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Observations placeholder

Ralph Shirley - The Mystery of the Human Double – Going out of body in a dream to see the dead body of her sister, led by her sister’s spirit



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The Mystery of the Human Double – Ralph Shirley

This account was narrated to Robert Dale Owen on 'October 15th, 1860, at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York, a hotel now long since demolished but where, as I recollect, I spent a week on my first visit to America. It appeared in his book The Debatable Land.

Full permission was given to Mr. Owen to record the incident in his book on the sole understanding that the lady's married name should be withheld, the husband having a prejudice against spiritualistic phenomena. His wife, however, came of what we should now term a psychic family and, though she did nothing to encourage such experiences, both she and her sister Anne were of a strongly mediumistic temperament. The-elder sister Cecilia had frequently alarmed her mother in her childhood and early youth by her tendency to somnambulism. Indeed, on various occasions while asleep and with her eyes closed she had assisted her mother in her household duties. She also periodically had vivid and clairvoyant or prophetic dreams.

The dream or vision with which we are at present concerned occurred in the early part of the month of November 1853.

A third sister, Esther, who had recently married, had gone out with her husband to California and the family were daily expecting news of their arrival at their destination. California, at that time, it need hardly be said, was a very different place to what it is to-day and means of communication with outlying parts were correspondingly slow.

On the night in question Cecilia, as she imagined in her dream, saw her sister approach her bedside and beg her to come with her-to her home in California. Cecilia objected that she could not leave her husband and family to undertake so long and tedious a journey, but Esther rejoined:

 "'We shall soon be there and you shall return before morning."

Accordingly Cecilia (in her dream) got up from her bed and giving her hand to her sister they rose in the air and after floating over a vast space alighted near a rudely constructed dwelling house.

Thereupon the two sisters entered and Cecilia at once recognized her brother-in-law, who was looking sad and dressed in mourning. Esther then led her sister into a room in the centre of which stood an open coffin, and pointed to the body which it contained. It was Esther's own body lying lifeless before her. Cecilia gazed at it in astonishment and then at the bright form of the sister who had conducted her thither. In reply to her look of inquiry Esther observed:

"Yes, that body was mine but disease attacked it. I caught cholera and have passed to another world. I desired to show you this that you might be prepared for the news which will soon reach you."

After a time Cecilia appeared to herself to rise into the air and finally after traversing a great space found herself once more in her bedroom at home. On awakening, the dream had made such a vivid impression upon her that it was with difficulty that she persuaded herself that she had not actually taken the journey.

On the evening of the same day the family sat down to a quiet game of whist. Cecilia's husband and her younger sister Anne were of the party. Suddenly in the midst of the game, it being Anne's turn to deal, her sister was horrified to see her let slip the cards which fell in all directions, while her whole expression underwent a peculiar change. Cecilia in alarm exclaimed: "Oh! Anne, what is the matter?"

"I am not Anne," was the reply, "I am Esther."

At first they thought she had gone mad, but presently she cried out: "Your dream, Cecilia! Your dream of last night! Have you forgotten where I took you and what you saw?"

 The shock was too much for Cecilia, who fainted away. When she came to herself her sister Anne was still speaking in the person of Esther and continued to do so for some four hours. Finally she stretched her limbs and rubbed her eyes as if awaking and asked in her natural voice: “Have I been asleep? What is the matter?"

Needless to say a later mail brought the news of Esther's sudden and unexpected death from cholera.

When her husband returned from California to Massachusetts some six months later he confirmed the accuracy of the description of the house in which his wife had passed away.

The source of the experience

Shirley, Ralph

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