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Written in 2002

The most that the average person interested in psychical research and the paranormal knows about the cross-correspondences (if indeed they have ever heard of them) is that they were aimed at proving the survival of post-mortem consciousness, but were hugely complicated, lasted for decades, have long since dried up, and can be understood only by an handful of academics learned in Greek and Latin. Yet virtually all who have ventured to dip into them have concluded that they constitute probably the most persuasive evidence for intelligent discarnate communication from identifiable personalities that 120 years of research into this field has produced.

Despite the fearsome reputation they have gathered, particularly among a generation largely ignorant of the classics, neither specialist knowledge nor prodigious study is needed to appreciate their significance. All those who devoted much of their lives, and considerable expertise, into analysing these messages, became converted, usually slowly and reluctantly, to the belief in the survival of identifiable personalities. Hitherto suppressed material which has only recently become available for study enables us to understand more readily why their scepticism became transformed into belief.

To understand the purpose and appreciate the significance of the cross-correspondences, we must first look at the status of psychical research at the close of the 19th century. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of pioneer researchers like William James, Richard Hodgson and George Dorr in the USA, and Oliver Lodge and Frederic Myers in Britain, the long and thorough investigation into the trance mediumship of Leonore Piper of Boston, Mass, had produced what was widely recognised as conclusive evidence of her ability to convey veridical information, even to proxy sitters, purporting to derive from dead souls. What was now in issue was not whether the communications were paranormal, since they clearly were, but whether their paranormality might be attributed to extra-sensory perception by the medium (as Mrs. Piper herself famously conjectured), rather than to the entities who claimed to be the originators of the messages.

On the basis that the cross-correspondences were more than a concatenation of fortuitous coincidences, they emerge as a device by a small group of recently deceased personalities to defeat what is now called the super-ESP hypothesis. What was required was evidence which could not be attributed to the psyche of the transmitting medium, no matter how extensive and subtle her psychic qualities; no matter how far she could read the minds of distant third parties, or apprehend their future movements. Thus, a message which was conveyed in inherently meaningless fragments to different mediums at different times and places, and which made sense only when assembled by some third party, would satisfy this requirement. Such a message would have been wholly meaningless to any single medium, especially if couched in allusive and symbolic terms. If its contents, and the manner of its delivery, also gave clear evidence linking the identity of the communicator with the personality, idiosyncrasies and specialist knowledge of a former colleague, so much the better.

Several of the more famous examples are not strictly cross-correspondences, in that they were initiated from investigators on this side; and not all supported the survival hypothesis against that of telepathy. Among them was Professor Verrall's one-horse-dawn experiment to test the ability of his mediumistic wife to transmit anything linked to this humorous translation of a Greek phrase which had stuck in his mind for thirty years. By contrast, some years later, George Dorr in the USA undertook what proved to be a remarkably good evidential test via Mrs. Piper, of her supposed communicator, the spirit of Frederic Myers, to say what 'Lethe' meant to him. The series of accurate responses to this question became a classic cross-correspondence when the same question was later put by Oliver Lodge in England to another medium, also channelling the same personality, and producing an equally impressive number of different but equally apposite responses describing classical accounts of a journey to the underworld where departed souls bathe themselves in the Lethe's waters of forgetfulness and purification before entering the fields of Elysium. When other unconnected mediums found themselves producing puns on the name of Dorr, or even spelling out the US experimenter's name, the evidence that a single communicating intelligence was at work started to build up.

That a small number of posthumous communicators, prominently associated during their lives with the evidence for survival, were collaborating in a novel attempt to prove their continued existence was by no means immediately apparent to their former colleagues on Earth. The earliest cross correspondence which followed soon after Myers' death in January 1901, the so-called Diotima case, did involve messages received via two mediums, and the meaning of which became apparent only after eighteen months' puzzlement. But some of the more complex ones which followed involved several mediums in three different Continents. It was not until five or six years had elapsed that the intricate inter-relationship between the mediumistic scripts became fully apparent.

In many cases the messages, normally received via automatic writing, gave specific directions about where to look, to whom to transmit the information, and from whom to cross-check. Where the communications derived from entranced mediums, like Mrs. Piper, it was not uncommon for lively exchanges between investigating sitter and discarnate intelligence to take place, thereby defeating the theory that the medium was simply burrowing into the collective unconscious or the accumulated wisdom of the Akashic records It is not necessary to study all the 6,400 pages of pages in the 24 pages of analyses and commentaries in Notes and Excursuses to understand their significance, however. Some more readily digestible summaries are available in W.H. Salter's Zoar (Sidgwick and Jackson, 1961) and H. F. Saltmarsh's Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross Correspondence (Bell, 1938), although these are not readily obtainable, and somewhat out of date.

Despite 3,000 pages of scripts and commentaries published by the Society for Psychical Research during a period extending over thirty years, the full significance of these messages was apparent to only a very few contemporaries who were the principal investigators and analysts. They were constrained by obligations of strict privacy which only just becoming irrelevant. It is now possible to discern two interwoven themes, one of which, known as the Story, relates to the series of messages which were to convince the ageing British statesman, Arthur Balfour, that the love of his life was still eagerly awaiting him beyond the grave after forty and more years. The other, known The Plan, is a yet more startling and hitherto barely revealed account of a plan of spiritual eugenics by which the first of what was to be a generation of world leaders would be bred from a sexual union guided, even determined, by a group of high minded spiritual communicators so that a world of peace and prosperity would eventually prevail over wars and misery.

As to the Story, this was described in great and learned detail by Balfour's niece, Jean, Third Countess of Balfour in 1960 in The Palm Sunday Case (Proceedings of the SPR, 52). By analysing the fragments of messages from five automatists over a period of several years, it was possible to determine the identities of seven communicators, only three of whom made no attempt to conceal their clearly recognisable personalities, and to piece together a moving account of the private events of 1875 involving the young Arthur Balfour and his doomed lover, May Lyttleton.

The so-called Plan, of which little has thus far been publicly known, is made clearer in the hitherto suppressed scripts and letters by two of the principal automatists, Mrs. Verrall and Mrs. Willett in the first twelve years of the last century. Together with posthumous messages purporting to come from Mrs. Willett fifty years later, through the distinguished Irish medium Geraldine Cummins (see Swan on a Black Sea, Pelegrin Trust, 1965), they provide impressive evidence of precognition by a discarnate group acting collaboratively in ways devious, ingenious and allusive, in their efforts to provide not just evidence of their existence, which many believe they did, but to influence the development of mankind, in which respect they almost certainly failed.

Cross-Correspondences: An Introductory Note by Montague Keen
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