Category Archives: Afterlife

Clint gives us a peek at the ‘Hereafter’

Hereafter posterWhat happens when we die? That’s the question veteran actor and director Clint Eastwood sets out to answer in his latest movie, Hereafter. At the age of 80, it has been suggested that it must be something he asks himself most days. But that’s not as unkind as some of the movie critics have been about the film. Among the reviews I’ve read – Hereafter went on public release in the UK and Europe yesterday – one describes watching it as coming close to “a near-death experience”, another says “it’s a messily-structured, rambling film with stilted dialogue”, and a third dismisses it as “a baby-brained meditation on the afterlife”. I decided to make my own judgment.

I found myself in agreement with some of these critics, but I also felt that, in its own way, Hereafter is getting an important message across about our consciousness surviving the transition we call death to people whose minds might otherwise be closed to even considering it.

The movie’s main premise is simple: we live after we die – no ifs or buts, it’s as straightforward as that. It also tells us that in certain circumstances we may catch a glimpse of that other reality, such as during a near-death experience. And it even accepts that some individuals have the power to see and communicate with those who have passed on.

The really good thing about this storyline is that it is conveyed in totally non-religious terms. Clint Eastwood’s vision of the Hereafter, presumably, is one that is open to everyone, regardless of their beliefs.

But if the viewing public accepts everything they see on the silver screen as the truth about the paranormal – or start to analyse the movie more deeply – they’ll end up very confused. Here’s why:

Matt Damon plays a reluctant American psychic, George, who is so troubled by his talents (“It’s a curse, not a gift!” he says more than once) that he prefers to earn a living as a forklift driver. He appears to be devoid of psychic talent until he actually touches or is touched by a person. Worse still, the evidence of his mediumship consists of descriptions of dead people that are so vague as to be almost meaningless: no names, no astonishing revelations, just generalisations. Yet the sitter we see him giving a reading to says later: “He told me things no one else could have known”.

Hereafter is a three-strand story that eventually comes together at the end. The second element revolves around a TV presenter, Marie LeLay (Cécile De France), whose near-death experience (NDE) during the Indian Ocean tsunami changes her outlook on life. The tsunami itself is created so realistically that it has earned Hereafter an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects. But the vision of the afterlife which she has whilst being swept under water is as vague and shapeless as Matt Damon’s spirit communications. We see white, blurry figures but nothing that remotely matches what is usually reported.

The most unconvincing aspect of this particular strand of the story, which is in French with subtitles, is that the TV presenter takes a break from her job to write a biography of President Francois Mitterand, 10 years after his death. Her publishers are delighted until she delivers the first three chapters and they find she has written, instead, a book about dying and the afterlife. This eventually gets into print with a different publisher and is called, of course, Hereafter. Matt Damon is seen reading it (below) as the separate threads of the story begin to come together.

The final strand of the story unravels in London and involves twin boys, Marcus and Jason (played by real-life twins George and Frankie McLaren) whose mother is a drug addict. Jason is knocked down and killed by a vehicle whilst running away from thugs and Marcus begins a quest to find out if his twin still exists.

That quest leads him, bizarrely, to a Spiritualist meeting where he gets a message from a platform medium whose only talent is “cold reading” and she’s not very good at that, either. We also see him trying to contact Jason through a researcher with electronic voice phenomenon equipment. And, lastly, he bumps into psychic George, who he recognises from his Google research, and stalks him until he agrees to give him a reading in his hotel room.

Matt Damon with bookSuggesting that such a young and vulnerable boy could wander alone around psychic and Spiritualist meetings, and have private sittings with mediums, without it ringing alarm bells with those involved is, frankly, laughable.

It is, however, just a movie and by no means the most far-fetched that I have seen. Besides, when we are fed largely on a diet of vampires, sci-fi, sex romps or romantic comedy movies, it’s a refreshing change to watch a film that does its best to answer a question that everyone asks themselves at some time or another and few find a satisfactory answer.

Whether Clint Eastwood’s answer is one that many movie-goers are prepared to consider is, of course, a totally different matter.

Researcher David Fontana departs for next world

David FontanaI love travelling and whenever I go to a new place I always take a guidebook with me. They are invaluable. But is there one for the next world? Well, yes – and its author is probably making good use of the knowledge he crammed into its pages. Because David Fontana, a past president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and a noted psychologist who wrote the splendid Life Beyond Death: what should we expect? has just passed on.

He died yesterday having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer just a couple of weeks ago. I am told by friends that he was “peaceful” during his last days in this world – a result, I’m sure, of his meditation practices (he wrote several books on different meditative techniques) and also his belief that, at death, we all pass to another dimension of existence.

He was SPR president from 1995-1998, Professor of Education Psychology at the Universities of Minho and of Algarve (Portugal), and Distinguished Visiting Fellow, University of Wales, Cardiff.

David was one of the investigators who sat in the Scole circle and spoke positively in favour of the phenomena he and others experienced ­- though not all SPR shared his views. He was also a supporter of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) or instrumental transcommunication (ITC) as it now more commonly known, particularly the experiments of Anabela Cardoso, which he experienced during visits to her home in Spain.

I will be writing about Cardoso’s research and Fontana’s endorsement in the near future.

Meanwhile, I wish David “bon voyage” as he embarks on a new adventure, for which he was very well prepared, despite the suddenness of his departure.

Let me end by sharing with you this review by Sue Farrow of his book Life Beyond Death which was published in Psychic News (21 March 2009):

“WHAT might it be like to survive death? For those of us without the certainties of religious faith, this book is a positive and engaging introduction to the possibilities of the afterlife.”

So reads the publisher’s description on the back cover of former SPR president Professor David Fontana’s new book.

Fontana’s previous magnum opus on psychical research, Is There an Afterlife? (2005), considered an extensive range of evidence for the possibility of survival beyond physical death, drawing on diverse material relating to the study of physical, trance and other forms of mediumship, apparitions and associated phenomena. It also examined alternatives to the survival hypothesis – principally super- ESP – and considered issues such as telepathy and psychism.

Fontana, chairman of the Survival Research Committee of the SPR, has spent decades researching all things paranormal and is widely respected for the fairness and objectivity of his work. This latest book is no exception.

Essentially, it considers the question of what a world beyond physical death might actually be like, and draws on accounts of near-death experiences from patients and medical staff around the world to offer an insight into the world of eternity, finding a compelling cross-cultural uniformity in their descriptions.

A variety of circumstances surrounding the individual’s state of mind at the moment of physical death are also discussed in terms of their potential effects on the passing soul. Sudden death and suicide are considered in some detail, with insights drawn from a range of traditions such as Buddhism, Shamanism and Christianity.

A chapter is dedicated to the moment of passing from the physical body, and a number of fascinating accounts are included from those who have witnessed such an event. The interesting question of whether the astral body has been sighted in the physically living is also considered in some detail.

Coverage is given to the matter of so-called earthbound spirits, the work of American psychiatrist Dr Carl Wickland and his mediumistic wife Anna being used to illustrate the difficulties such souls face, and the problems they can on occasion create for the living. Poltergeists and hauntings are also considered.

Fontana then proceeds to a discussion of the various planes of existence to which the soul, newly freed of its physical constraints, may journey. Included in this chapter is the so-called “Life Review”, the process by which the soul looks at the life it has led on earth, and recognises the effects of that life on itself and others.

Reincarnation, that hot potato of Spiritualist debate, is accorded a chapter all its own. Evidence supportive of reincarnation is set out and assessed alongside the possibility that apparent memories of a past life could be accounted for by cryptomnesia – the recall of facts without any associated recall of how they were actually acquired.

The remainder of the book deals with life in the spirit world, including a discussion of the “Summerland”, a world much like our own physical plane but infinitely more beautiful and free from many of the burdens which attend earthly existence. The “formlessness” of the higher realms is considered, where the soul “realises freedom from the limitations of space and time, of here and there, of objects and things”.

A comprehensive list of references is given at the back of the book, providing a huge range of possible reading matter for those who wish to dig deeper into the issues covered by the author.

In Fontana’s own words: “Knowledge of the afterlife and how we can prepare for it is essential. Think how foolish it would be to depart for a distant country knowing nothing about it and carrying no route map or guidebook.”

As with all Fontana’s work on survival, the book is painstakingly researched and well written, though perhaps would have benefited from the services of a somewhat more meticulous proofreader. It will appeal to those with an existing knowledge of afterlife research, but will also serve as a credible and readable source for those who wish to begin an open-minded exploration of the subject.

Remembering Lord Dowding, leader of ‘the Few’

Lord Dowding

It is 70 years ago, today, that Sir Winston Churchill made his most famous and stirring speech. Speaking in Parliament, he praised the Battle of Britain aircrews who defeated the Nazi attempt to invade the United Kingdom. It was the speech in which he declared: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” and it led to those brave airmen being known as “the Few”.

The man who led the Few, as head of the British Royal Air Force Fighter Command, was Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. A former pilot, he proved himself to be a brilliant air combat strategist.

He was also a Spiritualist and many believe that his open belief in mediumship and spirit communication – declared in books he wrote while war was still raging – was the reason why he never received the recognition that was his due at the end of the war.

He did, however, receive the Knight Grand Cross and a baronetcy in 1943, two years after he was forced to retire as head of Fighter Command.

Historians now acknowledge that he was one of the more important military commanders of the war, playing a major role in defeating Hitler.

It was one of Lord Dowding’s books that first interested me in Spiritualism as a schoolboy. I had seen it reviewed or serialised in a London evening newspaper and so I borrowed it from my local public library. It was a revelation.

It may have been Many Mansions, but it could just as easily have been Lychgate, God’s Magic or The Dark Star, the only one that is now in my library. Published in 1951, it includes chapters on “Rebirth”, “Discarnate Ethics” and “Astral Life”.

I was privileged to meet Lord Dowding on one occasion and his wife Muriel, Lady Dowding, several times. By then in his late 70s and crippled with arthritis, he still retained the reserve that led his men to nickname him “Stuffy”. But no one who knew him doubts that he put his men – and his country – above all else.

TV news programmes have said much about today’s special anniversary, and particularly about Churchill’s speech, but I have heard no mention of Dowding’s enormous contribution to our victory.

In my own small way, I am pleased to use this occasion to honour a man who was astute enough to mastermind the Battle of Britain and brave enough to declare his belief in afterlife communications.

Interestingly, I read that Churchill’s speech was probably inspired by a book written by another famous Spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In his historical novel The Refugees – a book Churchill admired – is a passage that reads: “Never, perhaps, in the world’s history has so small a body of men dominated so large a district and for so long a time.” It refers to the Iroquois Indian tribe from which Churchill claimed to have been descended.