I've read bits and pieces of the writings attributed to Seth, an entity purportedly channeled by Jane Roberts, whose teachings were reproduced in a series of bestselling books, but I haven't made a sustained study of the subject. Recently, since I've been looking into the subject of possession, and Jane Roberts's trance states seem to qualify, I decided to read at least one complete book in the series.
I chose The Seth Material. Originally published in 1970, The Seth Material is Roberts's first book to go into depth about her channeling experiences. I'm finding it something of a mixed bag, and since there's a lot to parse here, I plan to review it in sections as I go along. This review covers the book through Chapter 7.
Seth's basic message is heartening, if not particularly original:
According to what you have been taught, you are composed of physical matter and cannot escape it, and this is not so. The physical matter will disintegrate, but you will not. Though you cannot find me, know that I am here. Your own parents seem to disappear before your eyes and vanish into nothingness forever. I can assure you that they will continue to live. I can assure you that death is another beginning, and that when you are dead, you are not silenced. For is this voice that you hear now, silence? Is this presence that you sense within this room, death?
I am here to tell you that your joy is not dependent upon your youth, for I am hardly young. I am here to tell you that your joy is not dependent upon your physical body, for in your terms I have none. I have what I have always had, the identity that is mine. It is never diminished. It grows and develops …
I come here as though I appeared through a hole in space and time. There are walks in space and time through which you can travel, and in dreams you have been where I am. I want you to feel your own vitality. Feel it travel through the universe and know that it is not dependent upon your physical image. In reality you project your own energy out to form the physical world. Therefore, to change your world, it is yourself you must change. You must change what you project.
You always were, you always will be. This is the meaning of existence and joy. The God that is, is within you, for you are a part of all that is.
Jane Roberts's previously unsuspected psychic powers first manifested themselves in a spontaneous experience of "cosmic consciousness" (not her term) in which she perceived the universe as
really tissue-paper thin, hiding infinite dimensions of reality, and I was suddenly flung through the tissue paper with a huge ripping sound … I went plummeting through a leaf, to find a whole universe open up; and then out again, drawn into new perspectives…
During that experience I knew that we formed physical matter, not the other way around; that our senses showed us only one three-dimensional reality out of an infinite number that we couldn't ordinarily perceive; that we could trust our senses only so far and only so long as we did not ask questions that were beyond their limited scope of knowledge.
But more: I just didn't know, for example, that everything had its own consciousness. Now I suddenly felt the fantastic vitality present even in things I'd previously considered inanimate. A nail was sticking in the windowsill, and I experienced ever so briefly the consciousness of the atoms and molecules that composed it.
Despite all my previous ideas and common sense, I knew that time wasn't a series of moments one before the other, each one like a clothespin stuck on a line, but that all experience existed in some kind of eternal now.
This is explained as Seth's first attempt at making contact. Soon afterward, he was able to communicate with the pair via a Ouija board and then eventually by using Jane's body as his instrument.
Unless Jane and her husband Rob were consummate actors and highly inventive confabulators – extremely doubtful, given the tests to which Jane subjected herself – their reports of the channeling episodes must be taken seriously. Some kind of paranormal phenomenon was going on. Jane was able to provide accurate information about distant locations and activities via clairvoyance. She appears to have had genuine out-of-body experiences – sometimes extremely vivid ones. Her personality, mannerisms, and voice changed noticeably when she was "possessed" by Seth. The misgivings and skeptical doubts that she describes are believable, and her gradual conversion to the belief that Seth really was a discarnate personality temporarily occupying her body seems entirely plausible to me.
Of course, just because she became convinced doesn't mean she was right. It also doesn't mean that every word spoken by Seth must be accepted at face value.
In fact, much of what Seth tells us is hard to credit, even for those of us already convinced of postmortem survival. Early in the sessions, he informs Jane and Rob that they once witnessed thought-form doubles of themselves in a dance club. Jane remembers the incident:
I noticed an older couple sitting across the room from us. They really frightened me by their uncanny resemblance to Rob and myself. Did we look like that – aloof, bitter – only younger? I couldn't take my eyes off them, and finally I pointed them out to Rob.
Rob looked over at the couple and groaned with another back spasm [a chronic problem at that time]. Then something happened that neither of us had been able to explain. To my complete amazement Rob stood up, grabbed my arm, and insisted that we dance. A minute earlier, he'd hardly been able to walk.
Rob's back problems markedly improved from that point forward. Seth explains:
Looking back, you can say that the effect was therapeutic, but if you had subconsciously accepted the images, it would have marked the beginning of a severe deterioration for you both, personally and creatively. Again, the images marked the critical culmination of your destructive energies …
Your dancing represented the first move away from what those images meant, and violent action was the best thing under the circumstances … A subtle transformation could have taken place in which you and Jane transferred the bulk of your personalities into the fragments you had yourselves created … and from their eyes watched yourselves across the room. In this case your present dominant personalities would no longer be dominant.
He goes on to explain that the so-called "fragments" or thought-forms simply disappeared into the crowd when they were no longer the focus of Jane and Rob's attention.
Now, this sounds pretty far out. We are meant to believe that it's possible to project our own double into the world as a tangible, physical entity, and moreover, under adverse circumstances, to project our consciousness into this double and inhabit it from then on, leaving our previous physical body as a mere shell.
Subsequent questioning of Seth on this point makes it clear that he's not speaking metaphorically or symbolically. Seth says:
[In this incident] aggressive and destructive energies were unconsciously projected outward, given a pseudo-reality and temporary physical validity. The emotional charge provides the pattern and impetus for such creations. According to the extent of physical reality to be achieved, the physical body of the originator transfers or transposes portions of its own chemical structure. Proteins are used, and there is a high carbohydrate loss.
Well … maybe.
I suppose one could compare it to the ectoplasmic manifestations that, according to spiritualists, are built up out of the physical constituents of sitters at a séance. Then again, according to spiritualists, such materializations can occur only in total darkness, while the materialization of thought-forms described by Seth apparently occurred in a pretty well lit environment.
Overall, I'd call this an extremely dubious claim, at best.
Some of Seth's other statements are simply incomprehensible to me, at least at this stage of reading. Perhaps they will make more sense later.
Here's an example. Seth is trying to explain the nature of time:
Time has no meaning without barriers. To put it another way, time has no meaning without the necessity to counteract against other actions. Basically, this is a gem of a description, if I do say so myself.
It may be a gem of a description, but it means zilch to me. Seth, to his credit, admits that Jane and Rob, at their present level of development, can't possibly understand what he's saying. In a series of statements spread over more than one session he tries to clarify the point:
Consider a network of wires, a maze of interlocking wires endlessly constructed so that looking through them there would seem to be no beginning or end. [Later, Seth says this is only a metaphor; there are no actual wires.] Your plane could be likened to a small position between four very spindly wires, and my plane could be likened to the small position in the neighboring wires on the other side.…
To one side, the other is transparent. You cannot see through, but the two planes move through each other constantly …
This is what I mean by fifth dimension ...
Consider that these wires are mobile, constantly trembling, and also alive in that they not only carry the stuff of the universe but are themselves projections of it …
What you call emotion or feeling is the connective tissue between us, and it is the connective that most clearly represents the life force on any plane, under any circumstances. From it is woven all material of your world and mine …
The study of time will teach you much about the nature of [the] fifth dimension also. Our imaginary wires composed of solidified vitality are fluid, I hope you understand this, even while they are solidified. For solidity is an illusion. I have also said that this feeling of vitality – and I prefer that term, vitality [apparently in reference to emotions/feelings/life force?] – is moving and itself a part of the living stuff of the universe. Now as these wires pass seemingly from plane to plane, they actually form the boundaries of each plane and become subject to the particular laws within each. Therefore, they become subject to time within your particular three-dimensional system …
The motion of the apparently solidified vitality gives the illusion of time. The counteraction involved in this case is counteraction within the core of vitality itself … The action and counteraction is the time trigger. On some other planes motion is simultaneous and time unknown.
A lot of words have been spoken here, but I don't find them very illuminating. The counteraction is within the core of vitality? Say what?
Overall, I really don't know what to make of The Seth Material so far. Jane Roberts comes across as a sincere and intelligent person, neither unbalanced nor credulous, who experienced a sudden awakening of psychic powers. Chief among these powers was the ability to channel an entity calling itself Seth, who claimed to speak words of great wisdom, but whose statements strike me as often extremely implausible or simply unintelligible.
So that's where I am now. I'm curious to see if the further explication of Seth's teachings in the rest of the book will make a difference.