Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
I recently published a paper entitled “Psychic Reach of the War: Comments on Psychical Phenomena and the War, by Hereward Carrington” (Paranormal Review, 2015, 76, 18-20). The Paranormal Review is the magazine of the Society for Psychical Research. The article appears in the second issue of the magazine devoted the First World War.
As stated in the title, the article is about Psychical Phenomena and the War, a book published in 1918 by psychical researcher Hereward Carrington. As I wrote: “Carrington’s ideas, referring to World War I, were part of a general reaction to the war that focused on spiritual and psychical concerns, something I am calling the psychic reach of the war. This ‘reach’ included the growth of interest in Spiritualism and
psychic phenomena during and soon after the War, as well as an openness to the notion of discarnate action. That such issues were part of the social and cultural history of the war has been recognized in some historical studies . . .” An example of the later are the following books: Kollar, R. (2000). Searching for Raymond: Anglicanism, Spiritualism and Bereavement Between the Two World Wars (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books), and Winter, J. (1995). Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Carrington’s book was divided in two parts. The first one, and the shorter of the two, was about “normal” aspects, such as psychological factors affecting soldiers. The second was about the “supernormal,” and had accounts of such phenomena as premonitions, apparitions and mediumistic communications. Carrington stated at the beginning of the second part: “We have now studied the mind of the soldier from the moment he left his home, during mobilization, while in the cantonments, the trenches, and during the attack—to that moment when he has met death at the hands of the enemy; and it now becomes our duty to endeavour to trace that noble soul beyond the grave, and to show that he is still active, that he still possesses the same memory and characteristics we associated with him in life, and which we knew and loved.”
In Carrington’s view “death ennobles and glorifies, and … the whole human race seems to be spiritually lifted up by the sacrifices made.” But he also advised caution: “Good mediums are rare. Unfortunately, a vast amount of fraud is practised in this field; then, too, mediums may be honest, but misguided; they may give ‘messages’ which they honestly believe to be obtained from ‘spirits of the departed’; whereas, as a matter of fact, they have originated only in the depths of their own subconscious minds. Chance-coincidence, aided by shrewd commonsense and a knowledge of human nature, have aided much; until we finally arrive at that small residuum of truth, which is so difficult to find, and which, in the majority of cases, is perhaps lacking altogether.”
In conclusion: “Psychical Phenomena and the War probably fulfilled many functions . . . All around [Carrington] . . . people used Spiritualism and psychic phenomena to provide support to the grieving world both in real life, and perhaps less consciously, in the novels and dramas of the day . . . Public discussions of personal loss during the war, coupled with the spiritual and the psychic considerations may have done much for those whose sons, parents, and spouses had been forcefully removed from their lives. Carrington’s book, like Lodge’s Raymond (1916), was of this hope-bringing genre. However, because Carrington’s work was not as personal as Lodge’s book was, it was not, in my view, as effective a soothing balm as Raymond was . . . Nonetheless, Carrington’s work was most definitely part of the genre that sought to bring hope and comfort through its support of the possibility of survival of death.”