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Transfiguration

Transfiguration

The metamorphic power ascribed to certain mediums to assume facial or bodily characteristics of deceased people for their representation. The phenomenon was described in detail in the account of William J. Erwood in The National Spiritualist, at a séance in 1931 with a Mrs. Bullock, a Chicago medium. In the light, which showed every movement of the medium, he claimed to have seen more than fifty faces in an hour and a half.

He writes:

"It was as though the medium's face were of plastic material being rapidly molded from one form to another by some master worker in plastics. Oriental faces, Indians, calm, dignified, serious, spiritual, in short, almost every type of face was depicted during the most unusual séance. One of the most striking was the impersonation of a paralysed girl whom I had known in the States. The medium's entire body, as well as face, was twisted out of all semblance of its normal state, to depict the condition of this victim of paralysis."

H. Dennis Bradley, in his book The Wisdom of the Gods (1925), described an experience with the medium Mrs. Scales:

"Gradually the whole of the expression of the medium's face changed completely. It was a transformation. Whilst the outline remained, the eyes and the expression became beautiful At first is was only with very great difficulty that the first few words were articulated. It was as if they were produced with considerable effort. Within a little while, however, the power strengthened considerably, and the spirit of my sister was able to assume complete control. It was my sister. It was her spirit, using the organism of another physical body, and speaking to me in her own voice."

Joseph Maxwell vouched for the following case of transfigu-ration in sleep, narrated by one of his colleagues in the magis-tracy:

"On January 1, 1903, my father began to feel the first attacks of the painful disease from which he died after six months of terrible suffering I watched him as he slept, and was not long in noticing that his physiognomy gradually assumed an aspect which was not his own. I finally observed that his face bore a striking resemblance to that of my mother. It was as though the mask of her face was placed over his own. My father had no eyebrows for a long time, and I noticed above his closed eyes the very marked black eyebrows which my mother had retained to the last. The eyelids, the nose, the mouth, were those of my mother. My father wore his moustache and a pointed, but rather short beard. This beard and moustache, which I saw, helped, contrary to what might have been expected, in forming the features of my mother. The appearance lasted for ten or twelve minutes; then it gradually disappeared, and my father resumed his habitual physiognomy. Five minutes later he awoke, and I immediately asked him if he had not been dreaming, especially about his wife. He answered in the negative."

The phenomenon was witnessed by a woman servant who came into the room while it lasted. She was told: "Jeanne, look at Monsieur sleeping!" She cried out, "Oh, how he resembles poor Madame. It is striking, it is quite extraordinary!"

In the experiences of Allan Kardec, founder of French Spiritism, there was an extraordinary case of a young girl of fifteen whose metamorphic power extended to the duplication of the stature, mass, and weight of deceased persons, especially of her brother. Kardec recorded that another metamorphic meduim, a Ms. Krooke, saw one evening her own face changed. She observed a thick black beard and by it her son-in-law recognized his dead father. A little later, her face changed into that of an old woman with white hair. She preserved her consciousness in the meantime, yet felt through her entire body a prick-ling like that of a galvanic battery. No such miracles are recorded in modern experience.

Transfiguration is most often reported as occurring in séances in conjunction with materializations. It involves grave risks for the medium, but no records of any harm have been reported. There is an observation based on several accounts including an experiment at the British College of Psychic Science, a Spiritualist organization, with the medium Ada Besinnet in 1921. A light was flashed on a face that was illuminated by a spirit lamp. The medium was leaning over the table and illuminated her own face with light held in her hand. The light quickly vanished, as did the white drapery which draped over her head. When awakened, she was in trance and complained of great pain in the pit of her stomach; for three days she was shaken with muscular contractions.

There are some past experiences on record of the disappearance of the medium during materialization. In such cases, Spiritualist argue, the entire bodily substance of the medium is believed to have been withdrawn for the purpose of building up phantom bodies. Such occurrences are also known as transfigu-rations. More rational approaches to the séance have ascribed more mundane causes to such occurrences.

Henry S. Olcott and John Newbrough experienced transfigurations with the medium Elizabeth J. Compton. While phantoms were parading in front of the sitters before the cabinet, she vanished from the chair into which she was tied in such a way that the least effort to face herself would have given her away. Not only had her body vanished, but the fastenings, threads, wax-ends, seals, and nails as well. Yet something must have been left in the chair, for Olcott was strictly forbidden to touch the chair when he was allowed to go into the cabinet.

Where was the medium? According to Olcott and Newbrough, she was transfigured into the phantom bodies. Many of the phantoms were recognized as departed relatives and divulged intimate knowledge of the lives of their relations. If they were seized, and they were sometimes, they resolved into Compton and always rendered her ill.

In 1890 Alexander N. Aksakof had a similar experience with the medium Elizabeth d'Esperance, at a séance in Gothenburg. While the phantom "Yolande" was outside the cabinet, he slipped his arm through the curtains and felt for the medium's chair. He found it empty; at the same time his hand was flung aside. At the very moment "Yolande" returned into the cabinet, the séance came to an abrupt end and the medium was discovered on her chair in her red dress ("Yolande" was in white).

Through automatic writing, Aksakof, who did not tell of his part in the sudden disturbance, was told by "Walter," d'Esperance's control, that if the contribution of the circle was insufficient there might not be enough left of the medium to be visible; the clairvoyant may still see the body, but in reality there might not be much more in her place than her organs of sense. In such cases, a simple touch may do the medium serious injury.

When Aksakof asked what would happen if in such a case he should pull the band of cloth which encircled the medium's waist, whether it would not cut her body in two, the answer was yes. D'Esperance summed up her only sensations in this sentence: "I felt as I were empty inside."

The existence of transfigurations is questionable at best, and like many of the physical phenomena with which it was associated, reports of its occurrence have become quite rare. Most psychical researchers regard it with skepticism, suggesting that its primary occurrences in séances were fraudulently produced. Reported cases have been rare and it is unsatisfactory to attempt to assess them long after the event.

Sources:

Aksakof, Alexander. A Case of Partial Dematerialization of the Body of a Medium. Boston, 1898.

Holms, A. Campbell. The Facts of Psychic Science. 1925. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1969.

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transfiguration

transfiguration The transfiguration is a concept in Christianity which is central to the understanding of Christ as joining the human and the divine. The notion of transfiguration marks the historical event when God became present in Christ's body, which occurred as Christ left his followers to pray. Both because of its theological importance and because of the centrality that it had in narratives of Christ's life, the transfiguration was heavily glossed within the early Church. It is the only time in the Gospels where Christ's divinity is revealed to the apostles.

The notion of transfiguration gained centrality in Christian religion because it marks both the appearance of Christ's divine form in his human body and the time when God names him as the Messiah. On the road to Jerusalem, Christ left the apostles Peter, James, and John to pray (Matthew 17: 1–8; Mark 9: 2–8; Luke 9: 28–36). As he did so, his body underwent metamorphosis in which his ‘face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light’ (Luke 9: 29). For the first time in the gospels, God spoke to the apostles, recognizing his son (Matthew 17: 1–8). Christ appeared in conversation with Elijah and Moses, two figures before whom God had revealed himself in the Old Testament, confirming his divinity. Christ told the apostles not to speak of this event until after he had risen from the dead; they offered little description of the event, although the narrative significance in the gospels is implicit: the event strengthened the apostles for the coming passion, and prepares the reader for Christ's resurrection.

Because the passage describes the simultaneous presence of humanity and divinity in one body, it was the subject of extensive exegesis for early Christians. Church Fathers returned to the event as an explanation of the difference of flesh and spirit, and an illustration of the humanity of God. The feast of the transfiguration was commemorated within the Church, and Mt. Tabor became a colony of religious orders and a site of pilgrimage. As an occasion of transcending the physical body it gained metaphorical significance in daily religious practice in Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant religion. The metaphorical use of transfiguration extends from the Christic narrative to explain the revelation of religious truth. Catholic theologians describe the partaking of Christ's body as an occasion of individual transfiguration, and speak metaphorically of the transfiguration of the Church to mark its spiritual invigoration. Transfiguration gains the quality of a prophetic reading, and extends to the entire Church, as, in taking the sacrament, the Christian prepares for the final revelation of the second coming.

The concept of religious transfiguration gained different significance as a revelation of religious truth in Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant churches. In the Byzantine church, images of the transfiguration were among the most common that were used to decorate reliquaries, vessels that contained body parts that joined the spiritual and physical worlds; their popularity suggests the strong link drawn between the transfiguration and the elevation from the body in the Last Judgment. The long tradition of images of the transfiguration that existed in the Greek Orthodox church was paralleled in the West; from the fourteenth century, Italian artists returned to the transfiguration as a dramatic revelation of the glory of Christ. This tradition culminates in Raphael Sanzio's Transfiguration. The dramatic construction of the transfiguration in Raphael's fresco returns both to the duality of the Christian god and the confirmation of his divinity through his transcendence of physical form; depicting the concept of transfiguration indeed posed the significant pictorial challenge of illustrating transcendence of the body. Raphael depicted Christ flanked by the Old Testament figures of the prophet and lawgiver, bathed in divine light. Raphael's conflation of Christ's curing an epileptic child with the metamorphosis of his own body juxtaposes an uncontrolled body with transcendence of physical form. The scene was returned to so often because it illustrates a central concept of Christianity: the physical juncture of Christ's humanity and divinity, the human manifestation of God's presence in the world.

The concept of transfiguration gained new significance as a revelation of religious truth to the individual in the reformed churches. The reformer Martin Luther appropriated the concept of transfiguration to emphasize the power of the written word, rather than transfiguration of the worldly body, and linked the concept to the power of individual prayer and inner reflection, to join man and God without mediation. But if transfiguration became the end of an interior journey of self-exploration among Protestant groups, the metaphorical significance of the transfiguration often remained embedded in the transcendence of the bodily form. Protestant theologians often use the metaphor of transfiguration of the individual to draw attention to the embodied state of a man who receives grace; transfiguration becomes a conceit for describing a physical relation to the written word. If the transfiguration of the individual was linked by Catholics to partaking of Christ's flesh or as a spiritual invigoration of the Church, Protestant orders describe a physical preparation as a precondition to transfiguration through reading of the Scriptures. Pietism and Puritanism emphasize disciplining the body in preparation to reading the Scriptures.

The religious concept of transfiguration has broad significance as it illustrates the relation of the physical world to the revelation of divine truth.

Daniel A. Brownstein

Bibliography

Brown, F. B. (1983). Transfiguration: poetic metaphor and the legacies of religious belief. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Carlston, C. F. Transfiguration and resurrection. Journal of Biblical Literature, 80, 233–40.
McGuckin, J. A. (1986). The Transfiguration of Christ in scriptures and tradition. Lewiston, New York.


See also Christianity and the body.

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transfiguration

trans·fig·u·ra·tion / transˌfigyəˈrāshən/ • n. a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state: in this light the junk undergoes a transfiguration; it shines. ∎  (the Transfiguration) Christ's appearance in radiant glory to three of his disciples (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2–3, Luke 9:28-36). ∎  the church festival commemorating this, held on August 6.

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Transfiguration

Transfiguration, in the New Testament, manifestation wherein Jesus appeared "shining" before Peter, James, and John. The traditional explanation is that in it Jesus' divine glory shone in his earthly body. Mt. Tabor is usually said to be the mountain where it took place. The event is commemorated in the feast of the Transfiguration on Aug. 6.

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