Paranormal Experiences in the Life of Medium/Author Maurice Barbanell

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THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON 12/2/17 AT THE METAPHYSICAL ARTICLES BLOG.

The nonfiction books of Maurice Barbanell (1902-1981) include the memoirs Power of the Spirit (1949) and This is Spiritualism (1959).  Readers should find illuminating the scope of 'supernormal' manifestations made possible by the 'power of the spirit' as chronicled by Maurice after becoming Editor of Psychic News.  Maurice wrote in the Foreword of the later book: "Because my experiences have produced so profound a revolution in my own life, and given me a greater understanding of the universe and its purpose, I am willing to share my knowledge . . ."
 
In Power of the Spirit, Maurice recalled an occasion at the age of 30 when he "received my most outstanding example of spirit guidance at a time when I was called upon to make one of the greatest decisions in my life." 
 
At a period when nothing seemed to go right, I was having regular seances with Estelle Roberts [1, 2] and receiving counsel from her guide ['Red Cloud'].  Before that period, there had been a phase of prosperity.  I held directorships in private and public companies, had my own business and owned some properties.  There followed a series of misfortunes culminating in the slump of 1931, when all seemed black.  I was compelled to sell nearly everything I possesses and obtain loans on insurance policies.

I had to wind up my own business.  My sole income came from one directorship, but as that only entailed attendance at a monthly board meeting I was virtually without employment.
 
Here I must mention that Red Cloud is an advocate of reincarnation, a controversial subject on which I have, so far as it is humanly possible, an open mind.  At these trance seances, he displayed an intimate knowledge of all my troubles, despite the fact that I had deliberately refrained from discussing them with his medium.
 
One night, during a discussion on these difficulties, he told me that nothing would continue to go right until I redeemed a promise made in a past life that I would devote the major portion of my career to psychic activities.  Red Cloud stated: "We have plenty for you to do.  Our plans are already made.  They have only to materialize in your world.  You are going forward to do a bigger work."

My reply was that I had no recollection of making the promise to which he referred . . .


I decided, without mentioning the matter to Estelle or Red Cloud, to sit with another medium.


She had to be a medium who was a complete stranger to me.  The one who fitted all my requirements in an ideal fashion was Kathleen Barkel.


All her seances were held at her home, which I had never visited.

Fortunately, I was able to obtain an appointment at quick notice.  There was, as usual, a long waiting list, but it so happened that a sitter had just cancelled a date.  Further, my sitting was to be an anonymous one, no name having been mentioned or requested.  It was obvious, when we met, that I was a complete stranger to her.
 
Almost the first words uttered by White Hawk [her usual 'guide'] through the lips of his entranced medium, whom he always called his "coat," were that he knew I had come to him for confirmation of what "my brother Red Cloud has told you."

White Hawk referred to the promise, which Red Cloud said I had made in a past existence, and, as Red Cloud had done, mentioned spirit plans for my future.

"Everything is prepared," were White Hawk's words.  "All is arranged as far as we are concerned.  It has only to work out in the material world."  This was practically a repetition of Red Cloud's statement, to which he added a prophecy concerning the beginning of my new psychic career which was fulfilled to the letter.

Ever since I sat with Estelle, her guide always called me "John the scribe."  This sobriquet was conferred on me long before I had any intention that I would write millions of words for Spiritualism.

At an early stage of the Kathleen Barkel seance, White Hawk asked to handle some object belonging to me—this is frequently done to obtain a closer contact with the sitter's conditions.  I handed him my fountain pen.  Noticing, a few minutes later, that it was leaking—the first time it had ever happened—and that the ink was staining the medium's hands, I drew the guide's attention to this happening.  He laughed and replied: "I know.  Northcliffe is here and is responsible.  He says he always upsets pens"—as ingenious reference to the former newspaper proprietor's vigorous journalistic activities.

This was curious.  Already through Red Cloud I had received spirit messages from Northcliffe and W. T. Stead, who continued to display an interest in Psychic News, which I founded and edited for fourteen years.
 
At Maurice's next seance with Estelle Roberts, Red Cloud said to him: "Are you satisfied now that you have been to my brother White Hawk?"
 
Yes, he knew.
  
Feeling a little guilty, I asked, "Do you mind?"  He answered: "No.  And I am glad that you sought and obtained confirmation."  Having done so, I said, I was now ready to fall in with the spirit plans which Red Cloud declared were a redemption of my ancient promise.  He expressed his gratification.


Seven years previously, I had a seance with Alfred Vout Peters, one of the finest trance mediums of his day.  Then I was told: "W. T. Stead is interested in you.  You have a journalistic urge in your fingers.  Cultivate your writing powers.  Later on you are going to do writing work.  You will contribute to the newspapers.  Try to make your writing short and crisp."

Thus, through three separate mediums, fragments of a spirit plan had been revealed.  Shortly after the happenings just described, I launched Psychic News and embarked on my writing career.

Maurice commented in This Is Spiritualism about every medium having a 'spirit  guide'/'guides'/'controls': "Frequently they are Red Indians, a fact which puzzles newcomers."  Maurice estimated that he'd attended more than 3,000 seances.  At the time of publication of his 1959 memoir, Spiritualist services with clairvoyant/clairaudient mediums were commonly known throughout British society.  Maurice estimated that every Sunday night a quarter of a million people throughout Britain witnessed demonstrations of "'discerning of spirits,' the most common psychic gift, at one of the four thousand Spiritualist services that are held."

 
No lights are lowered for these demonstrations.  The medium singles out members of the congregation, describes spirit forms that she can see with them and relays the communicators' messages.
  
Maurice remembered that one of the mediums witnessed in this connection was Joseph Benjamin during a large public meeting.
 
He pointed to one woman and said, referring to the successful messages he had already given: "You are wondering whether I get all this out of their minds.  I will show you the difference between telepathy and clairvoyance.  This is what is in your mind," he told the woman, and proceeded to relate the problems which she admitted were troubling her.

"Now this is not in your mind," he added, "because it comes from your dead father, and he says you will have to make inquiries to prove that he is right."  There followed a message for the recipient to verify with her mother.
 
The following excerpts are from an account derived from Maurice's "detailed notes I made of a demonstration, lasting for an hour and a half, given by Joseph Benjamin."
 
The medium said to one woman that he could see with her a girl who had died of consumption and who was making her first return.  Benjamin gave the girl's name, told how she had died—choking with consumption—and added these extraordinary details: "She lived near you, on the other side of the road, on the corner, in the upstairs part of a house."  All this brought eager nods of assent.

Then the medium's voice rose—a note of excitement always creeps in when he effects close touch with the communicator—as he added: "This girl had four fingers, not five." "Yes," exclaimed the surprised woman, "she tried to hide the fact."


An indication of how information is conveyed to the medium came in the course of his next message, when, after transmitting some proofs, he asked the young woman: "Why do I see 'New Zealand' written over your head?"  She replied, "I have just arrived from New Zealand."
 
Joseph had previously worked as a tailor's presser.  He became a medium after attending a Spiritualist meeting and unexpectedly experiencing the trance state himself.  During the 1950s the income from his new career was found to be "very modest, despite the fact that he is among the most successful public clairvoyants today."  Maurice explained:

 
The society that organises his twice-weekly public meetings expects to cover the expenses involved by making a charge of a schilling for admission, but this is waived for old-age pensioners.  Both halls seat about one hundred and fifty people.  For his private seances, which have to be limited because psychic powers cannot be turned on like a tap, the fee is a guinea.  There is no fortune in mediumship.
 
Maurice associated some mediums with what he called "solar-plexus voice mediumship."  As described in Power of the Spirit, he witnessed this phenomena during a visit to Lily Dale ("America's largest Spiritualist camp") in the presence of Ann Keiser (of Buffalo, New York) and on other occasions with Thomas John Kelly.  A previous blog article presents Maurice's account of what he experienced with Ann Keiser and the following excerpts present a description of incidents with Thomas John Kelly.
  
Jack Kelly is not a native of America but went there at an early age from Wales.

The first time I spoke at Lily Dale he was the medium who followed with a psychic demonstration.  Its purpose was to answer, while blindfolded, questions placed in sealed envelopes . . . He was seated next to me on the platform.

In broad daylight I heard a spirit voice address me by my nickname.  It began as a whisper, gradually becoming louder until the words could be distinctly heard.  The voice seemed to come from the region of the medium's solar plexus.


What made the proceeding all the more remarkable was the fact that I heard the voices of spirit relatives of members of the audience give their messages to Kelly's dead father, who then repeated them through his son's lips.


Frequently when I was in Kelly's presence the voice of his father would participate in our conversation.


Kelly, and other American Spiritualists, were fellow-passengers on a ship going to Britain.  They were on their way to attend the International Spiritualist Congress . . . Midway in Atlantic, we held a public seance for the benefit of passengers and Kelly provided the demonstration.  I, who sat close to him, could still hear his father's voice, but I noticed that it had weakened.  After we arrived in England, I heard this voice speaking many times, but it was always weaker than it had been in mid-Atlantic.
 
In another passage of the book, Maurice Barbanell described the first time he observed Thomas John Kelly go into a trance with the manifesting communicator then providing answers to questions written on letters within sealed envelopes.  This aspect of mediumship was then known as "billot-reading" or "ballot-reading."
 
The medium removed his spectacles and invited a man from the audience to tie three handkerchiefs over his eyes.


After being entranced, Kelly stood up.  Though he was blindfolded, he moved with unerring accuracy up and down the platform, never bumping into a table on which were placed vases of flowers.  Neither did he collide with anybody when he descended some steps to walk among the audience.  Hundreds of sealed envelopes containing the written questions littered the table.  As he dealt with each one, the medium threw it into a nearby waste paper basket and he hardly ever missed.  In every case, he read the identification code written on the sealed envelope and the questions on the folded paper inside


One woman was told that after she had written her question she had erased it and substituted another.  The medium stated what both questions were.


At first the woman denied making an erasure. To prove that he was right, the medium handed the paper to me for confirmation.


So accurate was the information transmitted that unusual names presented no difficulty.  Where a spirit communicator gave a message, the town in which he had lived was often given.  Frequently, the place where the questioner was residing was also stated, as were occupations, dates of passing and of birthdays.  I noted one instance when a woman was told her birthday and even the time when she was born.

The spirit guide depreciated questions of a fortune-telling nature.  When he read one sealed envelope and said it contained these words, "What does the future hold for me?" he answered, "Exactly what you make it."
 
In another chapter of Power of the Spirit, Maurice reported about the aspect of mediumship known as 'slate writing' with a remembrance of a sitting when this phenomena occurred in the presence of famous 'materialization' (or 'physical') medium Helen Duncan (1, 2, 3). 
 
. . . strange though it may seem, the slate pencil writes without any visible means of support.  Helen Duncan would never take it too seriously and always had to be cajoled into giving demonstrations.

The requirements were two slates, such as school children use, and a pencil.  First I washed the slates clean at the seance I attended, and, using the pencil, wrote my question, making sure that the medium could not see what I was doing.  Then I placed the pencil horizontally between the two slates and tied them round with string.

Helen Duncan placed them beneath a table and then held her hand below the slates to keep them wedged and to prevent them from falling.  In good red light, I have heard the pencil make its usual scratching sound as an answer to the question was written.  When the reply was completed, three taps were heard from beneath the table.  Mrs. Duncan produced the slates—and there was the spirit answer to the question.
 
The Two Worlds of Helen Duncan (1985) is a case study by Gena Brealey (Helen's daughter) and Kay Hunter.  The book describes the evolution of Helen's mediumship and mentions such 'controls' as 'Dr. Williams,' 'Donald,' 'Albert Stewart' and 'Peggy.'
 
Among the many other famous mediums (and their 'guides') with whom Maurice associated and reported about their work were Louisa Bolt (Mrs. Ashdown), Margery Crandon, Ada Emma Deane, Harry Edwards (1, 2), Helen Hughes and John Myers.  Two associates instrumental in Maurice's career were themselves journalists for Spiritualism: Arthur Findlay and Hannen Swaffer.  Maurice reported in This Is Spiritualism that there is photographic evidence of seance room phenomena and there are accounts of photography involving mediums Jack Webber (photos) and Margery Crandon.  Some of the main 'spirit-controls' to manifest through Jack's mediumship are 'Black Cloud,' 'Paddy,' 'Reuben,' 'Malodar,' 'Talgar,' 'Rev. John Boaden' (a great-uncle of the medium), 'Dr. Millar' and 'Professor Dale.'   Harry Edwards wrote about 'Black Cloud' in the case The Mediumship of Jack Webber (1940): "A North American Indian of the Mohawk tribe . . . It is to Black Cloud that we are most indebted . . . for his co-operation in taking photographs . . ."  The following quoted passages concerning seance photographs are also from This Is Spiritualism.
 
With Jack Webber, a Welsh ex-miner, who lived in South London, it was a frequent occurrence for heavy tables to be levitated.  Using infra-red photography, pictures were obtained of this significant phenomenon.  The infra-red process also enabled me to obtain photographs of ectoplasm exuding from the medium and gripping one, and even two, trumpets . . .


When I saw with Webber a demonstration of how his jacket was removed and replaced, even though it was knotted and threaded, and he was roped to his chair, I asked his guides if we could photograph this impressive performance.  I received permission, providing that only infra-red photographs were taken and that the exposures were made when signals were given through the medium.


For the purpose of my photographic experiment with Webber, he was securely roped to his chair.  His arms were first lashed to each chair rest, then his legs were roped to the chair legs.


After lashing the medium to the chair, all the knots were threaded with black cotton, which normally would snap if there were any interference.  Moreover the black cotton was also tied around a button in his jacket and knotted through a buttonhole.  The slightest movement on the medium's part would have broken the cotton.  Yet, at the end of the seance, all the knots and threads were intact.

The whole process of removing the medium's jacket and replacing it took fourteen seconds.  Between the taking of the pictures we were asked by Webber's guide to put on the white light, so that we could clearly see the medium which his coat removed and seated in his shirt-sleeves.  This was eight seconds after the seance had begun.  Two seconds later, a third photograph showed the coat in the process of returning to the medium; it was half-way on Webber's body, with the sleeves partially back in their original position.  The front of the jacket could be seen through it.  The fourth photograph showed the coat completely restored to its original position.


Photographed demonstrations of the "impossible" were also obtained at seances with Margery Crandon of Boston, U.S.A.  One of the results was called, "the greatest psychic exhibit in history."  It proved the passage of matter through matter.

The experiments began at the suggestion of William H. Button, who was then president of the American Society for Psychical Research.  Button, a keen researcher, was also a prominent Corporation lawyer.  His legal mind had pondered the problem of producing evidence that would be in itself scientific proof of spirit power.  Finally, an ingenious idea occurred to him, one that he propounded to Walter, Margery's dead brother, who acted as her guide.

If, Button suggested, two solid wooden rings could be interlocked at a seance, a feat that is normally impossible, they would be permanent evidence that could not be explained away, and would also reveal the working of a supernormal force.  Walter promised to co-operate.  The solid wooden rings were obtained at the next seance.  In a few minutes they were joined, one inside the other.  Button was so delighted that he asked Walter to repeat the experiment, which he did.

The jubilant sitters decided to acquaint Sir Oliver Lodge with the results.  The famous scientist suggested that they should make the test even more stringent.  It might be argued . . . as the rings were made from the same type of wood, that they were originally one solid block which had been cut into the shapes of an interlocking pair.  To overcome even this criticism, Lodge offered to provide two rings each made from a different kind of wood.  He supplied them, one of teak, and the other of hard pine, having photographed them before they were sent to Boston.
 
These rings of dissimilar wood were interlocked at a seance with Walter.
 
. . . the result, "the greatest psychic exhibit in history," was kept in a glass case.

  


This clipping is from a 1979 issue of Psychic News.  The article showed photographic evidence supplied by newspaper staff for an exhibition at Belle Vue, Manchester.  (rings photos)


Concerning the phenomenal thumbprints produced 131 times by 'Walter' during Margery's seances, Maurice acknowledged "it was once suggested to Walter that his thumbprint bore a resemblance to that of a living man.  This was not really an argument against the supernormality of his results, but an allegation that fingerprints were not an infallible proof of identity.  Walter's answer was to reproduce both his hands in wax."  When considering any question related to the identity of the manifesting presence on a particular occasion, people should keep in mind that the lesson being given may not be the one that is expected by an individual observer.  A case in point is the 'Gef'/Isle of Man 'talking poltergeist' case.  (1, 2)  The events chronicled as having occurred in the 'Gef' case also include the obtaining of prints as one of the experiments conducted during attempts to determine the nature of the strange occurrences.

Readers need only to peruse some of the other articles at this blog to realize that there are many forms of "proof" to be found upon learning about documented cases of 'unexplained phenomena.'  This evidence may be unknown or go ignored yet remains available nonetheless.  In This Is Spiritualism Maurice Barbanell offered some of his spiritual insights.

The seance room introduces us to a range of psychic laws which regulate the phenomena produced through mediumship.  It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that there is also a realm of spiritual law to control the spiritual aspects of being.  All this indicates an infinite intelligence which is responsible for a law-governed universe in all its ramifications.  Finite minds cannot comprehend infinity, but there emerges a conception of an infinite spirit as the divine architect of the cosmic scheme.


The realisation that man is a spiritual being, which emerges from the evidence of the seance room, is a tremendous fact that ultimately will transform the whole earthly scene.  It will give mankind a new sense of values based on an understanding of his place and purpose in the divine plan.

 


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