As our formal knowledge of the spiritual planes of life continues to unfold, the need for a new approach to cross-border communication is becoming clearer.
I restrict my attention in this article to communication that forwards our understanding of life after death, but I am aware that everything I say here could also apply to communication that forwards our ability to live here on earth.
Moreover, I write this article half to readers on this plane, but half as well to readers that I know exist on spirit planes, as eager as we are to realize the promise of greater co-operation between us.
If we are to arrive at reliable knowledge of the conditions of life after death, we shall have to give thought to how we, in cooperation with our discarnate colleagues, will address the difficulties we presently encounter.
The first difficulty is with many of our current sources. Many spirits who communicate today are newly-arrived and not in the best position to give us accurate reports of the conditions of the afterlife.
It is the spirits who have just departed – what the discarnate Philip Gilbert impishly called “the Syds and Minnies” – who are eager to communicate to their loved ones on earth the fact that they survive and their wonderment at conditions across the border. Most have little or no immediate, reliable knowledge of the world they are attempting to describe.
The second difficulty is the flip side of the first. Once spirits have moved on from the near-earth region to the astral or mental planes, as journalist Julia T. Ames notes from the spirit side, “few, possibly not one in a million,” retain an interest in communicating back after the passage of a few years. Thus, at present, we often lose some of our best sources on life after life.
One exception to this rule is a commentator like Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson who had criticized spiritualists while in the body and had given himself the task of setting the record straight or T.E. Lawrence whose earth life had been highly introspective and yet conducted very much in the public eye, his afterlife memoirs being his “next installment,” so to speak. Both have given us rare detailed observations of spirit life (the Life in the World Unseen series and Post-Mortem Journal).
However, even Benson and Lawrence eventually stopped communicating. We know much about their earlier years and little about their later years, by which time their knowledge would have expanded greatly.
Another notable exception is the advanced spirits or spirit groups who write under names like “Silver Birch” and “White Eagle.” Their splendid writings are usually on how we can live the best possible spiritual lives here on earth rather than on the conditions of life after death.
This is welcome and valuable material, but it does not always assist us to know what the student of the afterlife is looking for.
Behind all life lies a divine plan of spiritual evolution, from God to God, which is dimly seen by pondering the existence of ascending “planes” on the other side.
Degrees in Heaven
We are used to thinking democratically in the West, but spirit communicators will tell us without exception, in Julia Ames’ words, that “there are degrees in heaven.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reports that “there are many Etheric planes to go to when you die and, depending on your life on earth, it is up to you which one you enter.”
This may sound moralistic to us, but a good deal of spirit commentary concerns the various levels we go to: “For the very bad and corrupt there is the dark, cold plane….
If you are not too bad there is a stony plane with very little vegetation. If you live a life of good and helpfulness, love thy neighbour as thyself, you will go far.” In my studies, I have heard no spirit communicators who would take issue with Conan Doyle’s very simple, homely description.
However, our third difficulty is that the higher the plane we examine, the more our commentators fall silent. Once we follow a discarnate spirit or an incarnate investigator (for instance, Annie Besant or Charles Leadbeater) to realms as exalted as the buddhic and nirvanic planes, they simply run out of words. Of the two planes above these, they will not speak a word.
Even on nearer planes like the so-called “Summerlands,” there simply is no way to describe in our dualistic language many aspects of the conditions of life. The way spirits see is different. What they sometimes experience has no earthly equivalent. Colours have no correspondence to those on earth. Sound has no comparison. Flora is unique. Even water behaves differently.
No Agreement on Nomenclature
So early are we in our studies that cross-border communicators have not even agreed yet on a simple and universal nomenclature for the various planes of existence.
A septenary numbering system for planes and subplanes, with gaps, does exist, though most spirit sources who do refer to their plane don’t use it but instead use unique descriptive terms that are often hard to match up.
Here on earth we talk with precision about the “United States” or “Great Britain.” But different spirit communicators use words like the “borderlands,” “Hades,” “purgatory” “Kamaloka,” the “misty region,” or the “grey world” for what we can only hope is the same region.
At a higher level, commentators use terms like the “mental plane,” the “heaven world,” the “devachan,” and the “causal region,” for realms which again we can only hope are the same. Some say “the Christ sphere” and others “the God plane”: but are they identical? Do they signify plane or subplane? Spirit researchers usually do not specify. Establishing residency and equating descriptions takes pain-staking research. (There must be a better way.)
We Must Lay Down a Common Vocabulary
At present, we continue to focus on the unavoidable and important task of convincing more and more people that consciousness continues after death. We are just beginning to look at the different planes that exist and the different conditions of consciousness after death.
We must now lay down a common vocabulary for talking about what we intend to study and enlist the help of spirit investigators in creating it and then in taking that study further.
It may sound startling to some. But I believe that we can go far beyond our current practice of using one medium and a small band of spirit communicators operating for a few hours a week to pursue this work. It is time to set up ongoing scientific groups of investigators who will formally and regularly collaborate with enclaves of dedicated spirit scientists.
I am convinced that we can initiate a long-term, formal project of investigation into life after death with our spirit colleagues and that it is not the scientists on the spirit side who will need the coaxing but the scientists on our side.
I encourage us to remember that eminent scientists like Sir Oliver Lodge, Albert Einstein, and Neils Bohr are alive in spirit and would probably be more than willing to join in such a cross-border investigation.
More Cross-Border Co-operation Needed
Monsignor Benson says that “the great scientists of the earth-plane” remain at work in spirit and “have a completely new world upon which to commence a fresh course of investigations. They begin with … all their great earthly experience behind them.”
Earlier in the same book (Life in the World Unseen), he reveals that “the earth world has the spirit world to thank for all the major scientific discoveries that have been made throughout the centuries. The laboratories of the world of spirit are many decades in advance of those of the earth-plane.”
Spirit scientists already work with their earthly counterparts, albeit invisibly. Says Msgr. Benson: “Our spirit scientists can – and do – impress their earthly colleagues with the fruits of their investigation.
In many cases where two men are working upon the same problem, the one who is in spirit will be far ahead of his confrere who is still on earth. A hint from the former is very often enough to set the latter upon the right track, and the result is a discovery for the benefit of humanity.”
Sir William Rowan Hamilton’s inspired discovery of the equation for quaternions (see “Wikipedia”) may be just such an example of cross-border partnership at work.
I think we need to listen to the views of people like psychologist William James (After-death Journal of an American Philosopher) when he exhorts earthly science to “broaden its frontiers, which are too small to contain important elements of human experience.” And to Julia Ames (After Death) who urges us to “bring Eternity to the assistance of Time” in setting up cross-border investigations.
I have no idea how such a formal and long-term project, involving reputable scholars on this side, a number of the most capable mediums, and a band of eminent scientists on the other side, could be commenced. Nor do I, as a retired person, have the funds or connections to initiate it. But I suggest that those who are in a position to look at the possibility consider it.
Perhaps the first thing we’ll discover is what we cannot know, in view of the difficulties I’ve just mentioned. Nevertheless, I think we’ll be surprised to see just how quickly we can agree on the basic conceptual tools that will allow us to produce “new maps of heaven.”