The After-Life of the Poets. Earthbounds and Halloween images. Caroline Larsen on the FIrst Spirit Plane
We are here for such a brief period of time. Like blossoms on a tree we enjoy one season in the sun and then we are gone, to be replaced another year by the next generation of blooms. What is the purpose and meaning of the myriad forms of life on this planet? Science shows us how life works, technology enables us to a certain extent to invent and build additional forms to improve our abilites and increase our comforts, and spiritual science helps us investigate the greater life beyond. That is all we have time for, individually, before it is time for us to move on. However, our future does not lie in the dead petals that fall from the tree. Our mind, personality, memories and consciousness, the sum total of our soul, belongs to a spirit body which takes us away from the remnants of our physical forms into the greater spirit world, which we are looking into in this series of articles.
Another way to survey the Spirit World is indirectly, through music, art, poetry, dance, drama and fiction generally. Readers can choose the type of music which best inspires them to feel "out of this world." Poets like Walt Whitman, and before him William Blake, and earlier still, John Donne, Vaughan and Traherne, to name a few, can lift us away from despair and depression. I have listed a few useful anthologies at the bottom of this article. Two excerpts from Lesile Weatherhead's book illustrate what poets can say about the afterlife. Here first is a short passage from Wordsworth's "The Prelude."
Our destiny, our being's heart and home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
George Eliot writes
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence.
"Novels and shorter stores like "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, can reflect the influence of the Spirit World imaginatively for us, and several movies, some based on novels or stage plays, clearly depict the working of spirit in our lives. My favourite titles are "It's a Wonderful Life," "Meet Joe Black," [a remake of "Death Takes a Holiday," originally a stage play which had a good run on Broadway, "Angel on My Shoulder," "Ghost," "Sixth Sense," "Topper," Topper Returns," Topper Takes a Trip," various versions of Scrooge, "The Curse of the Cat People," [quite a spiritual movie, in spite of the title, about a young girl gifted with second sight] "Blithe Spirit" - originally a stage play by Noel Coward, recently revived on Broadway with Angela Lansbury as the medium, and "Hereafter" directed by Clint Eastwood and just hitting the screens.
Every person has a part to play in life, though most of us, following the tree analogy, humbly act as leaves, rather than blossoms. We nourish the tree of life, a small but essential part, allowing it to grow, then we fall off and dry up, and are blown away by the wind at the end of the season. But life goes on, and we will find ourselves somewhere on the other side. Which leads us back to Caroline Larsen's account. She is now on the first plane of the Spirit World where she points out that everyone there, just like on earth, is left free to carve out his or her own destiny:-
Before assistance can be given [by any of the helpers present,] the seeker must possess a sincere desire for improvement in terms familiar to us on earth. Self-mastery, truth, justice and principally pure spiritual love - those are the qualities of character on which rests the life of the higher spheres. Gain in these qualities here is gain there. Mere intellect, culture and knowledge are there of no value except to give those higher virtues force, and to advance them to a greater effectiveness which ripens into the fruit of high responsibility, service, and authority. To this end new spirits must direct their efforts and prepare themselves for the progress they desire into the sublime life of higher spirit worlds, before they can be directed and assisted on their way. A large proportion of the spirits dwelling on the first plane are those who are struggling by hard and sincere effort to raise themselves to a higher level, to master the ideas that prevail in more advanced spiritual states, and to conform to newly-formed ideals.
But there are also many who have no desire so to improve and indeed no comprehension of what improvement means.
On earth these spirits had no vision of spiritual things and they were wholly absorbed in material pleasures, worldy success or base desires. Those aspects of life which were at best of only passing value had absorbed their efforts. With the eyes of the soul still blind, they now try only to live again their earthly interests and joys. And those whose desires were evil strive to attract others, both spirits and those still in our world, to their own false standard. With them life does not advance, but only futilely repeats itself.
Among these earthbound souls are the suicides. These, by nature of their crime, must have been those for whom hard conditions of existence on earth swallowed up all else till black despair cut off every ray of spiritual light. They bring hither the same state of mind, and deaf and blind to higher consolation, they struggle back to earth to undergo again the horror of self-murder at the very spot where the extremity of despair formerly overtook them. The same retribution overtakes those who have committed murder or other crimes of atrocious violence. For the earth-bound souls bring with them their world as they have made it.
Such is the [relatively] permanent population of this realm. Anxious to see for myself the details of life in this sphere, I sought the dwelling places of the earthbound souls. The contrast between their existence and that of the progressive spirits was startling. In the faces of the earthbound spirits is expressed all their evil passions and desires, all their low or earthly aims. Their aura is very dark in colour, contrasting strongly with that of progressing spirits, amongst whom light colours prevail - white, cream, pink, pale blue and many others. For as the spirit becomes brighter, the aura expresses the change by its increasing brightness.
But among the earthbound spirits one sees only dark auras and dark clothing, and always of the fashion worn on earth, just as their faces carry still the plain stamp of earthly lusts and weknesses. The dark cloud that rests on their faces seems heavily charged with the despair and malice of their evil deeds. I entered a house and found that room led on to room in a straight and seemingly endless line. Every room was the home of a spirit when not seeking the old haunts on earth. Many of the dwellers were strange and terrible. In one room sat the squat and ugly form of a woman who on earth had kept a house of ill fame. She had been the ruin of the body and soul of many an unfortunate girl. She could still influence young girls to go astray and lead them to a gutter life, or she could take possession of them and compet them to ruin. She gave me a vicious look, as if to say "Who are you and what do you want here?" Then she turned insolently away to continue painting her face in front of a mirror. I shuddered as I hurried from her presence to another room, where I found tenants of many types, pathetic, or repulsive, or horrible.
In one room a lady was pacing the floor with slow deliberation. Her stately figure, her aristocratic and refined manner caught my attention. She was dressed as a fashionable lady of the middle of the last (19th) century, and was tall. Her face bore evidence of having been very beautiful on earth. Her personality aroused in me a sympathy so strong and immediate that I exclaimed, "Why is she here?" "You may ask her," said my guide. Approaching her, I asked, "Why are you here?" With a graceful gesture she replied with regret, yet with apparent resignation, "How could I leave these?" I looked down at the point she designated and saw with surprise a wonderful collection of sparkling jewels on which she fixed her eyes. I understood the jewels which she had owned on earth still possessed her soul. They held her now as then, and linked her to earth with a chain that only she could break. Hence her residence among the earthbound souls. I looked at her sympathetically and went on my way. Such spirits can look forward only to an existence of despondency or misery. They have made their own conditions, and only a realization of the worthlessness of their ideals, and a sincere desire to free themselves from them can release them to a brighter existence. Too often among the earthbound souls no such desire exists, for many are wholly dominated by the desire of evil.
I came across many such. One of them particularly attracted my attention because he was such an unusually horrible specimen of this type of spirits. Evil seemed to have actually deformed him. His face was ill-proportioned - far too wide for its height. There was hardly anything one could call a nose, and the mouth stretched from ear to ear. The ears, abnormally large, hung below the chin. Beneath an extremely flat forehead nearer the temples than the nose, was set a large pair of eyes that shone with a diabolical malice which froze the very spirit within me. His face expressed only evil, low lust and ruthless hatred. I clung to my guide for protection. The arms of this misshapen spirit dangled loosely from the grotesque frame. His fingers, gnarled and rough, resembled the claws of an eagle. The colour of this spirit was dark brown, the most undesirable colour in the Spirit World, for it indicates the lowest state of existence. His robe of the same colour was caught at the wrist in such a manner that, when he lifted his arms, he resembled a huge flying bat. My guide explained to me that such a spirit spent most of his time on the earth, endeavouring to win over mortals to alife of sin and evil such as he had himself indulged in. Such are the army of evil spirits whose only work is to sway mortals to low desires or to possess their minds for purposes of malefactions. They are the army of wrong, in whom love of good has atrophied until they recoil from the high things of the spirit as from an element dead to their nature. [Medieval and Baroque paintings of Purgatory and Hell portray the conditions earthbound spirts find themselves in when they reside on the lower astral realms of this First Plane in the Spirit World].
Change from this state is hard indeed, but not impossible, for there, as here, everyone is left to carve out his own destiny. In hemself repose the seeds of change. He alone can make them grow. But the further such a soul has departed from good, the harder it is to return. Every evil deed demands its compensation, and the balance must bve struck in the soul. In this sense only is there Heaven and Hell. What we are is what becomes of us ! Yet the slightest sigh for change is heard and guidance given.
Anthologies of spiritually inspiring poetry:
"The Sun Dancing: Christian Verse" compiled by the always cheerful West Country poet, Charles Causley, whose own verse is fun to read.
Magic Casements: The Use of Poetry in the expanding of Consciousness" by George Trevelyan. Blackwell/Coverture, 1985, republished by Gateway Books, 1996. A short but useful anthology of English spiritual poetry from the SIxteenth Century until the present day.
"The After-World of the Poets: The Contribution of Victorian Poets to the Development of the Idea of Immortality" by Leslie D. Weatherhead. 1929. Republished by the Kennikat Press, New York. 1970. This is a brilliant discussion by the Methodist minister illustrating how these Nineteenth Century poets moved away from traditional beliefs in the World Beyond, and closer to Spiritualism, with ample quotations.
Caroline Larsen's "My Travels in the Spirit World" was published in Rutland, Vermont in 1927.
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