Experiencing SNU Spiritualism
The following notes were made after attending Spiritualist services at an SNU (Spiritualist National Union) Spiritualist Centre in Bristol.
Spiritualist Centre (Tuesday Guild, 2pm, 13/1/09)
My first experience of the Spiritualist Centre was on Tuesday the 13th of January 2009. I had been up to the door to investigate a couple of time previously, and to take photos of the sign a day earlier. I went there on this occasion with my friend. My initial impression on entering through the door was that it looked like a bed and breakfast inside, it was neat and bright. There was a door to a quiet room for mediums, a staircase (leading up to what I believe are flats) and a doorway through into the room where the service was to take place. As I walked through the door I heard them saying that it was going to be busy today. This room was once two rooms. It was full of plastic chairs arranged in rows in front of an altar on a small raised section of the floor adorned with cuddly teddy bears and a soft rabbit. “J” was collecting money for raffle tickets, so I presumed that the toys were for that purpose. I noticed a surprising amount of Christian imagery on the walls. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting that. There were pictures of Jesus about the place, and a stained glass window behind the altar. I noticed a couple of notice boards with pamphlets advertising other spiritualist centres in Wales and Merseyside and events featuring celebrity mediums like Derek Acorah. There was a plaque and a certificate designating the Centre as a member of the Spiritualists National Union (SNU). There was a small table next to the door with a donations basket, glasses and a jug of water. Behind the door was a cupboard with a notice attached asking for any unwanted Spiritualist books to be donated to the library. Lying on the seats were copies of a “hymn book” entitled “Spirits of Youth”. It didn’t contain any traditional hymns, but was, instead, full of photocopied song sheets with the lyrics to pop ballads with optimistic themes – ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams etc. When we were all sat down, a total congregation size of about 30-35 people of various ages (predominantly late-middle-to-elderly) and backgrounds, the medium who would be conducting today’s service was introduced. The hymn board next to the altar had a card with the number 3 on it. This meant that we were to turn to page three of our “Spirits of Youth Books” – “Lean on Me” - A CD player was plugged in and the music started. The congregation followed the words in the book and sang along until the skipping of the CD became too off putting. An a’capella version was attempted, but no one could remember the melody or stay in tune without the music. We managed to get half way through the second verse when it collapsed into laughter. The medium commented that this sort of thing occasionally happened when she was conducting the service. I heard someone in the row behind jovially suggesting that spirits were interfering with the technology. This was followed by a prayer reading from the visiting medium and a recital of the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t know all of the words, and was comforted to see that not everyone was joining in. Following the Lord’s Prayer the medium read a fable, which was praised as being beautiful by members of the congregation. She then proceeded to give readings to members of the congregation, assisted by her spirit guide – a Zulu warrior (“my Zulu”). The medium would select individuals from the audience and offer names (“Can you accept the name … from me?”). For the majority of readings the sitter would accept the name. The medium would translate personal advice and compliments for the sitter were received from the spirit world (“You done good Girl”). On the occasions when the participant didn’t recognise the name the medium was referring to it was recommended that they look out for it in the future. The medium wouldn’t let the names go, she explained that she had “…trust in Spirit…” and that she was simply communicating what she saw. Her descriptions of what she was experiencing ranged from visualisations of individual spirits to much more symbolic/visionary imagery – e.g. rainbows over people and long winding corridors – She even reported seeing the word “Passion” across the individual she was reading. Her spirit guide seemed, occasionally, to gesticulate towards the audience member a meaning that the medium had to interpret. The information she was receiving seemed to require a degree of interpretation and seemed primarily to be personally (subjectively) significant to the individual being read. Mid-way through her readings she would hand them a gift of a small angel model or a gem stone in a bag and, on one occasion, a fridge magnet. She would then proceed to give a few more messages before moving on to the next individual. I noted that a lot of emphasis was placed on compassion, “loving thy neighbour” and “Love and Light”. The medium’s messages were overall positive, optimistic and reassuring. The spirits seemed to promote a tolerant outlook and knew when people had been “cussing”. During one reading the spirit’s message was to love a neighbour that the sitter clearly had an issue with. Some members of the audience seemed quite impressed by the abilities and insights of the medium, particularly when she appeared to be aware of recent private events. The atmosphere was friendly, warm and surprisingly casual, quite unlike any other church services I have attended. Many of the congregation seemed to be regulars who knew each other. The whole service lasted around about 1 hour – from 2pm to 3pm – and was concluded with a prayer, followed by tea, biscuits and a raffle.
It is a strange thing. The question as to the validity of the medium’s ability is always present in my mind. She could so easily just be “cold reading”. But she didn’t seem overly concerned about attempting to provide proof of her visions. One woman commented that she didn’t need proof anymore. The conviction is there. I am sure that the notion of fraud cannot be alien to these people, and that they must have accepted the phenomena they have witnessed during past services as proof enough to invalidate the notion of fraudulence. I was impressed on occasions by the medium’s intent to stay with what she had said even if the sitter did not “accept the name” she was giving. It was as though the visions and names she perceived were there, and that there was little she could do about it if the sitter did not recognise its significance to their lives.
It would seem that time to the spirits she perceived was a jumble of past and future events – a symbol could be representative of something from the past or signify something that will make its self obvious in the near future. The impression I received of the world she was entering (from my audience position), whether actual or imagined, was one of many symbols and spirits – it is the task of the medium to shuffle through all of this extrasensory data to extract the salient points for the individual being read. This would explain the need for a spirit guide. Perhaps it is chaotic.
I got the impression that spirits were a component of people’s lives. I heard them talking about spirits.
I wonder whether Spiritualism might have lost its way in the modern world. The public perception of Spiritualism comes from the numerous television mediums that dominate Living TV, The Paranormal Channel and other such digital television channels. Celebrity psychics like Derek Acorah and Colin Fry et al seem so far removed, in their glossy television studios, from this humble reality. It is like a community centre with Spiritualism providing the core reason for congregating.
I did not get the impression that the congregation was being preyed upon, and nor did I feel as though any attempts were being made to evangelise. The service seemed genuinely positive to me, a factor that should not be neglected by this discussion. The sceptical opinion of Spiritualism is of frauds benefiting from the exploitation of emotional vulnerability, but I did not feel as though anyone was being exploited. Any money exchanged was done so on a purely voluntary basis in a donations basket or via the raffle. Everyone was aware of what they were doing. I can’t see how anyone could be fooled by it, or allow themselves to be fooled by it, because it is so casual and immediate. No great effort is put into convincing the audience. What the medium has to say is listened to, and any insight gleaned is genuine regardless of its source. It is for this reason that the claim of the medium holds some credibility, why would they lie – that is make up the story of communicating with spirits – if they can provide people with useful insight without such superfluity. Why would spirits be used as an explanation for what she was doing when, in such a secular time as this, the notion of the existence of spiritual entities is considered almost ridiculous? In other words – why make up something that people won’t believe?
Spiritualist Centre (Tuesday Guild, 2pm, 20/1/09)
My second visit to the Spiritualist centre was made alone. The congregation this time was much smaller, almost half the size, at 17 individuals (1 who turned up late). I noticed that many of the people present had been at the service a week earlier. There was a different medium this week, accompanied by her two spirit guides – “Sam and Adam”. I put £1 in the donations basket (which I had accidentally not done the week before) and bought a strip of raffle tickets for another £1. I heard some people talking about the portrayal of mediums in the media, dismissing it’s authority in discrediting the validity of mediums and psychics. One man argued that faith was needed, and that it wasn’t surprising that people should find negative results without faith, to which another replied “All you need is an open mind”.
This week the service was opened with un-accompanied singing from an official Spiritualist National Union (SNU) hymn book. All of the hymns appeared to be fairly traditional Christian songs, something that I wouldn’t really have expected from a “non-Christian organisation”. This seems to be one of the fundamental dichotomies in the Spiritualist religion – whether they are Christians or not. There were two prayers at the start of the service – one led by the medium and the other being the Lord’s Prayer. I had been thinking about the importance of embracing the phenomenology of the situation and relaxed while the prayers were being read. I felt good to be participating in the sending out of good will and positive thoughts. It was relaxing, the solemnity bringing a healthy mood to the atmosphere in the room.
There was a slight air of anticipation in the room for the medium to begin her “demonstration”. She spoke about having gone to Brazil to train in trance mediumship. The readings she presented were fairly accurate in some cases, and vaguer in others, though she was willing to admit that she was “not perfect” and that her abilities were not yet fully developed. After doing readings for several members of the crowd, she asked whether she could do a reading for me, I naturally consented. She asked whether I had ever heard of the Indigo Children (which she had mentioned in an earlier reading), I said that I had not, so she proceeded to tell me a little about Indigo Children, Rainbow Children and Crystal Children. I was intrigued because the spirits seemed to be pointing me in the direction of interesting areas for investigation. The medium said that I would find it fascinating. She said that she would be very interested to hear what I found out in my researches. She said that my “eyes have lit up”, which I actually felt as though they had – I felt that she somehow knew that I was there to research, despite the fact that no-one there was yet aware of my desire to study contemporary Spiritualism.
My reading sparked a little discord in the congregation. My reading had involved a little about the current state of the world (“The earth’s axel is off centre”), and how the so called Indigo Children were superior spirits incarnated on the earth, and who, although often mistaken/incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from ADHD and autism are performing a function of change on the earth. The medium began to talk about Atlantis rising again, though “not in our lifetime”. A member of the congregation seemed to disagree with the idea of Atlantis resurfacing – “It’ll never happen”. Was this little quarrel indicative of a schism within the Spiritualist movement – with people less convinced about certain more typically New Age beliefs such as Atlantis and Indigo Children? It was lucky that the spirits saw fit to highlight this to me. It is good to see that the congregation are unafraid of questioning what they are told.
The service ended with another prayer and was followed by the raffle, tea and cake – I won a tin of Rice Pudding. After the service the woman sitting next to me turned and said that she had an e-mail for me from someone about the indigo children entitled “Indigo101” from someone she used to know. I didn’t end up giving her my e-mail address to forward it to me, but I was intrigued by it. It seems that synchronicity plays an important part in the phenomenology of Spiritualism. I came away from the centre with lots of thoughts running through my head. It was very interesting indeed.
Spiritualist Centre (Tuesday Guild, 2pm, 27/1/09)
On this occasion the medium was male (I have read that the majority of mediums are female). The congregation was much larger this week, perhaps because of the medium’s reputation. The usual structure of the service was followed. The hymn was taken from the SNU hymn book. The medium seemed to be concerned with highlighting the similarities between religions, stating that they are all essentially worshipping the same God and that the “barriers” between people of different faiths are entirely “man made”. He also commented on the inappropriateness of the common reference to God as personified in the masculine, he stated that he often preferred the term “Father-Mother God”. He preferred the notion of an unfathomable and impersonal creative force. This is a thoroughly liberal perspective, and highlights Spiritualism’s syncretistic nature. The main message of the mediums talk seemed to be that God can be experienced and understood in a variety of different ways. Spiritualism, rather than presenting dogma to adhere rigidly to, teaches that each individual should seek out for themselves the nature of spiritual truth (indeed the words “Light”, “Nature” and “Truth” are inscribed upon the SNU logo). The individual is encouraged to adopt those aspects that appeal and abandon those that do not feel right. The medium also stressed the importance of knowledge and teaching (in two of his readings) – knowledge is there to be passed on, whether it is knowledge of “arts and crafts” or educational knowledge it is there to be taught. Once again, the medium would not drop those readings that were not accepted – what he sees is what he sees and he cannot ignore it. I am intending to attend the psychic development circle this Friday.
Psychic Development Circle – (7.30pm 30/1/09)
The psychic development circle takes place at the Spiritualist Centre every Friday evening, from 7.30pm until 9.00pm. It is conducted in the same room as the services. Chairs are arranged in a circle in the top half of the room. The leader of the circle, Cliff, sat closest to the altar. There were 10 individuals present on this occasion. While people were still coming in relaxing New Age music was playing. When the 7.30pm came the doors were locked to prevent intrusion, the main light was switched off and replaced by a red light which bathed the room in a warm glow. The session was based around a guided meditation, led by “C”, followed by a period of independent meditation. The whole session was opened with a prayer. “C” talked the circle towards relaxation. With eyes closed we were told to imagine a “blue flame in the middle of the room” into which we were to send all of our negative emotions. It was very relaxing. Once we were fully relaxed “C” stopped talking and allowed us to meditate independently for about 20 minutes to half an hour. The room sat in silence, the sound of deep breathing the only thing heard. The meditation was very enjoyable. It felt good to be emanating positive vibes, I almost felt as though a column of positive energy was emanating upwards from the circle. At times I was able to brink silence into my mind, whereby my inner monologue would stop. These moments did not last long. After the 20 minutes was up, “C” counted us out of the meditation, from 1 to 5, gradually returning our attention to the room around us. Some people took a little longer to “return” (“welcome back”). The last half hour of the session was spent going around the circle exchanging everyone’s experiences during the meditation. Many of the sitters reported visions, many of which held symbolic meanings (which “C” helped to decipher). The visions associated with me included:
- · Someone sowing seeds (indicative of new beginnings/growth)
- Golden light emanating around me
- · An old woman called Ethel (I am not aware of anyone by this name, though the two people sitting next to me could accept the name)
- I was also told that spirit was leading me in my quest for spiritual truth
I didn’t see visions or receive any messages during my meditation, I did feel relaxed and well however. “C” said that it was to be expected for a beginner like myself. Following the exchange and interpretation of people’s meditation experiences a closing prayer was spoken that thanked the spirits for their revelations during the session. The circle then joined hands and sung a song. The final words echoed in my mind as I walked home that evening:
“May all the beings in all of the worlds be happy”
I felt rather refreshed and relaxed. It felt good to leave the centre with positive thoughts running through my mind.
During my interview with CDN earlier in the day, she had mentioned that her spirit acquaintance - FC – had told her that meditation opened you up “to whatever is out there”. I can see how this might be the case, particularly during the development circle. The mind is relaxing and allowing itself to pick up any signal it can. CDN’s attitude towards meditation is fairly negative (why bother with “airy fairy stuff?”), I, however, can see its positive effects. CDN has never attended one of these development circles.
The meditation process in this instance seems almost to be a sort of divination whereby consciousness is dipped into the unconscious in the hope of picking out information that might be pertinent to those around you. It is like casting a net and seeing what you find – whatever it is, it might be of use to somebody - “Anomalous information reception”.
Spiritualist Centre (Tuesday Guild, 2pm, 10/2/09)
Today the medium was very accurate in a lot of cases; some people accepted names straight off, everyone took something positive from her messages. Her reading was taken from “White Eagle”. I was given the day’s last reading, and it was a long one. First of all she said that my paternal grandfather was with me, and his message was not to regret decisions, because at the time of making them they are based on what we think is right at the time. She successfully connected me with music, saying that I played a sort of music that just “flows through” me (I play improvised music in a band, and I do consider the music to flow through me when I play). She said that this music, and the words that I write, are a result of “divine inspiration. She also mentioned that she felt I had sensed a sort of heat (which I had the night before while meditating), and that this was a healing heat. She gave me the name of “George”, I am not sure of the name of my paternal grandfather, I shall have to find out if it is him – she didn’t say it was him, but it might well be. She also said that she felt a connection with ships and the sea in my family (my family is from Liverpool), and that I needed a sense of grounding in open places (my home is in Wales). She said that there was some sort of significance associated with early November, which I was not able to place, and correctly got a sense that I have relatives in Australia (which is true). She concluded by saying that I was having difficulty seeing with my inner sight, but that I would improve over time.
None of this writing really expresses the subtlety of the way these messages are given – they induce realisation as you wonder how they relate to your life. Again, the simple fact of the matter is that someone you do not know, and have never met before, is telling you things about yourself that you might not even know yourself, or that can only have been found out from you. The messages are distorted by symbolism, but the symbolism is so pertinent to the meaning you find in them – e.g. ships = Liverpool.