Chapter 2: Introduction
The belief in an afterlife in which the soul continues a conscious and rational existence is an intensely powerful human longing. While even those of deep religious faiths may still have apprehensions when it comes to facing death and standing on the edge of the boundaries of the unknown, throughout history there have been those men and women who claim that they can not only conceive of a future life, but also directly experience it and communicate with those souls who have died and gone there. These individuals who claim such extraordinary abilities are known as mystics, mediums, or channels, and they are as sought after by those who seek reassurance of the afterlife in the twenty-first century as they were in the days of the pharaohs.
For traditional shamans in aboriginal cultures throughout the world, the barrier between the world of spirits and the world of humans was a very thin one, and the ability to communicate with the spirits and to travel in their dimension of reality was an essential facet of the shamans' responsibility to their people. It was also true of the medicine people and shamans of the various Native American tribes, and a belief in a total partnership with the world of spirits and the ability to make personal contact with those who had changed planes of existence was a basic tenet in their spiritual practice.
Whether the man or woman who claims contact with the spirit world is a traditional shaman or a contemporary channeler, he or she will most likely establish that communication through the ethereal services of a spirit guide or spirit control. This entity serves the medium as a link between the worlds of flesh and spirit. It is said to have the ability to usher the spirits of the departed to a level of the medium's consciousness that permits him or her to relay messages to those who have come to hear words of comfort and inspiration.
While most of the major religions condemn those who claim to be able to speak to the dead or deny their abilities, mediums have countered by questioning the lack of logic displayed by members of orthodox faiths who say that it is all right to hope for survival after death but wrong to prove it. For centuries, various investigators of mediumistic phenomena have argued that if it could be proved that sincere and honest mediums were able to contact the dead, then the mysteries of the afterlife could be answered, and organized religion's hope of the future life would be transformed from an ethereal promise to a demonstrable guarantee.
Those scientists who have been intrigued enough by spiritistic phenomena to study it in a serious manner under laboratory conditions are known as psychical researchers, and they have been examining mediums and mystics in a structured and determined process since the establishment of the British Society of Psychical Research in 1882 and the American Society in 1885.
Most mediums, however, feel that they can get along well without psychical researchers. Successful mediums do not need to prove anything to their followers, who already believe in their abilities. The tests of the psychical researchers are often tedious and set up to be administered by objective and unemotional personnel. The mediums argue that the laboratory certainly does not offer the mood and atmosphere to be found in the seance parlor, and the bright lights are not as conducive to the trance state as the dimly lighted room. Psychical researchers counter such arguments by pointing out that laboratory controls are necessary to unmask the charlatans, because there are those who deceive people during their period of grieving for a deceased loved one.
This chapter will introduce some extraordinarily colorful and fascinating men and women and explore the remarkable claims of mediums who insist that they can summon spirits from the world beyond death. There are passionate believers, determined debunkers, and individuals who believe that they have proved scientifically and conclusively that a future existence awaits the soul of each human who passes from life to death.