9. The Discarnate World
It was in 1941 when I was temporarily back in Britain that I met Louisa Ashdown. She was a delightful, unpretentious woman with an unusual gift. She could sit in her drawing room chatting to her guests and simultaneously a voice, audible to everyone in the room, could be heard coming from a point anything up to ten feet away from her. While not denying the existence of ventriloquism, such a feat was totally impossible in the circumstances as the larynx cannot be used to produce two voices simultaneously. The evidence that I heard on numerous occasions was quite enough to convince me that the information imparted could not possibly be known to any of those present and the information was frequently expressed fluently in foreign languages of which Louisa Ashdown had no knowledge. One voice which addressed itself to me on many occasions showed a staggering knowledge of the French campaign in which I had recently been involved. I never discovered the identity of the speaker, but he was obviously a senior officer as he had far greater and wider knowledge of events than I could have from my lowly position of second lieutenant. His description of many critical situations in which I had been involved was graphic and detailed and they were not subjects I had ever talked about except in the most general terms.
Until the end of 1942 and after the war I worked with a great many mediums or ‘sensitives’ as they are now known. In retrospect I realise how lucky I was to meet so many extraordinarily talented people. I could go on at length about the evidence that convinced me that survival after death is a reality regardless of one’s religious concepts, but I will tell only one more story. It was in Edinburgh in 1949 that a group of people, myself included, was asked by the Psychic College in Herriot Row to test Helen Duncan. She had recently completed a term in prison for alleged fraudulent mediumship and it was felt that if she was to take up her work again, an independent test should be carried out.
The female members of the group stripped and searched her and then sewed her into a one-piece suit with no pockets or apertures, which covered her from elbow to knee. We sat in a room with enough light to read the small print in a diary. I know because I checked! In the space of ninety minutes, seventeen separate forms came into the room. Many of them materialised sufficiently to be touched and we all heard the individual voices, both male and female, which came from different points of the room and could not possibly have come from the medium’s throat. This was evidence enough, but I was further surprised when one of the forms approached me. He thrust out two handless arms and said in Serbo-Croat, ‘You’ll remember that you buried me under the mimosa tree’. Nobody else in the room, far less Helen Duncan, knew any Serbo-Croat. I knew very little, but had picked up a smattering of the language and the dialects during the war when running a small sea-going unit, which included a number of Yugoslavs supplying military necessities to the Allied Forces in Yugoslavia. Certainly nobody else in the room with Helen Duncan could have known about the particular incident to which this related, but I remembered it well enough. Some Yugoslavs had been rescued and brought to Italy after some internal fighting and many of them had been severely mutilated. Some of them survived, but not by any means all and I remembered one who had had his hands brutally hacked off whom we buried under a mimosa tree.
The survival of death is a subject that Western man on the whole shies away from or denies hotly, even if he has not investigated the matter at all. Dr Johnson took a sensible view of the question; he remarked
that the dead are seen no more I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and varied testimonies of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those that never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience could render credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues confess it by their fears.
There is of course a great deal of well attested evidence for survival for anyone who does not wish to take my word for it. As an example, Eileen Garrett, one of Britain’s outstanding mediums with whom I shared many fascinating sessions, worked in America in the 1940s and submitted herself to rigorous tests under scientific conditions. The results of these tests were some of the factors that convinced many scientists that they should pay more attention to parapsychology, a subject that is now accepted at a number of universities in the United States. The evidence for Eileen Garrett’s abilities and those of numerous other gifted individuals is available through the libraries of the Society for Psychic Research and the College of Psychic Studies. More recently, doctors began to study patients who had clinically ‘died’ and then been resuscitated. Their conclusions were that consciousness seemed to continue after death. 
Teaching and Help from the Discarnate
I have not brought up the subject of the survival of death purely for its own sake. All the phenomena associated with mediumship is interesting and of value in that it alerts us to the reality of the Christian message of life after death. The main point, however, is that we can obtain enormous help from the discarnate (who include not just the so-called dead but other beings who may never have been incarnate), and I cannot stress too strongly that I feel it is both stupid and ungrateful to ignore it. It is equally stupid, of course, to suspend our critical faculties when communicating in this as in any field. I can only say that I (and I am not alone) am immensely grateful for the help and advice I have received over the years. This has included advice on my own health and a tremendous amount of information on how to help others. It sometimes takes the form of detailed diagnosis of individual patients or selection of remedies or suggestions of other possible sources of help.
Healing has been known in all parts of the world throughout the ages, and in every era many practitioners have given credit to some ‘spiritual’ source of help. This is true of the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Greeks, of the Indian traditions, of Shamanism  as it was (and in some cases still is) practised in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas. It is true of a great number, though not all, of the healers in the Western world. The difficulty lies in the definition of ‘spiritual’. Do we mean that we can receive help from some greater spiritual or divine order with an inherent value system, or do we mean help from ‘spirits’, including the dead? I maintain that both are possible but Western cultures find it particularly difficult to accept the latter. Thus, healers who claim that they have spiritual ‘guides’ are often regarded as a little strange. Others claim that they are channels for divine assistance or that they recognise a ‘life force’ and give it different names such as prana or mana and attribute slightly different characteristics to it. The internal controversies can be bitter, but perhaps it is at least a start if man recognises an unknown factor. Leaving aside for the moment any considerations of a greater spiritual order, I maintain that part of the so-called spiritual world is already within our grasp and demonstrably part of our lives.
Summary of Objections
There are many who will say that any notion of contact with a spiritual or discarnate world is unscientific and therefore impossible. From my point of view, spiritual help is an enormous asset, but I must stress again that extended sensory perception, including healing, works regardless of any belief or lack of it and, as experiments show, would seem to be subject to ‘natural’, if as yet incompletely understood laws. Do we perhaps dub ‘supernatural’ that which is in fact ‘natural’? At any rate, many rational Westerners study or even practise healing without any reference to spiritual or discarnate elements.
I know that many people would like to think that contact with the discarnate world is impossible nonsense because if it is not, all sorts of alarming spectres arise. ‘Messing about with spirits’, many say, is either dangerous or wrong or both. While I admit that dealing with the discarnate has its dangers, I cannot accept that it is ipso facto wrong. To say that communication with the discarnate and spiritual worlds is always morally wrong because sometimes it can be dangerous and sometimes it is misleading is illogical. It would seem to me that because there are dangers we must learn more about it so that we can discriminate, sifting the valuable and the helpful from the destructive and misleading and, of course, the fraudulent.
Many of those in the West who say that contact with a spiritual world is wrong base their arguments on the teachings of the Christian church. The church’s arguments are many and varied but broadly speaking they can be summarised as variations on two themes.
Firstly, they would claim that any genuine as opposed to fraudulent spiritual communication that does not come directly from God must be or is probably from the Devil. I submit, for reasons which I will put forward in a moment, that this judgement was reached for practical and political rather than ethical considerations. Secondly, they claim that whether the level of information imparted from supposedly spiritual sources is valued as good, bad or indifferent, the very excitement of communicating with discarnate sources can distract man from his proper task of aspiring to follow the Divine Will. There is some truth in both arguments in that the spiritual level or value of mediumistic information is immensely variable. A great deal of popular interest in seances is purely sensational and, instead of regarding contact with a spiritual world with reverence and a genuine desire to attain understanding and wisdom, some mediumistic contact can be debased to mere ‘spirit bothering’.
The assessment of the value of any communication is of paramount importance. The question is surely that of authority. Who is going to be the judge and controller? Should any organisation have a permanent monopoly and a blanket power of veto? This issue is not limited to Christianity. It is a universal problem, similar to that of parents throughout the world who have to consider when, if ever, they should allow their children to make their own judgements.
The Christian Background to Contact with Spirits
If you look up St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, you will find an excellent dissertation in chapters twelve to fourteen on the various aspects of extended sensory perception, including mediumship, which Paul called the gifts of the spirit. He encouraged his listeners to practise these gifts. He made the vital point (first letter to the Thessalonians, Chapter 5) that we should test the spirits and sometimes reject them as in the case quoted in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 16. He never said ignore them. St John’s first general epistle also makes the assumption that we will contact spirits through prophets or mediums and tells us not to believe every spirit, but to try them to see whether they are of God. Mediumship through the so-called oracles or prophets played a regular part in the early church, notably in the Church at Corinth founded by St Paul. The first great Latin father of the church, Tertullian, who lived in Carthage (circa 155-225) gave a fascinating description of mediumship in his essay ‘On the Soul’.3
We have amongst us a sister whose lot it has been to be favoured with gifts of revelation, which she experiences in the Spirit by ecstatic vision amongst the sacred rites of the Lord’s Day in the Church; she converses with angels and sometimes even with the Lord; she both sees and hears mysterious communications; some men’s hearts she discerns and she obtains directions for healing for such as need them… After the people are dismissed at the conclusion of the sacred services, she is in the regular habit of reporting to us whatever things she may have seen in vision; for all her communications are examined with the most scrupulous care, in order that their truth may be probed. ‘Amongst other things’ she says, ‘there was shown to me a soul in bodily shape and a spirit appeared to me; not, however, a void and empty illusion, but such as would offer itself to be even grasped by the hand, clear and transparent and of an ethereal colour, and in form resembling that of a human being in every respect’. This was her vision and for her witness there was God, and the apostle is a fitting surety that there were to be Spiritual Gifts in the church.
Here we have spiritual help with healing, direct contact with God, with a hierarchy of spiritual beings (angels?) and with other souls or spirits.
It is of particular interest that the early church had no objection to the ‘oracles’ contacting intermediary spirits rather than demanding direct communication with God Himself all the time. If we accept a hierarchy, including the communion of saints, contact need not be with God Himself. It is of course vital to keep all our powers of judgement on the alert, but I find it very sad that for so many centuries we have been led to believe that if any communication does not come straight from God, it must automatically be from the Devil. The acceptance of a hierarchy of beings including ‘dead’ human beings (the communion of saints?) has to me always made perfect sense. As a soldier I frequently had to accept an order from a senior officer, even if it was delivered by a junior. I did not demand to see Montgomery himself before I carried them out, although on many occasions I would require specific corroboration before taking action. In the same way, we are encouraged in the New Testament to test any would-be spiritual guide by demanding proof of authenticity and motive. As in the case quoted by Tertullian the communications must be examined with most scrupulous care.
If mediumship was a valued part of the early church, why is it in such ill repute with the authorities today? if we are to test the spirits (but not ignore them) and see they be of God, then surely the men of God should be able to help and guide us in the matter. The established churches, however, are very unhappy about spiritualism. They are of course correct in assuming that if there are ‘good’ spirits there are probably also ‘bad’ ones, but they seem to have used this as the reason for pushing the whole subject under the carpet and banning it if possible. The basis of this probably lies once more in the politics of early church history.
The scholars dispute whether the passage in Tertullian concerning the medium refers to a Catholic or a Montanist service. The Montanists, as you may remember, were a group of Christians in Phrygia noted for their healers and what we would now call mediums, particularly Montanus himself and two women called Prisca and Maximillia. Their influence spread far afield and impressed many of the leading Christians, including Tertullian himself. The fact that there is a dispute about whether this service was influenced by Montanism or not implies that other churches, too, had their mediums; this is confirmed by the frequent references to ‘oracles’ or ‘prophets’ in the various Church Orders, of which the Didache, already quoted, is the first known example. The church, while accepting both healers and oracles, made it quite clear that the spirits had to be evaluated to see if they were ‘of God’, if it was satisfactorily ascertained that this was the case, the oracles were much revered. The Montanists were therefore not really out of step, except in that the leaders were obtaining considerable influence which was a threat to the other arm of authority, the priesthood. Tertullian claims that the Bishop of Rome had already sent letters aimed at placating the troubles in Phrygia and recognising the Montanists as orthodox, but at the persuasion of Praxeus and his lobby these letters were recalled. Having been within an inch of acceptance, the Montanists were then branded as heretics and excommunicated.
The priesthood over the ensuing years managed to gain the ascendance and in time were left unchallenged. The ‘oracles of God’ disappeared and any lay person demonstrating their gifts was promptly stigmatised as a servant of the Devil. Tertullian could well
say of Praxeus that ‘He drove out prophecy and brought in heresy and he put the Comforter to flight’. It seems that Montanus did become something of a spiritual megalomaniac, but the baby was thrown out with the bath water, so to speak, when disapproval of Montanus led to a ban on prophecy or mediumship.
The churches have cut themselves off from regular contact with the spiritual world through lay mediums ever since. It was not until the nineteenth century when the spiritualist movement started that the subject was opened up once more. The church authorities found themselves in a position equivalent to that of a government which, for many generations, has successfully upheld prohibition. When certain of the population rediscover alcohol, there is no one who fully under stands its effects on man or who can discriminate between the respective values of crude alcohol and vintage claret. If the ban on alcohol is lifted, many of the least wise may become addicted to the cheapest and most damaging forms of neat alcohol, and this seems to corroborate the wisdom of prohibition. If, however, an essential part of the government’s ancient constitution can be shown to advocate the discriminating use of alcohol, then the government must surely try to rediscover the old skills of production and help to guide the population towards a wise appreciation of them while pointing out the dangers of licentious use of some undoubtedly damaging forms of drink.
The church’s attitude is in many ways understandable but unfortunate in that is has cut us off from so much help. The Catholics regard the whole subject of contact with the ‘realm of shades’ as too dangerous for the lay population, though opinion on diabolic influence varies amongst the authoritative writers and there are some who think communication with spirits useful.  The Protestant churches on the whole find it more difficult than the Catholics even to accept the possibility of communication. Archbishop Lang and Archbishop Temple appointed a committee to investigate spiritualism in 1937. The committee took over two years to prepare their report and in fact did not come to a unanimous conclusion. The majority report was signed by seven out of the ten members. The House of Bishops then pigeon-holed the report for some nine years, when somehow or other it was leaked to the press. The conclusions reached by a Church of England Committee of course cannot be representative of the views of all its own authorities, far less those of any other church, but it is so well expressed that it is worth quoting.
The seven signatories of the Majority Report  came to the conclusion that:
…certain outstanding psychic experiences of individuals, including certain experiences with mediums, make a strong prima facie case for survival and for the possibility of spirit communications while philosophical, ethical and religious considerations may be held to weigh heavily on the same side.
They thought that ‘it is probable that the hypotheses that they (communications through mediums) proceed in some cases from discarnate spirits is the true one’. They concluded that ‘in general we need much more freedom in our recognition of the living unity of the whole church, in this world and in that which lies beyond death’ and that spiritualism, if used with care and due recognition of the pitfalls, can fill up ‘the gaps in our knowledge so that where we already walked by faith, we may now have some measure of sight as well’.
As the report states, it is more than worrying if people allow ‘an interest in spiritualism, at a low level of spiritual value, to replace that deeper religion which rests fundamentally upon the right relation of the soul to God himself’. On the other hand, the report admits that ‘if spiritualism does, in fact, make such an appeal to some, it is at least in part because the church has not proclaimed and practised its faith with sufficient conviction’. In addition, they make it clear that the recognition of discarnate concern for us ‘cannot do otherwise… than add a new immediacy and richness to (our)belief in the Communion of Saints’. They add that ‘There seems to be no reason at all why the Church should regard this vital and personal enrichment of one of her central doctrines with disfavour’, so long as it does not distract Christians from their contact with God.
The report therefore regards spiritualism as both real and useful but the signatories make the vital point that we (and in this they include the lay population as well as the authorities) must use our powers of spiritual apprehension as fully and honestly as possible.
It is true [the report admits] that there are quite clear parallels between the miraculous events recorded in the Gospels and modern phenomena attested by spiritualists. And if we assert that the latter must be doubted because they have not yet proved capable of scientific statement and verification, we must add that the miracles, and the Resurrection itself, are not capable of such verification either.
The report goes on to say that Christians accept the Gospels not because of the wonders but because they… ‘ring true to the deepest powers of spiritual apprehension. But if this is so, we must clearly apply the same criteria to the claims of spiritualists’ (my italics). In other words, we can have ‘deep powers of spiritual apprehension’ and these, together with our intellectual powers of reason, must be rigorously applied when dealing with mediumistic communications.
The Dangers: Spirits and Mediums Good and Bad
The report stresses the dangers and the possibilities for distortion and delusion. Just being dead is not going to make anyone particularly different, so I quite agree that there are going to be those who are malicious or downright destructive as well as the wise, kindly, stupid and indifferent. We are quite accustomed to this in our normal lives. The odd politician, accountant, doctor, lawyer, and cleric has been discovered to be a crook but that does not mean that we ban politics, accountancy, the medical or legal professions and the clergy. We have to use our discrimination and, when necessary, ask for references. On every occasion I have found that those discarnate beings who make it their business to assist are prepared to take a great deal of time and trouble to establish their authenticity by, for example, showing a knowledge of intensely personal matters and I think this ‘testing’ is extremely important. Above all, we have to use our spiritual and moral understanding before committing ourselves.
As with the dead, so with the living. There are many brilliant mediums, but I am the first to admit that this whole field (like healing) is particularly open to abuse and fraudulence. This highlights the need for finding out more about it so that we can distinguish the good from the bad. Even the very best medium will of course have an ‘off day’. Some of the most celebrated violinists occasionally play flat! And even in a trance state, it is frequently difficult for the medium to withdraw his or her personality sufficiently and this may inadvertently colour the message.
It has been marvellous to have had the chance to experience the gifts of so many brilliant mediums. We can, however, if we are lucky, do the job to a certain extent for ourselves. If you like, it is similar to installing one’s own telephone at home rather than going to the post office every time one wants to make a call. The telephone may not always work to order and it is possible to get a faulty line and this can be true whether at home or in the post office.
I first discovered that my own capacity for direct mediumship was a reality when I was asked to give a talk to a large audience in Edinburgh in 1949. I was to share a platform with Helen Hughes, a famous medium, and had, with considerable trepidation, prepared a speech at short notice as I was merely a substitute for a very eminent speaker who had fallen ill. Subsequently I was told by Helen Hughes and three other clairvoyants in the audience that they had ‘seen’ a discarnate being step onto the platform with me. He had allowed me to start my talk and then stepped forward and placed a hand between my shoulder blades, whereupon I folded my notes, spoke for the allotted 45 minutes and sat down. The talk was well received but it bore no relation to my carefully prepared script! This has happened to me so frequently since that I can no longer be surprised, though I sometimes listen with interest to tape recordings of what I have said as I hear myself talking about matters that I did not think I knew. This can leave me at a loss when asked to authenticate my statements!
Sometimes I realise that I am ‘off beam’ and have to make corrections. One learns to recognise this with practice. If we go back to the analogy of the telephone, crossed or faulty lines are an occupational hazard of communicating. So do not assume that by dialling the White House, your information comes straight from the President; you may have got a crossed line to a small boy in Birmingham. Let him supply evidence of who he is, and keep your powers of judgement sharp for evaluating the worth of the information. In the last resort we have free will, and it is perfectly possible to ignore instructions if they seem likely to cause more harm than good.
Out of the Body Activity
Incidentally, we are all quite capable of operating without our bodies whether we are alive or dead. Louisa Ashdown was extremely perturbed when she ‘saw’ and spoke to me in London in 1943 even though I was physically many hundreds of miles away. She put down what I told her in her diary and, knowing that in reality I was fighting in North Africa, she wondered whether she should tell my mother I was dead. Luckily, she didn’t. When I returned to England, she showed me her diary. There was my account of a small but particularly unpleasant incident in Tunisia, in which I had once again very nearly been killed but not quite!
There was a small girl in Perthshire whom I knew purely on account of my spare-time hobby which was teaching show jumping to members of the Pony Club. She fell ill and as she was not responding to treatment, her mother (whom I did not really know at all) rang up a mutual friend to see if I would be prepared to help. Unfortunately, I was away and could not be contacted. The friend, having talked to me about telepathy in the past, endeavoured to send me a telepathic message stressing the severity of the child’s illness. The rest of the story came from the child. She was sitting up in bed the next morning, her fever symptoms gone and loudly demanding breakfast. Her mother expressed surprise and delight. ‘Don’t be silly, mummy’, came the response. ‘You know that the man from the Pony Club, Major MacManaway, came to see me last night.’ Her mother looked blank. ‘Yes, he held his hands over my tummy and it was very hot and then he told me I’d be all right in the morning. And I am.’
Whether you call it astral travel or any other high-sounding name, this ability has been known in many parts of the world for centuries. Brian Inglis, in his book Natural and Supernatural  quotes many stories of confounded European travellers who found that the wise men in parts of Africa and elsewhere could slip into a trance and ‘go’ many miles and back in a night, bringing with them physical evidence and subsequently corroborated news as proof of their journey.
We really are more than just physical beings. We can operate without our bodies and we can do our best to help or hinder mankind, whether we are alive or dead.
1. Moody, Raymond. Life After Life. Corgi, 1977.
2. Halifax, Joan. Shamanic Voices. Penguin, 1980.
3. Tertullian, ‘De Anima 9’. Ante-Nicene Christian Library quoted in A New Eusebius. Documents illustrative of the History of the Church to AD 337. SPCK, 1957.
4. For a selection of both sides of the Catholic argument, see the following:
Crehan, Joseph. Spiritualism. The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 1979.
Gatterer, Fr. Alois. ‘Der Wissenschaftliche Okkultismus’ 1927. Roure, L. ‘L’Eglise Catholique et le Spiritisme’ in essay on ‘Spiritsme’ in Dic. Theol. Cath. XIV 15-7-2522, 1940.
5. The Church of England and Spiritualism. Psychic Press (no date).
6. Inglis, Brian. Natural and Supernatural. Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.
A straightforward look into
all aspects of the healing phenomenon
© Bruce MacManaway, 1983. This book may be quoted from and printed out in single copies only for personal use and study, without permission.
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