I almost didn’t buy Leslie Kean‘s new book Surviving Death, because I was worried it was nothing more than an overview of the afterlife evidence I’m already quite familiar with. But while there was certainly some description of the seminal case studies, there was also so much new material that it was absolutely worth the money I paid for a hardback copy. And Kean brings to it a subtlety of analysis that is often missing from other journalistic work in this area.
Kean’s book is divided into four parts. The first focuses on children’s past-life memories, with an in-depth look at two of the best documented American cases: those of James Leininger and Ryan Hammons. The second part of the book focuses on near-death, actual-death, and end-of-life experiences, with a very short chapter on children’s memories of life “between lives.” (This last was something I felt was missing from Stephen Braude’s otherwise very thorough book Immortal Remains.) The third part is devoted to ostensible communications from the dead, whether they come through a medium, odd coincidences, or apparitions. And finally the fourth part of the book takes the idea of mediumistic communication to a whole new level, exploring the evidence for what’s called “physical mediumship,” when the spirits of the dead seem to affect the material world in extraordinary ways, including by materializing objects and apparently living things.
Rather than summarize each of these sections in turn, I’m going to go straight to the material I found most fascinating. Kean reminds the reader throughout the book that it is very difficult to be certain whether any particular paranormal phenomenon is actually produced by discarnate spirits and not simply by the psychic abilities of living persons, who may have a very strong interest in manifesting “evidence” of their loved ones’ continued existence. I appreciated this philosophical rigor, and I was particularly interested by the cases in her book that seemed to weigh in favor of actual discarnate spirits.
One of the most compelling cases in this category was recounted in a chapter written by Icelandic psychology professor Erlendur Haraldsson, who has done extensive investigation of the mediumship of Indridi Indridason. Indridason was a famous Icelandic medium active in the early 20th century, and careful minutes were kept of many of his séances. In 1905, a personality began to speak through Indridason who was not recognized by any of the people in the séance room. He told them that he was a Danish manufacturer by the name of Mr. Jensen and that he had just been in Copenhagen, Denmark, watching a factory fire that was quickly brought under control. A month later, news arrived in Iceland that a factory fire had indeed broken out that night in Copenhagen but was quickly brought under control. That was no doubt remarkable enough to those who had witnessed Mr. Jensen’s statements, but what is even more intriguing is that, almost 80 years later, Dr. Haraldsson discovered the minutes of several more séances to which Mr. Jensen had shown up.
In one of these later séances, Jensen gave several very specific details about his life, including his first name (Emil), that he was a bachelor with no children, and that he had siblings, but none who had yet died. There was no record that anyone had ever attempted to verify this information, but Dr. Haraldsson went to Copenhagen and discovered that, of all the businesspeople in Copenhagen in the late 1800’s, there was only one manufacturer named Emil Jensen. What was extraordinary is that this Emil Jensen had apparently lived two doors down from the factory that had caught fire, was a bachelor at his time of death, had no children, and had only living siblings at his time of death.
Here, it seems, is a case of a personality whose statements exactly match the facts about a once-living person, but a once-living person whom no one in the séance room had any particular interest in speaking to! And in fact, his identity was not finally verified until over 100 years after his communications. While it’s still possible that the information coming through the medium was due to “living-agent psi,” it’s hard to see what living agent would have had a motive for Mr. Jensen to ostensibly appear in this way. It starts to look much more plausible that the origin of these communications was the deceased Mr. Jensen himself.
Another case that impressed me was related in a chapter written by Loyd Auerbach. In the 1980’s, he personally investigated the case of a ghost who not only separately appeared to four members of the same family but carried on extended conversations with their teenage son, Chris. The family had bought their house and some of its furnishings after the death of a woman who had lived there her entire life since birth. Her name was Lois, and she apparently appeared to Chris regularly, telling him stories behind furniture in the house, as well as helping him with his homework and giving him advice about girls!
When Auerbach arrived to investigate, Lois was apparently present the entire time, though only visible to Chris. The family along with Auerbach and “Lois” all sat down in the living room, and everyone proceeded to ask Lois questions about herself, the answers being conveyed by Chris. Auerbach recorded all of the information Chris provided and subsequently verified the accuracy of the details pertaining to her former life with a surviving relative. Auerbach concluded–I think rightly–that it made much more sense to believe that the deceased Lois was actually there communicating to Chris than that Chris was some kind of super-psychic who only ever got information about this one dead woman and also somehow managed to occasionally make her visible to his family members.
The final two cases that were especially interesting and impressive to me were ones of which the author, Leslie Kean, had direct personal experience. She writes, for instance, of her own extraordinary readings with mediums who brought through stunningly accurate information about her brother as well as a dear friend who had departed. Those chapters alone were to me worth the price of the book. But then at the very end of Surviving Death, Kean tells about something even more extraordinary that happened in her presence, when she attended a series of séances with British physical medium Stewart Alexander. I’m not going to give you any details–better for you to hear the story direct from the source–but I will quote what Kean says after telling the story. She writes,
…I have to acknowledge that the reader may be so baffled by the strangeness of this as to feel quite disturbed by it, or even unwilling to believe it. Perhaps you just want to close this book. Please remember that I am simply reporting honestly and accurately what happened and what was said; the other sitters experienced the same phenomena.
If that’s intriguing to you, then you should definitely buy the book! I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.