by Ernest Walter Oaten
Spiritualist President and Editor of The Two Worlds
Recorded: Friday April 13th 1934
Note: This 85 year old recording has been enhanced, and apart from one short section,
which is barely discernible, the quality is generally good.
Please read the full transcript and additional questions below, as you listen...
“What I Believe”
ERNEST WALTER OATEN:
Spiritualist President and Editor of Two Worlds
Transcript and additional questions from his BBC radio broadcast.
Recorded: Friday April 13th 1934
“I have been asked, as a representative Spiritualist, to tell you ‘what I believe’.
A man’s convictions are based upon his training, plus his experience. I was brought up in the bosom of nonconformity, and in my late teens was seriously troubled by grave doubts concerning matters of religion. It seemed to me that the whole of religion turned upon the question of whether there is, or is not, an afterlife.
If there is no life beyond this, then there may be a case for ethics and morality, but there is none for religion - and accordingly, the existence of a spiritual world forms the preamble of all the great religions.
I was then a young man, and young men often make hasty decisions. I came to the conclusion that there was no evidence whatever for a future life. Reliance was placed upon the traditions of the past, but the credulity…the credibility of these opened the way to very extensive arguments. It was at this juncture that I heard of Spiritualism. The subject at first aroused in my mind something of incredulity and contempt, and yet the men I knew who were associated with the subject, were sane, decent and reliable businessmen. I listened to what they had to say concerning their experiences at séances, and I came to the conclusion that they had been deluded, and that it only needed me to expose the whole subject.
Yet if what they said was true, Spiritualism offered the type of evidence that I had found nowhere else. It was in this frame of mind that, accompanied by two relatives, I attended my first séance in February 1892, at Cardiff. The company assembled were of an intelligent middle-class type, some sixteen in number. We sat in a good white light, quite sufficient for reading by - and at that séance a large walnut round table floated in the air, without any contact. A relative and I, holding a walking stick between us, completely encircled it as it floated in space. The whole company turned the backs of their chairs to the table, and knelt on their seats, so that no feet were underneath the table; they joined hands round, and I assert that that table rose into space and remained suspended for some minutes.
Further, it was under intelligent direction. It obeyed our requests as to moving in this direction or that, and later - still without any contact - spelled out messages, including the name and address, the date of death, etc, of my grandfather, who had died some years before in the West of England. We were told of his age, trade, the maiden name of his wife, etc. I made a complete examination of the room and could detect no mechanism to account for the happening. I was puzzled. The following day I borrowed the table and had it weighed at the store. It registered eighty-four pounds. That was my first experience.
On returning home that night one of my relatives and I tried an experiment with a small card table, by placing our hands upon its surface. It tilted very freely. I had heard something of unconscious muscular action, so I made an effort to get information which might throw some light on the force directing the table. We laid down a code, by asking the table to tilt at each letter of the alphabet, stopping at the one required, and by this cumbersome method messages were spelled out, letter by letter. On that occasion we received information concerning a relative in London, of whom we had not heard for five years. It referred to happenings at that present moment, which could not possibly have been known to anyone in Cardiff - and these were subsequently verified up to the hilt.
I have neither the time nor inclination at the moment to go into the details of the messages, which concerned the intimate domestic life of the family. That experience convinced me that there was something which demanded explanation and I commenced a long course of reading and personal investigation which has lasted forty odd years, brought me untold happiness, and settled all doubts as to there being wisdom and purpose behind all life - and has left me without a single shred of doubt as to a future life.
I have sat in more than 4,000 séances, under all conditions - many of them ridiculous in their simplicity and many arranged under strict scientific control. Of those séances, considerably fewer than 100 have taken place in the dark. I know that certain forms of psychic phenomena are more easily obtained in the dark, but I have a strong distaste for dark séances, and I always object to sit in the dark with strangers. It is not merely that I am suspicious of mediums. I want to see what the sitters are doing... I have witnessed as much duplicity on the part of sitters as on the part of mediums.
Dark séances are, in my opinion, not necessary to conviction, and generally raise more questions than they settle. Under excellent conditions for observation, and in good light, I believe I have seen every phase of psychic phenomena. It would be true to say that quite fifty percent of these phenomena, whilst interesting, offer little or no evidence of the action of spirits. Probably a further twenty-five percent form a borderline, in which one has to choose between the Spiritualistic and other theories: telepathy, intuition, subconscious activity, etc. But in my experience there is a residuum, which compels the conviction that the intelligences at work are human beings other than those present in the flesh. In other words, as a result of forty years investigation, I am absolutely certain that the so-called ‘dead’ can communicate with the living.
I assert that the evidence I have obtained makes it impossible for me to doubt that I have talked with those who have passed through the gates of death. So strong is that conviction, that if I were the only man on Earth who believed it, my faith would remain unshaken. I have seen deceased persons clairvoyantly, and obtained veridical messages and information which was unknown to anyone present. I have photographed spirit forms under strict test conditions. I have seen, spoken to, and held in my arms materialised forms; in lamplight, gaslight, electric light and daylight. I have clasped their hands and held conversations with them in the presence of witnesses.
Hence, let me say categorically and emphatically - I know that there is a life beyond this, for I have talked with the people who live in it.
Doubtless, I shall be expected to say something on the question of fraud. Yes, I have met fraud, but its proportion is certainly not greater than one meets in the ordinary, everyday affairs of life. Fraudulent mediumship is generally known to the public because Spiritualists take every opportunity to openly and publicly denounce it. In other movements, unsavoury incidents are generally suppressed. The Spiritualist believes that fraud and duplicity in religion should be ruthlessly exposed.
Most of my experience has been gained in what is called a ‘home circle,’ where no strangers have been present. I have had very few dealings with professional mediums: firstly, because I could not afford them and secondly, because I preferred investigation with my own family and personal friends, in my own home. I have seen better phenomena in my own home and the homes of intimate friends, than I have ever witnessed at professional séances. I do not decry professional mediums, provided the investigator can be assured as to their bona fides. [good faith.] The best way to secure this, is to gain the confidence of a responsible Spiritualist or a reliable Spiritualist Association. Many professional mediums are doing excellent and unselfish work.
And what are my convictions? Firstly, I am satisfied that man is a spiritual being, that he has come into this world for the purpose of gaining experience and building character. Life here is a sort of ‘trial trip’, which will presently enable us to take our places in the real life beyond. This Earthly experience is only the prelude to life, and in this sense it is true that we don’t really begin living until we are dead.
I am satisfied from my talks with the departed that death works no immediate change in character or ability. At death man passes into another life with the mental and spiritual equipment he has assembled here. No creed has any advantage over any other - save, in so far, as such creed may have influenced the type of life he lived here. As to the nature of the life…we obtain in the next world, I could say much, did time permit.
I believe with Mr. Gladstone that the study of this subject “is the most important work that is being done in the world.” There are two things sure for every one of us; first, that we each came into this world, and secondly, that we must all go out of it. Our life here is but a brief span of seventy years; comparatively, a mere speck upon the sum of existence. The man who boasts that he is practical, because he devotes the whole of his attention to this life, is really the most shortsighted of persons, since the number of his days here, bears but a fragmentary relationship to his actual life.
I am convinced that there is a spiritual world, which exists around us like an atmosphere. It is peopled by those who die. Death is not a terminus - it is merely a junction where we change to another line. And at that junction we shall find that nine-tenths of the luggage which we have accumulated here, is sheer lumber.
What, then, will death mean to me? Well, it will mean the dropping of my physical body; but there are certain things about me which are not physical. My character and personality differentiate me from all other people. These cannot be expressed in terms of physics, mechanics or chemistry. My memories, which are the result of my experience, are surely as great a part of me as my hands or my feet. So if I drop all the physical attributes by which I am known to my fellows, I still retain these.
Now there is a tendency of all life to express itself in form, and I believe that when I die I shall still have a form. The spiritual body does not come into existence at death. It is our constant companion during life, and we build it, in somewhat the same manner as we build our physical body, by feeding it - but with different food.
I believe, from the moment of conception, the spiritual energies which exist within the ego of each of us, build our bodies. The life-germ in a fertile egg uses the rest of the contents of the shell to build the body of the chicken. The ego builds its own body, though its action is modified, first by its innate strength and power of selection, and secondly, by the materials available. The same principle is at work with the etheric body. These two bodies have a great similarity, since they are the habitual expression of the same individual. In certain hypnotic phenomena, and under the influence of certain drugs, a man can easily find himself floating in space and looking down on his body on the bed. Now, if he is lying on the bed, who is the looker-on?
“There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body,” says Paul. Death is merely the separation of these two. During life there is reaction between them, which varies with different people. Just as the caterpillar passes into the chrysalis state and emerges as a butterfly, so shall I presently drop this physical body to inhabit another, giving me a larger range of action and consequently greater freedom. That’s all death means to me, and far from looking at it as something to dread, I look forward to it as a most interesting adventure.
I am convinced that the most important thing about life, is living it - with the recognition that it is continuous. The whole of the testimony of the spirit people emphasises one point; namely, that in the other life an individual gets his exact deserts, no more and no less. It may be that “in My Father’s house are many mansions,” but everyone must equip and furnish his own abode; and such equipment depends, not upon the creed that he has professed, but upon the life he has lived.
While it is true that Spiritualism does much to confirm and explain the phenomena and beliefs of all ages, in me there has grown up a religious conviction based on present-day evidences. Spiritualism is my religion, my only religion, and I have not felt the need of any other. It has answered the criticisms of my intellect and satisfied the longings of my heart. In fact, if the whole of the records of the past were destroyed and erased from human memory - though I should be the last to desire such a thing - it could not affect my religious convictions in the slightest degree and there are thousands of people in this country in the same position.
I shall be glad, as far as my time will allow, to help and advise anyone who desires seriously to pursue this investigation. But please do not ask me to recommend mediums. All private sittings with mediums are illegal* and render the medium - however honest - liable to three months hard labour. Under the present law of England, honest mediumship is penalised, whilst the charlatan and pretender flourish because they are prepare to run risks. The law, too, is not impartially administered. In some cities people may do as they like. In others, they dare not do very much. Spiritualists are the only religious denomination in this country who are denied religious freedom.
I should be the last in the world to decry other faiths.“Let every man be persuaded in his own mind.” As long as there are different types of mind in the world, there will be different outlooks. I personally accept the principles laid down by the Spiritualists’ National Union - the representative body of Spiritualist Churches of which I was honoured to be the President for a number of years. These principles may be briefly summarised as follows:
1. The Fatherhood of God,
2. The Brotherhood of Man,
3. Continuous Existence of the Soul,
4. The Communion of Saints and the Ministry of Angels,
5. Personal Responsibility,
6. Compensation and Retribution Here or Hereafter for all Good or Evil Done on Earth,
and 7. A Path of Endless Progress Open to Every Human Soul.
These seven principles constitute no creed or dogma, since every individual is granted the right of personal interpretation.
You may ask why I insist that Spiritualism is my religion. Well, the existence of God and the fact of the future life, seem to me to be interdependent. The evidence of a future life, its progressive development under more congenial conditions than those of Earth, the necessity of developing abilities and characteristics which will be of use to us in that life. The interdependence of all humanity, the necessity for mutual service and the recognition of a beneficent love as a guiding factor in all life, seem to me to embody the essentials of religion - and one cannot be in communication with advanced spirits without getting these convictions.
I accept ‘The Fatherhood of God’ because I can only understand the phenomena of nature on the assumption of an all-pervading intelligence behind and within all things, displaying infinite wisdom and… beneficent purpose and operating through unchanging law. Thus, I believe that there is only one life in the universe, of which we are each an individualised expression.
Hence, when we know ourselves, we shall find that we are all knitted together within the common bond of a benevolent purpose. That is what Spiritualism has taught me and, in doing so, has changed my whole outlook on life. It implies fatherhood and brotherhood, since “all are but parts of one stupendous whole, whose body nature is and God the soul.”
Spiritualism takes in ‘The Brotherhood of Man’ as one of its fundamentals and thus becomes…thus it becomes a binding obligation and intelligent duty to strive for the abolition of all things which hinder the attainment of the fullest and richest life for every man, woman and child. Unemployment, slums, disease and ignorance, which hinder or delay the attainment of the full life of mutual service, must be swept away - both in the interests of this world and that of the future states. The two worlds depend upon one another.
In conclusion, I believe with Victor Hugo that; "When I go down to the grave I can say, like many others, ‘I have finished my day’s work.’ But I cannot say, ‘I have finished my life.’ My day will begin again the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley, but a thoroughfare, and I shall close my eyes upon the twilight, only to open them upon the dawn.”
Additional questions were asked during the broadcast, and answered by Mr Oaten, as follows:
Thank you very much, Mr. Oaten. What you say is extraordinarily interesting. The first thing I should like you to clear up is this: you said at the beginning of your talk that it seemed that the whole of religion turned upon the question of whether there is or is not an afterlife. You were speaking of your belief at a time when you were a young man and hadn’t yet come across Spiritualism. Am I right in thinking that those words could still be used to describe your belief about the nature of religion? In fact, what exactly do you mean when you say that Spiritualism is ‘your religion’, and that you haven’t felt the need of any other?
“Yes, my conviction still remains that religion rests definitely upon whether or not there is a life beyond this. It is not an accident that all great religions insist on a life hereafter. What does salvation mean if there is not something to be saved from and something to be saved for? My religion does not depend chiefly upon what has happened, but upon what is happening.”
Another thing you said was that ‘the existence of a spiritual world forms the preamble of all the great religions.’ Now do you believe that the question of whether or not there is a spiritual world is the same question as whether or not there is an afterlife?
Yes, I believe these two concepts are but phases of one problem. I would rather say spiritual worlds than a spiritual world. But the two ideas are, in my opinion, inseparable.
When you said that Spiritualism had left you ‘without a shred of doubt as to your eternal future,’ did you mean by the word ‘eternal’ of going on for ever and ever? And in the same way when you said since life here is a ‘brief span of seventy years; comparatively a mere speck upon the sun of eternity,’ did you mean by eternity ‘a very, very long time, prolonged indefinitely backwards into the past and forwards into the future?’ Or did you mean by the word eternal ‘out of time altogether?’
The enigmatic philosopher and the mystic may be able to conceive that eternity is something outside of, and different from time, but the average seeker certainly cannot. Hence it is convenient, and I think logical, to speak of eternity in terms of endless time - both backwards and forwards. There may be only an ‘eternal now.’ In the light of my knowledge I cannot imagine life coming to an end. I believe I shall always continue to be and to grow. And as each step on the path enlarges my range of attainment, I shall be safe within the orbit - or the arms - of a benevolent, all-wise purpose. In other words; God.
Why is it that you believe in the ‘Fatherhood of God and The Brotherhood of Man? Has Spiritualism taught you to hold onto those beliefs? And would you be a Spiritualist at all, if you didn’t hold them?
I accept the ‘Fatherhood of God’ because I believe that there is only one life in the universe and we are all parts of one stupendous whole.
Mr. Oaten, do you think we all should be Spiritualists? In other words, do we have a positive duty to believe in Spiritualism, or is it a matter of taste?
“To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” There is no moral obligation for anyone to proclaim themselves a Spiritualist, until personal experience justifies or demands such a declaration - to neglect to do so, when conviction is established, is cowardice. It may be a matter of choice as to when, by searching, we arrive at that position. But I am personally convinced that, here or hereafter, the acceptance of the position of survival is inevitable, since ultimately truth must prevail.
You said that you were satisfied that man has come into this world “for the purpose of gaining experience and building character.” What do you mean by ‘experience?’ And does Spiritualism teach us what kind of character we ought to build, and how to go about building it?
McDougall has suggested that consciousness and experience are best viewed as synonymous, and with this I agree. Life on Earth gives us an opportunity of gaining experience in association with matter. The lessons learnt from this can establish convictions which determine the moral and spiritual reactions, which we know as character. Spiritualism has taught me the nature of the future life and the characteristics which will be of value to me there - thus indicating what it is wise to establish and what it is wise to restrain. I don’t always live up to it, but I try!
There is an interesting remark about spirits, which the philosopher Hobbes made in the 17th century, and I should like to know what you would say to it. Hobbes said; “If this superstitious fear of spirits were taken away, and with it, prognostiques from dreams, false prophecies and many other things depending thereon, by which crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple people, men would be much more fitted than they are for civil obedience.” So does Spiritualism make people more or less anxious than before, to get the unemployed to work and abolish the slums and so on?
Well, we are not living in the seventeenth century, so it is not now a question of superstition. Modern Spiritualism is based on scientific observation of facts. There was no such Spiritualism in Hobbes’ time. But since Spiritualism takes in the Brotherhood of Man as one of its fundamentals, issues such as unemployment, slums and disease must be swept away, in the interest of this world and the next.”
*Illegal = séances and sittings with mediums were illegal in the UK until 1951, when the Fraudulent Mediums Act was introduced, which finally gave genuine mediums the freedom to pursue their work, without the threat of fines or imprisonment.
Transcribed and edited by K.Jackson-Barnes - April 2019
After the 1934 radio broadcast,
all of the above text was published by Two Worlds Publishing in this booklet.
Photo of Mr Oaten, shown below.