I don't have a whole lot to add to my brief review, posted earlier, of Ian Rubenstein's book Consulting Spirit. As I said earlier, I enjoyed the book for its sensible, matter-of-fact approach to paranormal phenomena and Spiritualism, and for the author's wry sense of humor about himself and the strange people and events he encountered.
Rubenstein is a British medical doctor who developed an interest in clairvoyance and after-death communication, and gradually cultivated his own previously unsuspected talents as a medium. In the process he discovered the surprisingly active world of British Spiritualism, populated with colorful characters, and found himself opening up to new interpretations of life and death. Throughout it all, he remained at least somewhat skeptical, and even at the end of the book, he refrains from drawing any monumental conclusions. I have to say that if I'd had some of the experiences he recounts, I would probably be a little less skeptical and a little more convinced!
To me, books like this are in some ways more valuable than scientific studies involving control groups, double-blind test conditions, and statistical analysis. I'm not sure that any amount of laboratory data will persuade people of the reality of mediumship, but a sober, common-sense account like Dr. Rubenstein's may succeed where tables, charts, and graphs are likely to fail. Reading his story, I couldn't help feeling that if I were in his shoes, I would have had many of the same questions and considered many of the same non-paranormal explanations. Nothing in his book struck me as exaggerated or embellished; if anything, the author's tendency seems to be to play down the more dramatic elements of his story.
His sense of humor keeps him–and the reader–firmly grounded, no matter how apparently outlandish some of the developments in his narrative may seem. Here he is, talking on the phone to an eccentric medium he has never met. Rubenstein asks:
“Do you honestly think my patient can see spirits?”
“Oh, yes. Why not? I see spirit all the time. There’s a whole unseen universe out there. Once you tune in, you realize just what you’ve been missing. I’ve even got an alien living in my apartment. He’s quite shy, but I know he’s there.”
Was this how it ended, in an apartment somewhere looking for aliens? I made a neutral “uh-huh” remark, just to let him know I was listening and that, well, you know, who doesn’t have an alien living in their apartment nowadays!
Rubenstein notes how easy it is for the mind to fail to process anomalies such as paranormal phenomena. This is something I've noticed myself. I may experience a remarkable synchronicity or premonition, but unless I very firmly make a mental note of it or–better yet–write it down, I will probably forget it within an hour or so. Later, all I will remember is that something really interesting happened, but for the life of me I cannot recall what it was. As Rubenstein comments,
Work, raising a family, and generally muddling through life tends to keep our thoughts focused on normal, everyday things. When something strange occurs, it’s very hard to know what to do with it. The effort of trying to understand how unusual experiences fit into our lives is just too great. So we simply don’t bother. If we ever recall what happened, maybe when something jogs our memory, then perhaps we mention it as an interesting story. Otherwise we ignore it and get stuck back into our everyday, normal lives.
The author makes another point that dovetails with my own observations: I have more of these synchronicities and premonitions (and more powerful and meaningful ones) when I'm in a negative state of mind–depressed, upset, confused. It's as if the lowering of my emotional energy opens me up to more outside influences. Or maybe it's just that in times of difficulty, I'm in greater need of such influences. Rubenstein writes,
I rather enjoyed these [synchronistic] coincidences. I began to see a pattern to them. When I was calm and happy, nothing unusual seemed to happen. I wasn’t certain, but they seemed to occur when I was stressed, confused, or looking for direction.
Although the main focus of the book is on Rubenstein's personal journey to become a medium, there are interesting tidbits of metaphysical speculation scattered along the way. At one point he gets into a conversation with a Spiritualist about the nature of spiritual energy.
“Ian. Think of the caduceus.”
“You mean the medical symbol? The two snakes intertwined around a staff?”
“That’s right.” Dave took a pen out of his jacket pocket.... With his pen he drew a rough picture of the caduceus: a single upright staff with a pair of wings projecting from its top end and two snakes sinuously winding up the staff from bottom to top. The snakes crossed over each other several times and their heads met at the top of the staff, just below the wings....
“The caduceus was supposedly the staff of the Ancient Greek god Hermes,” he said. “The single unifying theme in all modern psychic work is energy. It’s even crept into Spiritualist jargon replacing the term ‘vibrations’ or ‘spirit power.’ The idea goes like this: a flow of universal subtle energy regulates the whole of existence. There is only one type of energy but it has two directions of flow: from spirit to physical, and then back from physical to spirit. You can think of Man, who has both a physical and a spiritual body, as acting as a link, or conduit, between the two. In fact, you can think of all life as acting in this way. The physical form of the energy is at a lower frequency than the spirit form. As it flows from spirit to physical, its frequency is lowered. As it flows from physical to spirit, its frequency is raised.”
I thought about this.
“So, living beings would be what? Transformers? Transducers?”
“Yes,” agreed Dave. “In transforming this energy, living beings do work, and the work they do is what we term life.”
“Okay. That makes sense to me.”
“Good, because it’s very important. Let’s consider the symbol of the caduceus further. You have two currents of energy, symbolized by the snakes, forming a circuit. Notice how the snakes cross over each other several times.” Dave tapped on his drawing with his pen to indicate the crossing points. “You can think of the points where they cross as centers of psychic energy.”
“You mean chakras?”
“Yes. Chakra is a Sanskrit term which means wheel. Each chakra represents a crossing point of energy. Where they cross, the two opposing currents set up a rotating vortex of energy. So the word ‘chakra’ is quite descriptive. Traditionally, there are seven major chakras and these need to open up in order to do any form of psychic work. In order to do this you require a free flow of energy, which means you need a strong link to spirit and also to be well-grounded...”
“...in order to complete the circuit.”
“Yes, in order to complete the circuit.”
Rubenstein also recounts a conversation with parapsychologist Maurice Grosse, who investigated the famous Enfield poltergeist.
“So, what do you think is going on in these poltergeist cases?” I asked him.
Maurice sat back in his chair, his fingers steepled in thought. He paused for a moment, carefully considering his position.
“Some people feel it’s all down to spirit influence in these cases; in effect the focus, the person at the center of the disturbance, is a haunted individual. If you like, ghosts haunt places, while poltergeists haunt individuals. Others say it’s just down to telekinesis, mind over matter, on the part of the focus, the person around whom these events tend to occur. These people would say that it’s all just a manifestation of unexplained mental abilities and would deny the involvement or even the existence of spirits. Of course, other people just blame it all on trickery....
“My theory, for what it’s worth, is that the focus certainly provides energy. In some cases the focus can even use this energy to affect the environment. At the same time, any passing entity can also pick up this energy and play with it, too. Think of a kid kicking around a football in the park. Then a couple of other kids come around and start playing with it as well. It’s like a sort of ‘energy football.’ Think of the emotional energy children generate when they reach puberty. That’s why they’re so often the focus of such cases.”
This made sense to me and seemed to tie in with what I was learning in my psychic development circle. In order to manifest in the physical world, discarnate entities such as spirits required some form of physical energy supplied by a living person.
“So, in this case the girls provided the energy and a spirit came along and used it to move objects and communicate,” I summed up. “That’s a very interesting theory.”
Elsewhere, he presents the somewhat familiar image of a diamond as a symbol of the group soul. Although this image is not original with the author (as he freely acknowledges), I found his explanation very clear and straightforward.
I’d been thinking about this one day when I had a realization, which came to me seemingly out of the blue. I experienced the mental image of a huge, multi-faceted diamond. Light was shining through the diamond. I could see that the diamond represented a human soul. Each facet of the diamond represented one lifetime. I realized that time as we experience it on Earth is merely an illusion due to our current perspective. The diamond exists, has existed, and will always exist in a sort of timeless state.
I could see that the purpose of life was to polish each facet. We say life grinds us down. A diamond in a jewelry workshop could make the same complaint. In fact, the grinding polishes our facets, to add beauty and harmony to the whole gem.
Perhaps “I” as I experienced myself in each life, am merely one aspect of the whole diamond, and a very limited aspect at that. As a mere facet I am flat compared with the three-dimensional nature of the whole diamond. The whole diamond would be my “higher self.” Then suppose each diamond was stacked together with others. Perhaps each whole diamond in its own way represented a single facet of an even greater diamond, a huge structure, which kept on stacking up until what? God?
I don't know if there's anything really new in Consulting Spirit, and I wish the author had been a little more willing to overcome his skepticism and carry his thinking a little further, but overall I enjoyed the book quite a lot. In some ways, it's almost a throwback to accounts that were common in the early part of the 20th century when Spiritualism was more widely accepted. Rubenstein presents an array of supernatural phenomena in a calm, sober voice, laced with humor and occasional self-doubt. I found his story very appealing, and I think you will too.