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Rosalind Heywood - Cross-Correspondences (1)



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Cross-Correspondences (1)   - Rosalind Heywood -

         SIDGWICK DIED in 1900 and Myers in 1901. Gurney had already been dead ten years. The three main spearheads of psychical research had gone. Such a moment is always dangerous in any exploration, but the SPR was fortunate, for other expert enthusiasts were able and willing to carry on. Fortunately too they were stimulated by some unexpected phenomena which-began to occur shortly after the death of Myers.

Among his friends in Cambridge had been the classical scholar, Dr A. W. Verrall, and his wife, who was a lecturer in classics at Newnham when Mrs Sidgwick was Principal. (In her youth Mrs Verrall had meant to read Political Science at the University but had been persuaded by her friend, Jane Harrison, the Greek scholar and anthropologist, to switch to Classics.) Mrs Verrall, and to some extent her husband, had been infected by Myer's enthusiasm for psychical research, and after his death she decided to try and enable him to demonstrate his survival of death through automatic writing done by herself. This was an act of courage and devotion on her part, since she had been brought up in a rationalist ambience, she was no heretic by temperament, and for one in academic circles to indulge in such an activity was to label herself a prey to superstition for which she had a particular horror.

In view of the task she had undertaken it was fortunate that her integrity and her appetite for work were both ferocious, for it took about three months of abortive efforts before she began to write automatic scripts which showed some sort of meaning. They were mostly in a Latin and Greek far below her own standard of scholarship and were so mysteriously worded that it was arguable that their meaning was being intentionally concealed. They were signed 'Myers'(1). Gradually they became more coherent and better expressed, though no less cryptic, and a year later a curious thing happened. Allusions to subjects referred to by Mrs Verrall began to be made in America by Mrs Piper, and these too claimed to come from Myers. In another year or so Mrs Verrall's daughter, Miss Helen Verrall also began to write automatically, and it was found that before she had seen her mother's scripts she was alluding to the same subjects as her mother and Mrs Piper. After this their scripts were all sent to Miss Alice Johnson, who had by now become secretary of the SPR.

(1) Mrs A. W. Verrall On a Series of Automatic Writings, Proceedings SPR, Vol. XX, pp. 1-432.

The next person to come into the picture was Mrs Fleming, who was a sister of Rudyard Kipling and lived in India. (She used a pseudonym, Mrs Holland, as her husband and family strongly disapproved of psychic activities.) In 1903 she read Myers' book Human Personality, and this renewed her interest in her own gift of automatic writing. She too began to obtain scripts signed 'Myers', and in one of these she was instructed to send it to Mrs Verrall at 5 Selwyn Gardens, Cambridge. She had read Mrs VerraIl's name in Human Personality as being interested in some experiments, but had never met her personally. Nor had she ever been to Cambridge or consciously heard of Selwyn Gardens. But Mrs Verrall did in fact live at number five.

Mrs Holland was a gifted and educated woman and extremely sceptical of her own scripts. She did not therefore obey these instructions, but she did eventually send the scripts and subsequent ones to, Miss Johnson at the SPR(2). Miss Johnson peacefully filed them for it did not occur to her that Mrs Holland in India could be making veiled references to the same subjects as the Verralls and Mrs Piper, with whom she had no contact. It was not until 1905 that Miss Johnson realized what was happening, by which time the scripts themselves appeared to be making the extraordinary claim that Myers, Gurney and Sidgwick had devised them to demonstrate their continued existence and prove their identity. As G. N. M. Tyrrell put it, the material to be investigated was experimenting upon itself.

(2) Alice Johnson Report on the Automatic Writing of Mrs Holland, Proceedings SPR, Vol. XXl, pp. 166-391.

We have seen that the dramatic powers of the human subconscious would make it extremely difficult for the discarnate to prove their own identity, even should they exist. Investigators will dismiss the simple statement, 'I am Myers, or Smith or Jones' almost without interest as the product of the automatist's subconscious imagination, and if facts about a purported communicator's past life are given as evidence of identity it will be assumed that, normal means excluded, the automatist has acquired them by telepathy from the mind of a living person. Before they died the first generation of psychical researchers had come to realize the snags in the way of identification and their successors had devised no way to get over, them. The scripts now seemed to indicate that a new method had been worked out by the deceased Myers and his friends. This was to send fragmentary allusions to various subjects - usually classical - through separate automatists, some of whom never met each other. According to the scripts their intention was to make these fragments appear random and pointless to the individual automatists, in order to avoid giving clues to the train of thought behind them. They would only become meaningful and show evidence of design when pieced together by an independent investigator. Most, though not all, of the fragments were taken from the normal contents of the automatists' own minds. The interest lies in the question: Who selected them to convey a train of thought which could not be deduced from any one person's script? They were sometimes interspersed with more coherent passages of general advice or comment.

The investigators considered that the claim made in the scripts was justified to the extent that they appeared to show evidence of design by minds possessing more classical scholarship than nearly an the automatists involved, of whom only Mrs Verrall and her daughter had any classical training. In their view, too, scripts displayed some of the characteristics and interests of their purported authors and made apt references to, their past lives. They also stressed their continued efforts to serve humanity and avert disaster and contained a number of oblique warnings of the 1914 war before it was generally looked upon as a serious risk, as well as some other apparent predictions. In February and May 1914, for instance, the script of one automatist, Dame Edith Lyttelton, alluded to the sinking of the Lusitania, which took place a year later, and in 1915 she wrote warnings about 'the Munich bond' and Berchtesgaden which people took to be nonsense at the time. But this study must be confined to the attempts made in the scripts to prove the continued existence of Myers and his friends.

Needless to say, the discovery of these phenomena stirred the SPR investigators to an intensive study of the scripts. This was undertaken mainly by Gerald Balfour (later the second Lord Balfour) who was an expert classical scholar, Sir Oliver Lodge, that sceptical couple, Mrs Sidgwick and Alice Johnson, and Mr J. E. Piddington, ex-Honorary Secretary of the SPR. He was a down-to-earth businessman with a strong sense of humour and he too was familiar with the classics. The team had undertaken a tough job and it became tougher as time went on, for scripts by this group of automatists continued to appear for thirty years and in the end amounted to more than three thousand. (Some of the communications were written, some spoken, but it is convenient to refer to them all as scripts.) Ultimately over a dozen automatists became involved. In 1908 a Mrs Willett (pseudonym for Mrs Coombe-Tennant, who wished to remain anonymous until her death which occurred in 1957) was found to be producing fragments which fitted in with the others, and in 1913 Dame Edith Lyttelton began to do the same. From 1915 onwards a Mrs Stuart Wilson came in and other automatists made sporadic contributions. Mrs Piper was the only professional medium among them.

This series of scripts came to be known as the cross correspondences and they abounded in literary allusions and quotations in both classical and modem languages, many of them so abstruse that it needed a scholar of the quality of their alleged authors even to recognize them. The work of assessment was laborious and complicated. The first appearance of any allusion or quotation had to be noted and its reappearance or any complementary statement watched for thereafter. To do that was particularly important, for the essence of the plan as it grew more complicated appeared to be for the allusions and quotations not to repeat but to complement each other. Also, although their integrity was not in doubt, a careful search had to be made for any conceivable normal means by which the automatists might have obtained the information they recorded and remembered it subconsciously although their conscious selves had forgotten it. The second Lord Balfour and Mr Piddington gave up much of the latter part of their lives to the study and interpretation of the scripts(3) and the scripts themselves took an active interest in this task. In one, for example, written by Mrs Willett, appeared the question: 'Write the word Selection. Who selects, my friend Piddington. I address this question to Piddington. Who selects?'

(3) H. F. Saltmarsh gives a useful short account of the Cross-Correspondences and a full bibliography in Evidence of Survival from Cross Correspondences (Bell, 1938).

Only a small proportion of the cross correspondences have been published and they alone fill volumes. Without all three thousand original documents available for study no final assessment of their value can be made, but unfortunately the contents of some were so private that it was not considered possible to make them public until after a lapse of time. None the less, from the evidence already available it is hard for the dispassionate critic to avoid the conclusion that for thirty years in dozens of cases something was causing a number of automatists, not only to refer to the same topic - one often abstruse - but to make their references complementary, to create what have been called classical jigsaw puzzles. There were also a number of simpler cases - sometimes called cross references - which were more a repetition of motifs, either alluded to or directly quoted, in various languages and settings and taken from both classical and modem literature. Here are the bare bones of one simple case. On April 17th, 1907, Mrs Piper said what sounded like Sanatos, then she repeated it as Tanatos. A week later she said Thanatos (the Greek word for death) three times. Mrs Piper knew no Greek. To repeat a word on different occasions out of the blue seemed to be a sign that a cross-reference or correspondence was being attempted. On April 16th Mrs Holland wrote an automatic script in India. It contained the words: 'Maurice Morris Mors [Latin for death] And with that the shadow of death fell upon his limbs.' Here again, the automatist seems to be feeling her way towards a word by the sound.

On April 29th Mrs Verrall took a hand. In her script were the words:

'Warmed both hands before the fire of life. It fades [sic] and I am ready to depart.'

She next drew a triangle, which is also the Greek letter delta and which she had always taken as a sign for death. (This letter also turned out to be significant in another connection.) Then she wrote:

'Manibus date lilia plenis' (give lilies with full hands),

which is a quotation from a speech in the Æneid where an early death is foretold. This was followed by:

'Come away, come away, Pallida mors' (Latin for pale death),

and she finally wrote:

'You have got the word plainly written all along in your writing. Look back.'

Some of the more complicated cases contain these simple cross references as well as cross correspondences. Of these a well-known and not too complicated example is the 'Hope, Star and Browning Case', where the words Star and Hope are repeatedly given, together with quotations from Browning which his friends said were characteristic of Myers. These are given by both Mrs and Miss Verrall, but they are only pulled together when Mrs Piper's 'Myers' in America indicates that he has completed a cross correspondence and gives the words Browning, Hope and Star as the clues. To those who are not classical scholars this cross correspondence is more easily intelligible than most, for the references are mainly to Browning's poetry instead of to some little-known legend of antiquity. The more detailed summary of it given below may therefore make the general nature of cross correspondences easier to visualize, but nothing less than the study of a large number of the originals can convey the apparent human element and intention m them. And even that cannot convey the vividness of characterization which seems to have impressed the investigators who had known Myers and his friends.

The Hope, Star and Browning case started soon after January 16th, 1907(4). On that date Mr Piddington asked Mrs Piper's 'Myers' if in future he could indicate that a cross correspondence was being attempted by drawing, say a circle with a triangle inside. But he naturally did not mention this request to the other automatists. On January 23rd Mrs Verrall's 'Myers' wrote in her script:

(4) Proceedings SPR, Vol. XXII, p. 59 et seq.; and Vol. XXVII, p. 28 et seq.

'... an anagram would be better. Tell him that - rats, stars, tars and so on ... or again tears, stare.'

This was followed by another anagram which Mrs Verrall afterwards remembered had also been devised during their lives by Myers, her husband and Sir Richard Jebb. Some time later, when Mr Piddington was going through Richard Hodgson's papers - Hodgson died in 1905 - he found that Hodgson and - Myers had been exchanging anagrams for years and that both the star anagram and the other quoted were among the papers. (Another obvious use for anagrams in cross correspondences is to play down the key words and thus help to keep the automatist from understanding what is being written.)

On January 28th Mrs Verrall's 'Myers' set about elaborating the Star idea. 'Aster' (Latin = star), he wrote:

'Teras [an anagram for Aster, occasionally used in Greek for a constellation and also meaning a wonder or a sign]. The world's wonder. And all a wonder and a wild desire. The very wings of her. A WINGED DESIRE. Hupopteros eros [Greek = winged love]. Then there is Blake. And mocked my loss of liberty. But it is all the same thing - the winged desire. Eros potheinos [Greek = love, the much desired] the hope that leaves the earth for the sky. That is what I want. On earth the broken sounds - threads - in the sky the perfect arc. The C major of this life. But your recollection is at fault.'

After this was drawn:

and the script concluded: 'ADB is the part that completes the arc.

It is clear that only a fraction of the meaning in this script was apparent to its writer, Mrs Verrall, for when she sent it to Miss Johnson she commented:

'Is the enclosed an attempt at Bird? Winged hupopteros and Abt Vogler (Vogel) suggest it. The latter part is all quotations from R. B.'s Abt Vogler, and earlier from The Ring and the Book ...'

The phrase 'That is what I want' did not apparently attract her attention to the preceding sentence where 'The passion that leaves the earth' is wrongly given as 'The hope that leaves the earth'. There are indications later that this may be. a deliberate misquotation.

Miss Verrall had not seen these scripts of her mother's but on February 3rd she wrote:

'... where the song birds pipe their tune in the early morning',

and followed this by

'Therapeutikos ek exoticon' (a healer from aliens)

which was a veiled hint of what was to come later. Next came a monogram, the drawing of a star and a crescent moon and the words: 'A monogram, the crescent moon, remember that and the star.' Finally she drew a bird.

On February 11th Mrs Piper's 'Myers' asked Mr Piddington if Mrs Verrall had received the word Evangelical. He answered that he did not know, and 'Myers' went on:

'I referred also to Browning again. I referred to Hope and Browning ... I also said Star.'

Later on he said that the word Evangelical was wrong. He had meant to say Evelyn Hope (the title of a poem by Browning) but in transmission the words had been distorted into Evangelical. Next came a nice touch. Miss Verrall had so far done comparatively little automatic writing and to stimulate and encourage her she was told that she had taken part in a cross correspondence which included the words Planet Mars, Virtue and Keats. To avoid giving her information should she write more, these words were used to represent Hope, Star and Browning. But her subconscious self was not deceived, for on February 17th her script became more explicit.

'That was the sign', said her 'Myers'. 'She will understand when she sees it ... No arts avail ... and a star above it all rats everywhere in Hamelin town.'

Here the anagram, begun in Mrs Verrall's script is going strong, - arts, star, rats - and by the mention of 'rats everywhere in Hamelin Town', the script is linked to the earlier phrase, 'The healer from aliens', which is an apt description of Brownings' Pied-Piper.

On March 6th Mrs Piper's 'Myers' told Mr Piddington that he had given Mrs Verrall a circle. He then tried to draw a triangle, but commented:

'It did not appear.'

This is an interesting mistake, as Mrs Verrall had in fact succeeded in drawing a triangle as well as a circle. He also said, correctly, that he had written something about Bird when he gave Mrs Verrall the circle.

On March 13th Mrs Piper's 'Myers' repeated that he had drawn a circle for Mrs Verrall and he. again drew a circle and a triangle. Afterwards he said:

'But it suggested a poem to my mind, hence B H S'. (i.e. Browning, Hope, Star).

Finally, on April 8th Mrs Piper's 'Myers' once more repeated that he had drawn a circle for Mrs Verrall and added that he had also drawn or had tried to draw a star and a crescent. That these two symbols had been drawn was correct, but it had been Miss Verrall, not her mother, who had drawn them.

This case is a typical example of a series of allusions, implications and direct cross references written by two automatists, Mrs and Miss Verrall, which were made meaningful by key words given by a third. Mrs Piper. It is far more complicated than it appears m summary for some of the allusions are meaningful in connection with cross correspondences and are also links in coherent trains of thought which emerge elsewhere. For example, Mrs Verrall's drawing of a circle and triangle not only carries out the request made to Mrs Piper's 'Myers' for such a drawing; added to her reference to Abt Vogler it also ties up with the scripts' answer - an answer that makes sense - to a question which had been put to Mrs Piper's 'Myers' in Latin, a language Mrs Piper did not know. (But the question was put when she was giving sittings in England to SPR members who did not know both Latin and the message, and this proximity may have helped her to pick up its contents telepathically from them. Although on the other hand ESP seems to be more or less independent of time and space, physical proximity does at times appear to facilitate telepathy.)

After the cross correspondences had been going on for some years, Piddington and an American, G. B. Dorr, devised two, ways of testing them. One was to try and check whether they could result from ordinary associations of ideas on the part of the automatists, the other to find out if their creators, whoever they were, would produce a cross correspondence to order. In the first test fourteen people were each sent quotations, twelve in all, from Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Rostand, Virgil, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Homer, and were asked to write down some words or phrases associated with them. The results were very different from the cross correspondences produced spontaneously by the automatists. Only momentary cross-references occurred and there was no tendency to return again and again to one master theme, in fact there was no resemblance to a real cross correspondence.

The next test was to set the purported 'Myers' a subject for a cross correspondence which would give scope for classical knowledge beyond that of most of the automatists. He passed it with honours. The plan was that in America Dorr should ask Mrs Piper's 'Myers' the question, 'What does the word Lethe suggest to you?', Mrs Piper herself being no classical scholar. He did so and at several sittings he obtained in response a number of classical allusions which meant nothing to him and also nothing at first to the scholars of the British SPR. The allusions included Myers-like references to the little-known story of Ceyx and Alcyone and to the sending of the Goddess, Iris to the underworld as this is told in connection with the river Lethe in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Later on, Sir Oliver Lodge asked Mrs Willett's 'Myers' the same question. He answered that it had already been asked elsewhere, and with great effort spelled out the word DORR in capitals. Then, over a period of weds, Mrs Willett's script made many allusions to references in Virgil's Aneid to the river Lethe and these fitted Mr Dorr's question from the point of view of such a man as Myers, who had known his Virgil inside out, but did not do so from that of people without his scholarship. Ultimately Mrs Willett's 'Myers' wrote:

'That I have different scribes means that I must show different aspects of thoughts underlying which Unity is to be found and I know what Lodge wants. He wants me to prove that I have access to knowledge shown elsewhere.'

Unfortunately, even when read in full, the elaborate aptness of the classical and other allusions in such cases as these can only be appreciated by scholars of the same calibre as their author, whoever that was. But what is patent to all is the intensity, of desire to get the plan carried out - not, of course, that this desire is evidence for it could be simulated. The instructions in the scripts are frequent and explicit.

'Record the bits,' writes Mrs Verrall's 'Myers', 'and when fitted they win make the whole'. Again, 'I will give the words between you neither alone can read but together they win give the clue he wants.'

In March 1910, Mrs Verrall wrote a series of scripts referring to the main events in the history of the City of Rome. On March 7th, five thousand miles away, Mrs Holland wrote:

'Ave Roma Immortalis. How could I make it clearer without giving her the clue?'

 Such remarks occur again and again.

The last of the apparently self-contained type of cross correspondence was the Master Builder case, which straggled on from 1913 to 1924, with a high spot in December and January 1918-19(5). That they should cease seems logical enough, for if the large number obtained by the end of the First World War was not enough to carry conviction of their authorship it could be argued that, nothing would be gained by continuing indefinitely a type of evidence which was a strain on all involved. However that may be, the cross correspondences as such gradually merged into the wider pattern of scripts concerned largely with world affairs, in which the purported communicators had always professed the deepest interest. These had gone on concurrently with the cross correspondences from 1901 and they only faded out altogether in 1932.

(5) Proceedings SPR, Vol. XXXVI, p. 477.


"The Sixth Sense" by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and Windus Ltd).

The source of the experience

Verrall, Margaret

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Automatic writing