Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead
ESP and Hypnosis
Modern Spiritualism began in 1848 in Hydesville, New York, when the Fox sisters discovered they could produce spirit raps by cracking their toe joints. The movement grew rapidly, peaking in the Reconstruction period and spreading to England, where it won such distinguished converts as Conan Doyle, Oliver Lodge, and William Crookes. Ten years ago it had reached such a low ebb in the United States that it was almost impossible to find a medium willing to produce physical phenomena unless you went to a Spritualist camp such as Lily Dale, in upstate New York.
Then suddenly, in 1967, Spiritualism began a comeback. It was, of course, part of the big Occult Explosion, but the strongest shove came from three men: the late Bishop James Pike, the later Reverend Arthur Ford, and Allen Spraggett, a Canadian fundamentalist preacher turned occult journalist.
To appreciate the significance of Spraggett’s latest book, Arthur Ford, it is necessary to give a quick sketch of Pike’s sad, discombobulated life. After two years of study for the Roman Catholic priesthood, he lost his faith and dropped out of training to become a lawyer. He worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission, remarried (his first marriage had been annulled), regained his faith, and was ordained an Episcopalian priest. From a church in Poughkeepsie he moved to Columbia University, where he headed the department of religion until he became dean of that monstrous edifice near Columbia, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In 1958 he was made Bishop of California.
Back came the old doctrinal doubts, all proclaimed with great public fanfare. The Virgin Birth and the Trinity were the first to go. Then the Incarnation. Pike joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He entered Jungian analysis. When Spraggett first met him in 1963 (Pike was fifty) his impression was that of a man “incredibly old…either on the verge of utter exhaustion or afflicted with a terminal disease.” In 1966 James, Jr., eldest of his four children, shot and killed himself at the age of twenty-two. Pike quit the ministry to join Robert Hutchins’s Center for Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara.
Like thousands of today’s Protestant ministers, thirsting for signs, Pike grew increasingly obsessed with parapsychology. Although he no longer called himself a Christian (the church, he declared, was “sick and dying”), he retained a firm belief in God, the spiritual resurrection of Jesus, and life after death. Consumed with guilt over his son’s suicide, he longed for hard evidence that Jim was happy on the Other Side.
He found it. Two weeks after his son’s death, a series of poltergeist events took place in the apartment in Cambridge, England, where he was then living. He found that books had been mysteriously moved. A shaving mirror slid off the shelf. Milk soured. An alarm clock stopped at 8:19, the London hour when Jim might have killed himself in New York. He found safety pins open at the angle clock hands have at 8 …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
A Spirited Exchange November 1, 1973