Mrs Willett’s Mediumship

A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett’s Mediumship, and of the Statements of the Communicators Concerning Process, by Gerald William Earl of Balfour (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 43, part 140, London, 1935)


p. 61

: Myers died in 1901, Gurney in 1888, Sidgwick in 1900, Butcher in 1910, Verrall in 1912. Axel Munthe gives an account of Myer’s death (in Rome) in his Story of San Michele.


p. 81/8-10

[But there is evidently a tendency to develop a higher degree in the scale by the addition of what I have called a psycho-sensory element.] ‘psycho-sensory element’ u/l: The ‘words coming from outside’ are already a psycho-sensory element. (It is a mistake to confine mental imagery to visual images.)


p. 92/24-31

[… a veridical apparition is the hallucinatory shape in which a telepathic impulse from the mind of a distant person is embodied for the percipient. As such it is subjective. All that is veridical in it is packed into the telepathic impulse in the form of a “nucleus of a transferred impression”.]: This is hardly adequate. See p. 197. Claivoyance must be taken into account.



[Concerning the nature of the ‘telepathic impulse’ and the ‘nucleus of a transferred impression’ he is studiously indefinite.]: !


p. 98/19-20

[It’s the name of a Field Marshal I’m trying to get, a German name.]: Perhaps ‘Blücher’, which is the name of one of the Dormitories at Wellington, Marshal B. having been one of the Duke of W’s generals.


p. 102/28

[One does not sniff an idea.]: Why not? An idea (i.e. an image) can make one retch physically.


p. 106/8

[… thought without words or mental imagery] u/l: see note on p. 115.


p. 109/27

[Heavy with script all day] u/l: A pregnant phrase!


p. 114/38

[Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick]: Mrs. Sidgwick was the sister of G.W. Balfour.


p. 115/36-39

[Thought is possible not only without the assistence of verbal or other conventional symbolism, but without even that of mental imagery.] last 7 words u/l: This is a mistaken view. See J.-P. Sartre, L’Être et le Néant, p. 601: … pure psychological idols, such as … thought without images and without words.’ Note, however, that the images need not be visual.


p. 116/6-7

[Flashes of meaning may reach the automatist unclothed in symbols of any kind.]: A ‘flash of meaning’ without any formal substance is a complete incomprehensibility. ‘Meaning’ (or ‘significance’) is the relation between the formal substances (i.e. two phenomena), one present and the other absent. The latter is the ‘meaning’ of the former.


p. 117/8-11

[It is capable of improvement by practice, and likely, in the opinion at least of the communicators, to become more widespread and more developed as time goes on.] ‘and likely … goes on’ u/l: On what grounds?


p. 120/12-15

[But I see no reason to suppose that the difficulty of catching a sound-image telepathically conveyed differs in any essential respect from the difficulty of catching a sound heard in the course of ordinary speech or dictation.] noted and checked.


p. 128/29-34

[Had the communicator himself failed to find the appropriate word, and had he transmitted his thought by means of a periphrasis, leaving it to the automatist to fill in the blank? Or had he used the correct word but failed to impress it on the mental hearing of the automatist?]: Or as a visual image?


p. 141

: The tangle of speculations in this chapter arises directly from attavād’upādāna (‘holding a belief in “self”’). There is more of this later.


p. 147/5-8

[She called the house Henry Sidgwick’s house, and on my saying it was Mrs. Sidgwick’s house, insisted that it was his, not hers, that his books were there and that he frequently came and looked at them.): I have read of this same sort of thing elsewhere.


p. 147/13-17

[He believed it would be many ages before humanity reached anything like a basis of certainty, and in the meantime vast assumptions must be made. But he did not like making assumptions, and often objected to the assumptions made by Myers.] ‘and in the meantime … Myers.’ double noted.


p. 150/38-40

[The argument would still hold good even if we choose to regard the communicators as so many additional me’s masquerading as spirits.]: This ignores the fundamental distinction between me and somebody else (not me). Myers is better.


p. 151/23-24

[The subject is one that calls for further examination.] u/l: Indeed it does! What is meant by a ‘true self’?


p. 152/9-12

[An external communicator impressing his message on the normal self should be at least as effective in creating a sense of alien origin as a secondary self communicating with a primary self.] ‘creating’ u/l: No need to create it—you can’t avoid it.


p. 157/15-21

[If genius consists, as Myers holds, in the interaction of subliminal with supraliminal mentation, we must recognize that in the majority of cases that interaction goes on subconsciously so far as the normal self is concerned. The thoughts resulting from it in the conscious mind will then appear th that mind to be its own thoughts, not thoughts impressed on it from elsewhere.]: What is the distinction between ‘subliminal’ and ‘subconscious’ (and between ‘supraliminal’ and ‘conscious’)? This seems to be particularly confused thinking. See p. 202.


p. 160/31-37

[Say this the Ideal is the Real. What men call Visionary is the Bare fact. What they call fact is often evanescent vapour which will melt into nothingness before the light of truth. I yearn to say the bare bones are the unreal. The Magic Vision Holy Grail is the Actual. I am feeling after much that is yet obscure to me. My knowledge is fragmentary and as I progress I feel its limits more.]: Mystical speculations—quite on the wrong track.


p. 167/16

[there is a terrible competition] u/l: Queue outside the telephone booth.


p. 170/25-29

[the communicators do not admit the passage of thought from subliminal to supraliminal to be telepathic…]: Of course not—there is no telepathy within the same being. The whole idea of communication between one part of the ‘self’ (as Balfour calls it) and another is wholly misleading—see note 1 on next page. One does not communicate with oneself. What is required is the notion of a single but complex structure. See p. 184 and pp. 263ff.


p. 172/1-3

[even in deep trance Mrs. Willett retains a consciousness of self, whereas Mrs. Piper loses all sense of her own personality.] ‘whereas … Personality’ u/l: A bad way of expressing it. What is presumably meant is that Mrs. Piper is almost completely displaced and her body is occupied (or possessed) by someone else.


p. 172/24-26

[The extraneous spirit acts on a man’s organism in every much the same way as the man’s own spirit habitually acts upon it.]: Yes.


p. 172/fn.3

[Possession of the organism by a dissociated fragment of the medium’s personality is abundantly recognised by Myers.]: There is something of a contradiction in the notion that one’s body can be possessed by (part of) oneself. Myers seems to be aware of this, and makes a distinction. To be ‘self-possessed’ is to be reflexively in control of the body: but this is not what is referred to here.


p. 174/1-3

[If the Dorr incident was really a case of ‘possession’, it was a case of possession shared between the invading spirit and the spirit of the medium.]: Perfectly possible.


p. 174/10-12

[There was no question there of either ‘mind’ being other than a dissociated element of the sensitive’s own personality.]: Are you quite sure?


p. 179/17-21

[The vividness of her sensation then was compounded of not only the initial stimulus but of the answering one that sprang from me…]: Resonance.


p. 181/fn.1

[Hélène Smith] u/l: What a name!

[I draw no distinction, so far as process is concerned, between possession by a dissociated self and a possession by an extraneous spirit.] u/l: See note on p. 150.


p. 181/fn.3

[the Weltgeist, or Absolute Spirit] ‘Absolute’ c/o: World.

[May it not be that the attainment of self-consciousness by a finite spirit A requires not only A’s consciousness of B’s reality, but also B’s recognition of A’s reality, and similar with B?]: Curious idea of an attainment! The notion is only partly valid. Recognition by others is, in a manner of speaking, a dimension of our being; but even without this the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum is valid. See Sartre in L’Être et le Néant on the question of other people. The Weltgeist is a mystical notion.


p. 184/5-9

[… possession … must certainly include some kind of ascendency or domination of the possessing mind over the possessed.]: Presumably so.


p. 184/14-17

[normal mentality in the individual may involve an element of telepathic possession by the primary self of the other psychical units in the group that enter into the constitution of the personality as a whole.]: Once again, telepathy is an inappropriate word to describe a being’s internal relation with himself. Telepathy implies distance—i.e. the separation of one being from another, which is an absolute negative (‘I am not someone else’ and vice versa). There is not such a negative within the being, since, whatever part may be in the ascendant, all parts are equally ‘I’. See p. 256, p. 279 and p. 308.


p. 191/33-34

[whether such a faculty is really found in man.] u/l. N.B. The faculty is that of clairvoyance. : It is; but it is accepted much less easily than telepathy.


p. 192/22-28

[I further propose to retain the word clairvoyance … to cover both the ‘independent clairvoyance’ … and the ‘telepathic clairvoyance’ which that definition if carried to its logical conclusion would exclude.] last 15 words u/l: Inclusion of this in clairvoyance seems to add to, not subtract from, the confusion. See p. 205.


p. 194/22-23

[Oh he says, Who applies the stimulus under which certain ideas—use that word, not what I wanted.]: See p. 198.


p. 196/30-33

[telaesthesia (M) may be described as immediate knowledge, supernormally acquired, of facts relating to the world of physical reality.] and, on the next page,


p. 197/5-7

[telaesthesia (W) … clearly cannot be … direct perception of facts relating to external reality.]: Does ‘physical’ equal ‘external’?


p. 197/9-31

[… an oft-recurring dream in which she seemed to herself to visit a certain house … When, at a later time, she actually visited the real house … it was found that in many respects the dream house corresponded much more closely with the internal arrangements of the house as it was fifty or sixty years ago than with contemporary fact …]: I have read somewhere another account of what appear to be the same episodes. It seems that Mrs. W. (if it was she) had a shock when she actually drove up to the house of her dreams and recognized it. But the owner of the house had a greater shock when she recognised Mrs. W. and exclaimed, ‘You’re the person who has been haunting this house for so long!’ It seems that the occupants saw Mrs. W. on her wanderings through the house though Mrs. W. said that in her wanderings she never saw anybody. Balfour’s views of the matter—that it was telepathy (W) or telaesthesia (W)—is clearly inadequate. Reference to the note on pp. 204-5 show that Balfour has certain prejudices in the matter. It is odd that he makes no reference to the fact (if I am not mistaken) that Mrs. W. was seen haunting the house.


p. 198/18-19

[both these topics are spoken of as ideas.] and, after ‘ideas’ on line 28: Note that on p. 194 the communicator says ‘… ideas—use that word, not what I wanted—…’


p. 198/27-29

[Whatever the ground or justification may be for treating the telepathically impressed Pegasus as an idea, and the telaesthetically acquired Steeds of Dawn as an object…]: Both are images.


p. 198/32

[the world of external reality.]: External to what?


p. 200/1-2

[Potential naturally transcends actual, and it is not at the actual that the limit lies.] noted and checked.


p. 200/10-14

[Potential means possible to be apprehended of mind as it exists in the parts—potential to the parts—using the word parts in contradistinction to the word whole—Oh he says, the parts can’t be conscious of the whole, but the whole can be conscious of itself as a whole, and also as a whole of parts.]: Cf. Sartre’s ‘totalité détotalisée in L’Être et le Néant, p. 242.


p. 201/12

[Unconscious is not an equivalent for potential. No.] checked.


p. 202/2-4

[her conscious and unconscious self are identified with her supraliminal and subliminal self.]: See p. 157.


p. 202/10-11

[using the term subliminal here to denote what is highest and best in the human mind.] u/l: But ‘subliminal’ is ‘unconscious’ (see above), and, for Freud at least, the ‘unconscious’ is not unlike a cesspool. See p. 273.


p. 203/15-18

[the distinction between potential and actual content is to be understood as applying to minds in general, whether incarnate or discarnate]: Yes.


p. 203/18-21

[by ‘potential content’ is meant the store of past impressions which have become and remain latent unless called up into present consciousness and made actual by an exercise of memory.] ‘the store of past impressions’ u/l: This is too restricted—also too naive—e.g. a potential precognition is not a past impression. An exercise of attention is better.


p. 204/fn.1

[I find it hard to believe that retro-cognitive telaesthesia could ever be independent of the memories of some mind or other.] u/l: Why? This seems to take the phenomenon of memory as something already clearly understood.


p. 205/21-22

[An idealistic theory of the universe may resolve matter into the content of some cosmic mind.]: This, of course, won’t do.


p. 205/24

[But as long as we treat the distinction between matter and mind as fundamental] u/l: See NoD, nāma (b) or (c).


p. 206/6-10

[The idealistic hypothesis would … do away with the conception of independent clairvoyance altogether, and leave telaesthesia (W) alone in possession of the field.]: This is not the only solution.


p. 206/15-37

[A vague but genuine consciousness of the spiritual environment; that (it seems) is the degree of revelation which artistic or philosophic genius is capable of conferring. Subliminal uprushes … tend to become telaesthetic. … indefinite intimations of … the great truth that the human spirit is essentially capable of a deeper than sensorial perception … outside the range of any specialized organ or any planetary view … that world … which the seer or the sensitive projects a narrower but exacter gaze …]: All this has a mystical flavouring. Handle with care.


p. 208/25-30

[… one mind may be able to perceive and apprehend the contents, actual and potential, of another mind without that other’s active intervention …]: This faculty can be developed by practice. It is more generally accepted as a fact by Orientals than the reverse (i.e. telepathic communication).


p. 210/22-23

[If complete oneness were ever actually achieved] u/l: Impossible supposition!


p. 214/fn.4

[Tennyson]: Alfred Lawn Tennyson gentlemanpoet, as Joyce calls him.

[We need not deny the transcendental ecstasy to any of the strong souls who have claimed to feel it;—to Elijah or to Isaiah, … to Buddha or to Mahomet, … to Wordsworth or to Tennyson.]: To speak of the Buddha as a ‘soul’—even as a ‘strong soul’—is a particularly unfortunate blunder. And it does not improve matters to put him in the same company as Mahomet and Tennyson.


p. 216/1-4

[To relive and to realize through the experience of the living that is what the dead do … To be satisfied through another’s filling solidarity say that No man liveth unto himself]: Parasites! I read of an account of a prostitute who, having died and being reborn in some low spirit world, spent her time seeking vicarious satisfaction of her lust by possessing (in the sense used in this book) the bodies of human beings engaged in sexual intercourse. ‘To be satisfied through another’s filling solidarity’ seems to fit the case very nicely. Not all the dead keep their mind above their waist like these respectable Victorian gentlemen.

‘No man liveth unto himself’ u/l: On the contrary, every man liveth unto himself. To judge by these extracts, the dead do not seem to have progressed very much in wisdom. All this is wallowing in bhavata~hā, craving for existence. It is in the opposite direction that we have to go to reach emancipation.


p. 217/1-8

[… To them we may become faint memories … it is our unguessed influence that touches them when they do not suspect it …]: This is all very well, but there are times when I should prefer to be alone. Probably, however, we are never alone.


p. 220/28

[The soul’s true native element] u/l: The soul’s true native element is avijjādhātu.


p. 222/19-21

[So far as the Willett records are concerned, activity of communication is almost entirely on the side of the discarnate.]: The question might seem to arise how the sitter communicates with the communicator. But I do not find the question raised in this book. Possibly there is direct communication; but only one way, i.e. incarnate to discarnate. See top of p. 217. This arrangement might seem to have certain advantages for us—the dead can’t answer back. Unrestricted communication with our dear departed ones might not be an altogether unmixed blessing. Besides, it is here that the Buddhas appear, not there.


p. 225/1-2

[… a region of speculative mysticism into which I will not attempt to penetrate further.]: I should hope not! One of Balfour’s merits is the sobriety of his discussion.


p. 225/fn.2

[by some direct supernormal percipience without the intervention of any other mind to which the facts are already known, may there not be also a tetro-cognitive telaesthesia by which we may attain a direct knowledge of facts in the past?] noted and checked.

[It may even be that some World Soul is perennially conscious of all its past, and that individual souls, as they enter into deeper consciousness, enter into something which is at once reminiscence and actuality.] ‘perennially conscious of all its past’ u/l: This is a contradiction in terms. This idea of a World Soul is quite redundant. If the whole of the past, present and future is potentially accessible to each individual, what need of a World Soul? (See NoD, r¨pa and FS II/10.)


p. 226/28-30

[… the inmost sanctuary of mysticism … the most holy place …]: The Christian idea that heaven is a holy place (no doubt because God is supposed to live there).


p. 256/7-10

[… the horns of a duality … a conception of the selves as separated in such a way as to amount to 2 entities. But I was not to be impaled.]: Right. But see pp. 308-9.


p. 263/1-23

: J.-P. Sartre’s chapter (in L’Être et le Néant) on mauvaise foi, which adversely criticizes Freud’s doctrine of the ‘unconscious’, can be profitably studied in connexion with the distinction between the ‘Supraliminal’ and the ‘Subliminal’.


p. 268/3-4

[to be unconscious of each other’s action, or even to engage in a conflict of wills and in acts of mutual hostility.]: If they are unconscious of each other’s action, how can they engage in a conflict of wills and acts of mutual hostility?


p. 269/20-21

[it is evidently essential to come to a clear understanding of what we mean by a ‘self’] u/l: See NoD, attā and sakkāya. All the muddle of this chapter comes of the puthujjana’s failure to distinguish personality from individuality. Personality as ‘self’ is indivisible. Individuality is as divisible as you please; that is, within the individual. The word individual does not exclude internal divisions; it simply means that you cannot treat these internal divisions as a collection of individuals. ‘Individual’ is opposed to ‘class’.


p. 270/18-19

[no less a thinker than William James] u/l: W. J.’s thinking was never very profound.


p. 272/34-39

[It seems … that our moral nature is as easily split up as our intellectual nature, and that we cannot be any more certain that the minor current of personality which is diverted into some new channel will retain moral than that it will retain intellectual coherence.] noted.


p. 275/9-10

[My own instinctive conviction is that my true self is the ‘me as I know myself’.] u/l: Within limits, this is well said. The rationalist pays no attention to this instinctive conviction, and in consequence makes things too simple. This ‘instinctive conviction’ is asmimāna, based on avijjā. It is the kernel of the problem. But Balfour’s solution of the problem is hopelessly mistaken.


p. 275/fn.1

[Otherwise it would not be the ‘I as I know myself’ that survives, but another personality altogether.] last 3 words u/l: i.e. ‘someone else as he knows himself’?


p. 276/33-34

[supernormal powers are the exclusive prerogative of the subliminal.] u/l: This, of course, is completely disproved by the possibility of developing voluntary iddhi powers.


p. 280/21-282/9

[In order to avoid the use of clumsy periphrases let us describe communication which passes from one mental element within the personality to another by the term interior, and communication which passes supernormally from one individual to another by the term exterior. ‘Exterior’ communication by common consent we describe as telepathic. Is ‘interior’ communication also telepathic, and if not, what is the nature of the process by which it takes place?

Interior telepathy, if accepted as a fact, would, of course, be in flat contradiction to the doctrine that telepathic faculty is confined to the subliminal. But its implications do not end there. Telepathy is so clearly identified in Human Personality with the process of communication between distinct psychical entities that to accept the idea of interior telepathy would be in effect equivalent to recognizing the mental elements associated together in the individual man as being such distinct psychical entities. We are thus once more brought up before the old question concerning the selfhood of the independent currents of consciousness that are somehow combined in one and the same individual human being. Are these independent currents true selves, or are they phases, fragments, layers, strata, of one and the same unitary self?

Interior telepathy interpreted as a process of communication between distinct psychical entities or true selves … is incompatible with the conception of the mental elements themselves as merely different manifestations or aspects of the soul’s activity. It is equally incompatible, I think, with the doctrine that identifies man’s true self with his subliminal self.

… If I am asked whether, in my view, interior communication is always telepathic, my answer must be, Yes, if the selves between whom communication takes place are true selves. But at this point the controversy once more resolves itself into the original difference of opinion concerning the nature of the mental elements between which the interaction takes place. Those who hold the mental elements to be true selves will inevitably take the further step and treat communication between them as telepathic. Those who hold them to be phases, strata, or ‘states’ of a single unitary self will naturally and rightly seek for some other term to describe the passage of thought from one to the other …]: Within Balfour’s presuppositions—i.e. within the sphere of the puthujjana—all this argument is perfectly valid.


p. 297/3-7

: The ‘Absolute’ is simply a euphemism for ‘God’.


p. 306/12-16

[… Myers … accepted the paradox as a true description of the nature of the soul. The soul is at once a unitary self, or ego, and a self distinguishable into parts sufficiently independent of each other to deserve on their own account to be described as ‘selves’.]: See p. 311.


p. 308/11-12

[In a sense individual human beings are parts of one whole—that is, they are all rooted, as it were, in the absolute.] u/l: BOSH!


p. 308/21-309/2

[No doubt it is to this incident that Gurney is referring when … he charges me with having tried to get him ‘on the horns of a duality which would almost amount to a conception of the selves as separated in such a way as to amount to 2 entities’. Yet even now it is clear that he has not fully grasped the nature of the dilemma as it presents itself to me. If supraliminal and subliminal are to be regarded as aspects of a unitary self, I should have nothing to say in deprecation of his contemptuous outburst. That aspects of a self cannot be selves on their own account is, in fact, one of the very points for which I have been contending throughout the present chapter. If they are aspects of self they cannot be separate selves. If they are not separate selves how can they be used in satisfactory explanation of those phenomena of abnormal psychology for the understanding of which separate selves seem to be imperatively demanded—such, for instance, as secondary personalities of the Sally Beauchamp type, or those ‘nunciative automatisms’ which Myers himself admits to be indistinguishable in form and circumstance from telepathic messages accepted by him as proceeding from independent entities whether spirits of the dead or other human beings?]: For all this see NoD, paramattha sacca para a5. From a puthujjana’s point of view, Balfour’s objections are valid—‘self’ cannot be divided into separate ‘selves’, and yet the Sally Beauchamp case requires it. The same dilemma occurs in the puthujjana’s reflexion—see a note on paṭiccasamuppāda para 24. This paradox cannot be resolved in the sphere of the puthujjana. If Gurney is right, that is only because he has, in fact, failed to appreciate Balfour’s dilemma. Gurney is right for the wrong reason; Balfour is wrong for the right reason: neither is right for the right reason.


p. 310/18-28

[… when some one, hesitating what course of action he shall adopt, says, ‘I was in two minds about it’ … nobody would seriously suggest that an interaction between two distinct selves is involved. The duality is in the thought, not in the thinker …]: This won’t do. Who or what is the thinker?


p. 311/34-35

[Among these other selves it occupies a position of primacy, and in normal conditions is in supreme control of the organism.]: This is quite mistaken. Each individual (which for Balfour is a ‘self’) is a totality, and there cannot be primacy amongst totalities. Balfour has simply re-introduced in another form the problem (the ‘paradox’ of p. 306) he is attempting to solve.


p. 312/20-23

[but unless the modification appears to the primary self to be impressed upon it from without by something other than itself, its thoughts will be for it its own thoughts, and will carry with them no objective significance.]: All thoughts have objective significance, i.e. the expression ‘its own thoughts’ in this context is meaningless. More exactly, all thoughts are objective and all thoughts are ‘mine’, and it is not legitimate to divide thoughts into those that are objective and those that are mine. The notion of subjectivity (i.e. reflexively) created thoughts is a pure invention. All that reflexion can do is to bring potential (or latent) thoughts (i.e. images) into actuality. How can a thought be created ex nihilo? But this does not mean that all images are recovered memories of reality. Imaginary things exist in their own right, no less than real things, and both are objective.


p. 313/29-31

[… I cannot say that it amounts to proof]: But the question to be asked is what is meant by the word proof. These things can never be shown to be logically necessary, since they are prior to logic. A proof is what satisfies a given individual, and this will vary from one ‘individual’ to another. There can be no general proof.


p. 317/1-2

[What is real is what lies at the back of objective phenomena.] u/l: BOSH. There is nothing at the back of objective phenomena. There is no ‘Reality behind Appearance’. Objective phenomena are all the reality there is. Things are as they appear. Even a mirage is as it appears, namely, as a mirage. This does not mean that objective phenomena are without significance, but that the significances are also objective phenomena.


p. 317/6-7

[Are things symptomatic of an abiding and total sum of truth]: No.


p. 317/10

[or do things contribute and form and create the only reality]: Yes.


p. 317/13-16

[ACTION and TRUTH which is dependent which is primary and which well say the word derivative. You have travelled far and now you must go back.]: Action is primary. On the other hand, one can speak of a FALSEHOOD (avijjā) that is primary to ACTION. (Action, kamma, depends upon Being, bhava; but Being depends on Falsehood, avijjā, not on Truth, vijjā. And this Truth of Action is the only Truth there is; and recognition of it brings Action to an end. Action, therefore, depends on the Falsehood that is non-recognition of this Truth of Action. That is to say, Truth depends on the Action that ends Action, namely recognition of the Truth.)