Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Gone West: Three Narratives Of After Death Experiences: J.S.M. Ward

Here's another early 20th century book about the afterlife. (There were many- and quite a few of them can be found as pdfs here.) Its author, J.S,M Ward, was one of the wide boys of spirituality- archaeologist, freemason, spiritualist, gnostic bishop and good friend of that other wideboy, Gerald Gardner. He liked the paraphenalia of high church religion (most of his portraits show him in cassock and biretta) was fond of gathering disciples around him and may have grown overfond of some of the younger female ones (there were scandals.) He was eccentric, contrarian and full of energy

His spiritualist writings come early in his career- before the dodgy ordinations. He says he's channelling his father-in-law- a minor Victorian architect- and two of his father's otherworldly mates- one of them a businessman and the other a swindler and murderer known as The Officer. Father-in-law gives us information about the lower realms of what I suppose we must call purgatory, where he is carrying on his studies in Renaissance architecture in a heavenly recreation of Queens College Oxford as it was before it was rebuilt (because good buildings also go to heaven when they die.) The businessman- too good for hell, too materialist for heaven- mostly pootles about on the astral- where dinosaurs chase him through the carboniferous forest which once existed on what is now the Thames embankment. And the Officer- as bad a man as you could hope to avoid- goes down to the depths of hell and then clambers back (because this is the 20th century and we're all liberals here and hell is no longer eternal.) His adventures- taking in the City of Hatred- which is ancient Rome gone all rotten and slimy- and the City of Lust which is ancient Corinth- are never a step away from allegory and suggest nothing so much as a mash-up of the Pilgrim's Progress and a fever dream. He defeats and tortures an inquisitor, leagues himself with the Emperor of Rome and leads a rag-tag army of pirates and mercenaries against Danton's sans-cullottes. No-one dies in the battle because everyone is already dead- but being carved up with a cutlass still hurts. Only don't for a moment suppose that a spirit body which feels pain can also feel pleasure- because it can't- as you'll find out if you go to the City of Lust expecting to have fun.

How much of any of this do I believe?


These days accounts of the afterlife (as found in The Michael teachings or Michael Newton's Life Between Lives) have dropped the circles of Hell and replaced them with reincarnation- for all the world as if God has changed his mind. I like reincarnation better but perhaps it's only a more sophisticated formulation of the idea that enlightenment has to be sweated at. You expiate your sins in hell, you pay off your karma through successive incarnations: the words are different but suffering is suffering wherever you undergo it- and the supposed outcome is the same. One can only use the symbolic language one's audience will understand- and in the early 20th century reincarnation was just a weird, Blavatskian shimmer on the horizon. Revelation has to be thinkable, otherwise it's nothing but gobbledy-gook.

In other words, don't expect books like this to tell you anything you don't already know.

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