by Ronnie Pontiac.
One of America’s favorite preoccupations has always been attempting communication with the dead. From backwoods cults of the pre-Revolutionary colonies to distinguished university professors of the 20th century, Americans of every color and creed have been preoccupied with ghostly chats. Today reality TV and talk shows can make a medium or ghost hunter famous overnight.
Yet most Americans dismiss mediumship as fraud, entertainment, or at best a lower rung of the spiritual ladder. For many it’s a trap set by the devil himself. The exceptions worthy of interest, such as Edgar Cayce, stand out sharply from the crowd of frauds and mediocrities. Some of us wonder if this life after death stuff is for real why hasn’t anyone ever put together a quality plan, a story worth telling?
What kind of plan would you put together with the far seeing wisdom of a soul free of body? Would it involve true love? Perhaps a romantic married couple, without children, so that family responsibilities won’t complicate their explorations. Seasoned world travelers, sipping champagne on yachts, hearty hikers in the wilderness, safari veterans whose own story, without anything supernatural about it, would be worth telling. Like the time they brought the first Bird of Paradise plant to Santa Barbara, where now you can see those flowers almost anywhere.
Maybe at a dinner party some friends pull out the inevitable Ouija board. The husband ignores his wife’s reluctance. He tries it out for fun. In an atmosphere of facetious frivolity they replace the planchette with a whisky glass. When the glass moves his wife thinks the others are playing tricks on her so she watches from a distance, ignoring their denials.
The joke seems to be going well until the glass very firmly spells out: “Why do you ask foolish questions?” The wife thinks they’re tricking her again when the glass spells out her name repeatedly and urgently. Just for kicks and to show them she’s not afraid she finally agrees to join in. The glass goes in circles like a happy puppy. With her fingertips on the glass a new message repeats: “get a pencil.”
A few days later, alone at her desk, feeling foolish, the wife sits with pencil in hand before a blank sheet of paper. To her surprise her hand moves involuntarily or unconsciously as she begins performing the time honored American tradition of automatic writing. Intrigued, her husband helps her puzzle out the words. The writing flows from beginning to end uninterrupted by spaces or punctuation. The messages they decipher are deep enough to invite further exploration. They find themselves in touch with what they call the Invisibles.
Then the trance channeling begins. On the condition of anonymity she channels popular books. But she dies before her mission is complete. Will she speak from beyond the grave? Once the medium, now the spirit being channeled, can she prove beyond any doubt who she was, and who she still is, finishing her job with another book, a best seller?
Her husband could be a red blooded old school no nonsense American. An outdoorsman and dedicated conservationist, the kind of guy they’d name not only a species of golden trout but also a grove of Sequoias after. You could picture him camping with Teddy Roosevelt in the California wilderness. Teddy would call him the best shot who ever fired a rifle on his range. A man with experience of mines, frontiers, lumber mills, and a world war. A man so good with a gun he could fill a hall with taxidermied trophies, and sardonic enough to christen the hall “the Ark.”
The kind of guy who could break his leg on a trail and drag himself for miles back to camp, stopping along the way to shoot a game bird to bring back with him for dinner. For the animal lovers among us we’ll add that his wife and her philosophy must convince him to give up his gun for a camera.
Perhaps he’s a very successful adventure writer, with a good skeptical head on his shoulders and a way with words. A Jack London type, as handy with a pen as he is with a gun. The kind of man who would approach his wife’s mediumship the way he did the Serengeti. A practical detail oriented explorer, an open-minded observer, never giddy, always ready.
Let it happen during a great international crisis when people need inspiration, when death is everywhere. Not just a first but a second world war to part more lovers, families and friends than ever before. A time when reassurance of reunion in the beyond is most needed. When frauds flourish, compounding the agony of loss.
Isn’t that a more reasonable plan for letting people know about life after death than most of the stories we’ve heard about mediums? Not your average haphazard occurrence among questionable characters. Of course, as you have probably already surmised, every detail is true. These are only a few of the surprises in the biographies of Stewart Edward White and his wife Elizabeth “Betty” Grant White. Their work is known by only a few today, but when Betty died Who’s Who, convinced by her posthumous authorship, refused to print her death date.
In a speech President Theodore Roosevelt listed Stewart as one of six naturalists to whom “we owe a real debt.” He also called Stewart “the kind of young American who is making our new literature.” In 1905 Teddy appointed Stewart a federal Forest Reserve inspector. Stewart held the office for four years. In his autobiography, Teddy wrote, about his Sagamore rifle range: “the best man with both pistol and rifle who ever shot there was Stewart Edward White.”
When Jung left Freud to find his own way, among his colleagues was a future M.D. named Tina Keller. Inspired by her interest in Tai Chi she was the first to bring movement and dance to Jung’s active imagination therapy. In her 1971 lecture at the C.G. Jung Institute she said that Jung gave her The Betty Book (1939) when it was first published. She “read and reread” all the books that followed. In 1971 she went on record: “Betty White, the brilliant woman who had accidentally discovered her mediumistic gifts, dictated to her husband, the writer and explorer Stewart Edward White, a long series of teachings, full of wisdom and salty humor, for practical application in living. They were communicated by different personalities or quasi-personalities whom the Whites dubbed “the Invisibles.” It was stated emphatically that only those who really practice the teachings could, through experience, come to understand them. My own experiments, based on the books, proved this to be both true and extremely important.”
Jung himself had this to say about the work of the Whites: “I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the psychology of the unconscious to read the books of Stewart White. The most interesting to my mind is The Unobstructed Universe (1940).” Jung wrote a gently skeptical forward for the German edition, but in a letter about The Unobstructed Universe to his friend Fritz Kunkel, Jung wrote: “Betty behaves like a real woman and not like an anima. This seems to indicate that she is herself rather than an anima figure.” He concluded: “I must own that with regard to Betty, I am hesitant to deny her reality as a spirit; that is to say I am inclined to assume that she is more probably a spirit than archetype, although she presumably represents both at the same time.”
Hitler’s blitzkrieg devastated Poland. Betty had died only months before. Stewart was convinced of her survival. The presence of her companionship, stronger than ever, as intimate and unique as the scent of her hair, comforted him daily. Other friends reported similar visits, sometimes accompanied by small signs, often at the mention of the name Betty, any Betty.
Friends wondered why Stewart didn’t try to reach Betty through a medium, or, as he preferred to call it, a receiving station. Later he admitted to his readers that he was afraid. What if Betty didn’t communicate? What if the communication was so obviously inferior it could put doubt into all their work together? Would he search vainly from medium to medium the rest of his life?
Stewart didn’t want to stay home, where Betty’s garden of rare and exotic plants died, despite the best care money could buy. So two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor he travelled through America, having been invited to visit his many friends who wanted to console him. When Stewart visited his old friends Joan and Darby he knew a session of channeling was likely: Joan was a famous medium herself. Stewart asked that Joan make no attempt to reach Betty. As soon as Joan went into trance Betty crashed the party. She began by calling Stewart “Stewt” the name for him she had only used in private. Then she provided all the proof he could want.
“Betty began,” Stewart wrote in The Unobstructed Universe (1940), “talking to me quietly, fluently, with assured and intimate knowledge of our common experience and living. There was no “fishing” and no fumbling. That part of it became almost ridiculous, it was so easy for her where with usual “psychical research” it has been so difficult. Here, in this first evening, she literally poured out a succession of these authentications. She mentioned not one, but dozens, of small events out of our past, of trivial facts in our mutual experience or surroundings, none of which could by any possibility be within Joan’s knowledge.”
Unbeknownst to Stewart, Joan had recently had an experience that had puzzled her. She had been compelled to take the wrong bus which led her to a store she had no intention of visiting, in which she found a Chinese red lacquer box carved with swallows. When told this last one had been sold she insisted the salesperson look through the stockroom. He found one left behind which Joan eagerly purchased. On the way home she came to her senses and wondered why on earth she had bought the box, when she already had other Chinese carved lacquer boxes, and no room for a new one. Stewart heard the story when Betty told him to pay back Joan for the Chinese box. Betty explained it was a gift for her younger sister; the carving of the birds was the important part.
When Stewart presented the box to his sister in law she explained through tears that when they were children Betty would help her climb into a tree where they watched a nest of fledgling swallows.
The work of the Whites concerns that key moment of human life described in the Tibetan “The Precious Garland”: in the process of death comes that moment “when consciousness remains as an orphan, with no support–.” The Invisibles worked with Betty to help her cross that threshold going both ways.
Stewart shared his meditations for preparing for that moment when consciousness is no longer couched in a body, a set of memories, and a familiar place in the obstructed world. Simple visualizations of floating smoke and planes suspended in air helped Stewart refine his consciousness until he could experience it as nothing more or less than a disembodied point of view.
Speaking from beyond, Betty explained that the work she had done with the Invisibles during her life in the obstructed had helped her learn to adapt her consciousness to the unobstructed; but the step by step process had actually been provided to give her extraordinary training in coming back to communicate with Stewart and their readers. What followed Stewart described as “forty sessions of communication with Betty; sessions vivid with her unseen presence, from turn of phrase and mode of thought to her own special brand of fun and laughter.”
With the world at war again Betty said that the intent of all this effort was to encourage people to find their own proof of the continuity of consciousness after death. She asked her readers to imagine how different the world would be if we understood we are temporary visitors with other destinations ahead of us, instead of desperate creatures struggling for our brief hour in the sun. She wanted to give more than hope to families losing loved ones as the war killed millions. Using the exercises in the books anyone could experience the unobstructed.
The first exercise? Relaxed appreciation. Stewart asks us to cultivate the feeling we get when we admire a beautiful sunset, to enjoy the sound of frogs chirping in the night, or the sight of “good old pups,” as he puts it, wagging their tails, leading the way on a walk. He asks us to notice how it expands our senses, how we experience what we’ve been missing wrapped up in our own thoughts: bird song, the tint of the sky behind a lush hill, small wonders that refresh the soul. He says for most people the soul is like a dehydrated husk.
Betty denied that she was now in a different world. The difference is not in location but frequency. The frequency of the dead is not visible to the living, she said. The world of human bodies is a much lower frequency than the intensely vital world of pure conscious energy. According to Betty and the Invisibles consciousness is the matrix and sustenance of form. Electric current, a cloud in the sky, a bug flying by, in every variation of matter, at the heart of the particles that make forms, consciousness exists.
Three sentences stand out in the metaphysical works of the Whites.
- Consciousness is everything.
- Attention is existence.
- The individual is immortal.
“The obstructed universe,” Betty explained from the afterlife, “is for the purpose of birth, of the individualization of consciousness. All matter is born in your universe. Nothing is lost. Individuality is not lost; though in its lower forms matter can be burned, turned into gas, or what have you. Yet it is all kept. It is the highest form, the soul, that goes on undivided. Your scientists have accepted the law of the indestructibility of matter; but I say to you that this law is only a corollary of the indestructibility of consciousness.”
Betty’s poetic sensitivity to beauty, her wholesome, humorous and sometimes sublime advice about living a good life, were eagerly read by a nation at war and in mourning that found hope in the revelation that the mysterious Betty was none other than the wife of the famous writer beloved by generations. Stewart could have built a metaphysical empire from the attention he received.
Leslie Kimmell, Stewart’s secretary at the end of his life, said he was a quiet man with a sense of humor, a good listener, with a horror of meddling in other people’s affairs. He amused himself by reading, seeing movies, gardening, dictating letters giving advice to seekers who were encouraged to think it out for themselves. Two Cairn terriers followed him around, one chosen from beyond by Betty, with whom they often seemed to be interacting, chasing invisible toys and barking at an invisible something about four foot eleven.
Kimmel recalled that Stewart spent an hour a day meditating in Betty’s blue room, where he not only felt her presence but also received instruction. Private interviews were granted to people seeking help only after Stewart felt more secure in the support he believed Betty and the Invisibles gave him. The many requests for a school or organization of some kind were “gently but determinedly discouraged.” He didn’t want to convert anyone. He often said: “every fellow has to find his own way.”
Stewart and Betty’s books have been reissued periodically by publishers, including psychedelic paperbacks from the 60s and 70s that were sold in airport and resort gift shops. Today several of Betty’s books are available online in pdf, txt, print on demand, and other digital formats.
Admirers and skeptics alike are left to wonder how Betty has fallen into obscurity even in metaphysical circles. Students of The Secret of the Golden Flower, Tibetan Bon, Neo-Platonism and many other esoteric doctrines and techniques of transcendence will find familiar concepts in Betty’s unobstructed universe, presented in a delightfully practical and unpretentious way.