, since she herself did not know how the spirits could write, the author expressed his skepticism by saying that, in those conditions, they would sit until doomsday before the spirits could write anything on that slate. Instead, after a few minutes the noise of the pencil writing on the slate was heard and, when a series of raps announced that the writing was over, Wolfe could read a message long enough, clear and correctly written in terms of grammar and syntax, signed Emma Francis, a sister of his who had died while an infant over forty years earlier. According to the author (page 142): «A careful scrutiny of the situation enables me to say that it was physically impossible for Mrs. Hollis to do the writing». It was not even possible that the slate had been deftly replaced with another already previously written, since it had been provided by Wolfe himself, and was marked by a dun stain caused by iron pyrite that allowed it to be identified with certainty. The first message was shortly followed by a second, over whose execution Wolfe watched with even greater attention, signed by James Nolan, one of the medium's guide spirits, in which it was announced that that evening, during a dark séance, some of Wolfe's departed relatives – all correctly identified with their names and surnames – would try to communicate. At this point, since the messages written on the slate were objective facts, Wolfe could not help but ask himself who, or what, could write them.
Determined to investigate the nature and origin of spirit communications and manifestations, Wolfe did not miss the opportunity to plan a long series of sittings with Hollis: over the course of two years, from September 1871 to May 1873, the medium stayed for six periods at Wolfe's home, for a total of thirty weeks, allowing at least one sitting every day, not infrequently lasting two hours, in the optimal conditions arranged by her host (page 193). After receiving the first messages written on the slate, Wolfe was not inclined to accept the idea that the communications actually came from the inhabitants of another dimension, and expressed his perplexities in these terms (page 160): «I was inclined to think that a judicious investigation would disclose the fact that the so-called spirit phenomena could all be traced to a mundane origin. In this belief I was strengthened by the circumstance that nothing had been communicated but what I already knew. I assumed if the spirits could talk, they would say something to entertain or instruct us – tell us something of their spirit-life, the spirit-world, rather than be rummaging through the "old storehouse of memory," picking out unimportant scraps of half-forgotten information from its waste-basket. How the "old storehouse" had been entered and explored, was to my mind the most interesting part of the problem presented for solution. The answer to this should be in no uncertain sense. It was claimed that the talking was done by the spirit of those who knew the facts communicated, and that it was from their own personal knowledge, not mine, that the information was derived». As can be seen, these observations are still relevant today, and denote a well-developed critical spirit free from any fideistic inclination towards the integral survival of the human personality. It is therefore interesting to follow the evolution of Wolfe's subsequent evaluations in the light of the facts represented by the mediumistic phenomena objectively observed by himself and many other witnesses.
The spirit world
Mary Hollis' mediumship was able to produce four types of manifestations: 1) direct writing, even in bright light, on a slate (or on a sheet of paper fixed on a tablet) held under a tabletop by the medium's right hand and screened by a cloth placed on the table and falling from its edges; 2) more or less intense direct voices of spirits communicating in the dark, sometimes amplified by a conical trumpet placed on the floor at the beginning of the sittings; 3) luminous globes floating in the dark, some of which could turn into the image of a face, often recognizable by some of the sitters; 4) more or less complete materializations of hands, arms and faces (the latter sometimes recognized by the sitters, others not) outside a circular hole of about one ft in diameter, created in the access door of a mediumistic cabinet designed and made build by Wolfe. The medium sat inside this booth, which was basically built like a wooden wardrobe large enough to hold a chair, and equipped with a door that could be closed from the inside. The hole, placed at a height of about four ft from the floor, was covered inside by a black drape. This cabinet had been designed by Wolfe to isolate the medium within a dark space, while the rest of the sitting room, in which the assistants sat, could be illuminated by the light of gas lamps from two adjacent rooms. Mrs. Hollis, as reported, did not go into a trance, and often conversed with the sitters even while the phenomena were showing and the spirits speaking. None of the numerous sitters, some of whom carried out an accurate control of the conditions in which the séances took place, ever manifested any doubt of fraud regarding the mediumistic phenomena they witnessed. Often the materialized arms and hands, which the sitters could also examine closely, moved in the room – which, as we have said, was not fully dark – and wrote messages on the paper sheets of a board placed on the outer side of the mediumistic cabinet, or held beautiful materialized flowers, or waved handkerchiefs of spirit cloth.
The details of the various spirit manifestations are clearly and accurately described in Wolfe's book: the author is especially concerned with reporting the facts correctly, having them validated by the testimonies of some charismatic public personalities who had accepted his invitation to firsthand verify the genuineness of the phenomena determined by Mrs. Hollis' mediumship. Therefore, I do not intend to deal further with the reality of spirit phenomena: as we have seen, the quantity and reliability of the testimonies about them, which concern many other cases of mediumship in addition to that of Mary Hollis, constitute such a relevant corpus, that only people whose intelligence is darkened by particular attunements of the psyche in which their Ego remains ensnared, can continue to deny that such events really occurred. As Wolfe sensibly observed as early as 1873 (page 425): «There are two classes of skeptics which require to be intelligently discriminated... the skeptic with brains, and the skeptic without brains. The first is governed by reason, and takes a thoughtful survey of conditions and things, and arrives at conclusions after exercising the legitimate powers of mind upon the subject considered. The second simply says: "I'm very skeptical! I don't believe every thing I see! Your eyes may deceive you!" etc.». While the interpretation of spirit phenomena remains controversial, presenting contradictory aspects which at times confirm the hypothesis of the persistence of the human personality after the death of the organism, while other times are in contrast with this hypothesis, it is a fact that mediums' psychophysical systems open channels of communication and operation between the dimension in which those intelligent entities that we call spirits live and that of the physical reality of the world in which we live with our organisms. Wolfe's commitment was primarily aimed at establishing, ascertaining and validating this fact, not at proving survival.
Once we have ascertained that, in order to open a channel of communication with the spirit dimension, the collaboration of a person particularly endowed with those resources that are indicated by the generic term of mediumship is necessary, we must recognize that all the operational management of mediumistic phenomena, both physical and mental, falls within the competence of the spirit world: the role of human sitters is that of spectators of the events, more or less involved, curious and interested, and in some cases interlocutors in conversations with the spirits or executors of the organizational arrangements of the séances suggested (or imposed) by the guides. With regard to mediumship, it can be assumed that each person is endowed with a limited amount of mediumistic energy, completely insufficient to open a channel of communication with the spirit world, a feat achieved only by some exceptionally gifted mediums: in any case, a constant training improves the quality of performances, as is found both in the case of high-level mediums, and in those sitters who, despite not having enough energy to directly open a communication channel, with their assiduous commitment contribute to obtaining more and more refined and complex mediumistic phenomena, also supplying a part of the required energy. Psychic phenomena of a mental type, as they manifest through communications from the spirits, almost always fall within the psyche's dynamics that the conscious Ego experiences in the course of organic life: they can be manifestations of affection, of recalled memories, of more or less edifying teachings or exhortations, of premonitions or prophecies of events that rarely occur, of episodes narrated as true, sometimes in accordance with historical reality, but not infrequently invented from scratch. As I have already observed, there is a substantial difference between this spirit world, belonging to the psyche's dimension, and the experiences of the Spirit dimension that are reported to us by many NDErs.
Precisely the fact that certain dynamics typical of the human psyche are also manifested in the spirit world, has led some parapsychologists to deny the existence of autonomous entities (spirits) belonging to a dimension that is normally separate from our physical world, in order to attribute mediumistic phenomena to a not better explained unconscious mental activity, ultimately amenable to the functioning of the brain of the mediums and the sitters. In my opinion, this is a weak and sterile theory from the point of view of knowledge, because the physical phenomena that actually occur – often in a coherent and intelligent way – are neither controlled by the conscious Ego of the medium (who, as we have already had the opportunity to observe, is completely absent if the medium goes into a trance) nor by the sitters. Yet, in their remarkable complexity, these extraordinary events – which arouse in us psychic reactions of bewilderment and wonder, to the point that not a few people are forced to deny the very possibility that such phenomena can occur – are intentionally pursued, determined and implemented in the reality of our world by intelligent alien entities, who are able to use the psychophysical resources made available to them by the mediums and the sitters in ways that are completely beyond the control of the conscious Ego. And if someone prefers to adopt, for this kind of phenomena, the label of unconscious instead of that of spirit world, they are free to do so: the phenomena do not change, and we know about them what we already knew, that is, little or nothing. On the other hand, I think that there are valid reasons not to take as pure gold everything that the spirits tell us, also with regard to their identity and with reference to the survival of human personality, because various facts show how they are able to take psychic fragments from a vast deposit of typically human memories, experiences and fantasies, transforming them into more or less real and convincing forms.
A very significant example of these activities of realization of imaginary human forms by spirits is offered to us by Wolfe, who in his book (page 442 and following) gives a vivid description of the process of materialization of a female face, so well finished to be almost indistinguishable from a real face, in flesh and blood: «I now observed the spirit-face was invested with a white gauzy veil. This was put aside by a spirit hand, when the whole aspect of the face and head became so life-like that I could scarcely realize the presence not to be human. This materializing process was repeated six time in the space of twenty minutes... Subsequently, it was stated by the spirits that this was the most successful effort they had ever made to materialize in the light. They were well pleased...». The manifestation of this satisfaction on the part of the spirits for the success of their efforts is very interesting: it is similar to the joy of the sculptor that manages to draw from a block of marble that ideal figure that his imagination had mentally prefigured him. Even the spirits seem endowed with an artistic creative talent and technical resources that allow them to create these real artworks. But let us return to Wolfe: «(The head) was a mature and beautiful female, seemengly about twenty years old. It was said I had seen her before, in a vision, at which time she promised to meet me again. As already stated, her face looked familiar; but I was so dazed with the novelty of the operation that I failed entirely to recognize her. No sooner, however, had she finally disappeared, than I recalled her image as connected with a strange experience in my life...». Wolfe then recalls a symbolic and fascinating dream of his, made many years earlier, in which precisely that female figure whose face had been materialized by the spirits played a leading role: the curious reader can read the full description of that experience, starting on page 443. If, therefore, the spirits had succeeded in the enterprise of materializing in a very realistic way the features of a female personality taken from the more or less clear memories of a Wolfe's dream, imagine if they may not be able to materialize the figures of our loved ones recently passed away, still very present in our memory!
During the séances with Mrs. Hollis, many of the sitters had the opportunity to talk for a long time with the spirits of relatives or friends who passed away, with whom they also had conversations on topics of a very private nature, on which the entities expressed themselves in direct voice: these manifestations of the continuity of the existence of personalities who had already lived with a human organism were so convincing that some sitters, like businessmen initially anchored to a solid skepticism, left the séances in a state of profound bewilderment. See, for instence, the case of Elias L. Lewis, a well-established banker, and his reaction to the call of the voice of a woman he had loved and long lost (page 466): «A female voice now spoke to Mr. Lewis, addressing him in a manner that was peculiar to a young lady whose memory was still fondly cherished. "Who calls my name?" said the interested man. She gave the name of the young lady in question, and proceeded to identify herself in the most unmistakable manner. A long undertone conversation here followed, which resulted in establishing the belief that he had really been talking to his "loved and lost". I said, "What do you think of it, sir?" "I am dazed! I don't know what to think of it! This is wonderful – this is wonderful! That voice had been silent many years, and I never expected to hear it again! And yet here it is, awakening strange echoes in my soul, which I had thought asleep forever!" "As a proficient ventriloquist, don't you think Mrs. Hollis could have spoken to you in the manner you have heard?" "Ventriloquism does not divulge the secrets of the heart. No mortal could disclose to me what my ears have just heard."». We must therefore necessarily acknowledge that spirits, if they do not have a direct memory of the events experienced as a conscious Ego during organic life, are able to discover and interpret the innermost secrets of us human beings.
Some observations on the psyche of spirits
The comparison between the personality of some spirits and the corresponding human personality through which they introduce themselves, and with which therefore they should have lived, in some cases shows very interesting aspects. Let us take for example the spirit of Josephine Bonaparte, who manifests herself communicating with Wolfe sometimes through direct voice, but more often through rather long written messages (29 of her letters addressed to the author are reported in the book), and during the séances materializes her arm and hand, or her face. First of all let's remember that the name of Wolfe (Napoleon Bonaparte) immediately recalls a certain affinity with the first wife of the real Napoleon: as for the correspondence between the spirit Josephine and the historical personality of Josephine de Beauharnais (born in Martinique in 1763 as Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie), very few elements provided by the spirit confirm it. More often, her communications are pervaded by psychic elements of a rather human nature, such as her declared admiration and adoration for the Empereur, the emphasis on the historical mission assigned to him for France and the world, the prophecy that Napoleon would reincarnate in France in 1902 (with great joy for the French) to resume and carry out his mission (pages 222 and 475), the role played by herself – endowed with mediumistic faculties – in putting Napoleon in contact with spirit intelligences that suggested to him how to organize his campaigns (page 474), and other amenities of this kind. A brief historical research on the documents and chronicles of the time is enough to understand how the charming human personality of Josephine de Beauharnais was very different from that of the spirit Josephine, and her relationship with Napoleon much more based on concrete factors of convenience, and much less on noble ideals. One of the most surprising aspects of the manifestations of spirit psychology is that, although they claim to have lived as organic beings, they seem to have forgotten the dynamics of the human psyche that condition us mortals, and sometimes they regard us almost as aliens.
This does not authorize us to dismiss the relations between the spirits and the human personalities with which they identify as totally inconsistent: certainly, however, there is a separation, in some cases quite sharp, between the spirit and the conscious Ego of the human personality, to which must be added all the contaminations drawn from the psyche of the mediums or the sitters, in whose manipulation and elaboration the spirits prove to be masters, as I have already highlighted in the pages devoted to Urbino Fontanelli's mediumship. When Josephine, speaking of women in a very stereotypical way, says (page 490): «For diamonds and rich lace, they sacrifice every great and good impulse. They are so steeped in all that is artificial, that they can not rise above it. Hence their misery and discontent. Dress has become their master...», she seems to have completely forgotten her earthly life, during which her human personality was not insensitive to the charm of jewels and fashionable dresses, which she now vehemently denounces. It would seem, therefore, that the passage from organic life to the spirit world entails a remarkable transformation for the conscious Ego, to the point that it no longer remembers its own human weaknesses. Yet, Josephine refers to herself as a female entity (page 505-506): «Few are so peculiarly situated as myself. All the love of my woman's heart must be enlisted while I lead these people out of the wilderness of error and unrest». In her letters, Josephine often refers to the mission entrusted by a higher power to certain groups of spiritual entities, who manage to manifest themselves and communicate with humans through a medium (in her case, Mary Hollis): this mission consists in convincing humankind of the continuity of the existence of the conscious Ego, in spiritual form, even after the death of its organism, and of the importance of human life for the evolution of the Ego in function of its future existence as a spirit.
In their communications, spirits claim that they have no doubts about the success of their mission within a few decades at most. In one of her letters (page 238) Josephine states: «It should be understood that the manifestations of spirit-power, now dawning upon your planet, are the legitimate result of ages of hard work in the spirit-world. The purpose is to establish, among the people of the earth, social, political and religious freedom. To be thwarted in this design by a cramped and ignorant theocracy, is an exigency not to be tolerated hereafter. The path of progress must be left unobstructed... Spiritualism has taught more truth to man, respecting his post-mortem existence, in the last twenty-five years, than had been shed upon the world in the preceding five hundred. It has educated people to think without fear; and thought is the life-principle of the great center of intelligence». From these words it seems that the main mission of the spirits consists in freeing humankind from faith in the dogmas and teachings of institutional religions. Another spirit, James Nolan, who often intervened in the sittings also with the function of guide, addressed the medium in these terms (page 221): «Stand firm, medium; we will protect you with our might. You are surrounded by a host of mighty spirits. We have selected you for a grand purpose – a mission that a queen would be proud to fill. You shall be honored above woman». To Wolfe, too, these statements seemed rather extravagant, though without questioning Mrs. Hollis' extraordinary mediumistic gifts. Another Josephine's claim (page 229): «We do not doubt our victory will come. All we want is workers; intelligent men and women who possess that priceless gift – energy, invincible determination, with a purpose fixed». As you can see, these are statements that any human leader could make, in the same terms, to motivate their followers.
In another letter, Josephine makes a weird an unconvincing profecy about a future conflict (pages 515-516): «The truth of spirit-intercourse wil soon be generally understood; and as the people obtain a knowledge of the facts of spirit-life, they will cease to be influenced by the romanticism of priests. Faith will cease to lead them, when they have positive knowledge to guide. The attempt will then be made to sustain the Churches by invoking legislative action to coerce the people to adopt their spurious system of morality. This will bring on the conflict. The blows of revolt will fall upon every household. The issue will be sanguinary and doubtful for a time; but the spirit-hosts, arrayed upon the side of right, will oppose wrong to the bitter end, and triumph at the last. I contemplate this struggle in sadness; still, when I look at the grand results, I feel that it is right that it should come». These words, spoken by a spirit that should have reached a certain level of evolution, fully reflect the bipolar character of the human psyche, characterized by the conflicting tension between good and evil. A century and a half has now passed since they were written, and our knowledge of historical events shows us a very different picture from that presented by Josephine. Spiritualism had a remarkable diffusion in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in the United States and England, in spite of remaining an informal movement, within which various currents coexisted, which had formed on the basis of the interpretations of spirit communications obtained through various mediums, and of the needs of social evolution and recognition of human rights that put the more progressive personalities in contrast with the more conservative, and even retrograde, factions. With regard to the psyche, the spirit world does not show substantial differences from ours, except for the absence of all those needs and risks to which we humans are subject due to the fact that our Ego is bound to an organism.
It should not be forgotten that many social reformers, philanthropists, scientists and prominent political figures of the late nineteenth century were convinced spiritualists, so one cannot deny a certain positive effect of the mission of the spirits in improving the social conditions of the time. However, the prevailing cultural orientation, influenced by progress in science and technology, soon focused on the concrete problems of organic life in the physical dimension, neglecting or even ridiculing the spiritual dimension, often denounced as fraud or naive and gullible superstition. The bloody conflicts and the great social revolutions of the twentieth century were certainly not determined by the need for affirmation of Spiritualism, which was soon discredited to the point of becoming irrelevant as a mass social movement. Meanwhile, the collective interest in mediumistic phenomena declined as suspicions or reports of fraud (often well founded) were publicly acknowledged. Even the few scholars of these phenomena did their utmost to be accepted by the scientific establishment, adopting methods that – despite having demonstrated their usefulness and effectiveness for investigations of the physical world – could not adapt to the spirit world, whose existence didn't even have to be taken into account. So the prophecies of Josephine and other spirits regarding the triumph of Spiritualism in a short time did not come true. The fact remains that in all the considerations, hopes, motivations and promises of these spirits there is a basic naivety, or at least a lack of intelligence and information regarding the forces in the field, when they want to face the conflict dynamics determined by the human psyche without showing an adequate understanding of the enemy's resources: one gets the impression, also in this case, that these entities who introduce themselves as good spirits want to play their game on the chessboard of humankind, without getting their hands dirty by directly facing their malignant adversaries who, evidently, do not stand by and watch.
The information provided by Josephine and other spirits who communicated through Mrs. Hollis about the organization of the spirit world are far from exhaustive: they affirm the continuity of the existence of the human personality, which therefore remains controlled by psyche's dynamics analogous to those to which it was subjected during its earthly life. The degraded or wicked condition in which many people find themselves due to the influence of the psyche's negative polarity on the conditions of human life and on their conscious Ego, preventing their spiritual evolution, is often denounced by the spirits, who nevertheless make no attempt to ascertain the causes why some spirits evolve and others much less. For example, Josephine complains in these terms (page 499): «O men! will you make devils of yourselves? We have too many such in the spirit-world; send us no more. Arouse from this unnatural condition, and aspire to a higher and better life... You all need the assurance we bring of a higher life. Then, for the sake of all concerned, debase yourselves no more. If you could see the hosts of spirits chained to earth by their degraded vices, wandering, year after year, about the haunts of their defilement, you would, in preference to being such, beg for annihilation». The picture offered by Josephine is not the most reassuring: first of all she admits the existence of wicked spirits even in her world, and then offers a classic image of the sufferings to which those spirits who remain slaves to certain habits contracted in the course of human life will go through, due to the subjection of their Ego to the psyche's dynamics that involved it. However it seems, on the basis of various information provided by spirits, that their world is stratified, or divided into well-separate sectors, in each of which spirits of a compatible evolutionary level coexist, as opposed to what happens on our planet, where each kind of interaction between people differently oriented towards one or the other polarity of the psyche is possible. The purpose of spiritual evolution should be to advance to a higher level.
With regard to the reliability of the spirits' prophecies or forecasts, one gets the impression that they often overestimated their resources, or were little aware or forgetful of our psyche's dynamics, even when – introducing themselves with a human identity – they claimed to have lived in our world for a more or less long time. Here, for example, is a prediction made by James Nolan, one of Mrs. Hollis' control spirits (page 437): «...spirits will soon be able to materialize in the light, and address audiences in public halls and churches, just as lecturers and preachers now do». Indeed, a certain exhortative and, so to speak, didactic role – in relation to what is referred to as the right way of living – has often been assumed by spirits, but has always remained within the limits of an audience of small circles. Even in these communications obtained through Mrs. Hollis' mediumship, there is no lack of some description of the enchanting spirit world, obviously referring to that level in which Josephine, Jim Nolan, and the other spirits of their group dwelled (see page 390). Already some of the first scholars of mediumistic phenomena sensibly pointed out how the various descriptions of the spirit world were contaminated by typically human psychic elements, not infrequently in contrast with each other. Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877), despite being a stead spiritualist, in his book Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, the first edition of which dates back to 1860, so expressed himself about spirit communications: «Whether coming to us from another world or from this, not a few of them contain a large mingling of falsehood with truth, and a mass of puerilities alternating with reason... and some of them, even where no fraud or conscious agency is presumable, exhibit unmistakable evidence of a mundane origin or influence; as all candid, sensible advocates of the spiritual theory, after sufficient experience, freely admit».
Differences between the spirit world and the Spirit dimension
Unlike the information on the spirit world offered to us by mediumistic communications of alien entities, whose correspondence with the human personality of a deceased only in some cases it is possible to verify, the testimonies on the Spirit dimension come from living people, who give us a report of the experiences of their conscious Ego when their organism was in critical conditions (NDE). Generally speaking, there are more differences than analogies between the two types of description, and overall the many NDEs that refer to the Spirit dimension are more coherent and convincing than a lot of descriptions of the spirit world: in fact, those who tell us their experiences – people like us, in flesh and blood – often show, with their expressive mimicry, the voice's intonation, the choice of terms and the pathos with which they describe what they have lived, an intense emotional involvement that lasts over time as a consequence of an experience that is more real than ever for them. In particular, while the descriptions of the spirit world are often contaminated, as we have seen, by dynamics typical of the human psyche, the experiences in the Spirit dimension result in a complete liberation of the conscious Ego from its involvement in those dynamics, to the point that it often loses all interest in this organic life to which it absolutely does not want to return. On the other hand, the interest shown in some cases by spirit entities for human affairs and for emotional ties with those who continue to live in our dimension seems much more intense. Even if in various NDEs there is no lack of descriptions of landscapes, environments and encounters with spirits of deceased to which the human personality of the experimenter had been in some way linked, the spiritual essence of such experiences always prevails over the psychic contents of human origin that instead characterize many aspects of the spirit world, as it is described to us in mediumistic communications.
Although some statements by the spirits may be in tune with direct experiences of the Spirit dimension, such as when Josephine writes (page 483): «God is Love», the descriptions by the spirits of the period following their passing away do not always agree with what we are told by those who have experienced a classic NDE. Even when Josephine states (page 236): «Death does not rob you of your loved ones. They are waiting for you on the threshold of their shining homes, and when you enter the spirit land they will guide you along flowery pathways to their sublime abodes», or (page 225): «We have in the spirit-land all you have in life: birds, fruit, flowers, paintings, books, and whatever else that can charm the taste or improve the understanding. Here all is beautiful, all is harmony and peace», she seems to describe a stereotypical world and an almost canonical ritual, in its happy implementation, rather than an intense, involving and absolutely extraordinary experience like the immersion in the Spirit light that characterizes many NDEs. Also Jim Nolan's account of his first experiences in the spirit world (page 390), while referring to a meeting with his grandmother who welcomes him, telling him that he has come home, and describing a pleasant environment, although very similar to our world, hints at the creative power of spiritual mind, but makes no mention of a direct experience of the Spirit. Sometimes the descriptions of the spirit world present similarities with what is experienced in the course of some NDEs, during the wanderings of the conscious Ego that precede the access to the Spirit dimension: these similarities are found in particular when wicked entities are represented, or when the condition of the spirits of those who, in this life, have allowed themselves to be ensnared and influenced by vicious and vile habits is visualized.
The substantial difference between the Spirit dimension and the spirit world consists in the fact that the latter looks like a beautiful copy of the human condition: the higher levels inside it, pervaded by a heavenly atmosphere, imitate and enhance those aspects of our world that we perceive and feel as pleasant, fascinating and interesting from an aesthetic, emotional, and in some ways also cognitive profile. However, the stratification of that world in various levels, however separated from each other, does not eliminate the bipolarity that characterizes the human psyche: indeed it could even accentuate it, if an autonomous essence were recognized to evil spirits residing in the lower levels, who would be able to exert an influence on our mind similar to that exerted by higher spirits. The still human character of spirits is pointed out by Josephine (page 246): «Laying aside the physical does not change their character. O no, my dear friends: your loved ones are still human, possessing the same love that filled their souls when they were with you in the form. Death has not robbed them of a single faculty. Their love has grown more intense, and they desire you to listen to their voices. O, my dear friends, you are throwing away golden opportunities when you reject us. Let us tell you of our bright homes, where you will one day come and from which you may return to earth, if you desire to talk to your loved ones again. Listen, and treat us with common politeness. This is all we ask. The spirit world will give you knowledge you do not possess. This is the savior you have been expecting so long». Beyond the vaguely propagandistic tone used by Josephine, there is a remarkable difference between the interest that spirits continue to have in human relationships and the detachment felt by those who have experienced the Spirit dimension, being involved in it to the point of forgetting even the dearest ones, and resolutely reject the prospect of a return to our organic life. The difference lies in the fact that the Spirit energy is in no way contaminated by the bipolarity that characterizes the psyche's energy.
We find a certain analogy between mediumistic communications and the accounts of NDEs when spirits refer to a mission that has been assigned to them, consisting in convincing us humans of the continuity of the existence of our conscious Ego even after the death of our organism, and in informing us about the conditions of life in their world. Many of those who have experienced an NDE also report having been connected again to their organism (often unwillingly) to fulfill a task, which is interpreted by them first and foremost as a need to publicly make their experience known and to testify their certainty in the continuity of the Ego's existence, and then to transfer into this world a part of the love received in the Spirit dimension. However, while in the case of NDEs the correlation between the experience in the other dimension and its effects once the Ego has re-connected with the organism is rather clear, the communications from the spirit world appear more uncertain and incomplete: in fact, it is not clear whether they have really experienced the Spirit dimension, to be then assigned to one or the other level in which to dwell – as a consequence of their degree of spiritual evolution – or if this experience has not even occurred. Beyond the different and not infrequently unconvincing information on the spirit world received through mediumistic communications, we can see how this information – always imbued with characteristic elements of the human psyche – is lacking that coherence and intense involvement that we find instead in many NDEs. Even with regard to the descriptions of places and landscapes, which have various similarities in the two cases, the NDE reports often refer to the light that pervades everything, or to the colors that are not those we experience in our world, thus highlighting the spiritual quality of that dimension, while the descriptions of the spirit world seem more like those of an idealized human world.
In any case, the human interest in the spirit world – which characterized mainly the second half of the nineteenth century, and to a lesser extent also the first decades of the twentieth – has progressively decreased, thus disavowing various prophecies of the same spirits. The residual mediumistic phenomena have become object of investigations based above all on the ascertainment of their genuineness and the exposing of frauds, while less and less attention has been paid to the ways in which physical phenomena are produced: the meager information provided in this regard by the spirits themselves is unsatisfactory, confused and hard to understand in the light of our knowledge and our own intellectual resources. Yet, phenomena such as levitations and apports occur and have been ascertained, as was the case a few decades ago with the mediumship of Roberto Setti. The spirit communications have taken the form of conspicuous doctrinal lessons, almost always pervaded by interpretative elements already present in the vast stores of human psyche, as we have seen in the pages of the blog dedicated to Cerchio Firenze 77 or to Conversations with Entity A. Anyway, the cultural influence of these teachings is far less than that of Spiritualism in its heyday. Instead, today there is a greater interest in NDEs, also due to the attention that many media have devoted to this phenomenon, bringing a large audience to know about the testimonies and reports of those who have directly experienced them. Since these are typically subjective experiences, the problem of their validation does not even arise: everyone is free to believe or not in the sincerity and honesty of those who share their experience. Audiovisual media have the advantage of letting the audience directly perceive – through mimicry, voice intonation, expression and emotional state – the degree of involvement of the experimenters and the impact that those experiences had on their conscious Ego, and consequently allow each of us to personally evaluate the reality and truth of the experience narrated.