One experiment in particular went a long way toward substantiating the legitimacy of spiritual survival. Between 1901 and 1932, a series of communications involving multiple spirits were transmitted to multiple mediums living and operating on different continents thousands of miles apart. The mediums involved were not familiar with one another and did not communicate with one another. By themselves, the individual spirit communications made little sense, and had no meaning to any of the mediums who received them. However, when fitted together by a panel of classical scholars, these otherwise meaningless scraps created coherent and intricate messages. This series of communications, known as the “Cross Correspondences” appears to have been designed by the spirits themselves to prove that they survived death.
The process of fitting the apparently random fragments together was similar to the assembly of a modern, compressed digital picture received over the internet. The image you see on your computer monitor is composed of millions of bits of information which are sent out in groups called “packets”. These packets are received by your computer in no particular order and any given packet means nothing by itself. It’s the computer’s job to unscramble, interpret and finally reassemble the packets in the correct order so that they can be presented on the monitor as a coherent picture.
To make matters even more complex, the information conveyed in the cross correspondences was, in a way, encrypted. The ultimate messages were based on allusions to obscure classical literature that very few people would have recognized. The use of obscure classical literature would have been consistent with the personalities of the spirits who apparently devised the concept of the cross correspondences, particularly Frederick W.H. Myers, who we met in chapter 5 and who died in 1901. His spirit appears to have been the instigator of this experiment. The reassembled messages used subtle symbolism, and each one might be dictated over a period of weeks, months or even years (thirty years in one instance).
Each medium would receive seemingly meaningless scripts, some of which were written in Greek and Latin. These scripts were “signed” by Myers and were duly forwarded to the British Society for Psychic Research. Each script was like a tiny piece of an enormously complex puzzle.
This “experiment” began shortly after Myers’ death in 1901. Most of the messages were received through automatic writing. The automatists included Margaret Verrall, a classics lecturer at Cambridge University, her daughter Alice Fleming (sister of Rudyard Kipling), then living in India, Winifred Coombe-Tennant, (Myers’ sister-in-law), and Leonora Piper, a famous and well-studied professional medium. Neither Fleming, Willett nor Piper possessed significant knowledge of Greek or Latin, which means they were unlikely to have unconsciously produced these messages themselves.
When the scripts first started appearing, Margaret Verrall was quite skeptical and believed that they were influenced by telepathy and clairvoyance on the part of the mediums themselves. However, many of the messages were disjointed and garbled in phrasing, and she was puzzled about the frequent references to literature and history. For a number of years, no one really noticed any coherent pattern to the messages until in 1906, Alice Johnson, organizing secretary of the SPR noticed that when certain fragments produced by different automatists were connected, a pattern emerged, as if they were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
The scripts appeared to be from Myers. They were not only signed by him, but they were written in language consistent with his personality. Eventually, Myers was joined in his post-mortem experiment by several other deceased friends, among them Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney who founded the SPR along with Myers. The purpose of including obscure allusions to ancient Greek and Roman literature was to establish the identity of Myers and others of his deceased colleagues, who, like him, were classical scholars with a deep knowledge of the subject.
Myers had spent most of his life studying the evidence for the survival of the personality after death. Like everyone today confronted with the objective evidence, he found he could get frustratingly close, but could never rule out the possibility of fraud, telepathy or clairvoyance on the part of the mediums. The point Myers was trying to make with the cross correspondences was to show that he and his deceased friends could formulate and carry out a complex scheme to prove that they still existed as thinking personalities. None of the living actors in this drama even knew that Myers’ plan was afoot until Alice Johnson noticed, quite by accident, that these apparently disjointed scripts formed a distinct pattern.
The Cross correspondences are difficult to study today because of the esoteric nature of the material transmitted and the incredible complexity of piecing the bits together. Esoteric means “material that is intended for and understood by only an initiated few”. These initiated few are today’s vanishing coterie of classical scholars. Trying to describe even the simplest ones is quite tedious, and most moderns who are not familiar with classical literature have trouble following the logic. Nevertheless, the cross correspondences were a remarkable spiritual accomplishment and represent one of the most comprehensive proofs of spiritual survival ever produced.
Skeptics generally avoid talking about the cross correspondences, and feel justified in doing so because so few people today can understand the classical allusions and have trouble following the logic. When the skeptics are confronted by people who have studied and understand the evidence, they fall back on claims of fraud, collusion, coincidence or “Super ESP.” In addition, the study of the paranormal and spiritual survival today is very nearly universally reviled by the very academics that would ordinarily be called upon to study them. Atheism has become the standard among modern academics, and they defend it as zealously as the fifteenth century Catholic Church defended Catholic doctrine.