Spiritualism was at its height by the turn of the century, when the movement counted nearly 8 million members in the US and Europe. Although the time period is mostly remembered as the epoch of physical mediumship (for better or for worse), the time period between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries also produced many written works, by solitary mediums using automatic writing, transcripts of trance channeling and a few who wrote of direct experiences. Many of these works are now in the public domain for our enjoyment and scrutiny.
Just like any literature, not all of it is well-written and certainly some may be fake – whether produced consciously or unconsciously. I advise readers to simply avoid attempting to make a final decision on the authenticity of any of these works. We will never have the luxury of absolute proof and information about some of the mediums who contributed to these works are likely scant as best. Take it for what it is, always bearing in mind that spiritual truths are as subjective in the spirit world as they are for us.
How to get these books
Many of these publications can be obtained freely in adobe .pdf format (download links available further down the post). For e-book readers, you can easily convert .pdf files to Amazon Kindle or nook (az3w or epub) files and upload them to your device using this free e-book converter online. If you are not tech-savvy or would prefer to just have an updated and edited copy, Amazon does sell some of these publications for a few dollars or less, in most cases. (Remember, you do not need to own a Kindle in order to read an amazon e-book.) I will provide links to both the .pdf copy of the book, or links to where to download the book for free. If you prefer to have a copy directly from Amazon, I will link to the kindle e-book version and include the price.
Many are familiar with the process of trance channeling; a highly meditative state whereby the medium’s consciousness bridges with a discarnate entity who then speaks through the medium. A well-known example is author Jane Roberts who produced several ground-breaking books written by an entity named Seth with help from her husband, Robert Butts, who developed his own shorthand to take down her words. Although most people are more familiar with modern channelers, the channeler:sitter method of recording the results of a trance channeling began a century earlier and the results are just as spiritually sophisticated.
Direct Experience Reporting
Direct Experience Reporting is a written experience authored by the person who directly participated in a spiritual event. Much of the spiritual literature consumed today would be considered Direct Experience Reporting, such as when ordinary people write books detailing their near-death experiences. Due to the difficulty and expense of publication in the 1800’s for the average person, it is far more popular today than in the 19th century, though Emanuel Swedenborg wrote dozens of books detailing his visions, psychic experiences and presumably, out-of-body experiences through this method.
The other popular method of obtaining spiritual writing in the 19th and early 20th centuries was through the use of automatic writing. While channeling and direct experience reporting are both very much en-vogue today, automatic writing has sadly fallen out of favor.
For those not familiar, the process of paranormal automatic writing claims to allow a spirit person to either control the hand or influence the mind of the writer, thereby producing letters, scripts and entire books using the spirit person’s words, ideas, grammar, idiosyncrasies and sometimes even penmanship. The automatic writer is meant to keep their mind off of the writing, thereby not contributing any thoughts which might contaminate the final work. Some writers can go into a trace while writing, while others simply meditate, careful to avoid any curiosity about what their hand may be writing.
Although automatic writing has been blamed on simply subconscious writing, the ideomotor effect or some combination of both, it has never been proven that all automatic writing is such. Unless the spirits decide on a test such as the famous Myer’s Cross-Correspondences, or the author is someone who can prove themselves to a reader with facts unknown to others, automatic writing must be taken on faith, intuition and simply at face value. Books produced through automatic writing have never netted the authors the kind of remuneration that séance mediumship has therefore I think there would be less incentive to cheat. Moreover, the solitary nature of automatic writing, the numerous hours required, and the sheer boredom of the activity means that attention-seekers would soon get tired of the activity. There is no recognition of the work during the long process of writing a book, especially when one must share the authorship with a dead person!
Even though automatic writing is used less often for channeling today, it doesn’t mean that all automatic writing is false, simplistic or valueless for afterlife researchers. There is a wealth of spiritual literature that is both interesting and worthy of our serious consideration.
I’d like to make a few recommendations of works that I found interesting, profound, or important to spiritual research in some way. I am not making any sort of proclamation of authenticity with my recommendations. As always, you must decide for yourself.
“As evidence of soul’s survival after bodily death, it must be accepted or rejected by each individual according to his or her temperament, experience, and inner conviction as to the truth of its contents.”
-Elsa Barker, “Letters from a Living Dead Man”, 1914
Note: I must congratulate and sincerely thank the site owner of www.spiritwritings.com who has collected hundreds of volumes of spirit literature that has existed over the last 200 years and have made them available for download. It is an invaluable resource for spiritualists and afterlife researchers!
Life in the World Unseen
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), as received by medium Anthony Borgia
Method of Transmission: Automatic Writing
Robert Hugh Benson was an Anglican priest who later converted to Catholicism. He was a writer in his time, and produced several books on theology and a notable fiction book that was meant to warn of the dangers of spiritualism. It was the publication of this last book that Benson claims through Borgia that he was permitted to communicate through a medium after death. It was Benson’s desire to right the wrongs he had committed by disseminating fear and untruths related to spiritualism while on earth. The result was several books, the first being “Life in the Unseen World” which chronicles his death, crossing into the afterlife and his experiences touring the afterlife as a new soul. Benson/Borgia wrote several more books together as well, including a second volume in this series called ‘More Life in the World Unseen‘ and a book called ‘Facts‘ which focuses on the fallacies of the Church (click the links to download these volumes).
“It must not be imagined that these beautiful gardens bore the slightest resemblance to anything to be seen upon the earth-plane. Earthly gardens at their best and finest are of the very poorest by comparison with these that we now beheld, with their wealth of perfect colorings and their exhalations of heavenly perfumes. To walk upon the lawns with such a profusion of nature about us held us spellbound. I had imagined that the beauty of the countryside, wherein I had all my experience of spirit lands so far,
could hardly be excelled anywhere.”
-Robert Hugh Benson, ‘Life in the Unseen World’, 1954
Where to get this book:
The Teachings of Silver Birch
As received by medium Maurice Barbanell
Copyright maintained by the Spiritual Truth Press, originally published in Psychic News, a weekly spiritual newspaper.
Method of Transmission: Trance Channeling
Maurice Barbanell (1882 – 1981) channeled a 3,000 year old wise spirit who called himself ‘Silver Birch’ from the 1930’s onward. Maurice, a journalist, published the wisdom of Silver Birch in his weekly spiritualist paper without revealing that he was the medium delivering the information. He was found out, unfortunately, but it didn’t dampen the reverence that his devotees had for the beautiful and inspiring language of Silver Birch. Much of what is published in this anthology was channeled in the 30’s and 40s, which is far before the tenets of new age became rather mainstream. Although Silver Birch is commonly depicted and understood as a Native American spirit guide, Silver Birch is quick to point out that this does not necessarily define who he is on the spirit plane. Rather, he uses the personality of this particular lifetime because he feels that people will connect with the natural spirituality of the native Americans. This particular anthology is written in a convenient and easy to read question/answer format.
“Sometimes I get very tired with those who want what they call “higher teachings” from the spirit world and do nothing to help their brother men. As people grow, they understand more and more the operation of the laws of the Great Spirit. There is no “high” and there is no “low” teaching. If all the people who clamor for teachings would do something to make the earth a better place, a brighter place, a place where the hungry would be fed and the thirsty would be given drink, where people were allowed to live in houses where the sunshine of the Great Spirit could reach their poor, tired bodies, then they would be putting into operation the highest teaching of all.”
-Silver Birch, ‘The Teachings of Silver Birch’, 1938
Where to get this book:
Letters from a Living Dead Man
Judge David Patterson-Hatch (1846-1912) as received by medium Elsa Barker
Method of Transmission: Automatic Writing
One evening in Paris in 1912, Elsa Barker felt the sudden urge to begin automatic writing. She wasn’t a professional medium. She was primarily a poet and a writer and was indifferent to spiritualism as a whole. Yet, she would be remembered most for the series of books that began that night with a letter that seemed to come from her friend, Judge David P. Hatch who she thought was residing in California. A few days later, she received the notification of his death. Elsa wrote for two years before publishing her first book, Letters from a Living Dead Man but didn’t reveal the name of the ‘author’ of the letters until the son of Judge Hatch, Bruce Patterson-Hatch revealed in a newspaper article that he believed the letters were from his father. Elsa Barker then sought permission from the family and released two further books entitled “War Letters from a Living Dead Man” which deals primarily with the effect of World War I on the afterlife, and “Last Letters from a Living Dead Man” which is the final book written by Judge Hatch through Elsa Barker.
“You wonder at the expression “passing time”? But time exists out here. Wherever there is sequence, there is time. There may come a ‘time’ when all things will exist simultaneously, past present and – shall we say future? But so long as past, present and future are more or less distinct, so long time is. It is nothing but the principal of sequence. Did you fancy it was anything else? Interiorly, that is, deep within the self, one may find a silent place where all things seem to exist in unison; but as soon as the soul even there attempts to examine things separately, then sequence begins. The union with All is another matter. That is, or seems to be, timeless; but as soon as one attempts to unite with or to be conscious of things, time is manifest.
-Judge David P. Hatch, ‘Letters from a Living Dead Man’, 1914
Where to get this book:
The Case of Lester Coltman
LT. R. Lester Coltman (1895-1922) as received by medium Miss Lilian Walbrook
Method of Transmission: Automatic Writing
Lieutenant Lester Coltman was a bright young man who was educated in South Africa and won a scholarship to go to Emmanuel College in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the start of World War I commenced and he enlisted, eventually joining the machine gun company of the 2nd Brigade of Guards. His company was caught up in the Battle of Cambrai and Lester died in battle at 22, in the year 1917. Five years later, his aunt, Lilian Walbrook, would begin communication with him through automatic writing. Lester writes of the battle and his immediate experience transitioning into the afterlife in the publication that would eventually be called ‘The Case of Lester Coltman’. Arthur Conan Doyle added an introduction to the book as well as taking it on himself to study the case and match up the information given by Lester regarding the battle.
“That morning was very dark and lowering when at 7pm we were assembled for action in the Fontaine-Notre-Dame (Cambrai) area. From the moment my men had set the gun a fusillade was opened upon us the life of which, it seems to me in the volcanic hour, could hardly be intensified.[…] Twenty men I saw dead around me before I, too, was laid unconscious on the gun-wheel. After this I knew no more till I awoke in most wonderful peaceful surroundings, with beings most exquisite ministering to me and impregnating me with their most palpitating vitality. Since coming over I have ascertained the shrapnel that laid me across the gun did not kill me, but I was carried by one of my men (Heaven bless him for his courage and devotion!) to a spot where eventually a shell annihilated me completely. Well, it is over now, and those dear souls who grief was so intense at my loss, through time and through an all-embracing goodness have become reconciled but never forgetful, bless their dear hearts!”
-Lester Coltman, ‘The Case of Lester Coltman’, 1922
Where to get this book:
Heaven and Hell
Emanuel Swedenborg (1668 – 1772)
Method of Transmission: Direct Experience Reporting
Swedenborg began publishing his works on the afterlife in the 18th century, before the age of spiritualism. It may be a misnomer to include him in this post, but he deserves mentioning. Considered the ‘father’ of modern spiritualism, Swedenborg claimed to have psychic experiences, dreams and visions whereby he was able to witness the afterlife firsthand. Swedenborg himself was extremely learned in multiple disciplines, and wrote many volumes detailing his experiences, theology and nature of the afterlife. His works naturally have a Christian flair, since he was himself Christian and lived nearly a century before even the first stirrings of spiritualism, even as his works influenced spiritualism itself.
“A great deal of my experience has testified to the fact that we are our love or intention after death. All heaven is differentiated into communities on the basis of differences in the quality of love, and every spirit who is raised up into heaven and becomes an angel is taken to the community where her or his love is. When we arrive there we feel as though we are in our own element, at home, back to our birth-place, so to speak. Angels sense this and associate there with kindred spirits. When they leave and go somewhere else, they feel a constant pull, a longing to go back to their kindred and therefore to their dominant love. This is how people gather together in heaven. The same applies in hell. There too, people associate according to loves that oppose heavenly ones. Both heaven and hell are made up of communities and that they are all differentiated according to differences of love.”
-Emanuel Swedenborg, adapted from ‘Heaven and Hell’, 1758
Where to get these books:
The Swedenborg Foundation has all of Swedenborg’s writing for free (or nearly free) in electronic format here. Also check out their section of free translated writings here. Want to explore his experiences and philosophies before reading the books? Check out their youtube channel, OfftheLeftEye, which contains nearly every type of afterlife and spiritual topic. They also host live shows every Monday night at 8pm EST (US) on various topics covered by Swedenborg.