The occasion for this post is my discovery quite recently of a major nineteenth century figure in psychology, Frederic W.H. Myers. I’ve been reading a one-volume compression of his two volume work, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. Borderzone stuff, in other words.
A central concern of Myers’ work are phenomena that I’m inclined to classify as “mediumistic.” Myers’ own inclination is to use more scientific labels. He dislikes using such terms as “medium”—with the implication that such a person is an “intermediary” between this world and the spiritual or ethereal—because they signal a conclusion, whereas Myers was interested in understanding things first before he labeled them. His own view—later much used by C.G. Jung—was that the human mind had a rather extensive and superior range of functioning, mostly unconscious to the waking personality; he called it the subliminal mind; he also thought that the subliminal mind explains a great majority of what I (more carelessly) call the mediumistic phenomena.
Myers discusses this subject under various headings appropriate to his own system of classification: Disintegration of Personality (wherein he covers mental conditions of dissociation and multiple personalities), Motor Automatism (where he deals with such things as automatic writing, table wrapping, hauntings, and the like), and Possession (I haven’t reached that part of this massive book yet).
Reading such material, even when the commentator is a person of genius and very high penetration, I still always have a sense of recoil and unease. And that is because I think that such mediumistic communications or phenomena (the latter because no attempt at communication needs to be present perforce) come into our material realm from an immediate neighborhood next to the material world, thus just across (you might say) the Borderzone. And judging principally by the contents that reach us from there, I view that realm as decidedly inferior in character. Inferior but not evil, as such; simply sub-par. I call it the slums.
What do I mean by sub-par? The content tends to be conventional; no insights into existence in an immaterial realm ever surface. Veridical content (telling us what no one involved in the séance can know) is rare. Humor is present, but tends to be of the low sort. Gossipy at best. Jejune. There is content in the slums—but seemingly less developed than on our side.
Accessible from there are (I’m guessing) are vast fields of memory (such as Sheldrake presumes to exist—the morphic fields) and souls, agencies who, for some reason, did not “move on” to the more developed ethereal realm and are therefore “hanging on.” They are still oriented toward this realm, the reason why they are willing to communicate with it and, at times, to invade living people (possession) whose internal filters meant to block such intrusions are in some way weak; these spirits are still eager in some ways to participate in this life—which is very tough to do without a body. Also present in the mediumistic, extremely rarely, are higher manifestations. Nothing in this realm, or the next one over, is absolutely pure.
It is worth underlining that just because some realm is immaterial, it doesn’t mean that it’s superior. Similarly, just because a realm is material does not automatically signal that it is inferior. Qualitative differences have everything to do with the souls that produce the collective phenomena.
This view of mine is shared by at least one fairly well-known figure, the Dutch psychiatrist, Frederick van Eeden (1860-1932), a contemporary of Myers. I’ve touched on this subject twice before here (link, link); the first link discusses van Eeden’s views.
Now, to be sure, Myers deal with this subject extensively because it represents evidence—evidence for other layers of reality than the conventionally experienced mind-body realm that we inhabit in this life. It also helps him “flesh out” (to use an ironic phrase) the reality of the subliminal mind. But once you are certain of those other realms, as I am, going slumming is not something I like to engage in unless I have to. And, often, I do. All those ridiculous dreams of the morning…