Tom Lethbridge progressed from finding hidden objects through dowsing to exploring the timeless world beyond death, COLIN WILSON concludes his series on the man called the 'Einstein of the paranormal'
IN 1962, FIVE YEARS AFTER his move to Devon, Tom Lethbridge's ideas on ghosts, 'ghouls', pendulums and dowsing rods began to crystallise into a coherent theory, which he outlined in a book called Ghost and divining rod. This appeared in 1963, and it aroused more interest than anything he had published so far. It deserved to be so popular, for its central theory was original, exciting and well-argued.
He suggested that nature generates fields of static electricity in certain places, particularly near running water. These 'fields' are capable of picking up and recording the thoughts and feelings of human beings and other living creatures. But human beings are also surrounded by a mild electrical field, as the researches of Harold Burr of Yale University in the United States revealed in the 1930s. So if someone goes into a room where a murder has taken place and experiences a distinctly unpleasant feeling, all that is happening is that the emotions associated with the crime (such as fear, pain and horror) are being transferred to the visitor's electrical field, in accordance with the laws of electricity. If we are feeling full of energy, excitement, misery or anger, the emotional transference may flow the other way, and our feelings will be recorded on the field.
But if human emotions can be imprinted in some way on the 'field' of running water, and picked up by a dowser, then this world we are living in is a far more complex place than most people give it credit for. To begin with, we must be surrounded by hidden information in the form of these 'tape recordings' - that might become accessible to all of us if we could master the art of using the dowser's pendulum.
It looks - says Lethbridge - as if human beings possess 'psyche-fields' as well as bodies. The body is simply a piece of apparatus for collecting impressions, which are then stored in the psyche-field. But in that case, there would seem to be a part of us that seeks the information. Presumably this is what religious people call the spirit. And since the information it can acquire through the pendulum may come from the remote past, or from some place on the other side of the world, then this spirit must be outside the limits of space and time.
It was this last idea that excited Lethbridge so much. His experiments with the pendulum seemed to indicate that there are other worlds beyond this one, perhaps worlds in other dimensions. Presumably we cannot see them - although they co-exist with our world - because our bodies are rather crude machines for picking up low-level vibrations. But the psyche-field - or perhaps the spirit - seems to have access to these other invisible worlds.
It also seems to have access to other times and other places. In May 1964, a BBC camera team went to Hole House to record an interview with Lethbridge about dowsing. A young cameraman looked so dazed and startled as he got out of the car that Lethbridge asked him: 'Have you been here before?' The cameraman shook his head. 'No. But I've dreamed about it.' He asked if he could look behind the house. Pointing to a wall that Lethbridge had knocked down and rebuilt, he said: 'It wasn't like that years ago. There used to be buildings against it.' That was true - but not in Lethbridge's time. In the herb garden, the cameraman said: 'There used to be buildings there, but they were pulled down.' In his dream a voice had said, 'Now we shall be able to see the sea.' Again, it was true - but many years before, at the turn of the century. Now a row of trees blotted out the view of the sea.
The cameraman had never been in the area before, and he had no friends or relatives there who might have told him about it. Yet on five occasions he had dreamed about Hole House - as it was before he was born.
Lethbridge had always been interested in dreams, ever since he read J.W. Dunne's An experiment with time in the 1930s. Dunne was an aeronautics engineer, and around the turn of the century he had a number of impressive dreams of the future - for example, he dreamed accurately about the forthcoming eruption of the volcano, Mount Pelee, on Martinique. Dunne had suggested that time is like a tape or a film, which may get twisted or tangled, so that we can catch glimpses of other times. He used to keep a notebook and pencil by his bed, and jot down his dreams the moment he woke up. He was convinced that we all dream about the future - probably every night of our lives - but that we forget it almost as soon as we wake up.
Lethbridge decided that if he wanted to study this mystery of dreams, he should keep a dream notebook. It was soon filled with his own vivid and idiosyncratic observations.
He became convinced that Dunne was correct in believing that we all dream of future events, but that most of these are so trivial - or so brief- that we fail to remember them. One night, he woke up dreaming about the face of a man that seemed to be looking at him out of a mirror. He was doing something with his hands, which seemed to be moving in the area of his chin. Lethbridge thought he might be shaving.
The next day, Lethbridge was driving slowly along a narrow lane; a car came round the corner, and at the wheel was the man he had seen in his dream. His face was framed by the windscreen - which Lethbridge had mistaken for a mirror - and his hands were moving in the area of his chin, on top of the steering wheel. Lethbridge was certain that he had never seen the man before.
He also noted that some of his dreams seemed to go backwards. He once dreamed of a furry snake-like object coming into his bed-room; but all the furniture in the room was reversed, as in a mirror. The snake-like object he recognised as the tail of their Siamese cat, walking backwards. A friend also told him about two 'backward dreams' she had had recently: in one, she saw a couple she knew walk backwards out of their door and drive their car backwards down a lane. In another, she saw some men walking backwards carrying a coffin, and one of them uttered the baffling sentence: 'Burnt be to enough good woods any.' On waking up, she wrote down the sentence, read it backwards, and realised that it actually said: 'Any wood's good enough to be burnt.'
But why, Lethbridge asked, should time sometimes go backwards in dreams? The clue was provided by his pendulum, which informed him that the energy vibrations of the next level - the world beyond ours - are four times as fast as those of our world. Lethbridge speculated that during sleep, a part of us passes through this world to a higher world still. Coming back from sleep, we pass through it once again to enter our own much slower world of vibrations. The effect is like a fast train passing a slower one; although the slow train is moving forward, it appears to be going backwards.
More impressive examples of precognitive dreams came from his correspondents. One woman dreamed of the collapse of a building as the side was blown out and heard a voice say: 'Collapsed like a pack of cards.' A month later a gas explosion blew out the side of a block of flats called Ronan Point in Last London, and a newspaper report used the phrase 'Collapsed like a pack of cards'. Another correspondent described a dream in which he saw a square-looking Edwardian house with many chimneys being burnt down; a few days later, Tom saw a house of this description being burnt down on a television newsreel.
The more he studied these puzzles, the more convinced Lethbridge became that the key to all of them is the concept of vibrations. Our bodies seem to be machines tuned to pickup certain vibrations. Our eyes will only register energy whose wavelength is between that of red and violet light. Shorter or longer wavelengths are invisible to us. Modern physics tells us that at the sub-atomic level matter is in a state of constant vibration.
Worlds beyond worlds
According to Lethbridge's pendulum, the world beyond our world the world that can be detected by a pendulum of more than 40 inches-consists of vibrations that are four times as fast as ours. It is all around us yet we are unable to see it, because it is hevond the range of our senses. All the objects in our world extend into this other world. Our personalities also extend into it but we are not aware of this, because our 'everyday self' has no communication with that 'other self'. But the other self can answer questions bv means of the pendulum. When Tom and Mina Lethbridge visited a circle of standing stones called the Merry Maidens, near Penzance in Cornwall, Lethbridge held a pendulum over one of the upright, and asked how old it was. As he did so, he placed one hand on the stone, and experienced something like a mild electric shock. The pendulum began to gyrate like an aeroplane propellor, and went on swinging in a wide circle for several minutes - Lethbridge counted 451 turns. Arbitrarily allowing 10 years for each turn, Lethbridge calculated that the circle dated back to 2540 BC- a result that sounds highly consistent with carbon it dating of other megalithic monuments like Stonehenge. His 'higher self' - outside time - had answered his question.
In 1971 Lethbridge was engaged in writing his book on dreams - The power of the pendulum - when he became ill and had to be taken into hospital. He was a huge man. and his enormous weight placed a strain on his heart. He died on 30 September, leaving his last book unrevised. He was 70 years old, and his life's work was by no means complete. Yet even in its unfinished state, it is one of the most important and exciting contributions to parapsychology in this century.
Lethbridge's insistence on rediscovering the ancient art of dowsing also underlined his emphasis on understanding the differences between primitive and modern Man. The ancient peoples - going back to our cavemen ancestors - believed that the Universe is magical and that Earth is a living creature. They were probably natural dowsers - as the aborigines of Australia still are - and responded naturally to the forces of the earth. Their standing stones were, according to Lethbridge, intended to mark places where the earth force was most powerful and perhaps to harness it in some way now forgotten.
Modern Man has suppressed - or lost -that instinctive, intuitive contact with the forces of the Universe. He is too busy keeping together his precious civilisation. Yet he still potentially possesses that ancient power of dowsing, and could easily develop it if he really wanted to. Lethbridge set out to develop his own powers. and to explore them scientifically, and soon came to the conclusion that the dowsing rod and the pendulum are incredibly accurate. By making use of some unknown part of the mind - the unconscious or 'superconscious''- they can provide information that is inaccessible to our ordinarv senses, and can tell us about realms of reality beyond the 'everyday' world of physical matter.
Lethbridge was not a spiritualist. He never paid much attention to the question of life after death or the existence of a 'spirit world'. But by pursuing his researches into these subjects with a tough-minded logic, he concluded that there are other realms of reality beyond our world, and that there are forms of energy that we do not even begin to understand. Alagie, spiritualism and occultism are merely our crude attempts to understand this vast realm of hidden energies, just as alchemy was Atan's earliest attempt to understand the mysteries of atomic physics.
As to the meaning of all this, Lethbridge preserves the caution of an academic. Yet in his last years he became increasingly convinced that there is a meaning in human existence, and that it is tied up with the concept of our personal evolution. For some reason,we are being driven to evolve.
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