The Montague Keen Foundation
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Written in 1993

By the end of the 19th Century, most of those most prominent and active in psychical research had firmly convinced themselves that the conditions under which mediums like Mrs Leonore Piper and Mrs Thompson were conveying veridical information, often via proxy sitters, not merely made the hypothesis of deception untenable, but pointed pretty clearly to more than the mere functioning of extra-sensory perception. The detail and variety of messages identifying and reminiscing about some thirty different friends and associates of the lately deceased George Pelham via the entranced Mrs Piper left pioneer researchers like Frederic Myers and Sir Oliver Lodge in little doubt that some discarnate intelligence was at least in part responsible for evidence unlikely to be written off as mind-reading, even from an unknown source. But there seemed to be no way to torpedo the argument that all might nonetheless be ascribed to some of the extraordinary functions of the human psyche which the new disciplines of psychology and psychiatry were constantly revealing. Moreover, it was one thing to show that the memories of deceased persons were somehow accessible to us: quite another to demonstrate that their active intelligences survived after death and could communicate with those left behind.

What was required was an experiment which could clearly defeat what was later to become known as the super-psi hypothesis. If it were possible to distribute to more than one medium fragments of messages, in themselves meaningless, and if necessary to provide enough hints to enable a perceptive third party to piece them together to form a coherent message, that would demonstrate the existence of an external intelligence. All the better if the mediums were unknown to one another, living in different parts of the world, and puzzled by the arcane references and obscure language. It would show the final message and the intelligence promoting it, incapable of attribution to any individual medium.

Although the first of these experiments came very shortly after Myers' death in January 1901, and involved messages coming through two mediums via automatic writing, it took some 18 months before the penny dropped. Indeed it was not until seven or eight years after they had begun to appear that the full implications of the experiment dawned on the SPR investigators who were attempting to monitor all these messages. Not until then was the necessity appreciated of ensuring that no medium was consciously aware of the contents of scripts from other mediums. Up to twelve different mediums were involved, at one time or another. Most were unknown to one another; only one (Mrs Piper) was a professional. For the main part they were well educated, intelligent woman, some of them, like Mrs Holland, producing scripts with reluctance and only under the strongly experienced influence of some external pressure. The messages normally came by automatic writing, received in a variety of states of consciousness. They frequently repeated phrases, reassured the recipient that the apparent oddness or absurdity of the contents should neither concern nor worry them. Sometimes those who studied the messages were advised to look at much earlier scripts for clues, or to look at another medium's contributions to help solve the puzzle.

The functioning of this group was kick-started by an instruction received by Mrs Holland in India to send her script to a Mrs Verrall, whom she did not know, at an address in Cambridge. Mrs Verrall received several scripts which appeared to refer to early events in Christian Roman history, but the specific reference was not apparent until a Latin phrase received from Mrs Holland appeared to point to Rubens' portrait in the Vatican showing Pope Leo turning back Attila from attacking Rome. That it was not easy to rule out telepathy was illustrated by another early experiment. It appeared to have been initiated by one of the leading interpreters of the scripts, Piddington. He confided to a sealed envelope a letter in which he said that, were he ever in spirit, he would try to transmit the number SEVEN. Over a considerable period thereafter at least six mediums produced direct or indirect allusions to seven, many of them derived from classical or poetic sources, ending finally in a challenge addressed ostensibly by the discarnate Frederic Myers through Mrs Verrall asking whether Piddington had yet found bits of his famous sentence "scattered among you all. And does he think that is an accident started by one of you? But even if the source is human, who carries the thoughts to the receivers. Ask him that. F.W.H.M."

This was the essential question, posed again by the discarnate Myers: who selects? If it was the unconscious mechanism of the live Piddington how was he able to communicate disparate pieces of often obscure and individually meaningless phrases and references through several mediums some of whom he did not even know? Moreover, since the last thing Piddington wanted was to reveal his posthumous message thus prematurely, would he have broadcast the secret even at an unconscious level? But beyond such ingenious efforts to prove their individual survival as transmitting intelligences, the ostensible communicators used the scripts for more ambitious purposes. One was the development of a plan to help bring about a world order based on international peace and justice; and some of the evidence to support this theory has only recently come to light, such was the secrecy in which some of these communications were shrouded. The better known, and more evidential, theme running through several years of communications was analysed by the Countess of Balfour in a masterly exposition published in 1960 under the title of The Palm Sunday Case. This showed how over the years references which could have related only to a very private episode in the life of Arthur Balfour were described in scripts which more than forty years later persuaded the eminent but sceptical statesman that his long deceased lover, who died suddenly on Palm Sunday, 1875, was waiting for him on the other side. Messages describing the type of ring which the youthful philosopher-politician had buried in her coffin; the satin-lined silver casket he had made to treasure a lock of her hair; the types of flowers engraved on the casket: these had come in indirect allusion, often allegorical or symbolic, but collectively unmistakable.

Anyone claiming to be an authority on the subject who is unaware of them or who (worse still) chooses to disregard what he cannot explain, is not serving the interests of objective science. Let me give in summary just one experiment which, although not strictly a cross-correspondence since it was initiated from this side, challenges critics. It is an old case, but good evidence neither rusts nor withers. It is in no way dependent on subjective assessment, cold readings, inflamed emotions or religious belief.

Leonora Piper was a famous Boston medium who was investigated under controlled conditions, notably by Professor William James, the father-figure of modern psychology, and Dr Richard Hodgson, an avowed skeptic. Such was her fame that she was invited to the UK to be tested, by, among others, Frederic Myers and Sir Oliver Lodge. Following Myers' death in 1901, a voice claiming to be his spirit communicated through the entranced medium who was undergoing rigorous investigation by George Dorr in Boston. Aware that Myers had been a distinguished classical scholar, whereas Mrs Piper was not, Dorr invited "Myers" to say what the word Lethe conveyed to him. A considerable number of references emerged. Many were unknown to Dorr, whose classical knowledge was modest; but investigation showed that nearly all of them were accurate, if usually oblique, references to persons, incidents, descriptions and places found in Ovid's Metamorphoses, which gives an account of the mythological Hadean stream of Lethe bounding the shores of the Elysian fields, and from whose waters the newly dead must drink to purify themselves and wash away all earthly memories before re-birth.

When Lodge learned of this, he decided to pose the same question through another medium known as Mrs Willett, with whom he was having sittings in London. She was a very intelligent, well-educated woman, but with little classical knowledge. She was also Myers' sister-in-law, and she too had been transmitting messages purporting to come from him. In response to the same question, she communicated a long series of references, many of them unknown to Lodge or his fellow classicists Piddington and Mrs Verrall, the latter being a University classics lecturer. Virtually all of these were found to derive not from Ovid but from an entirely different account connected with Aeneas's visit to Elysium with Anchisis, his father, as described in Book Six of Virgil's Aeneid, on which Myers had once written a scholarly commentary. They were equally accurate, although many were clearly allusive, and some were linked to the Ovidian messages received 3,000 miles away via Mrs Piper.

When Lodge asked why "Myers" had not given the same responses, Mrs Willett's automatic writing replied that, had he done so, critics would have dismissed the evidence as mere telepathy between the mediums.

This summarises lengthy and detailed accounts of these sittings which appear in several Proceedings and issues of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, whose leading sceptic, Frank Podmore, did his best to ascribe the Piper evidence to telepathy. He died before the Willett confirmation was available, but even he was clearly rattled by it. He would have been a good deal more rattled had he known that around this time, apart from Mrs Willett and Mrs Piper, three other mediums, most unknown to one another, were producing scripts with references to doors or sesame (as in Ali Baba's command) or even in some cases, less punningly, to the name of Dorr. It need hardly be said that the simplistic explanations of fraud, cryptomnesia or collusion were thoroughly investigated and decisively ruled out by the highly critical group of experts who examined these cases.

Critics have long argued that, without intimate knowledge of Latin and Greek, anyone would find these cross-correspondences almost impossible to fathom, that they are too complex, ambiguous and allusive. But there are perfectly intelligible analyses extant of some aspects of them, the most important and persuasive being Jean Balfour's examination of the Palm Sunday Case. Attempts to show that chance coincidence is an adequate explanation have failed. The case for the existence of a communicating intelligence - or in the case of the cross-correspondences a group of collaborating intelligences, is as strong as it has been neglected.

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Cross-Correspondences: A Brief Introduction by Montague Keen