James Herbert Brennan is not only a bestselling novelist but a renowned occult expert. From works like the 1976 text to the 2002 exploration , he has taken a look at the afterlife from every angle. But what about those spirits that have crossed back into our world to influence the decisions of the living? What hand do the dead play in shaping the course of history?
In his book Whisperers: The Secret History of the Spirit World, Brennan dives into the many ways in which spirits have guided major human events. Brennan’s work renders the argument of belief irrelevant as he examines the policies brought forth by superstitious world figures like King Nebuchadnezzar and Adolf Hitler—policies that were inspired by a genuine belief in the paranormal. Throughout the world, spiritualism serves as a guiding light, inspiring supernatural visions, Indigenous shamanism, Christian prophets, and contact with the spirit world. But it is in this illuminating book that Brennan chronicles the impact of paranormal activity throughout history.
In the excerpt below, Brennan relates a chilling spirit encounter from the mid-19th century. The encounter occurred during a seance with notorious medium Daniel Dunglas Home. Four prominent men of Victorian England witnessed the event. First, an otherworldly presence materialized before Home. It then consumed the medium, triggering a mesmerizing paranormal episode that was "too terrible—too strange, to elicit a smile."
Read on for an excerpt of Whisperers by J.H. Brennan and then download the book!
One of the strangest eyewitness accounts of spirit contact ever written was penned by a barrister named Henry D. Jencken and appeared in a late-1860s edition of Human Nature. It described what happened at a séance he had attended along with the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay, a Captain Wynne, and the prominent scientist William Crookes. The relevant part read, verbatim:
Mr. Home had passed into the trance still so often witnessed; rising from his seat, he laid hold of an arm-chair, which he held at arm’s length, and was then lifted about three feet clear of the ground; travelling thus suspended in space, he placed the chair next Lord Adare, and made a circuit round those in the room, being lowered and raised as he passed each of us. One of those present measured the elevation and passed his leg and arm underneath Mr. Home’s feet. The elevation lasted from four to five minutes. On resuming his seat, Mr. Home addressed Captain Wynne, communicating news to him of which the departed alone could have been cognisant.
The spirit form that had been seen reclining on the sofa now stepped up to Mr. Home and mesmerised him; a hand was then seen luminously visible over his head, about 18 inches in a vertical line from his head. The trance state of Mr. Home now assumed a different character; gently rising he spoke a few words to those present and then opening the door proceeded into the corridor; a voice then said—“He will go out of this window and come in at that window.” The only one who heard the voice was the Master of Lindsay and a cold shudder seized upon him as he contemplated the possibility of this occurring, a feat which the great height of the third floor windows in Ashley Place rendered more than ordinarily perilous. The others present, however, having closely questioned him as to what he had heard, he at first replied, “I dare not tell you”; when, to the amazement of all, a voice said, “You must tell; tell directly.” The Master then said, “Yes; yes, terrible to say, he will go out at that window and come in at this; do not be frightened, be quiet.” Mr. Home now re-entered the room, and opening the drawing-room window, was pushed out semi-horizontally into space, and carried from one window of the drawing-room to the farthermost window of the adjoining room. This feat being performed at a height of about 60 feet from the ground, naturally caused a shudder in all present. The body of Mr. Home, when it appeared at the window of the adjoining room, was shunted into the room feet foremost—the window being only 18 inches open. As soon as he had recovered his footing he laughed and said, “I wonder what a policeman would have said had he seen me go round and round like a teetotum!”
The scene was, however, too terrible—too strange, to elicit a smile; cold beads of perspiration stood on every brow, while a feeling pervaded all as if some great danger had passed; the nerves of those present had been kept in a state of tension that refused to respond to a joke. A change now passed over Mr. Home, one often observable during the trance states, indicative, no doubt, of some other power operating on his system. Lord Adare had in the meantime stepped up to the open window in the adjoining room to close it—the cold air, as it came pouring in, chilling the room; when, to his surprise, he only found the window 18 to 24 inches open! This puzzled him, for how could Mr. Home have passed outside through a window only 18 to 24 inches open. Mr. Home, however, soon set his doubts to rest; stepping up to Lord Adare, he said, “No, no; I did not close the window; I passed thus into the air outside.” An invisible power then supported Mr. Home all but horizontally in space, and thrust his body into space through the open window, head foremost, bringing him back again feet foremost into the room, shunted not unlike a shutter into a basement below. The circle around the table having reformed, a cold current of air passed over those present, like the rushing of winds. This repeated itself several times. The cold blast of air, or electric fluid, or call it what you may, was accompanied by a loud whistle like a gust of wind on the mountain top, or through the leaves of the forest in late autumn; the sound was deep, sonorous, and powerful in the extreme, and a shudder kept passing over those present, who all heard and felt it. This rushing sound lasted quite ten minutes, in broken intervals of one or two minutes. All present were much surprised; and the interest became intensified by the unknown tongues in which Mr. Home now conversed. Passing from one language to another in rapid succession, he spoke for ten minutes in unknown languages.
A spirit form now became distinctly visible; it stood next to the Master of Lindsay, clad, as seen on former occasions, in a long robe with a girdle, the feet scarcely touching the ground, the outline of the face only clear, and the tones of the voice, though sufficiently distinct to be understood, whispered rather than spoken. Other voices were now heard, and large globes of phosphorescent lights passed slowly through the room.
The “Mr. Home” referred to in this account was Daniel Dunglas Home, a young Scot born March 20, 1833, to parents so impoverished that they gave him up at birth to the care of his aunt, Mary Cook. By Home’s own account, his contact with spirits began early: his cradle rocked of its own accord in the home of his adoptive parents. While he was still a small boy, the Crooks emigrated to America and settled in Greeneville, near Norwich, Connecticut. In his early teens, he had a vision of a school friend who apparently indicated that he had died three days earlier. A letter subsequently arrived, confirming the death. A few years later, Home’s birth mother, Elizabeth, also emigrated to America, but died shortly thereafter. Once again Home had a spirit vision informing him of the time of death.
Home began to attract poltergeist phenomena, with raps sounding in his home similar to those produced by the Fox sisters. Three ministers of different religious denominations were called in to witness what was happening and all concluded the boy, now eighteen years of age, was possessed by the Devil. A table moved of its own accord and the raps continued. Neighbors began to complain and Home’s aunt, at her wit’s end, threw him out of the house.
Ruth Brandon, a writer clearly not enamored with Home, suggests he was an opportunist who jumped aboard the Fox Sisters’ bandwagon, but instead of accepting money for his demonstrations, used them instead to get himself free bed and board. Whatever the motivation, Home held his first formal séance in 1851. A local newspaper reported that a table had moved despite attempts to stop it and Home’s reputation quickly spread. He began to travel around New England working (without charge) as a healer and communicating with the spirits of the dead. He felt he was “on a mission to demonstrate immortality.”
A year later, his fame had spread dramatically. He sometimes gave six or seven séances a day, often attracting prominent people. Not all of them were believers. The distinguished scientist Professor Robert Hare investigated his claims, as did Supreme Court Judge John Worth Edmonds. Both decided he was genuine.
Home had never been a particularly healthy man and in early 1854 he was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. His doctors recommended a change of climate and in March of the following year he set sail for England. He quickly became something of a darling of London society, although reaction to his abilities was mixed. Robert Browning lampooned him in the poem Mr. Sludge the Medium and the psychical researcher Frank Podmore accused him of cheating while William Crookes claimed that Home had levitated five to seven feet above the floor in good light more than fifty times. It was while he was in London that Home began to demonstrate an even more unusual ability—the power to elongate his body parts.
Although Jencken only saw it once, Home’s ability to elongate and contract was witnessed by a great many others, as was his apparent ability to control the effects of fire. On several occasions he laid his head on burning coals without injury and persuaded various sitters to handle the coals for themselves, again without harm. He was also capable of manifesting a halo of flames around his head and persuading an accordion to play of its own accord. The latter trick was commonplace among mediums of the day; Crookes undertook to investigate Home’s version scientifically. In one experiment, Crookes showed in a laboratory situation that Home could influence the weight of a board resting on a balance scale merely by placing his fingers in a glass of water resting on the end of the board. In another, an accordion purchased by Crookes played by itself in Home’s presence. During this experiment Home’s hands and feet were restrained and the accordion placed inside a wire cage through which an electrical current was passed. Crookes and two other witnesses stated that they distinctly saw the accordion “floating about on the inside of the cage with no visible support.” Crookes concluded that, having satisfied himself by careful experiment, the phenomena observed were genuine.
These paranormal powers, spectacular though some of them appear to be, seem unimportant when set against the observable fact that when a spirit makes contact with a human being, some factor of the experience is almost preternaturally persuasive. In other words, when a spirit requests or commands, the contacted human feels an almost overwhelming urge to obey. This goes some way to explain the astonishing influence spirit contact has had on the course of human history, but opens up another vital, fundamental question: what are these creatures who have whispered in the ear of humanity throughout the generations?
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