Preposterous Positions

How this bizarre story is going to end is, at the time of writing, anybody’s guess. But let me go back to how it began, at least for me. On a visit to the United States in January 1975, I was staying with a friend in Rockland County, some thirty miles up-river from New York, and happened to mention that a friend in London had given me the phone number of Sir John Whitmore, who was living somewhere in New York State, at a place called Ossining. ’That’s just across the river,’ my friend said, so we called up Sir John and arranged to go over to Ossining for lunch the following Sunday. In the spring Of 1974, Whitmore and others had organised in London a symposium and series of public lectures on ’The Frontiers of Science and Medicine’. which I had attended in order to write some article on the proceedings. I had met John (in future references I’ll drop the honorific, as he has chosen to do) several times in the course of the May Lectures, and subsequently on one or two occasions, but at the time I knew little of his background or work. We were not close acquaintances, but since we were, as I thought, fortuitously in the same area, it seemed natural to pay him a social visit.

Ossining. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t recall in what connection. I kept scanning my memory banks for the connection on and off all through the Saturday, but it continued to elude me. I didn’t worry too much at it, though, particularly as the Saturday drew on, for my host, Richard Connolly, and I spent the afternoon and early evening at the High Tor vineyards as guests of the viticulteur, Father Tom Hayes, who plied us with his excellent High Tor wines, which we contentedly discussed, drank and compared for hours, sitting cozily round a log fire, while outside snow lay thick on the hillsides. Which may seem a digression, but when you’re into something as weird as I am at the present time it can be helpful to establish your credentials as a fellow with a taste for normal, earthy and rational pursuits, such as drinking and talking about wine.

The combination of jet lag and Tom Hayes’ High Tor reds ensured me a good night’s sleep on the Saturday. So on Sunday we arrived in good time for lunch at Ossining. When I saw the mail box outside the house we had been directed to bore the name ’Puharich’ the connection that had eluded me came back in a flash. This was the home of Andrija Puharich, the maverick scientist who had brought Uri Geller to America and whose book, Uri, which I had read some months before, recounted some very queer goings-on at Ossining, such as materializations and disappearance/reappearance events, as well as telling a very tall story about communications with extra-terrestrial intelligences and sightings of UFOs. I had met Puharich briefly in London at the May Lectures, where he had given a literally incredible talk in which he solemnly declared that he and Geller had been contacted by extra-terrestrial beings to bear witness to their existence and their powers, and to prepare mankind for a meeting with these beings at some unspecified future date when they would make mass landings on Earth.

Subsequently I had done some homework on Puharich in order to write my article and also because my interest in the man was aroused, and found that he had done some very original and impressive parapsychological research work on correlations between environmental electromagnetic field forces and processes of paranormal cognition, had scientifically investigated some of the outstanding psychics of recent years, such as Eileen Garrett, Peter Hurkos and the Brazilian miracle healer, Arigo, and had invented an electrical device for applying radio waves of controlled frequencies directly to the skin, which could be used for alleviating deafness, accelerating healing of bone fractures and controlling blood clotting. The man was clearly a highly original, gifted and versatile scientist and, I would have thought, nobody’s fool, but it was equally clear that he had made something of a fool of himself, in the eyes of the scientific community, by writing as sensationally as he did about Geller and UFOs and contact with beings from other parts of the cosmos. I had heard various opinions of him expressed, ranging from admiration to regret (’a good mind gone off at a tangent’) and derision (’a classic case of omnipotence fantasy’), but I didn’t know what to make of the man. It would be interesting to meet him again on his home ground, though. I filled Richard in on some of this background as we drove up to the big detached house and while we waited for someone to answer our ring at the door.

John Whitmore answered and welcomed us warmly. John is tall , athletic, fair-haired, about forty, wears a neat beard, talks and moves energetically, and has successfully shed his past personae of public schoolboy, Sandhurst subaltern, professional racing driver, country gentleman and international tycoon. His manner and dress are casual, his speech is English English with some American overtones and turns of phrase, and he’s outgoing and enthusiastic. Some people also think he’s crazy, but that’s a point on which I think we had better withhold judgment.

So John took us into a big sitting-room where there were some plush couches and chairs and the atmosphere was a bit unlived-in and lacking the clutter of a home, except that a solitary bottle of Vick vapour rub stood out conspicuously on a low table. He introduced us to a pretty, oriental-looking young woman named Melanie , whose manner was almost overwhelmingly effusive, intimate and caring right from the first moment but who for the rest of the day kept getting my name wrong and calling me Stephen. John mentioned that Melanie had worked with Andrija and Uri, and I recalled that she was frequently mentioned in Puharich’s Geller book.

Puharich himself wasn’t around. He was in bed suffering from some minor malady that we gathered Melanie thought was symptomatic of nervous exhaustion and overwork, and for which she had prescribed total rest. So he wouldn’t be down, which was a pity. Though if he had been I wonder they would have got a word in, for as soon as we had got through the initial pleasantries John launched into what was virtually a monologue which was to keep Richard and me pretty enthralled for the next three hours. The enthrallment, in fact, might have been total if we had had a bottle of High Tor to pass back and forth and some definite prospect of the lunch we had been invited for. Noises suggestive of preparation for the latter event emanated from a distant part of the house - clattering of crockery, chattering of women’s voices - but nobody came in to announce that lunch was served. A toddler came into the room a couple of times in the three hours, and a young woman presumably the mother - appeared and whisked the child away.

There were four women in the house, John explained, and three of them were psychics, who were helping with the work. They lived as a community, and he had bought a neighboring house, which he would show us in due course. The two houses comprised a small estate, and they were putting two acres of land under cultivation so that they could grow their own food. Their ultimate aim was that the community should be as self-sufficient as possible. They had even installed a generator and laid down several thousand gallons of diesel fuel. The purpose of all this was that if any crisis arose they would be able to continue with the work they were engaged on.

Richard and I were intrigued. What work could involve a renegade and prodigal English aristocrat and a maverick American scientist shutting themselves away in Ossining with four women? Well, John said, he was going to tell us, because although a lot of the work was still highly confidential the time was coming when it would have to be more widely known. Even though those involved still had some doubts about the source and nature of the information they had got, they felt the time had come when they had to lay their reputations on the line and, with appropriate reticence, seek means of getting the information across to more people.

Maybe I would be able to help. John had liked the fair and open-minded way I had written up the May Lectures material, so at the risk of sending us away thinking him nuts he was going to tell us.

I was familiar with the general situation already, having heard Andrija’s talk in London and read his book on Uri. But Andrija had only told a fraction of the story. Since March 1974 they had been in constant contact with ’the Management’, i.e. the extra-terrestrial intelligences, and they now had tape recordings of over one hundred hours of communications with them.

I recalled that in Andrija’s book there was quite a lot about communications with extra-terrestrials. Andrija and Uri had found that if they placed a tape-recorder on a table between them and waited, sometimes the ’start’ button would be pressed down by some paranormal agency and a message would be imprinted directly on the tape. Two-way conversations had also been held in this way, some of which Andrija had transcribed verbatim in his book, but unfortunately none of these recordings were available for others to hear, for as soon as Andrija had transcribed their contents the cassettes had dematerialized. Very conveniently, Andrija’s critics had mocked, but that was a point which I had wondered about.

If Andrija were simply a liar, he could, with his expertise in electronics, quite easily have produced some recordings of synthetic speech to support his claim. But by claiming that these beings he was in contact with first directly imprinted speech sounds on tape then made the cassettes dematerialize he was compounding improbabilities and certainly not speaking in a manner calculated to enhance his own credibility. I had puzzled over that without reaching any plausible explanation of Andrija’s motivation other than the most absurd one that he was telling the truth. But now, it seemed, the Management had become less coy and had allowed one hundred hours of their communications to remain intact on tape. That really was rather interesting, because to synthesize that much speech out of electronic signals would have been no mean task.

But John explained that it wasn’t exactly like that. In the present case, the Management had preferred to use human ’channels’, that is, mediums in deep trance. That, I thought, was disappointing. I had read quite a bit about trance mediumship and spiritualism, and knew that although there were a few classic cases that still defied explanation, most of the phenomena could be explained in terms of abnormal psychology or extra-sensory perception. A century of psychical research and tens of thousands of hours of communications with alleged discarnate spirits had failed to turn up any really conclusive evidence for the existence of such entities, and it seemed to me that the existence of the Management, if it was attested only by mediumistic: phenomena, must be equally if not more dubious.

I kept these thoughts to myself, because you don’t argue rationally with a man once you begin to suspect he’s just a misguided crank. But John must have either anticipated or intuited my objections, for he went on to explain that he had gone through months of doubt and suspicion, during which he had examined every possible explanation of the communications that he could think of - that they emanated from the mediums’ subconscious minds, that they came telepathically from the participants, particularly Andrija, and even that the whole thing was a hoax designed to relieve him of some of his considerable inherited fortune - and finally he had had to reject all these normal explanations and accept the communications at their face value. Of course, he expected others to have the same problems and questions as he had had, and he didn’t expect others to make the same kind of commitment as he was making, for as he saw it he had nothing to lose except his money whereas others might well feel that commitment would put their reputations, their careers and even their family lives in jeopardy.

Andrija was a case in point. He had lost much more than he could possibly have gained by his involvement. His professional credibility was tarnished and his previous work in this area had not helped his marriage. There were in fact quite a few eminent people who knew about the work and would probably become active in it at the right time, but who for the present had to sit on the fence in order to safeguard their professional integrity and credibility. As far as he himself was concerned, John felt that the wealth he had inherited, and the freedom of movement and independence it had given him, had been a preparation for the role he was to play.

The main thing that had convinced him that the communications were not a run of the mill psychical phenomenon but emanated from an external source was the range and variety of the information they conveyed. The Management had been observers of the Earth’s history for millennia, and had intervened in it on several occasions in the past, and their communications contained a wealth of detail about the origins and progress of civilizations, the origins of languages and mythologies, and the roles of historical figures. Also there was an entire cosmology, comprising information about five different extra-terrestrial civilizations, their inter-relations, their technologies, and about how the Earth related to this cosmic scheme. The Management knew about contemporary political situations and events on Earth, and sometimes gave some intriguing information about what went on behind the scenes, and they were particularly concerned about the Middle East situation.

And there was much more, there were other areas and subjects, there was a lot of wisdom and coherent teaching, and it was inconceivable, John thought, that all this could have emanated from the mind of the medium or any of the participants, or even from them all collectively. He had asked all the obvious questions about the provenance of the material, and now he was ninety-five per cent satisfied that the communications were what they claimed to be, and he was prepared to put in abeyance the residual five per cent of doubt, or rather incredulity, and come right out and declare in appropriate circles in the near future that he and the others at Ossining were in contact with beings from another part of the cosmos who were benevolently disposed towards the inhabitants of Earth and were going to be among us in the near future in order to provide the guidance that we urgently needed at this critical juncture in history.

Richard and I, as may be imagined, were somewhat stunned to be regaled with all this instead of with the anticipated lunch. It was a fascinating experience, something it would be fun to write home about, and I enjoyed the novelty and irony of being able to do the old British act of showing off one of our aristocratic eccentrics to our American cousins in a situation that had the additional piquancy of taking place right on the American cousin’s doorstep. Well, we all have our subjective defense mechanisms against novelty and strangeness, and mine were such thoughts as these. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland reproached Alice for not having had enough practice in believing impossible things, and boasted that she sometimes believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Well, we were being asked to believe as many before lunch, and although I at least had had some recent practice in suspending disbelief, I was still far from graduating in sheer credulity, and certainly wasn’t prepared for the challenges of this particular wonderland. My sympathies were with Alice.

About three o’clock Melanie came in and asked if anyone would like to eat, as if it were a novel idea that had just occurred to her. So we went into another room where about ten people were already assembled around a big table colourfully laden with wholesome salads, cheeses, fruit and homebaked brown loaves. Conversation over lunch was largely about the absent Andrija, about how he tended to take too much on himself and how other members of the community might in future unobtrusively relieve him of some of the work. I sat between John and an elderly lady who turned to me once and volunteered the information that some days ago she had seen a cigar-shaped UFO hovering over Manhattan, and was silent throughout the rest of the meal. After lunch John took us round the estate. His own house was about two hundred yards from Andrija’s, down a driveway, and between the two lay a small lake. Adjoining his house there was a large barn which was in the process of being converted into a studio office with living quarters for guests. The house, the conversion, the big generator, the tanks of stored fuel, the land under cultivation, all bespoke a substantial capital investment in the work.

Finally we were shown the place where it all happened, the ’cage’. I had read in Andrija’s book, Beyond Telepathy, about the use of a Faraday cage in his experiments with Eileen Garrett, but this was the first time I had seen such a structure.

Their Faraday cage is a rectangular metal box of dimensions 8 x 8 x 12 feet, which is lined with copper and placed on insulating supports and constitutes a complete electrical vacuum. When the door is shut no electro-magnetic waves can penetrate the cage, and the electrical environment within the cage can be controlled for experimental purposes. Inside the cage there were three chairs and a table on which stood some expensive-looking recording equipment and a small portable TV set. John demonstrated the electro-magnetic shielding property of the cage by switching on the TV set and slowly shutting the door of the cage. The picture remained on the screen up to the point when there was just about a quarterinch crack for the signal to get through. Then John sharply pulled the door shut, the screen became blank, and I caught in Richard’s eyes a fleeting expression of claustrophobic alarm, which I confess I momentarily felt too. I thought of Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim in the novel Slaughterhouse-5, who had been kidnapped by the little green men of the planet Tralfamadore and caged in their zoo.

There was an interesting story about how they had acquired the cage, John said. Some time ago, they had been having some technological difficulties in the communications sessions, and the Management had indicated that some protective improvements had to be made in the system. The following day, out of the blue, Puharich had received a call from a company that was going bankrupt and wanted to dispose of a Faraday cage cheaply and quickly. They had bought it and instantly found that their channelling problems were solved and the communications came through much more easily when they held their sessions inside the cage. This was one of many synchronistic events (Jung’s term for events that are meaningfully but non-causally connected) John said, which regularly happened in connection with their work, and which for them constituted further evidence of the objective reality of the Management.

When we were back in the sitting-room and John had talked some more about the work, he finally got round to saying that he wondered whether our visit at this time was just a chance social call or another of those synchronistic events. Perhaps the Management had their eye on me, he said with a laugh; perhaps they were behind this seemingly casual visit; perhaps they wanted to use me in some way. I wasn’t very comfortable with that idea, which again reminded me of Tralfamadore and the fate of poor Billy Pilgrim.

That was that. I was in the States for a couple of weeks, but didn’t pay another visit to Ossining. The visit had been an interesting experience, something to file away in memory for possible future use in some form or other. A few days after it I had lunch in New York with a scientist from the Stanford Research Institute. I knew he was familiar with the Ossining set-up, and I asked him what he thought of it. ’It’s either the most bizarre and crazy thing happening on this planet, or it’s the most important,’ he said. He was one of the fence-sitters John had mentioned. To me, ’bizarre’ seemed just about the right word.

That was just over a year ago from the time of this writing. I had a busy year, having contracted to complete three books, and had virtually forgotten about Ossining and the Management when, one day in September 1975, I received a transatlantic call from John. The work we had talked about that Sunday when I visited, he said, had been progressing, and they had received definite indications from the Management that it was time for a book about the communications to be written and published. Would I be interested? Of course, I didn’t have to commit myself on the information I had at that time, but if I was interested in principle he would send me some tapes of the communications to listen to and we would be able to meet and discuss the project in a few weeks’ time, when he would be in England. I agreed, considering that I had nothing to lose and it would be interesting anyway to hear some of the communications, and a few days later the tapes arrived, together with some written background material about how the whole thing had started and the people involved in it.

I received some odd looks and comments from my family in the course of the next few days. On several occasions my wife or one of the children came into my study while I was listening, and on hearing the queer sounds emanating from my hi-fi quite forgot the purpose of the call. I’m regarded by friends and family as a fairly rational, intellectual type, and for me to be listening to communications with alleged ’Space Gods’ was considered amusingly off-beat. They soon became used to it, though, as I became used to the initial strangeness of the tapes. The strangeness is in the language, the syntax, the tone of the communications delivered through the channel (the medium Phyllis V. Schlemmer), and also sometimes in the manner of the communicants, who are mainly John and Andrija, which can be embarrassingly deferential and awed.

I felt sometimes that I was eavesdropping on a very private ritual, and skeptical questions kept occurring to me. Were these two clever men the dupes of a cleverer woman? It was a strange inconsistency that in many of the communications there was an excess of ’thats’ and ’ofs’ and a number of circumlocutions which sounded like a deliberate attempt to avoid literacy, whereas in others the language was incisive, uncluttered and sometimes even quite eloquent and aphoristic. Also, when John or Andrija asked a difficult question, the voice often said, ’We will consult’ ’ and there followed a long pause during which the spokesman for the extra-terrestrials was supposed to be telepathically communicating with his peers, but which could be a pause to give Phyllis an opportunity to think up an answer.

As Thomas Aquinas said (though not in so many words), it is unphilosophical, unscientific and ultimately unintelligent to invoke a supernatural explanation of a phenomenon before you have eliminated every natural explanation. When confronted with the weird and wonderful ’ a man’s first reaction tends to be to try and rationalize it, and that’s what I was doing all the time I was listening to those first tapes. I eventually became quite satisfied that the minimal hypothesis, that of a deliberate fraud or hoax, could be ruled out. I had some biographical material on Phyllis, and a tape of her talking about herself and her life, and I was satisfied not only that she could not possibly possess all the knowledge that she channelled but also that she could have nothing to gain by deception, particularly as the sessions often severely depleted her physical and psychic energies.

So my first hours of exposure to the communications convinced me that they were genuinely paranormal and of great interest. But the second minimal hypothesis was not so easily dismissed as the first. The second would be that they were normally paranormal, that is to say, attributable to telepathy or the emergence of a secondary personality in the medium’s trance state. There are many precedents in the annals of psychical research of mysterious communications of considerable length and showing great ingenuity and powers of invention, which have come through mediums in trance. There is the ’Patience Worth’ case, recorded by Dr Walter Franklin Prince, in which a St Louis housewife with an eighth-grade education produced over a period of five years a million and a half words by automatic writing, including long novels and poems and a wealth of aphoristic wit and wisdom, all in highly literate and colloquial seventeenth-century English.

There is the contemporary case of the Brazilian trance author Chico Xavier, who has produced something like one hundred and thirty books, allegedly posthumous works of known Brazilian writers, which are consistent in style and subject matter with the works those authors wrote while alive. There is the book, A Vision, which the wife of the poet W. B. Yeats wrote in trance, and which contains a cosmology, a philosophy and a wealth of imagery that the poet drew on in composing some of his greatest work. And there is the case of the Rev. Stainton MosesSpirit Teachings, which has some remarkable correspondences with the Ossining communications. Between 1872 and 1883, Stainton Moses filled twenty-four notebooks with automatic writing.

His communicators purported to be illustrious Biblical characters, and they informed their amanuensis that a missionary effort to uplift the human race was being made in the spirit realms and he had been chosen as a channel for their communications. These are four classic cases of automatism, and there are scores of others, and the conclusion that Prince reached in his study of the Patience Worth material applies to all of them: ’Either our concept of what we call the subconscious mind must be radically altered so as to include potencies of which we hitherto have had no knowledge, or else some cause operating through, but not originating in, the subconscious of Mrs Curran [the medium] must be acknowledged.’ The Ossining communications, it seemed to me after I had heard some hours of the recordings, posed the same dilemma.

But this case differs from the other cases of paranormal communications above-mentioned in that the objective reality of the communicators is theoretically verifiable, for they claim to be actively engaged in the affairs of our world, to intervene in certain ways, and to be able to predict future events. And as we shall see in later chapters, some of the statements, and particularly some of the predictions made in the communications, are very impressive.

Another thing that puts this case in a different category from others is the amount of correlated activity the communications have already engendered. Among the first batch of tapes I listened to was one about a trip to the Middle East which John, Andrija and Phyllis made in November 1974, at the request of the Management. The purpose of the trip was nothing less than to help avert an imminent crisis in the Middle East by influencing the Russian leaders in Moscow by meditation, and the instructions of the Management were that the three should make a crescent-shaped tour, keeping within 1,500 miles of Moscow, and should engage in meditation periodically in order to transmit the required psychic energy.

To undertake such a trip obviously demanded a considerable investment, not only of money but also of faith and trust, and on the face of it the entire enterprise would appear to be crackpot and incredibly presumptuous. But the Management said it was necessary, so off the three went from New York to Helsinki, then to Warsaw, Ankara, Tehran, Moscow and back via Copenhagen, where they were assured that their mission had been a success. In explaining their strategy of psychic influence, the communicators showed a shrewd insight into the Russian mind. They said: ’It is an emotional mind. But with great love and strong meditation a simple mind may be made to feel, and then in turn come to some sense. There is a difference between a simple mind that thinks it is intelligent and a simple mind that is simple in ignorance and with emotion. The Russian leaders are more emotional, and with meditation and strong prayer and a link with all, we can work on the emotion to stabilize it. The problem with Russia has always been the emotion.’ That’s not a bad assessment for an extraterrestrial.

So the quixotic travellers completed their journey, but they had no way of knowing for certain that their money and faith had been well invested, for at the start they had only the Management’s word for it that a crisis was imminent, and at the end they only had the Management’s assurance that they had been instrumental in averting it. However, it is perhaps relevant to recall that there is a meditation room in the United Nations Building in New York, and also that the great modern Indian saint, Sri Aurobindo, a man of no mean intellectual capacity, claimed that the strengthening of the Russian resistance during the siege of Stalingrad was due to the power he generated through meditation. The idea of psychic influence on world events is not exclusive to our extra-terrestrial friends and their Ossining confederates.

I have mentioned the 1974 Middle East adventure as an example of an action initiated by the communicators. There are other types of such actions, or rather programmes, for work in these several areas is continuing. There are investigations of children who can produce the ’Geller effect’ of bending metal, there is work with psychic healers, and there is a research programme involving dolphins and porpoises (aquatic superminds also allegedly ’in service’ with the Management). The work of the community and their associates ramifies in many directions and involves activities all over the world, some of which have been topics of public attention and debate over recent years. To pursue the ramifications of their story is to see emerge a portrait of an age, our age, a portrait in which are delineated its deepest concerns, its discoveries and adventures, its fears, hopes, longings, and yes, perhaps also its follies. Even if the questions of the provenance, the authenticity and the veridical content of the communications were put aside, the story would be worth telling just because it focuses and inter-relates aspects of the emergent new consciousness of this end-quarter of the twentieth century.

But in the end the most exciting part of the story is the part that is most contentious, dubious and hard to swallow. When the parapsychological and socio-cultural aspects of the case have been thoroughly explored, there remains to be considered the question whether the communications can conceivably be what they purport to be. Is there even a remote possibility that our planet has long been under the surveillance and occasionally under the direct influence of intelligent forces from some other part of the cosmos? To do the communications justice, we have to venture into this area where speculation is rife and hard facts are difficult to come by. There is a vast literature about UFOs and extra-terrestrial visitors to our planet, and to judge by the success of the books of Erich von Daniken, Pauwels and Bergier, and Brinsley le Poer Trench, there is a large public avid to believe in the existence of the ’Space Gods’. The unscholarly and wildly conjectural approach adopted in most of the UFO literature has tended to polarize attitudes towards uncritical belief on the one hand and total rejection of the possibilities on the other.

Rational men who want no truck with the ’lunatic fringe’ can scarcely be prevailed upon rationally to consider such evidence as there is for the existence and activities of extra-terrestrials. Some may go as far as Carl Jung went in his 1947 essay, Flying Saucers, and concede that UFOs have a kind of objective existence as psychic exteriorization phenomena, and that the world-wide sightings of them over recent decades are symptomatic of ’a wave of hope in the reappearance of Christ’. Religions, of course, have always taught the existence of a supramundane intelligence, and divine intervention in human affairs and history, so the idea is not unfamiliar. And if we take a look beyond the popular literature and the scholarly acrimony it has engendered, and shelve the plausible Jungian hypothesis for a time, we find that a surprising number of people who are in a position to be better informed than most do not find the idea of the existence and interventions of extra-terrestrials inherently implausible.

When I had listened to the first batch of tapes and had begun to take seriously the possibility of venturing upon the present book, I sought through books immediately to hand in my own modest library and within half an hour turned up a number of facts that began to erode my basic scepticism about extra-terrestrials. I found, for instance, that in 1971 an international conference, sponsored jointly by the American and Russian Academies of Science, had been convened in Armenia and had launched ’Project Cyclops’, an international research project on the practical possibilities and foreseeable consequences of establishing contact with extra-terrestrial beings.

The following year a symposium entitled ’Life Beyond Earth and the Mind of Man’ was organized by Professor Richard Berendzen of Boston University. Professor Berendzen, an astronomer, stated that recent developments in the sciences ’strongly indicate the high probability of the existence of extraterrestrial life’. He had also suggested, I learned, that an effective way of communicating with extra-terrestrials might be through psychic channels. And in a book co-authored by Professor Carl Sagan of Cornell and Professor Josif Shklovsky of Moscow University, entitled Intelligent Life in the Universe, the suggestion is put forward that the ancient Sumerians may have had contact with the space people. The researches of the philosopher-mathematician Dr Charles Muses into ancient mythology and symbolism point to the same conclusion.

Furthermore, the sober calculations of astrophysicists and exobiologists of the possibilities of the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe are staggering. Dr Frank Drake of Cornell estimates that one in ten million stars possesses a detectable civilization. This modest figure would yield a total of between a hundred thousand and a million in our galaxy alone. That a proportion of these should be older and technologically more advanced civilizations than ours is a possibility that can hardly be dismissed out of hand without incurring a charge of narrow-minded planetary chauvinism. Our own space technology is barely fifteen years old, and the Apollo project of landing men on the moon was accomplished within six years of its inception, so who is to say that other civilizations possessed of aeons of technological expertise in advance of ours might not exist and long ago have conquered interstellar space and evolved technologies beyond the boldest imaginings of our scientists and science-fiction writers?

These were some of the facts and arguments that disposed me to take more seriously than I had on the day I first visited Ossining the idea that the communications may not be fraud, delusion or a parapsychological phenomenon but precisely what John and Andrija believed them to be: messages from the space people. I could think of a score of reasons why the proposition was absurd, but if there was the remotest possibility that it might be true, it was obviously worth investigating the evidence more deeply. When I accepted the invitation to be the chronicler of the Ossining group’s adventure, I confess that just for a moment I entertained the thought that it would be stupid to pass up a possible opportunity to be a witness to a new apocalypse. But I suppressed the thought no sooner than it surfaced, well aware that of all the tutelary spirits I could choose to accompany me on this particular venture, the most inappropriate would be those that bore the names ’faith’ and ’hope’.

Since the above pages were written nine months have elapsed, I have listened to the recordings of all the communications, participated in some myself, and completed this book, and I would now like to add a few pages to this introductory chapter in the light of these experiences.

I was apprehensive, when I embarked on this book, that I might reach a point where I could no longer continue with the work. It was possible that when I had heard more of the material and had analyzed it and thought about it, I would become convinced that a perfectly normal, or what I have called a normally paranormal explanation of it could be plausibly adduced, in which case I would be obliged by the ethics of intellectual integrity to wield Occam’s razor and cut out all extravagant hypotheses such as the existence of extra-terrestrials. But this hasn’t happened. Increasing familiarity with the material of the communications and with the people involved has only consolidated my feeling that this is one of the most remarkable true stories that any writer ever had dropped into his lap, and also increased my puzzlement as to where the communications could emanate from if not from the alleged extra-terrestrial intelligence.

When I first visited Ossining and John said with a laugh that he wondered whether my appearance at that time was as casual as it seemed and whether the Management might not have a plan to use me in some way, I frankly thought him crackers. But when I listened to the tapes I understood why the thought might have occurred to him. Two days before I visited Ossining, in fact on the very day that I arrived in New York and before I had contacted John, he and Andrija were told in a communication: ’There will be those that will come to you this weekend that will be of benefit. There will be a time when they will walk away moving their heads back and forth and will not understand. But then they will sit and they will think and they will have an experience and they will begin to understand. And then they will work with you. We have decided that those that work with you must begin to have experiences for them to have understanding. There are not many in your physical world that operate on faith, as you do, Sir John.’

When I asked John whether anyone else had visited Ossining that weekend, he couldn’t recall whether anyone had but he was certain that no one had visited who had later become involved in the work. He had quite forgotten about the prediction in the communication held on the Friday, but when I drew his attention to it he said, ’I’m sure that was intended for you.’ Well, maybe. After listening through all the tapes I have become inured to the shock of seeing an extraordinary prediction fulfilled.

The rest of the above-quoted prediction is true, too, that is, if it was intended for me. I did walk away shaking my head, I did have a couple of experiences of seemingly paranormal effects, though these did not contribute to my understanding so much as to my perplexity. I will relate them because this kind of thing is an integral part of the story, and I trust that what is straight reportage will not be misconstrued as advocacy. These things happened, and nothing remotely like them had ever happened in my experience before, but the only grounds I have for associating them with the Management is that they happened when they did.

The first was a ’poltergeist’ type of event. It happened in October 1975, not long after I had received the first parcel of specimen material from John and at a time when I was debating with myself whether I could undertake this book. Late one night I, my wife and a friend watched a television programme in the sitting-room of my home. The programme had a soporific effect on the other two, but I watched it through and at the end walked across the room and switched off the set. I then turned and spoke to the others and our friend woke up, and at that moment a potted plant on the mantelpiece behind me literally jumped out into the room and landed at my feet. When I realized what had happened, I said to our friend, ’Did you see that?’

He said yes, he had seen it, the plant had jumped off the mantelpiece. We sought a normal explanation. The only possible one was that I had knocked the plant off after switching off the television. But to have done so would have required a most unnatural up-and-round swing of the arm, which I was certain I had not performed. Moreover, the plant, which I later ascertained weighed just over five pounds, had not been toppled, but seemed to have been lifted, for it landed upright two or three feet away from the mantelpiece, and the saucer in which it stood was undisturbed. I remembered some of the tales I had heard about paranormal events at Ossining and around Uri, and I wondered.

The second event occurred when I had already begun working on the book. I played through one of the cassette tapes of a communication, making notes and transcribing relevant portions as I did so. I left the cassette in my player and did some writing, then later in the day I wound back to check a point, but now the track was completely blank. It certainly could not have been erased normally in the interim. And it was not until later that I discovered that this particular communication was one of the very few of which there existed a duplicate copy, which suggests that it was deliberately selected for demonstration purposes. I was impressed, much more impressed than I had been by reading Andrija’s accounts of the more sensational teleportation and dematerialization events that had occurred in connection with Uri, which is the reason I don’t expect anyone else to be particularly impressed by these two anecdotes, though I think I had to report them as they were events that influenced my attitude to the work and the communications.

Another influence has been my own experience of communication sessions. I have participated in seven sessions over the past nine months. This is not the context to report them in detail, but perhaps a description of what a typical session is like will help the reader to have a mental picture of what is going on when communications are summarized in later chapters.

The first communication I participated in was at Orsett Hall, the former Whitmore ancestral home in Essex, now owned by John’s close friend Tony Morgan. Phyllis had arrived from New York the previous day. Through listening to the tapes, including the one of her life story, I had formed an impression of a capable, resourceful, extrovert and probably rather formidable woman. To my relief I was wrong. Unostentatiously casual in dress and manner, rather short of stature with short blonde hair styled for convenience’ talkative, fun-loving, down-to-earth, Phyllis seemed as normal and nice a person as one could meet. She is, but she’s also something more.

She prefers to work late, so it was about one o’clock in the morning when she, John and I left the other members of the weekend house party talking in the drawing-room and went upstairs to Phyllis’s room. She and John made the necessary preparations, arranging three upright chairs in close proximity, fixing the recording equipment, and putting on the copper bracelets that they have been instructed always to wear during sessions. During and for some time after these preparations, we continued the conversation we had been engaged in downstairs, which had nothing to do with our present purpose. Then John said we had better begin, Phyllis stubbed out her cigarette, composed herself in an upright posture with her hands resting on her knees and said she was ready, whereupon John switched off the room lights and placed a small torch in a position where it afforded us dim illumination but did not cast a direct light in Phyllis’s direction.

Phyllis began counting down from forty-five, her voice becoming softer and slower until she fell silent, her head slumped forward and to the left and her hands fell loosely down at her sides. She remained thus for a minute or two and then, very slowly, her head rose, her back straightened and her forearms came up to a horizontal position so that she was sitting as if holding a tray but with the palms of her hands turned inwards towards each other. Then her voice whispered, ’We are here’, very low, completely exhaling on the last word. John said, ’Greetings Tom’, and introduced me. ’Tom’ is the name that the spokesman for the communicators has adopted for convenience of address, and here and in the sequel I shall also use it for convenience. Phyllis’s voice soon became stronger, and through her Tom delivered a courteous, indeed flattering, long speech of welcome to me. The ending of the speech and the invitation to put a question were indicated by Phyllis’s hands being lowered to her knees and Tom saying ’Yes.’

I was impressed by Tom’s eloquence and I was both impressed and surprised to be told at one point in the communication precisely what I was thinking. Tom said, ’Now into your mind at this moment comes the thought that you wonder what you are doing communicating with us, and if it is in truth another from a distant place that is speaking to you.’ That was indeed what I was thinking.

The main subject of this communication was the present book. I was given to believe that my meeting John when I did was not fortuitous, and that I could bring certain qualities into reporting the communications which someone more closely involved would not be able to contribute, not the least among which were doubt, skepticism and objectivity. ’You will be able to put the questions that will occur to people,’ Tom said. This is a point I have continually borne in mind while writing this book.

Probably the main initial credibility hurdle for readers of this book will be that communications from an extra-terrestrial intelligence should come through a trance medium, and to conclude this chapter I propose to make a few observations on trance mediumship in general and on Phyllis’s in particular.

What we are asked to believe happens when Phyllis is in deep trance is that she leaves her body and that Tom, the spokesman for the communicators, takes over control of her body and her vocal mechanisms. What we see happen is certainly consistent with this explanation, and the content of the communications is certainly such as to make nonsense of any simplistic skeptic's suspicion that it is all clever play-acting on Phyllis’s part. But neither the content nor the observed events, nor the combination of the two, conclusively proves that this is in fact what happens, so we have to consider whether we have available any way round a simple ’believe it or not’ option, to ask whether there is any other evidence we can call on which may at least affect the balance of probabilities even if it does not constitute a final elucidation of the truth of the matter.

We have three categories of such evidence: well-authenticated precedents from the literature of psychic research, certain statements that Phyllis has made about her trance experiences when she has returned to a normal waking state of consciousness, and relevant statements made in the communications themselves. Let us then see how the balance of probabilities is affected if we consider in turn the separate statements,

(a) that Phyllis leaves her body during trance, and

(b) that Tom takes possession of her body and control of its functions.

We have ample evidence for the reality of out-of-the-body experiences, or to use an older and today less fashionable term, astral projections. The voluminous case records and scrupulous analyses of Dr Robert Crookall, the testimonies of experiments such as Sylvan Muldoon, Oliver Fox and Robert Monroe, and the recent experimental researches of Drs Puthoff and Targ at the Stanford Research Institute and of Professor Charles T. Tart at the University of California, not to mention the many testimonies of people who have undergone pseudo-death experiences and been brought back to life, have established beyond doubt that there is a component of human personality -’the bit of me that counts’, as one experiment called it - that in certain circumstances can separate from the physical body, leaving the latter merely an ’envelope’ or ’shell’.

The experience of separation of our essential self from our physical body that occurs somewhere between the many unseen bodies that are said to exist, such as the astral and the etheric, is in fact by no means uncommon, and although for most people who have them such experiences are involuntary and rare, some people have learnt and developed techniques for effecting separation at will. So the claim that during trance Phyllis leaves her body is neither outrageous nor inherently improbable.

’Most times I am not anywhere,’ Phyllis says, referring to the times when she is in trance. She usually returns to normal consciousness as from a deep and dreamless sleep. She never has any recollection of the words she has spoken, but sometimes she retains vivid impressions of places she has visited while out of the body. And very often her post-session reports of her out-of-the-body experiences closely correspond with the information contained in the related communications. Some examples of these correspondences will be brought to the reader’s attention in later chapters. The point I want to make here is that they constitute at least prima facie evidence for the authenticity of both the information and the post-session report.

If we accept on the basis of the evidence of psychical research and of her own testimony that Phyllis may indeed leave her body when in trance, the next question to consider is whether the vacated body and its functions can be taken over by an external agency. On this subject a very interesting statement was made by Tom in a communication in January 1975:

’The one whom we communicate through is a physical transmitter, and it has to be a being that is willing, that will become passive in order for us to become active ... in order to communicate with you, we must take over the subconscious of the being, and at the same time control the physical body. We must, with great effort, maintain a balance in the body. We must cause the body to have its heart operating, its lungs breathing and all its major organs functioning. The reason for the drain of energy many times from the two of you is that we are maintaining the body in a suspended state.’

The second occasion when I personally participated in a communication was at a remote old house in South Herefordshire, and when Phyllis was coming out of trance she moaned, sobbed, rolled her head and screamed in a way that I found most alarming. John, who had conducted the session, did not appear to be perturbed by this performance, however. He held Phyllis’s hands firmly and said, ’I command the immediate release of this being’, and the symptoms of distress very quickly abated. ’Tell us what happened,’ John said when Phyllis was fully conscious, and she told us a harrowing story about having to battle with another entity for possession of her body when she returned to it.

’They’re still all around us,’ she said, and I confess I looked around the room with some apprehension, but of course saw nothing. I asked what were all around, and Phyllis explained that when a human channel is opened scores of spirits and elementals rush to the spot like wasps to a jam pot, seeking to take possession and get back onto the physical plane. John added, I thought with impressive nonchalance, that there was nothing to worry about really because the physical is always stronger than the psychical and the would-be intruders could be driven off with a few well-chosen words. Which I thought was nice to know and could come in useful some day; but the point of this anecdote is that for Phyllis the possibility of possession by alien entities is very much a reality.

It has been a reality, too, for many people involved in psychical research. To survey the evidence here would require too long a digression, and I can only recommend anyone concerned to pursue the matter to consult Richard Hodgson’s report on the Lurancy Vennums (the ’Watseka Wonder’) case or Dr. Ian Stevenson on the case of Jasbir Jat. James Hyslop, who was Professor of Logic and Ethics at Columbia University as well as a notable psychical researcher, wrote that although he had fought against the idea for ten years he was finally unable to reject the conclusion that:

’In a number of cases, persons whose condition would ordinarily be described as due to hysteria, dual or multiple personality, dementia precox, paranoia, or some other form of mental disturbance, showed unmistakable indications of invasion by foreign or discarnate agencies.’

Hyslop meant spirits, but his ’foreign agencies’ could just as well have been extra-terrestrial intelligences.

In the light of the evidence surveyed in the above paragraphs, I suggest that we may consider the antecedent improbability of the propositions that in trance Phyllis leaves her body and Tom takes over, greatly diminished. If the reader agrees, he will have cleared the first of the credibility hurdles. And if he stays with this narrative the exercise will serve him in good stead, for there are and much bigger hurdles to come.