YOU ARE LOOKING AT A GHOST... OR ARE YOU?

This may be a photo of a Vancouver spiritualist named James Wilkie... or of a timeless spirit named Rama who has come from the Other Side to inhabit Wilkie’s body. Don’t judge hastily: whoever it is, he can tell the future

ALLEN SPRAGGETT September 1 1967

YOU ARE LOOKING AT A GHOST... OR ARE YOU?

This may be a photo of a Vancouver spiritualist named James Wilkie... or of a timeless spirit named Rama who has come from the Other Side to inhabit Wilkie’s body. Don’t judge hastily: whoever it is, he can tell the future

ALLEN SPRAGGETT September 1 1967

RECENTLY I RECEIVED a letter from my friend James Wilkie that ended with the postscript, “Love from Rama ..."

Rama is a ghost.

No, not the kind that haunts houses; he prefers people to old ruins.

Rama is Wilkie's “spirit guide" or “control" — the trance personality that regularly manifests through him. Every medium has such a guide — a kind of ghostly collaborator who helps things along from the Other Side, and drops in during séances to say a few words through his entranced mouthpiece.

Rama has been talking in Wilkie's sleep since the latter was a boy. According to Rama's own story, he is an expatriate from the Upper Nile who has passed his 4,000th birthday “by your earth time." He was, as he tells it, high priest of a mystery religion that celebrated its rites in huge caverns ablaze with votive lights.

In the Salem of 300 years ago, Rama probably would have been called Wilkie's “familiar," and the medium might well have been burned at the stake to drive the evil spirit out of him. In today's psychiatric consulting room, Rama might be diagnosed as a “parthenogenetic secondary personality," or a “symbolic self" — at any rate, a presumptively morbid symptom to be exorcised, perhaps by using that modern equivalent of the ancient rite of discovering the demon's name (and thereby power over it) called psychoanalytic word-association; or possibly by shooting electricity through the medium’s head.

However, Wilkie is not a mental case merely because he perceives sights and sounds that other people do not. Mozart, so witnesses attest, heard his symphonies with full orchestral effects before he wrote them down, and the prophet Ezekiel apparently saw those spectacular psychedelic visions of his that are recorded in the Bible, yet these gentlemen are not commonly considered to have been mad.

Apparently it is possible for two sets of symptoms — in these cases, unconventional seeing and hearing — to be phenomenologically similar, yet dissimilar in their causes. One syndrome may be abnormal, while the other — in the case of creative geniuses, religious visionaries, and mediums — is supernormal.

Wilkie was born in the Scottish Highlands, where “second sight” is common and runs in families, where many villages have their soothsayer and the man who doesn't believe in ghosts is considered odd. Wilkie says that he has spent as much of his life in the society of ghosts as in the company of the living.

“I prefer the dead to the living,” Wilkie says, “because I have nothing to fear from the dead. My best friends are ghosts.”

Not being a spiritualist myself, I reserve final judgment on Wilkie's claim to have commerce with the departed, and also on the question of Rama's true identity — whether he is the spirit of a centuries-old seer or merely a dramatized figment of the medium’s unconscious mind.

However, I do not reserve judgment on Wilkie’s claim to possess psychic powers, because this has been proved to me beyond doubt. He is clairvoyant, able to diagnose sickness intuitively, sometimes to cure it by supernormal means, and a veritable Nostradamus when it comes to precognition.

WILKIE WAS FIRST aware of seeing “spirits” when he was only six or seven. At that time, he also had intimations of the future; once, in his mind's eye, he saw the local blacksmith’s shop suddenly change into a scene of carnage. A few days later, there was an explosion that wrecked the shop.

At first, he thought that all people could see and hear everything he could, but he was soon disenchanted. His dour Presbyterian father used to take a dim view of his talk about visions and voices and would mete out punishment accordingly.

Wilkie was aware of the presence of Rama very early in his psychic development. He often conversed mentally with his invisible companion. Occasionally, the guide would appear before him — a tall, imperious figure in flowing robes and a headdress covered with starlike symbols. More often, Wilkie saw only a giant brown hand, beckoning. He spent hours alone as a child in isolated spots in the hills, brooding on his mysterious experiences.

Mouthpiece for Rama

A climactic event occurred when Wilkie was 12; he went into a trance for the first time and became a mouthpiece for the entity called Rama. This was a memorable and — as Wilkie recalls it — a somewhat traumatic experience. The unfamiliar sensation of slipping into unconsciousness — which one medium has likened to “being pushed out of your body through the back” — caused Wilkie to panic, and in his efforts to break out of the psychic thrall he inadvertently plunged into a china cabinet. The partnership between Wilkie and Rama got off, there and then, to what one might call a smashing start.

Wilkie refers to himself as a “natural” as well as a trance medium, by which he means that he is psychic whether asleep or awake, although Rama only manifests through him when he is blacked out.

My first sitting with Wilkie (who now makes his home in Vancouver but then was living in the town of Newmarket, Ont.) was for a demonstration of clairvoyance (my meeting with Rama came later). I took notes during that séance in order to be able to reconstruct the occasion accurately.

The medium and I had not met before; he knew me only as a clergyman addicted to the pursuit of the supernormal. We chatted briefly to break the ice. I was a little distracted by Wilkie’s habit of looking over my head instead of directly at me. Then he explained: he was studying my aura — the psychic emanation that everyone purportedly gives off, said to provide important clues to the individual’s emotional and physical state. Wilkie liked my aura, which he said was “a vibrant rose color, indicating vitality and vivacity.”

The medium showed me into his sanctuary, a small, chapel-like room reserved for psychic demonstrations. There was one door and there were no windows in the room. The walls were decorated with religious objects that indicated a syncrctistic outlook — a photograph of the Dalai Lama hung next to a print of Hofmann's famous head of Christ ("Rama says Christ looked very much like that,” Wilkie volunteered).

Taking my wristwatch — "to pick up your vibrations” — the medium settled back in an armchair, his eyes closed, concentrating. He did not go into trance but into the borderline state that spiritualists refer to as being “overshadowed.” His fingers stroked the watch, "psychometrizing” it.

After a few minutes, he murmured. "Your mother . . . she gave you this watch. She died two years ago. She was in good health right up to her last illness — in fact, she was proud of the fact that, until she became very sick, she never showed her age.”

This rang a bell. My mother did not have a grey hair until she was nearly 60. She died at 64 from a heart condition. Wilkie mentioned more items concerning her, some of which did not fit, and some of which were unverifiable. For instance, he described a brooch that he said my mother was wearing when she was buried, but I could not remember whether this was so or not.

Wilkie continued. “I see your father’s house, a small, one-story house. That’s strange — the front door hasn't a drop of paint on it . . . must be brand new.”

True. Actually the unpainted front door was a new storm door.

"You and your father were talking just before you came here about whether or not he will come to live with you and your family. You want him to. He’s not sure. Your father is a very — shall we say — stubborn person.”

How true.

“Now I see where you and your family live. It’s a small community — only one main street, in fact. Yours is the big, old house near the end of the street — the last house but one. It stands on a small hill. A creek is nearby.”

All of this was correct.

Wilkie rambled on for more than a half-hour, picking random bits of information out of the air like a human radio receiver. He told me that my church recently had been repainted light blue inside. He said our cat had died and the children missed it. He mentioned that my wife had a minor ailment — which he correctly described — and predicted it would soon clear up (it did). He cited a number of strange happenings in our house, pinpointed the room in which they had occurred, and attributed them to a “friendly haunting.” (These “happenings” involved mainly the strange movements of household objects — movements that did not appear to be due to normal causes.)

My notes show that fully 75 percent of the items Wilkie mentioned to me were completely correct. Some of the others were partial hits. The remainder must have wandered in from a different wavelength, because they meant nothing to me.

There was one item, among the many correct ones Wilkie gave me, that in itself would have convinced me of the genuineness of his ESP. This was the statement about my father's unpainted front door. How likely is it that the medium could have guessed a fact such as this?

Two friends had accompanied me to Wilkie's, unannounced. To one, Wilkie gave what was possibly the most inaccurate reading any medium ever gave anybody. However, with the second man he was so astoundingly accurate that the subject staggered out of the séance room in a state of near-shock.

My friend confided later that Wilkie had penetrated his innermost thoughts. Wilkie told him that his mother had committed suicide in a slow, agonizing manner (she had taken lye), that she had been estranged from her husband for several years before her death, and that the immediate cause of her suicide was her husband's rejection of a reconciliation attempt. Wilkie then told the man that he, like his mother, was contemplating suicide; the medium even described the gun he had in mind to use.

"Don't do it,” Wilkie warned him. “It will only postpone your problems, not solve them.”

The man is now a minister, happy and balanced.

Why was Wilkie so good in reading for the second man, and so bad with the first? The reasons are not clear, even to the medium himself. No doubt one factor is rapport between the medium and the sitter. If the medium feels an emotional bond, a certain kinship with the sitter, psychic communication flows more easily. Nothing freezes up a medium as fast as obvious, hostile skepticism. Wilkie said later that he felt an immediate bond with my second friend — in fact, he reported receiving impressions from the man's mother as soon as my friend entered the room.

Wilkie denies that what he docs is merely telepathy or clairvoyance. He gives all the credit to Rama, who whispers the messages to him. And he doesn’t blame the mistakes on Rama, but attributes them to faulty transmission. It is indeed a curious sight to witness the medium and his guide carrying on a conversation, only one side of which, of course, is audible.

A medium’s spirit guide is a kind of traffic manager who keeps messages flowing from various spirits on the Other Side. Or, if you like, he is the master of ceremonies who introduces the other speakers wishing to communicate in a séance — hence the title “control,” in this sense: that the guide controls who may communicate through the medium.

MY FIRST MEETING with Rama — face-to-face, as it were — was a dramatic one. The séance took place in the evening, at Wilkie's home. The scene was the parlor — since the group was too large for the tiny sanctuary — a big room done in Egyptesque decor, in honor of Rama. On one wall hung a huge, bronze head of a pharaoh — grave, inscrutable, surveying us with blank and pitiless eyes.

There were five of us present: Wilkie and his wife Jane; a friend of the Wilkies, herself a medium, and a young woman companion; and myself. We had arranged ourselves in the usual circle, “to raise the power” (the sitters are considered batteries from which the medium draws power).

The lights were turned low. Several candles cast a soft glow. Everything in the room was clearly visible.

An atmosphere of good fellowship prevailed among us. In fact, it seemed more like a prayer meeting than a séance. Rapport among the sitters is said to make for a good sitting and I was hopeful, because our vibrations seemed to be mixing well.

Presently, Wilkie said it was time to invoke the presence of Rama. He made himself comfortable by kicking off his shoes and loosening his tie. Issuing a mental invitation for Rama to possess his body, the medium closed his eyes, settled down in his armchair, and prepared to go into trance.

Gradually his breathing became deeper, labored. There was a moment when what looked like actual pain registered on his face. Then his features relaxed, twitching slightly. His body sagged, finally crumpling like an empty sack. Wilkie lay slumped forward in his chair, looking like a dead man.

A slight pulsation, barely detectable at first, stirred in the medium’s feet. It moved upward, ebbing, and flowing, rising, falling, then rising even higher.

I watched, almost entranced myself. This, I thought, was like life returning to a lifeless body.

Wilkie's wife, next to me, plucked my sleeve.

“It's Rama,” she whispered. “He's coming.”

Suddenly, the medium threw back his head, eyes still firmly shut, and made a peculiar corkscrew gesture, using his thumbs, in the centre of his forehead. Wilkie explained later that this characteristic gesture — an inevitable preliminary to Rama’s coming — symbolizes the opening up of the medium’s “third eye,” the eye of psychic perception in occult lore.

In the next instant, Wilkie sat bolt upright. His arms slowly and deliberately crossed themselves on his breast — as though in some form of Eastern greeting. The head bowed slightly.

Wilkie's face had undergone a metamorphosis. The features were the same, but this was an imperious mask, creased with the wrinkles of age. The mouth was not full and generous like Wilkie's but pulled into a thin, tight line. The face had an Oriental look. This was no longer Jim Wilkie sitting before us. Rama had arrived.

"We bring you greetings from the world of Spirit, and we say God bless you.” Rama intoned.

The voice was another shock. Rich, fluid, resonant, it bore little resemblance to the medium’s normal reedy tones. And there was not a trace of Wilkie's thick Scottish burr, but in its place a vaguely foreign sound, and ever-so-slight slurring of the sibilants.

So different is Rama's voice and diction from that of the medium in his normal state that even Wilkie’s father (when Wilkie was a grown man) did not recognize a recording of Rama as his son speaking. In fact, he wrote to Wilkie from Scotland thanking him for sending the tape and asking, “Who was that Rama? He certainly can preach!”

Rama "looked" straight at me. His eyes were still firmly shut, yet he seemed to see with a kind of extra-visual awareness.

“We greet you, beloved friend,” he said to me. “We are so happy to have this opportunity to meet. God bless you and yours.”

“And God bless you, Rama,” I replied, as matter-of-factly as I could, “I, too, am happy that we are able to meet.” (Somehow, talking to a “ghost”—this one, anyway—seemed perfectly natural.)

Rama proceeded to monopolize the conversation. He spoke to me about my personal plans and gave hints of the future — including the news, unlikely at the time, that I would become a newspaperman.

I asked Rama how he was able to foretell the future. He likened living in his world to standing on a mountaintop overlooking a wide valley. The valley is this world of time and space. Events, both past and future, stretch out below the mountain like a vast panorama of countryside. Those events which are farthest in the future appear dimly, as distant objects would. The closer to the present the future events are, the more clearly they can be discerned.

Trying to pinpoint when a future event will happen, then, said Rama, is like estimating the distance of an object: again, the nearer it is, the more accurate the estimate is likely to be.

“We do not know everything,” Rama allowed, “only a little more, really, than you do on the earth plane. There is so much still to learn . . .”

Rama mentioned relatives of mine “on the Other Side,” and passed on purported messages from them, some of which were highly individual and characteristic of the alleged communicators. Other messages, however, were meaningless to me.

Rama said there are “rest homes, I believe you call them” on the Other Side in which those who pass over in a troubled state of mind — as, for instance, after a violent death — are nursed back to mental health and helped to adjust to their new lives.

One of my relatives was in such a rest home, Rama said, because she was not yet ready to face the fact that she was dead. As he explained it, she had the delusion that she was still on earth — a delusion which is not surprising since the descriptions of the spirit world make it sound very much like this world.

“It’s going to be a surprise when we tell her where she really is,” Rama said. “And I fear she’s in for quite a shock when she discovers that there are those of other religions than hers in heaven.” He gave a ghostly chuckle. “She never expected that.”

It was my turn to chuckle; the comment rang very true.

Rama lectured at considerable length about the weaknesses, as he saw it, of orthodox Christianity — chiefly, I suspect, for my benefit. He said at one point that the monumental error of orthodox religion was its repugnant doctrine of an everlasting hell.

The afterlife of Rama’s description is a state of mind. It includes continuous progression from lower to higher levels as the soul matures in wisdom and understanding. Those who have passed over dwell at different levels, in keeping with their degree of spiritual evolution. No soul, however depraved, is lost eternally, said Rama, but some must climb out of a deep hell that they have dug themselves.

Rama spoke with reverence of “the great high Teacher, Christ,” and of himself as one of “the shining ones who serve the Christ.”

He explained that Christ dwelt, with other exalted beings, on a plane much higher than his own, but he saw Him at least once a year “by your time.”

After his theological dissertation, addressed to the circle its a whole, Rama spoke to the other members individually. He gave to each a few words of pertinent counsel.

His words shook one woman (not Wilkie’s wife), whom he chided for her “foolish behavior.” She burst into tears. It was obvious that Rama was discussing with her, in veiled terms, a very personal matter unknown to anyone else in the room. The woman, seemingly in a chastened mood, promised to heed his admonitions.

Then Rama announced that the time had come for him to return to the “higher spheres.” He lifted his hands in an expansive gesture of benediction.

“Peace be with you.” the strange voice intoned, “and God keep you until we meet again.”

The arms went limp, crumpled into Wilkie’s lap. The ancient visage drooped forward until the chin rested on the chest. Slowly but perceptibly, the body slid again into deathlike torpor. Then the odd pulsation began in the feet, moving slowly upward through the trunk, in the same ebbing and flowing rhythm. Wilkie stirred. He grimaced, stretched, yawned, rubbed his eyes, opened them slowly, blinked.

“Well,” he said, his voice heavy with sleep, “how was the sitting? What did Rama have to say?”

WHO - WHAT - is RAMA? Every medium, as I have said, has his control, or controls, who take over during a trance. In my adventures as a peripatetic ghost-hunter in several countries, I have made the acquaintance of a galaxy of similar beings, some more colorful even than Rama. These “spirits” include a Red Indian who called himself Wanitou, and his daughter Princess Laughing Water; a Chinese sage with an unpronounceable name; a Scottish lassie who introduced herself as Mary Martin; an Arabian knight who answered to Abdul Abullah; and an Anglican clergyman of this century who was coy about identifying himself because he had died a coward’s death.

If you are fortunate enough to get to know a medium as a friend, and are taken into his confidence, the sincerity of his attitude toward his control is evident.

Jim Wilkie has told me of several instances when Rama has saved his life. During World War II, Wilkie was serving aboard a freighter in the British merchant navy. His ship was one of a fleet lying at anchor at Bari, Italy. Suddenly, Rama began to “shake” Wilkie — a sign that he wanted to “come through” immediately. So strong was Rama’s determination to manifest that Wilkie blacked out in a trance on the spot. Rama spoke through his lips to the astonished sailors gathered around, most of whom knew about Wilkie’s mediumship, and believed in it.

Rama said, “In three days there will be death and destruction all around you. Beware!”

Three days later, German dive bombers blasted the merchant fleet out of the water in a surprise attack. Wilkie, needless to say was among the survivors.

What is Jim Wilkie's Rama?

Whether the commanding voice of this entity issues merely from the medium’s own unconscious, or from a source beyond this, the fact is that he is a personality distinct and separate from the medium’s normal self. Wilkie and Rama have their conflicts, too, which are not devoid of humor, and sometimes have a macabre, almost sinister tone. The medium once ruefully confessed to me that there are times when he has to assert himself or he thinks Rama would take over completely (then, presumably, Rama would be the “normal” personality and Wilkie the secondary one; even now one occasionally wonders which is which).

There have been a few occasions when Rama has “come through” without the medium's conscious permission. Some of these have been while the medium was asleep. On two occasions Rama forcibly took over to restrain the medium from certain acts which would have jeopardized his (and Rama’s) future. These occasions were of such a personal nature for Wilkie that I am not free to describe them here. Psychologists might speculate that the time Rama forcibly manifested on board the merchant ship during World War II to warn about the impending air raid indicates a concern not only for the welfare of Wilkie and his shipmates, but for his own (Rama’s, that is) survival. After all, without Wilkie, Rama may be dead, so far as this life is concerned.

A clue to Rama’s genesis may lie in Jim Wilkie’s relationship with his father. Wilkie said he always felt rejected by his father, who regarded him as incompetent, a failure. Apparently the senior Wilkie was a strong-willed man. He had served in the British Army in Egypt and used to regale young Jimmy with stories of pyramids and camels. He had even picked up quite a bit of the language.

Is Rama a father-substitute, created out of now-forgotten materials by the medium’s unconscious needs?

At any rate, Rama has done some startling things. He has been a good friend to us. Once Wilkie phoned my wife Marion, to tell her that Rama was concerned about our baby who was seriously ill — as, in fact, she was — and had paid us an astral visit a few moments before to give healing. (Wilkie at this time lived 300 miles away and we had had no contact for several weeks.) If my wife would check immediately, Wilkie said, she would find that the baby’s fever had broken and she was much better.

Marion went to check while Wilkie stayed on the line. She discovered that the baby, who had been under a doctor’s care, was indeed markedly better. This dramatic improvement had occurred since her previous check just a few minutes earlier.

Rama, whoever you are, I salute you.