Printed in the Fall 2013 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Chambers, John. "Eileen Garrett: The Medium is the Message" Quest 101. 4 (Fall 2013): pg. 136-140.
By John Chambers
Do mediums channel spirits and spirit messages from other planes of reality? No one can really say. But today, when mediums are often TV performers as much as they are communicators with the beyond, hawk their wares like merchants selling medicine, and refuse to submit to scientific testing, it's illuminating to look at the life of Eileen Garrett. This vibrant, red-haired Irishwoman, who lived from 1893 to 1970, is remembered today mainly for founding New York's esteemed Parapsychology Foundation. But she was certainly the greatest medium of the twentieth century, and she helped numerous people in numerous ways while willingly submitting herself to every sort of scientific investigation.
In her autobiography, Eileen reveals her defining characteristic: a "quality of doing as I wanted to in spite of everything . . . [which] had no elements of active defiance, resistance or animus. And I lived as I was made."
Her nature was loving, but also independent and imperious. She refused to blindly follow the dictates of consensus reality; instead, she bent reality, she forged reality, she created it.
Eileen Garrett never knew her parents. She was born in Beauparc, County Meath, Ireland, on March 17, 1893. Her mother, raised a strict Presbyterian, eloped with her father, a Spanish Roman Catholic, while she was on a school tour to Morocco. The bride was ostracized by her family, except for her oldest sister, on whose property Anna and Anthony, the parents, lived until Eileen was born. The young mother drowned herself a few days after Eileen's birth; she had been told her parents would never accept her, or her husband, into the family. Her father fatally shot himself six weeks later; he had been informed that he couldn't take his daughter back with him to his family in Spain. Recent research has suggested that this story is apocryphal and that either Eileen's aunt, who told her the story, misled her, or Eileen understandably misremembered what she had been told as a child.
In any event Eileen was certainly an orphan, and her upbringing was difficult enough. She was raised by her aunt and uncle on a farmhouse in one of the most isolated, if beautiful, areas of Ireland. As a child she felt closer to nature and the cosmos than she did to individual human beings. She wrote that she saw people "not merely as physical bodies, but as if each were set within a nebulous egg-shaped covering of his own. This surround, as I called it for want of a better name, consisted of transparent changing colors, or could become dense and heavy in character—for these coverings changed according to the variations in people's moods." Eileen later learned of "the positive importance of the surround as a protection to the physical body, receiving and condensing the impacts of sound, light and movement, and diminishing their violence."
She was constantly scolded by her harsh aunt, but discovered as a child that "I could involuntarily shut away the sound and sense of her harshness." Years later, she wondered if acquiring this skill had been "the beginning of that cleavage which later developed into my having more than one personality to live with."
From the age of four, Eileen had imaginary playmates—two girls and a boy. She called them "The Children" and communicated with them telepathically. The Children never changed as Eileen grew up. She wrote, "Their bodies were soft and warm. Yet they were different. I saw all bodies surrounded by a nimbus of light, but The Children were gauze-like. Light permeated their substance . . . They possessed a hidden dignity that commanded respect. The Children loved everything that grew and flowered, and they helped develop my already acute sense of knowing things."
From an early age Eileen had developed a sense of what sounds very much like the plenum—a classical term, often used by C.J. Jung, that defines space not as a quantum vacuum that is empty but as an overflowing fullness. "Thus, from the beginning, space has never been empty for me. There was both sound and movement in the 'space' of every area, and I could discriminate among environments by the impressions of this tremendous 'vitality' that I appear to gather otherwise than by means of my five senses."
While still a child, she found she could watch a being's spirit leave its body. In revenge for her aunt's acts of cruelty, she strangled all the ducks on the farm. She wrote, "The little dead bodies were quiet, but a strange movement was occurring all about them. A gray, smoke-like substance rose up from each small form." Eileen would have three sons, one dying just after birth, the other two dying in infancy. In all three deaths, she watched heartbroken as the spirit rose from the body.
As a young woman the red-haired Eileen was bosomy and lissome, with a pretty face that often shone with beauty. She would many three times, each time with a kind of lofty detachment, and was able to disengage herself with only a little heartache from two of these marriages. The exception was her second husband, an army officer. When she married him in London at the height of World War I, he was about to leave for the front, and Eileen had a horrible premonition that he would be killed in just days or weeks. Not long after his departure, at a dinner party, she suddenly lost all sense of personal identity and found herself "caught in the shattering concussion of a terrible explosion. I saw my gentle, golden-haired husband blown to pieces. I floated out on a sea of terrific sound. When I came to myself, I knew that my husband had been killed." He had indeed been killed, and at the time that she was having this experience.
During her first marriage Eileen had discovered she could see "more easily and clearly through my fingertips and the nape of my neck than through my eyes; and hearing and knowing, for instance, came through my feet and knees." This "knowing," gained through her paranormal senses, would always be more meaningful than the knowledge she acquired with her normal senses.
Europe emerged in tatters from World War I. Millions of innocents were slaughtered in this war which had begun with so much patriotic fervor. A whole generation of fighting British, French, and German youth was annihilated. Religious faith was shattered; people desperately sought new meaning in a universe where all traditional values had been upended. (Even during the war, Eileen had flirted with Britain's socialist Fabian Society, which advocated a system of governance by the workers.)
Brilliant eccentrics and maverick geniuses flourished in this climate. At the end of the war, Eileen came under the spell of one of these geniuses. This was Edward Carpenter, then in his seventies. A prolific author and activist, Carpenter was known internationally for such books as Civilization: Its Cause and Cure, The Drama of Love and Death, and Pagan and Christian Creeds. He complimented Eileen on the "miraculous spectrum" of her early childhood experiences and declared that she was gifted with cosmic consciousness. (The term, which connotes a mystical awareness of the unity of life and the universe, was coined by Richard Maurice Bucke in his celebrated book of the same name.) Carpenter claimed to possess this awareness, and, telling Eileen she possessed it too, helped her sharpen it. Her elderly teacher was willful, cantankerous, and dictatorial, but Eileen stuck with him for two years. Thus had begun, she would later say, the period of her higher education.
In 1920, she began to study with James Hewat McKenzie, someone else whose ideas had prospered in the iconoclastic postwar period. McKenzie had just founded the British College of Psychic Science in London; Eileen stayed with him until his death in 1930. He was the first to recognize and encourage her psychic gifts. He believed not only that potential mediums should undergo a long and careful apprenticeship, but that their spirit guides, or "spirit controls," should be trained as well. Spirit controls are the discarnate entities who act as "traffic cops," deciding which spirits should or should not enter the mind of the medium they also do most of the communicating.
It was also in 1920 that Eileen had her firs real brush with a spirit control. In 1918 she had given birth to a fourth child, a girl, Babette. Two years later, Babette beame gravely ill with whooping cough and pneumonia. Doctors were sure she would die. Eileenâ€™s biographer Alan Angoff writes in Eileen Garrett and the World beyond the Senses that Eileen
was enraged by all of them [the doctors], refusing to accept this fate, and set about tying to save her baby in her own manner. She picked Babette up out of the crib, breathed air into her mouth, and tried to lend her some of her own mother's vitality as she held her close. In the midst of her efforts she heard a voice saying, "Be careful! She must have more air. Open the windows and allow a new current of air in the room."
She followed these directions without questioning who it was who spoke, or feeling any fear of the strong breeze corning from the open window. 'A moment later," she recalled, "I saw the outline of a figure leaning against the bed, a short lithe man; his face was turned away from me. I was too petrified to look very closely at him. Although my limbs were trembling, I knew I must approach the bed and put the child back on it.
"As I laid her down, I was aware of this man, in gray garments, standing beside me, with a sympathetic and kindly smile. His presence reassured me; fear left me and I knew he had come to help me save the child."
To the amazement of the doctors, Babette recovered completely in a few days.
It was not until 1930, when she was thirty-seven, that Eileen learned that this "man in gray garments" was an early manifestation of her second spirit control, Abdul Latif. He was identified with a historical figure, a great Muslim physician who was born in Baghdad in 1162 and died there in 1231. Abdul Latif traveled throughout the Muslim world and served for a time as a physician in the court of Saladin, sultan of Egypt.
For over ten years Eileen had already been reluctantly and gingerly dealing with her first spirit control, Ouvani, or Uvani, who claimed to be a fourteenth-century Persian soldier. She first encountered Uvani when, one night in the company of friends, she involuntarily fell into trance and mouthed incomprehensible words in a strange oriental accent. Frightened, she consulted Huhnli, an eminent Swiss spiritualist in London. Huhnli made contact with Uvani and identified this spirit control. He explained to Eileen: "This is what happened in your case. I spoke with the controlling entity who used your mechanism whilst you were apparently asleep. He is a man of unusual intelligence, who declares that he is an Oriental; he wishes to do serious work to prove the validity of the theory of survival."
From 1920 to 1930, with many hesitations because she feared the spirit controls might be early manifestations of madness—and in the midst of a whirl of activities that included healings, ghost "releasements," and a great deal of social work—Eileen increasingly and with greater and greater effectiveness made use of her psychic powers.
At a sÃ©ance in 1929 she channeled the eminent British barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall, who had died earlier that year. Two years before, Hall had visited a clairvoyant himself and had been told he would die within two years. Someone at the seance inquired of Uvani: "May we ask what sort of work he is doing now?" Uvani replied, apparently channeling Hall's words:
I fear I am going to disappoint you, but this is not heaven, neither is it hell, though it savors of both. My friends are still tied up with knots and problems, but I played at both things and was terribly sincere when I played. I am still playing. This is not a state of spirit any more than the one I have left, and I am young here, a mere baby. I have only been over a year or two. I am doing what the other infants do, opening my eyes, looking around and asking questions. There is still a lot of earth man left in me, thank God. I am still in a state of matter, with a more beautiful and much less troublesome body. I take a hand in everything that is going on ... This is a place where free will predominates . . . All experience is growth ... it can be Hell or Heaven . . . from my own point of view, I am not in Hell ... I am now in a comfortable part of the globe ... Here is freedom from pain, freedom from sorrow, the vision which has led me all my life and which I would not change.
During this period Eileen became fairly well-known; in late 1930, a single psychic feat made her world-famous. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, a great believer in channeling and a leader in the spiritualist movement, died on July 7. On October 5 of that year, the 777-foot British dirigible R101, on its maiden voyage, crashed in flames near the French town of Beauvais, killing forty-eight of its fifty-four passengers.
Two years earlier, while giving a sitting in the presence of Doyle, Eileen had foreseen this crash. (Even before the sÃ©ance, she had had multiple visions of dirigibles crashing over London.) On October 7, two days after the destruction of the 11101, she held a seance to try to contact Doyle. Uvani appeared and spoke calmly. Then his voice became agitated. Speaking in clipped British accents, he conveyed a message apparently from Flight Lieutenant H. Carmichael Irwin, the R101's captain, who had been killed in the crash. During the seance (and six more, in which other alleged deceased members of the crew spoke out), Irwin provided technical knowledge concerning the crash that no one else could have known at the time. Months later, the results of the official investigation confirmed everything that Irwin and the other crew members had said.
A year later, Eileen was invited by the American Society for Psychical Research to participate in a series of experiments and go on a lecture tour of the U.S. During this tour she managed to help many people with her psychic gifts. In Hollywood, at a private session attended by Cecil B. DeMille, she channeled the movie producer's deceased mother. DeMille deeply loved his mother. He had been a skeptic, but he was so moved and persuaded by this experience that the next day he filled Eileen's hotel suite with flowers.
Trapped in France in the first months of the German occupation, Eileen helped the French in every way she could. In 1941 she escaped to the U.S. with her daughter. Arriving in New York, she set up her own publishing company, Creative Age Press, in the space of a single month. Creative Age published the first New Age magazine, Tomorrow, which appeared regularly for over a decade, and a full line of books by well-known authors, including six by Eileen. She wrote the first, Telepathy, in six weeks. She penned a dozen works, including three novels; all sold well.
In 1957, the depth psychologist Ira Progoff talked to Eileen's spirit controls—there were four of them now — Uvani, Abdul Latif, Tahoteh, and Raxnah — while the publisher-psychic lay in trance. The conversations were published in Progoff's Image of an Oracle: A Report on Research into the Mediumship of Eileen J. Garrett. Progoff wrote:
The psyche of Eileen Garrett is also a vehicle of something much larger than the individual whose name it bears .. . its capacities, its nature, its intent, and the contents of its psychological expressions are all symbolic manifestations of a principle and power that is not Eileen Garrett at all. It brings forth Eileen Garrett, as it brings forth all other individuals. It supplies the necessary materials and utilizes them, and moves on its infinite way. The individual person may provide the temporary field in which the events take place; but the individual is not the cause of them, and the fullness of meaning contained in the events is not to be understood with reference to the individual psyche per se.
From an early age Eileen had suffered from health problems—tuberculosis, asthma, a heart condition, bouts with pneumonia, and much else. She was often hospitalized, though much of the time she bravely ignored these problems. They caught up with her. In 1951, ill and exhausted, she sold Creative Age Press and set up the Parapsychology Foundation, a New York-based research foundation and library that is still in operation. In a few years, the foundation was holding annual conferences at sites around the world. On September 4, 1970, on the last day of the Parapsychology Foundation's nineteenth international conference, held at Eileen's French Riviera villa—and which she attended—the valiant pioneer in the use of paranormal abilities died of heart failure.
We're fortunate to have from the pen of Martin Ebon (1917-2006), administrative secretary of the Parapsychological Foundation for twelve years, a portrait of Eileen Garrett at work. On this particular day in the mid-1960s, the work consisted of exorcising the supposed spirit of a witch who had invaded the mind and body of a wealthy young married woman living in an elegant town house on New York's Upper East Side. Ebon was the author or editor of more than eighty books, including They Knew the Unknown, Prophecy in Our Time, and KGB: Death and Rebirth. In his account of the exorcism in The Devil's Bride: Exorcism, Past and Present (1970), he disguises the identity of the upscale New York wife, giving her the alias of Victoria Camden.
Ebon tells us that, over a period of months, Victoria had suffered many strange and violent accidents in her home: "Without forewarning, she might be thrown across the room, and pitched down on her face. At one time, she nearly drowned in her bathtub and then found herself hurled, wet and helpless and naked, against the tiles around the tub and wall." Her body was bloody, scratched, and beaten; she suffered from contusions.
Eileen always made sure witnesses were present, one of them keeping a record, when she was involved in psychic experimentation. She had invited Victoria's lawyer to join her in this exorcism experiment in the victim's own house, and she asked Ebon to accompany her there to take notes and ask supplementary questions.
The moment Eileen, Ebon, and the lawyer entered the house, an historic old New York mansion, Victoria—who had just returned with her husband from an outing—exclaimed in a horrified whisper, "She is here!" Ebon tells us, "There was a tremolo in her voice. First her hands began to shake; then her whole body."
The terrified victim told them she sensed the presence of Ruth, a spirit who had been pursued as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts, at the time of the witch trials, but had never been caught or tried. There had been a lead-up: over the months, Victoria had been doing automatic writing without quite knowing what it was, and she had channeled entities who often made odd and provocative remarks such as "Midnight is a fool's myth," and "Oh, it's so cold in this merciless wind." Then Victoria began to see ghosts and hear bizarre noises.
That was before she and her husband moved into this house in Manhattan. Then all became a nightmare of possession. "I've been ill the whole time," Victoria told them. "The persecution of Ruth has made me sickest of all with these violent attacks. You have no idea how violent they were— I mean, she'd throw you across the room ... always on the face ... You'd be perfectly all right, you'd start across the room ordinarily and then—wham! —down you go."
Now Eileen set about exorcising this ghost in her customary fashion. Ebon writes that she
began to go slowly through the house, from room to room, from floor to floor . . . In some of the rooms, and even on stairway landings, Mrs. Garrett stopped quietly, spoke inaudibly as if in prayer or pleading with an unseen force. On two occasions she rushed ahead, giving us little chance to catch up, and then stood still, as if listening. At one point she stared at a wall; later she said there had been an opening, a window or door or connection with another building, but it had now been closed off: its memory remained, like a phantom limb. Moving about, she was taking, as it were, the buildings psychic measure, searching for memories that might be felt and dramatized by a sensitive person, while seeking to put them in their proper place in time and history.
This went on for about an hour. "Mrs. Garrett was seemingly just building up energy while, as she put it, `smelling the place out.' It was all in preparation for the final encounter, the meeting of ghost with ghost."
Eileen now sat down on the living-room couch and, making herself comfortable by slipping off her jewelry, closed her eyes and leaned her head against the couch's back. She was waiting for her control entities, Uvani or Abdul Latif, to emerge and to speak through her. Finally sounds issued from her mouth. They came with the characteristic voice, intonation, and vocabulary of Abdul Latif. The spirit asked, "What do you wish of me?"
Victoria's husband, helped by Ebon, quickly explained Victoria's dilemma to the entranced Eileen and, supposedly, to the waiting shade of Abdul Latif. While they were speaking, "Victoria seemed convulsed, tossed about like a ship in a storm. While her body writhed, a croaking voice uttered from her throat, 'I want—I want—I want—peace!"
Then Abdul Latif asked Victoria to come to him. She stumbled across the floor and sank down beside the couch. A stream of reassurances came from Eileen's vocal chords. "We are here to heal you," Abdul Latif intoned soothingly, "to help you find you, to bring you peace." Victoria laid her head in Eileen's lap; she was sobbing, but the writhing had stopped. Abdul Latif spoke to the possessing spirit of Ruth, telling her she must leave Victoria and that she must leave this plane of reality. But she was not being abandoned, because others like himself would help her when she arrived at the other side. Then the spirit control, guiding Eileen's hand over Victoria's head as if in blessing, said a few more compassionate words that nonetheless urged the possessing spirit to depart—and Ruth was suddenly gone. Victoria looked around calmly.
Eileen, shuddering softly, emerged slowly and heavily from the trance and asked what had happened. She was told. She suggested they all have a drink and some food. This they did; and Victoria was a normally gracious, smiling, Upper East Side hostess.
Eileen paid a follow-up visit a week later; Victoria was still perfectly normal, and would remain so. The medium and Ebon discussed the exorcism, as they had discussed many others; both agreed that there might have been a certain degree of self-dramatization, of the unconscious but powerful use of the creative imagination, in Victoria's seeming possession. Was that the whole truth? Perhaps so, but Eileen didn't think so. She didn't dwell on it, though, but merely added it to her data base of psychic experimentation. The point was that Victoria was cured. For the twentieth century's greatest medium, it was all in a day's work.
Angoff, Allan. Eileen Garrett and the World beyond the Senses. New York: Morrow, 1974.
Ebon, Martin. The Devil's Bride: Exorcism, Past & Present. New York: Signet, 1974.
Garrett, Eileen J. Adventures in the Supernormal: A Personal Memoir. New York: Garrett, 1949.
— . Life Is the Healer. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1957.
— . Many Voices: The Autobiography of a Medium. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1968.
— . The Sense and Nonsense of Prophecy. New York: Berkley, 1950.
— . Telepathy: In Search of a Lost Faculty. New York: Creative Age, 1941.
—., ed. Does Man Survive Death? New York: Garrett, 1957. Garrett, Eileen J., and Abril Lamarque. Man—The
Maker: From Fire to Atom: A Pictorial Record of Man's Inventiveness. New York: Creative Age, 1946.
McMahon, Joanne D.S. Eileen Garrett: A Woman
Who Made a Difference. New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1994.
Progoff, Ira. The Image of an Oracle: A Report on Research into the Mediumship of Eileen J. Garrett. New York: Helix/ Garrett, 1964.
JOHN CHAMBERS is the author of a number of books, including Conversations with Eternity: The Forgotten Masterpiece of Victor Hugo, which has been translated into seven languages; Victor Hugo's Conversations with the Spirit World: A Literary Genius's Hidden Life; and The Secret Life of Genius: How Twenty-Four Great Men and Women Were Touched by Spiritual Worlds. His next book, Isaac Newton: Rescuing the Soul of Man, will be published in early 2014. He lives in Redding, California.