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Welcome to our second Survival Research Communication.  Recognizing that many inboxes are overflowing with good stuff intended to be read, you will hear from us only a few times each year.  We hope you enjoy the contents prepared for this September 2020 issue: 
  • Survey about Evidence of Life after Death through Spiritualist Mediumship closes 30 Sept.
  • During Covid-19 Spiritualist Church Services continue Online via Zoom
  • Research Brief on "Ghosts with Warm Hands": A World War I Apparition Case
  • Directory of Spiritualist Organizations in Canada - ongoing update & download link

Survey about Evidence of Life after Death through Spiritualist Mediumship

Survey deadline:  30 September
Click Here to Complete

by Walter Meyer zu Erpen

My chapter for the book Is There Life after Death?  Arguments, Theories, Evidence, edited by Leo Ruickbie and Robert McLuhan for the Society for Psychical Research, will examine whether Spiritualist mediumship has proven life after death.
 
To obtain a broad range of opinion on the question, I am conducting a survey that seeks both answers that can be quantified and others that provide names and examples to guide my selection of cases of evidential mediumship.  The survey results will be aggregated and anonymized.
 
Whether or not you consider yourself a Spiritualist, I invite you to complete as much of the survey as you wish.  Also, please feel free to share this request with friends, family and colleagues who have considered and formed an opinion about the evidence of survival received through Spiritualist mediumship.

The survey is attracting attention.  Lisette Coly, President of the New York-based Parapsychology Foundation (PF), offered to feature the survey in PF's September blog.  And Tony Ortzen, editor of the UK-based Psychic News (PN), interviewed me about it for the September 2020 issue.

Thank you for considering this request to complete my survey and sharing this Survival Research Communication with others who might be interested.

Walter Meyer zu Erpen is a director of the Survival Research Institute of Canada and its current President.  The survey is a personal research project.

Please consider supporting Psychic News with a subscriptionDownload free issue here.

During Covid-19 Spiritualist Church Services continue Online via Zoom


by Walter Quan

Zooming in the time of Corona…  A recent web search of approximately 47 Canadian Spiritualist organizations showed that a little less than half (22) are actively offering church services online via Zoom or Facebook.  Another five will soon be opening their doors back to in-person services, if not already back "in church".   It’s a tribute to the workers - chairpersons, ministers, mediums and congregants alike – who’ve kept the virtual doors open and welcoming.
 
I’ve actually attended more virtual services during the Covid-19 "shutdown" than in quite a while in person – the commute and parking are easy; I have coffee and/or knitting beside me; and I hardly have to "dress-up"!   The sense of community is strong and time zone differences enable us to attend up to three services on a Sunday!   Some services feature music and some churches have dispensed with it; other services focus on a really great sermon and reading without demonstration of mediumship; healing is integrated in some services and offered afterward at others; and some mediums offer "I’ve got a gentleman here who’s x, y, z, and can someone accept him?" and others work direct and say "Can I come to YOU, please unmute YOUR microphone."  Good mediumship and evidence of survival doesn’t seem to actually require being physically in the same room!  Workers serving churches don’t even have to be in the same town and I’ve seen postings for services in Canada with mediums from the UK or USA.
 
And I confess that I was "chatting" and introducing myself virtually to a Minister at a church during the demonstration of mediumship – I was also listening to the worker and heard a contact description, so raised my hand, and indeed was given a fine message.  After, I had to giggle with the Minister, that conventional church "manners" would say that I’d NEVER get a message if I were whispering in the back row!  (Thanks to Heather and Reverend Karen @ the First Spiritualist Church of Galt!).
 
So how has your organization been surviving Covid?  Not all congregants are online or have bandwidth or know how to be part of an online gathering.  The mechanics of running a service are not without setup issues; and workers need to be quick and nimble – there’s no section in any of the Lyceum Manuals in the SRIC library about how to run a Zoom service!


The virtual collection plate feels quite "empty" as its passed around - are folks making online donations?  Going forward may offer more opportunities for visiting other church services online – some organizations may opt for a combination of in-person AND online gatherings.   I know that we all look forward to returning to in-person services but maybe the doors have opened to interesting alternatives as Spiritualism moves into the future.
 
Walter Quan is a director of the Survival Research Institute of Canada and its Treasurer.

Research Brief:  'Ghosts with Warm Hands': A World War I Apparition Case

by Pamela Reeve, PhD

I first became aware of Will Bird’s wartime apparitions in May 2014. The annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences was underway at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Canadian military historian Tim Cook had just delivered an intriguing public lecture: "The Borders Between Life and Death: Stories of the Supernatural and the Uncanny Among Canada’s Great War Soldiers" (see concluding bibliography for link to the video of Cook’s lecture and other references mentioned here). Cook’s lecture was based on his research into the paranormal experiences of Canadian WWI soldiers, summarized in a 2013 article in the prestigious Journal of Military History, "Grave Beliefs: Stories of the Supernatural and the Uncanny among Canada’s Great War Trench Soldiers." In this early work, as well as his 2018 book, The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, Cook emphasizes the high regard of military historians for Will Bird’s wartime memoir, Ghosts Have Warm Hands, calling it "one of the finest eye-witness accounts of the war" by a Canadian soldier (2013, 521). In fact, Bird published two versions of his memoir. The first was titled And We Go On (1930), while the title of the later revision, Ghosts Have Warm Hands (1968), emphasizes the remarkable apparition of his deceased brother, Steve. Actually, the earlier version is now regarded as superior. It also has more detailed accounts of the life-saving interventions of Steve. And We Go On was republished by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2014 and I will quote from this version below (AWGO).
 
Will Bird’s family background is relevant to his experience of repeated encounters with his deceased brother, Stephen Bird. Steve had enlisted in the 25th Nova Scotia Battalion at age 18, just after the outbreak of war in 1914. After training in England, he arrived in France in mid-September 1915. Tragically, he was killed by a mine explosion less than a month later (8 October 1915).
 
Meanwhile, back in Nova Scotia, Steve’s older brother, Will, had tried repeatedly to enlist but had been rejected for medical reasons. Disappointed, he found work out west, bringing in the harvest on a Saskatchewan farm. He was pitching sheaves onto a wagon when he had his first paranormal experience (in what would become an ongoing series):
 
"... Steve walked around the cart and confronted me. He said not a word but I knew all as if he had spoken, for he had on his equipment and was carrying his rifle. I let the fork fall to the ground and the nearest man came running to me, thinking I had taken ill. I did not tell him what I had seen, but I left the field, and never pitched another sheaf of grain" (AWGO, 8–9).
 
Three days went by "and then the message came, a wire, 'Steve has been killed. Come home'" (AWGO, 9).
 
In April 1916, Will succeeded in his effort to enlist and his ship departed for England the following October. He arrived for duty at the front in France in January 1917. The next major apparition of Steve (for which Ghosts Have Warm Hands is named) occurred during Will’s service at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Will had been digging trenches and spent the night with two other men who had invited him to share their bivouac shelter:

 
"We were soon asleep, but about midnight I was wakened by a tug at my arm. I looked up quickly, throwing back my ground sheet, and there stood Steve!"

"I could see him plainly, see the mud on his puttees and knees. He jerked a thumb towards the ruined houses and motioned for me to go to them. I did not speak. I thought that if I could do exactly as he said, and not wake the others, perhaps he would actually speak to me. He started to walk away as I gathered up my equipment and rifle and greatcoat, and when I hurried he simply faded from view. I was disappointed. For at least ten minutes I stood by a path, waiting, watching, listening, hoping he might speak or whisper. Nothing happened, and I grew cold, so I kept on to the nearest ruin and there lay on a rough earth floor and went to sleep."

"In the morning I heard fellows talking about a big shell that had killed two men. I jumped up and looked. They were digging from the shelter I had left the mangled bodies of the two lads who had invited me to join them. The shell had exploded just above their heads. All that day I thought of how I had been saved, and I resolved that if ever again I saw Steve I would do exactly as he motioned; he had saved my life" (AWGO, 48).
 
Steve guides his brother repeatedly during his wartime service, sometimes by touches and taps at crucial points. Will reports seeing Steve clearly during his dreams and feels his nearness while awake (AWGO, 67). He experiences yet another life-saving apparition of Steve in the fall of 1917 at Raismes Forest near Mons. At the time, Will is accompanied by another soldier whom he calls "the Student":

 
"Ahead of us we saw a clearing and a small farm. A little cottage stood on a knoll with a shed close by. There was a fence about the place and a few apple trees near the house. We hurried toward them when I saw Steve step from the cottage door and hold up his hand. I stood, spell-bound, a moment, unable to move. It was clear and bright and I could see the very buttons on his tunic, the way his belt was loosely hooked. Never had I had such a clear picture of him and I was sure he would speak" (AWGO, 205).
 
Unfortunately, the Student appears not to have seen Steve and continues walking towards the cottage. Despite Will having shouted a warning, the Student is shot and killed by a German sniper hiding in the cottage.
 
Overall, it is clear that Bird is attesting, not to the experience of a filmy "ghost" that is merely something seen, but to an external entity that exercises agency, anticipates danger, and intervenes repeatedly to guide and protect him. The fact that Bird emerged alive from life-threatening situations when other soldiers who were with him were killed should perhaps count as significant evidence of the reality of his experiences.

Who was Will R. Bird?
 
William Richard Bird was born 11 May 1891 to Stephen Bird and his second wife, Augusta Bird, at East Mapleton, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. Following the birth of Will, they had two more sons, Lewis B. Bird (1893–1987) and Stephen C. Bird (1896–1915). Tragically, Stephen senior died suddenly of pneumonia in December 1895, age 35. At the time, Augusta was four months pregnant with the younger Stephen, who was born the following April. Although Will later attended Amherst Academy, he was unable to continue his schooling beyond grade eight owing to the family’s need for economic support. His stated occupation when he enlisted in April 1916 was grocery clerk.
 
And We Go On is referred to by Bird in his preface as a "diary" so presumably he kept written records of his wartime experiences, which formed the basis for his memoir, first published in 1930. These papers do not appear to be included in the Will R. Bird fonds at Dalhousie University, NS. Nevertheless, in the preface to the later edition, Bird is even more clear about the source of his material for the memoir: "The events related in this book ... are all true; their telling is based on diaries that I kept during the period" (Ghosts, CEF Books).
 
Bird emphasizes in the preface that he is "striving for a correct picture as well as accuracy of detail" and that "Every case of premonition I have described is actual fact; each of my own psychic experiences were exactly as recorded" (AWGO, 5). Some key samples from the earliest published version of this record (1930) are included above.
 
After demobilizing in March 1919, Will Bird married his childhood sweetheart, Ethel May Sutton in June 1919. Over the next four years, they had two children. Stephen Stanley Bird was born in April 1920 and Elizabeth Caroline Bird ("Betty") in March 1923. Upon his return from service, Will was fortunate in being able to develop a career path in journalism. In the early 1920s, a win in a writing contest motivated further efforts and he began sending out stories for publication. But, he had to find a distinctive niche if he was going to be able to write full time.
Bird’s wartime experience was both a natural and astute choice. And thus And We Go On came to be published in 1930. Other non-fiction works on the war followed as well as many short stories and a military-based novel. And We Go On was generally well received and especially appreciated by veterans. David Williams reports that Bird was "invited by the Royal Canadian Legion to address overflow crowds at more than one hundred branches across Canada" (AWGO, x). Further invitations and writing engagements followed. Over his long life Bird published "roughly 25 books and 600 short stories" (Will R. Bird fonds, Dalhousie University). Sadly, in 1944, he suffered the loss of his son Stephen, age 24, engaged in war service. He and his wife Ethel lived on into old age and Will Bird himself to age 92 (d. January 1984).

Pamela Reeve teaches philosophy for the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto. She was invited to contribute this research brief.

The 1997 edition of Will R. Bird's Ghosts Have Warm Hands is available from the publisher CEF Books.

William Richard Bird Annotated Bibliography
The following resources are available on the internet or through public libraries in Canada.

  • Bird, Will R. And We Go On. Toronto: Hunter-Rose, 1930 (original memoir).
  • Bird, Will R. And We Go On. With an introduction and afterword by David Williams.  Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014 (recommended edition).
  • Bird, Will R. Ghosts Have Warm Hands. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1968 (revised version of the 1930 memoir).
  • Bird, Will R. Ghosts Have Warm Hands. Ottawa: CEF Books, 1997.  (This edition has useful supplementary material: a preface, biography of Will Bird, glossary of names, and maps.)
  • Cook, Tim. The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War.  Allen Lane, 2018.
  • Cook, Tim. "The Borders Between Life and Death: Stories of the Supernatural and the Uncanny Among Canada’s Great War Soldiers." Public lecture delivered at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 26 May 2014.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxjyKgpLjLA
  • Cook, Tim. "Grave Beliefs: Stories of the Supernatural and the Uncanny among Canada’s Great War Trench Soldiers." Journal of Military History 77/2 (April 2013): 521-542.
  • Davies, Owen. A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination, and Faith during the First World War.  Oxford University Press, 2018. (Bird’s memoir is mentioned on pp. 73–74.)
  • Hopper, Tristin. National Post. "Soldier diaries tell of ghosts intervening in First World War."  28 May 2014.  https://nationalpost.com/news/soldier-diaries-tell-of-ghosts-intervening-in-first-world-war-canadian-historian
  • National Post. "Canadian soldiers embraced the 'supernatural, uncanny and ghostly' on the front lines, historian [Tim Cook] says." 2 July 2013.  https://nationalpost.com/news/world/canadian-soldiers-embraced-the-supernatural-uncanny-and-ghostly-on-the-front-lines-historian-says
  • Ruickbie, Leo. Angels in the Trenches: Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War. London: Robinson / Little, Brown, 2018. (Although Ruickbie doesn’t mention Bird’s memoir, this book includes an informative account of the work of the Society for Psychical Research during the World War I period.)
  • Woodbury, Richard. "The ghost’s warm hands that spared a brother’s life at Vimy."  CBC News, 11 November 2018. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/will-r-bird-nova-scotia-vimy-ghost-1.4880039

Directory Updates

We have made further updates to our online Directory of Spiritualist Organizations in Canada over the past nine months.

The short form copy of our directory has also been updated to reflect changes received to September 2020. We use a stable link for the Directory so you can save it as a bookmark, from which to download the latest copy at any time. Click here to download.

Please send corrections, additions, and updates to: CDN.Spiritualist.Directory@gmail.com

Feel free to share our newsletter with family, friends and colleagues who might be interested.

Wishing everyone good health as we head into the Fall Season!

From the SRIC admin team

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