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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fundamentals of mediumship I (definition and nature)

The Water-Lily Pond, 1899 (Oil on Canvas), by Claude Monet.
...it would be impossible to go through a regular course of experimentation, in spiritism, as we do in physics or chemistry. In the natural sciences, we operate on brute matter, manipulating it at will, and with almost a certainty of producing a given effect; in spiritism, on the contrary, we have to deal with intelligences who have their liberty. (A. Kardec, [3], Paragraph 31)

Mediumship is an important issue in Spiritism. In fact, the Spiritist knowledge – understood as a body of principles exposed and justified in the main Spiritist work, “The Spirit’s Book” by A. Kardec – was only possible with the discovery that the human senses could be extended to unveil the hidden reality of the spirit world.

In a series of posts, we present the basics of mediumship in a way stripped down to its essential principles  [1]. This is necessary because, since the first rigorous treatment of the subject in "The Medium's Book" [2], mediumship has been befouled by several misconceptions that have arisen from the human tendency towards the supernatural and the mystery.

In this sense, the word mediumship expresses the original meaning with much more virtue than modern terms such as "channeling" or "psychic power", for example. These terms, in fact, shroud the subject in an atmosphere of mystery and alienation which is incompatible with Kardec's original intention of use and which is clearly mandatory if one should approach all these matters with objectivity and rigor. It is time for many spirit believers to leave the terrain of phantasy to understand properly mediumship as a simple phenomenon of Nature.

Definition

One can define mediumship as "the faculty of mediums" [1] which leads us to the meaning of the word "medium". In the "Spiritist Vocabulary of The Medium's Book", Kardec defines a medium as
Medium (Latin medium, intermediary). Any person who serves as an intermediary between spirits and men.
However, from a practical standpoint, the meaning of the word medium has been extended to encompass a variety of ideas. As put forward by Kardec already in the XIXth century [3], one can broadly identify two acceptions corresponding to a connotation arising from the original Kardec's denotation:
Restricted meaning: refers to every person endowed with a mediator power which manifests itself in the form of physical effects or in the transmission of the spirits' thoughts in written or spoken forms.
From such specific meaning, people come up with a variety of ideas and interpretations. The most common one is that every person in a broad sense is a medium:
General meaning: Any person who is able to receive or transmit communications from spirits is a medium regardless the degree the faculty.
From such general meaning, the slightest spirit influence is interpreted as mediumship and the person in case is dubbed a 'medium' or 'psychic'. However, such reasoning is a mistake. 

The statement 'we are all mediums' should be understood in the general meaning [1], in other words, that all people are somewhat subjected to the influence of the spirits without implying everyone is a medium in the proper or accurate sense.

Such semantic difference should not confuse us because it is an essential linguistic phenomenon manifested in many words: 'mediumship' and 'medium' are in fact polysemic words. 

Nature

We limit ourselves here to the restricted meaning in accordance to which mediums are persons able to keep communication with the spirits or serve as an instrument between them and incarnate people. At the present level of our knowledge, the answer about the nature of mediumship is embodied in some statements found in many Kardec's books (as explained by the spirits) which link the faculty to the human organism. For example:
The faculty depends on a special organic disposition which is susceptible to development. [4]
We have seen persons who were utterly incredulous write on first holding a pencil; while fervent believers, not possessing the germ of the medianimic faculty, have failed to do so in spite of protracted efforts on their part, which proves that the faculty depends on the organism. [5]
...this aptitude results from a physical disposition nevertheless. [6]
Mediumship is not related to anything else in spite of many contrary popular beliefs: in particular, it does not depend on intelligence or on the moral qualities [7] nor on the philosophical or religious beliefs of the medium.

Therefore, we cannot deny the existence of mediums in environments or contexts that are highly uncorrelated to Spiritualist beliefs. In particular, mediums exist in spite of unqualified moral behavior of the medium and his/her poor scholar level. Because mediumship is independent of any belief or moral condition, no one can become a medium by simply believing in or adhering to Spiritualism.

Therefore, mediums are found in all walks of life as a consequence of the physiological nature of the human body resulting in a modification of the human ordinary senses. Mediumship is a natural occurrence, possibly disseminated uniformly across all social strata. As such, mediumship has no relation whatsoever with the physical, mental or spiritual unbalances of the person.

Another consequence of the mediumship dependence on the organism is the phenomenon of mediumship fading. As the body becomes old, many mediums lose their abilities. Another possible change in mediumship is in the way it manifests itself. Many mediums who have started as physical mediums see their faculties become more intelligent as they dedicate themselves to more intellectual mediumship practices [8, q. Kardec].  Such a change in the way the faculty manifests is an example of mediumship development.

Mediumship development 

Since mediumship can improve with time - or, on the contrary, fade away with aging - the question about mediumship training arises naturally. First, two important key points are worth considering:
  1. No one who was not born a medium can become a medium;
  2. Since the faculty is linked to the spirits (as external agents), the higher the purpose of it, the more flexible, consistent and notorious the manifestations will be. 
The first point implies that mediumship can be trained unless its principle exists as explained in the following excerpt from The Medium's Book [9]:
They would be equally mistaken who should expect to find in this work a universal and infallible recipe for making mediums; for, although every one possesses the germ of the qualities necessary for becoming a medium, those qualities exist in very different gradations, and their development depends on causes which no one can control by his own will alone. The rules of poetry, painting, and music, do not make poets, painters, or musicians, of those who are not gifted with genius, although those rules guide men in the employment of the faculties which they naturally possess. So it is with the work before us; its object is to indicate the means of developing the medianimic faculty so far as the receptivity of each will permit; and, above all, to guide it in a manner that may elicit its usefulness. Not, however, that this is the sole end for which the present work has been undertaken. (Italics added)
It is, therefore, a huge mistake and a waste of time to force at all costs the appearance of a faculty in a person whom no principle can be found [9b]. More recently, some spirit authors [10] have stated similar opinions
Can one provoke the development of mediumship? 
Mediumship is hardly a fruit of precipitation no matter the field of action of the medium. It demands the most indispensable spontaneity, because every mediumship practice is directly controlled by mentors on the spiritual plane.
The same applies therefore to 'developing psychic abilities' which, in the lack of its seeds, cannot be achieved. But, how do we know a person has the mediumship seeds? In Paragraph 200 of [3], Kardec makes the important remark
It is found in children and in old people, in men and in women, independently of health, or of intellectual and moral development ; it has nothing to do with a person's temperament; there is but one way of ascertaining its existence, viz., by actual experiment.
Likewise, Emmanuel [10] emphasizes the importance of spontaneity in mediumship:
No one can force the development of whatever faculty because, on this matter, every spontaneity is crucial. If the spontaneous eruption of mediumship is observed in its most gentle expression, we should accept it with good will and the best intention of work. (Italics added)
It is important to recognize however that mediumship is an additional dimension that may affect possibly the individual behavior or state of health. On the other hand, a common mistake is to believe someone is a medium because he or she manifests some kind of mental imbalance or disease. These require special medical, psychological or spiritual treatment according to the case. In particular, mediumship practice should be avoided in the presence of physical problems such as contagious diseases or when the organic state of the medium can be impaired by strong emotions. In the specific case of mental or spiritual unbalances, the mediumship practice cannot be initiated or should be discontinued.

There is no definitive or sufficient collection of methods or techniques able to prompt mediumship development. Rather, the fair application and practice of a spontaneously manifested faculty are the only guarantee for its proper development [1]. Being a medium also presupposes a total commitment to serious study and continuous effort in reshaping one's moral action in accordance with superior guidance. Since the aim of mediumship is spirit communication, mediumship group attendance is recommended as a way of study and experimentation. However, the same recommendations one can make for an individual apply to an entire group. Hence, serious mediumship groups are more indicated for people who really wish to develop mediumship fully.

Finally, as for the limits to mediumship development, they are defined by the direction of the mediumship work given by its recipient. The higher (in the ethical sense) the purpose, the more flexible and notorious will be the mediumship manifestation and degree attained. Since mediumship is a collaborative work between two planes of life, the medium cannot purport to be the only origin of its extension and force. The limits are therefore laid down by the spirits which, under certain circumstances, can severely limit the medium's work.  In [11] we find, for example, an interesting communication by Socrates which distinguishes itself by its severity:
When the germ of a faculty exists, it always shows itself by unequivocal signs. By keeping to his own specialty, a medium is more likely to obtain useful and satisfactory results; he who tries to do everything, does nothing well. The desire to enlarge indefinitely the circle of one's medianimic faculties is a vainglorious pretension which will not be allowed to go unpunished; good spirits always abandon the presumptuous, who thus become the sport of liars. It is, unfortunately, no rare thing to see mediums discontented with the gifts they possess, and aspiring, from vanity or ambition, to the possession of exceptional faculties, which might bring them into prominence; a pretension which robs them of their most precious quality, that, viz., of being safe mediums.
The invocation of 'punishment' in the quote above is simply a figure of language. In practice, good or learned spirits turn away from bad mediums naturally because, with time, the proper conditions of spirit interchange are lost. Among the causes of loss is pride, when mediums trust too much his/her abilities. Because the faculty depends on the organism, many bad mediums retain their 'psychic abilities' which become useless tools. 

Therefore, mediums should always consider mediumship as a gift that can be "taken away" if the practice is misguided because the good fruits of mediumship depend on collaborative work with good spirits. History of Spiritualism is full of examples of misguided mediums.

Next: Fundamentals of mediumship II (types)

References and notes

[1] These notes are based on the article "Estudos sobre mediunidade" by S.S. Chibeni and C. S. Chibeni available in Portuguese only.

[2] See, for example, the first citation of the name mediumship (in French, mediumnité) in Chapter
32.

[3] A. Kardec. The medium's book. Transl. A. Blackwell. 2nd Ed. by the Brazilian Spiritist Federation, 1986.

Paragraph 159:
Everyone who is in any degree influenced by spirits is, by that very fact, a medium.
[4] A. Kardec.Instruction Pratique sur les Manifestations Spirites. (Practical instructions on spirit manifestations). According to the 10th Edition. Union Spirite Française et Francophone. 1923.
Cette faculté tient à une disposition organique spéciale susceptible de développement. 
[5] Ref. 3, Paragraph 209.

[6] Ref. 3.Paragraph 94.Question 5.

[7] Ref. 3. Answer to Question 19, Paragraph 223:
Mediumship, properly speaking, is independent of the intelligence as well as of the moral qualities.
[8] As a modern example in Brazil, many mediums initially debuting as physical mediums, have become healing mediums.  In this case, the faculty is still in the domain of the physical manifestations, but its focus was changed to healing people.

[9] Ref. 3, Introduction.

[9b] Ref. 3. Paragraph 198.

[10] Emmanuel. O Consolador. (Medium Francisco C. Xavier.). Question 383, 8th Ed. by the Brazilian Spiritist Federation, 1940.

[11] Ref. 3, II Part, Chapter XVI. End of Paragraph 198.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The spiritist interpretation of dreams

"The dream" by Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, 1883Source: Wikipedia.
"Poor human beings! how little do you know of the commonest phenomena of your life! You
fancy yourselves to be very learned, and you are puzzled by the most ordinary things. To
questions that any child might ask, 'What do we do when we are asleep?' 'What are dreams?'
you are incapable of replying." (1)

“One day it will have to be officially admitted 
that what we have christened reality is 
an even greater illusion than the world of dreams.” ― Salvador Dali

We sleep a considerable portion of our lives, more precisely, about one-third of our incarnate lives. What happens in this state? It is easy to understand the need for sleep - so natural that we hardly question its importance - however, how do we justify dreams? What does the understanding of the dual nature of the human being, allowed by the Spiritist knowledge, help us to understand the mechanism of dreaming? 

The dream experience is quite different from the ordinary experiences of the waking state. The latter admits "witnesses", who share these experiences publicly. If I travel with my family to a tourist destination, the experiences I had there are the same my relatives had. In dreams, however, this does not apply. Thus, if I dream about going to a distant place with my relatives, they will not confirm the same experience if I question them about their dreams. In principle, the whole experience of dreaming is private, that is, lived only in the "first person", by myself exclusively. Such a striking difference makes dreams to be considered mental experiences par excellence, that is, experiences created solely by the dreamer's mind. 

Another distinguishing feature of dreams (I have already experienced this myself) is the apparent lack of causal connection among events within a dream. What happens at a particular moment - even though the apparent cause is declared in the dream - is not related causally to the following dream action. I remember a dream when I parked a car in a certain place. After other facts in the dream, when I return to get the car, it was no longer there or, at least, I could not remember where I had left the car in the dream... But I also remember dreams in which I was aware I was dreaming and could also keep the details of previous dreams connected to the last one I was having. In these cases, I was just finishing an adventure of a few nights before (someone told me in the dream): a situation best described as a "lucid dream".

The dream as a mnemonic synthesis of past experiences of the soul during sleep.
Dreams are the remembrance of what your spirit has seen during sleep, but you must remark that you do not always dream, because you do not always remember what you have seen, or all that you have seen. Your dreams do not always reflect the action of your soul in its full development; for they are often only the reflex of the confusion that accompanies your departure or your return, mingled with the vague remembrance of what you have done, or of what has occupied your thoughts, in your waking state. (1)
As already described in Question #402 in The Spirit's Book (1), dreams do not reduce themselves simply to the state of the soul freed from the body. If this were so, the experience, although private, should be consistent, in other words, dreams would be indistinguishable from "out-of-the-body" experiences. Dreams may be described rather as a kind of mnemonic synthesis of what occurs during sleep which is meaningful to the spirit; a re-construction or assembly, greatly affected by memories of past experiences, of what is important to the mind during sleep. Although the mechanism is fully unknown, this synthesis or composite is constructed from almost everything relevant to the individual at the moment of awakening: desires, fears, the reinterpreted experience of the previous day, memories of the present and past lives, and even past experiences the spirit has had recently, that is, the very memories of other dreams.

For me, the immense majority of people (including myself) cannot perfectly retain, through the "prism of the brain", the memories acquired by the senses of the soul during the dreaming state. The events of the dream are therefore recreated from a "bank of memories", almost entirely based on previous experiences of the waking state. It is like creating a new movie using a sequence of edited scenes from old films. In this "editing" process, the memory bank is accessed and its symbols, scenes or poses are used to "synthesize" a memory of the actual experience. Thus, after waking up, most recollected sequences are often erratic or does not fit into a rational or logic arrangement.

For example, imagine that I, in spirit state, was in contact with other people during sleep. When I awake, the remembrance process will most likely substitute the personality whom I have been in contact with by other people I recognize in the vigil state: sometimes a friend I know later was indeed awakened, or another person whom I have long forgotten and so on. It is even possible that the dream is filled out with an image of a discarnate relative. And so we usually wake up with the impression of having been in contact with that dead relative, but in fact, that was not true. It was rather a recreation because in no way my physical brain is able to sustain faithfully the images of my actual experience as a spirit in the dream. Only the script is more or less similar. The mnemonic assembly is necessary to give a meaning of those experiences lived in the dream to my consciousness in the awakened state. We should remember that the experiences of the dream do not reach the soul through the common pathways of the material senses (the nervous system). Therefore, they are reinterpreted when they finally reach the brain when we awake.

So, those were not the ones I have been in contact with when I dreamed about my deceased mother, father or any other relative? Not necessarily. A somewhat different situation occurs in the already mentioned lucid dreams, which are a category of rare and peculiar dreams. In them, the dreamer knows he/she is dreaming or is having the experience. In the dreams I had with my deceased mother, I had a distinct impression that she came to visit me. Amazingly, the dream environment was the bed I was lying - somehow I know it - and the dream finished when I woke up in tears. These particular dreams differ greatly from the immense majority of banal, meaningless dreams we have often because they are full of meaning to us.

The idea of dreams as a process of re-creation of experience of the soul during sleep by assembling preexisting memories allows us to explain the so-called "premonitory dreams". In fact, these can also be recreated from previous images, but they deal with future events based on the experience of the soul in the Beyond regarding these facts. Trying to interpret them may be a frustrating practice because they only make sense to the dreamer who preserves their real meaning unconsciously. Moreover, premonition dreamers might not be competent in conveying or communicating the true meaning in time, which is a source of countless confusions.

In summary, we can divide the impressions caused by the dreams in three levels of meanings:
  1. The deep meaning, ultimately existing only for the soul, that is, as an unconscious "memory" impressed to the incarnate being, an "unfelt awareness". The sense can be recapitulated in other dreams or invoked in lucid dreams. It certainly survives physical death as the heritage of the soul experience,
  2. The fragmented vigil meaning, recreated on the base of preexisting images or memories of the vigil state, the materialized meaning for the waking being, perhaps to be forgotten with physical death,
  3. The sense conveyed to others, depending on our ability to communicate the dream experience to others in the incarnate world. This meaning can cause a very different impression, making their "interpretation" difficult, although in some anomalous case, the meaning is very clear. 
"Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream" (Genesis cap 41, 14-36),
The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 199. Source: Wikipedia.
The importance of anomalous dreams

Presently, most of the theoretical impasse regarding the most popular conceptions of the mind is due to their exclusive reference to the events taking place with the immense majority of people. I understand the reason from a practical point of view. Statistically, it makes sense to devote research effort to what happens most of the time. By doing this, however, we sacrifice the understanding of the deeper causes in detriment of what is more frequent. Thus the anomalies that occur with only a few are swept under the rug by explanations seemingly applicable to what is general. It is reasonable to ask if the truest theory is the one fitting the majority of the facts or the one leaving no fact aside. In medicine, one does not learn anything about diseases by studying only healthy people. Therefore, anomalies should be regarded since they are a way to establish correlations and to explain the exceptions beyond the rule.

The so-called "anomalous dreams" represent precisely this situation. Unlike ordinary dreams, they resemble lucid dreams by bringing meaningful messages containing "anomalous content". An elucidating work about anomalous dreams is due to S. Krippner and L. Faith entitled "Exotic dreams: A cross-cultural study" (2). In this work, the authors identified (from a set of about 1700 dream reports), nearly 185 (or 8%) considered "exotic". Such reports were then classified according to several types: healing dreams, lucid dreams, creative dreams, dreams with out-of-body experiences, shared dreams, dreams within dreams (as I had), dreams of past lives, visitation dreams, etc.

The so-called "shared dreams" are particularly interesting. These are reports of people who experience mutual dreams or dreams whose content is partially shared among individuals. Thus, the "first person" character of dreams may be weakened (3).

In creative dreams, Krippner and Faith reported dream narratives in which people were aided in dreams to solve problems of everyday life.

In a visitation dream, a painter from Japan reported having been advised by her father, who died in World War II, to choose her paintings and even on how to use the brush. The experience was highly significative and helped to improve the painter professional performance.

According to the authors in (2), dreams about tragedies (precognitive dreams) do not always end in a fatal way. They usually manifest themselves as the announcement of diseases or vulnerable situations of people at a distance.

Finally, the authors in (2) suggest a correlation between the incidence of anomalous dreams and the cultural environment in which they occur. In fact, this correlation is expected, considering that dreams are interpreted in terms of previous mental baggage. Therefore, the greater the individual' awareness about spiritual realities, the clearer will be their representation in exotic or peculiar dreams.

As for lucid dreams, it is possible that most people have already experienced - at least once in life - this kind of dream which would be more expected in cultures which value spirituality.

Conclusions

In this note, I have listed some relevant aspects to our understanding of the genesis and unfolding of dreams. A suitable explanation of the mechanism of dreams must both explain the dynamics with the vast majority of people, and the peculiar cases occurring with specific groups as well. Such anomalous experiences may also manifest at least once in people's life.

It is not possible to understand dreams without appealing to the dual nature of the human being, a simple reality that is able to explain both the reported exceptions and everyday life dreams. What we call dreams are, in fact, memories of events taking place during sleep, memories that are reconstructed out of other perceptions of facts lived by the person in the awaken state. This explanation agrees with the idea that, in the dream state, the spirit cannot excite the body directly (that is, the brain), because it is partially detached from it. In the process of "reassembling" the experience as a meaningful narrative to the vigil state, experiences of the present life (everyday facts, known people etc) are used, just as "extraordinary" memories (e. g., of previous lives, or other dreams etc).

The random, erratic or senseless impression of most dreams is a consequence of such reassembly of memories from a bank of internal fragments. In general, the meaning of dreams only exists unconsciously for the person who experiences it. It is very difficult to interpret dreams correctly, although this might be possible exceptionally.

The understanding that dreams are memories of the spiritual life allows us to explain a great variety of accounts considered "anomalous", which are then important sources confirming the proposed mechanism behind dreams. Without proper attention to such anomalous accounts, dreams are often considered merely as "hallucinations" or "fantasies" of the brain, showing no correlation with the true and hidden reality.

In addition to dividing dreams between "ordinary" and "peculiar" types, for most people, dreams may be further subdivided into "ordinary/common" and "lucid" dreams. In the last case, the dreamer knows he/she is dreaming and, therefore, can "control" the dream in principle. Apparently, such control is subjected to training (4).

It seems evident that dreaming is an important stage in the progress of the incarnate soul. By countless repetitions, the spirit liberates itself from the physical world and recalls its disembodied life. In a certain sense, dreaming is a training process for the ultimate physical deliverance that we call death.

References

(1) Question 402, "The Spirit's Book" (A. Kardec). Translated from French by Anne Blackwell. Online version here: http://geeaknorge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Spiritsbook.pdf (March 2019).

(2) Krippner, S., & Faith, L. (2001). "Exotic dreams: A cross-cultural study". Dreaming, 11(2), 73-82.

(3) Another work related to shared dreams is Davis, W. J., & Frank, M. (1994). "Dream sharing: A case study". The Journal of Psychology, 128 (2), 133-147.

(4) See, e. g., May E. C & LaBerge S. (1991) "Anomalous Cognition in Lucid Dreams". Science Applications International Corporation. In March 2019, this work can be downloaded here:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp96-00789r003100140001-2