AT CLOSE view it became clear that these dwellings were nothing more than mere hovels. They were distressing to gaze upon, but it was infinitely more distressing to contemplate that these were the fruits of men's lives upon earth. We did not enter any of the shacks--it was repulsive enough outside, and we could have served no useful purpose at present by going in. Edwin therefore gave us a few details instead.
Some of the inhabitants, he said, had lived here, or hereabouts, year after year--as time is reckoned upon earth. They themselves had no sense of time, and their existence had been one interminable continuity of darkness through no one's fault but their own. Many had been the good souls who had penetrated into these Stygian realms to try to effect a rescue out of the darkness. Some had been successful; others had not. Success depends not so much upon the rescuer as upon the rescued. If the latter shows no glimmer of light in his mind, no desire to take a step forward on the spiritual road, then nothing, literally nothing, can be done. The urge must come from within the fallen soul himself. And how low some of them had fallen! Never must it be supposed that those who, in the earth's judgment, had failed spiritually, are fallen low. Many such have not failed at all, but are, in point of fact, worthy souls whose fine reward awaits them here. But on the other hand, there are those whose earthly lives have been spiritually hideous though outwardly sublime; whose religious profession designated by a Roman collar, has been taken for granted as being synonymous with spirituality of soul. Such people have been mocking God throughout their sanctimonious lives on earth where they lived with an empty show of holiness and goodness. Here they stand revealed for what they are. But the God they have mocked for so long does not punish. They punish themselves.
The people living within these hovels that we were passing were not necessarily those who upon earth had committed some crime in the eyes of the earth people. There were many people who, without doing any harm, had never, never done any good to a single mortal upon earth. People who had lived entirely unto themselves, without a thought for others. Such souls constantly harped upon the theme that they had done no harm to anyone. But they had harmed themselves.
As the higher spheres had created all the beauties of those realms, so had the denizen of those lower spheres built up the appalling conditions of their spirit life. There was no light in the lowest realms; no warmth, no vegetation, no beauty. But there is hope--hope that every soul there will progress. It is in power of each soul to do so, and nothing stands in his way but himself. It may take him countless thousands of years to raise himself one inch spiritually, but it is an inch in the right direction.
The thought inevitably came into my mind of the doctrine eternal damnation, so beloved by orthodox religion, and of the everlasting fires of so-called hell. If this place we were now could be called hell--and no doubt it would be by theologians--then there was certainly no evidence of fire or heat of any kind On the contrary, there was nothing but a cold, dank atmosphere. Spirituality means warmth in the spirit world; lack of spirituality means coldness. The whole fantastic doctrine of hell-fire--a fire which burns but never consumes--is one of the most outrageous stupid and ignorant doctrines that has ever been invented equally stupid and ignorant churchmen. Who actually invented it no one knows, but it is still rigorously upheld as a doctrine by the church. Even the smallest acquaintance with spirit life instant reveals the utter impossibility of it, because it is against the very laws of spirit existence. This concerns its literal side. What the shocking blasphemy that it involves?
When Edwin, Ruth, and I were on earth we were asked to believe that God, the Father of the Universe, punishes, actual punishes people by condemning them to burn in the flames of hell for all eternity. Could there ever be any grosser travesty of the God that orthodoxy professes to worship? The churches--of whatever denomination--have built up a monstrous conception of the Eternal Father of Heaven. They have made of Him, on the one hand, a mountain of corruption by shallow lip service by spending large sums of money to erect churches and chapels to His 'glory', by pretending a groveling contrition for having offended Him, by professing to fear Him--fear Him Who is all love! And on the other hand, we have the picture of a God, Who, without the slightest compunction, casts poor human soul into an eternity of the worst of all sufferings--burning by fires that are unquenchable.
We are taught glibly to beg for God's mercy. The church God is a Being of extraordinary moods. He must be continual placated. It is by no means certain that, having begged for mercy, we shall get it. He must be feared--because He can bring down His vengeance upon us at any moment; we do not know when He will strike. He is vengeful and unforgiving. He has commanded such trivialities as are embodied in church doctrines and dogmas that at once expose not a great mind, but a small one. He has made the doorway to 'salvation' so narrow that few, very few souls will ever be able to pass through it. He has built up on the earth-plane a vast organization known as 'the Church', which shall be the sole depository of spiritual truth-- an organization that knows practically nothing of the state of life in the world of spirit, yet dares to lay down the law to incarnate souls, and dares to say what is in the mind of the Great Father of the Universe, and dares to discredit His Name by assigning to Him attributes that He could not possibly possess. What do such silly, petty minds know of the Great and Almighty Father of Love? Mark that!--of Love. Then think again of all the horrors I have enumerated. And think once more. Contemplate this: a heaven of all that is beautiful, a heaven of more beauty than the mind of man incarnate can comprehend; a heaven, of which one tiny fragment I have tried to describe to you, where all is peace and goodwill and love among fellow mortals. All these things are built up by the inhabitants of these realms, and are upheld by the Father of Heaven in His love for all mankind.
What of the lower realms--the dark places we are now visiting? It is the very fact that we are visiting them that has led me to speak in this fashion, because standing in this darkness I am fully conscious of one great reality of eternal life, and that is that the high spheres of heaven are within the reach of every mortal soul that is, or is yet to be, born upon earth. The potentialities of progression are unlimited, and they are the right of every soul. God condemns no one. Man condemns himself, but he does not condemn himself eternally; it rests with himself as to when he shall move forward spiritually. Every spirit hates the lower realms for the unhappiness that is there, and for no other reason. And for that reason great organizations exist to help every single soul who is living in them to rise out of them into the light. And that work will continue through countless ages until every soul is brought out from these hideous places, and at last all is as the Father of the Universe intended it to be.
This, I am afraid, has been a long digression, so let us return to our travels. You will recall my mention of the many heavenly perfumes and scents that come from the flowers and that float upon the air. Here in these dark places the very opposite was the case. Our nostrils were at first assailed by the most foul odours; odours that reminded us of the corruption of flesh in the earth world. They were nauseating, and I feared that it would prove more than Ruth--and indeed I, myself--could stand, but Edwin told us to treat them in the same way as we had mastered the coldness of the temperature--by simply closing our minds them--and that we should be quite unaware of their existence. We hastened to do so, and we were perfectly successful. It is not only 'sanctity' that has its odor!
In our travels through our own realm we can enjoy all the countless delights and beauties of it, together with the happy converse of its inhabitants. Here in these dark lands all is bleak and desolate. The very low degree of light itself casts a blight upon the whole region. Occasionally we were able to catch a glimpse of the faces of some unfortunates as we passed along. Some were unmistakably evil, showing the life of vice they had led upon the earth; some revealed the miser, the avaricious, the 'brute beast'. There were people here from almost every walk of earthly life, from the present earthly time to far back in the centuries. And here was a connecting link with names that could be read in those truthful histories of nations in the library we visited in our own realm. Both Edwin and his friend told us that we should be appalled at the catalogue of names, well known in history, of people who were living deep down in these noxious regions, men who had perpetrated vile and wicked deeds in the name of holy religion, or for the furtherance of their own despicable, material ends. Many of these wretches were unapproachable, and they would remain so--perhaps for numberless more centuries, until, of their own wish and endeavor, they moved however feebly in the direction of the light of spiritual progression.
We could see, as we walked along, whole bands of seemingly demented souls passing on their way upon some prospective evil intent--if they could find their way to it. Their bodies presented the outward appearance of the most hideous and repulsive malformations and distortions, the absolute reflection of their evil minds. Many of them seemed old in years, but I was told that although such souls had been there perhaps for many centuries it was not the passage of time that had so dealt with their faces, but their wicked minds
In the higher spheres the beauty of mind rejuvenates the features, sweeps away the signs of earthly cares and troubles and sorrows, and presents to the eye that state of physical development which is at that period of our earthly lives which we used to call 'the prime of life'.
The multitudinous sounds that we heard were in keeping with the awful surroundings, from mad raucous laughter to the shriek of some soul in torment--torment inflicted by others as bad as himself. Once or twice we were spoken to by some courageous souls who were down there upon their task of helping these afflicted mortals. They were glad to see us and to talk to us. In the darkness we could see them and they could see us, but we were all of us invisible to the rest, since we were provided with the same protection for the dark lands. In our case Edwin was taking care of us collectively as new-corners, but those whose work lies in rescue had each his own means of protection.
If any priest--or theologian--could have but one glimpse of the things that Edwin, Ruth, and I saw here, he would never say again, as long as he lived, that God, the Father of Love, could ever condemn any mortal to such horrors. The same priest, seeing these places, would not himself condemn anyone to them. Is he more kind and merciful than the Father of Love Himself? No! It is man alone who qualifies himself for the state of his existence after he passes into spirit.
The more we saw of the dark lands the more I realized how fantastic is the teaching of the orthodox church to which I belonged when on earth, that the place which is referred to as eternal hell is ruled over by a Prince of Darkness, whose sole aim is to get every soul into his clutches, and from whom there is no escape once a soul has entered his kingdom. Is there such an entity as the Prince of Darkness? There might conceivably be one soul infinitely worse than all the others, perhaps it will be said, and such as he could be considered as the very King of Evil. Edwin told us that there was no evidence whatever of such a personage. There were those from the upper spheres who had traversed every inch of the lower realms, and they had discovered no such being. There were also those whose knowledge was prodigious, and who positively affirmed that the existence of such a person had no foundation in fact. Doubtless there are many who, collectively, are a great deal more evil than their fellows in darkness. The idea that a King of Evil exists, whose direct function is to oppose the King of Heaven, is stupid; it is primitive and even barbaric. The Devil as a solitary individual does not exist, but an evil soul might be called a devil, and in that case there are many devils. It is this fraternity, according to the teachings of one orthodox church, that constitutes the sole element of spirit return. We can afford to laugh at the absurdities of such teachings. It is no novelty for some wondrous and illustrious spirit to be called a devil! We still retain our sense of humor, and it causes us very great amusement, sometimes, to hear some stupid priest, spiritually blind, professing to know about things of the spirit of which, in reality, he is totally and completely ignorant. The spirit people have broad backs, and they can support the weight of such fallacious rubbish without experiencing anything but pity for such poor souls
It is not my intention to go into further details of these dark spheres. At least, not at present. The Church's method of frightening people is not the method of the spirit world. Rather would we dwell upon the beauties of the spirit world, and try to show something of the glories that await every soul when his earthly life is ended. It remains with every single soul individually whether this beautiful land shall be his lot sooner, or whether it shall be later.
We held a short consultation together, and decided that we should now like to return to our own realm. And so we made a way our back to the land of mist, passed quickly through, and once again we were in our own heavenly country with the warm, balmy air enveloping us. Our new friend of the dark realms then left us after we had expressed our thanks for his kindly services. I then bethought me that it was high time I went to have a peep at my house, and so I asked Ruth and Edwin to join me, as I had no wish to be alone or separated from their pleasant company Ruth had not yet seen my home, but she had often wondered so she said--what it would be like. And I thought that a little of the fruit from the garden would be most acceptable after our visit--short though it was--to the lower realms.
Everything in the house was in perfect order--as I left it to go upon our travels--as though there were someone permanently looking after it. Ruth expressed her complete approval of all she saw, and congratulated me upon my choice of a home.
In reply to my query as to the invisible agency that was responsible for the good order of the house during my absence Edwin answered me by himself asking the question: what is there to disturb the order of the house? There can be no dust, because there is no decay of any sort whatsoever. There can be no dirt, because here in spirit there is nothing to cause it. The household duties that are so very familiar and so very irksome on the earth plane, are here non-existent. The necessity for providing the body with food was abandoned when we abandoned our physical body. The adornments of the home, such as the hangings and upholstery do not ever need renewal, because they do not perish .They endure until we wish to dispense with them for something else. And so what remains that might require attention? We have then, but to walk out of our houses, leaving all doors and windows open--our houses have no locks upon them! And we can return when we wish--to find that everything is as we left it. We might find some difference, some improvement. We might discover, for instance, that some friend had called while we were away, and had left some gift for us, some beautiful flowers, perhaps, or some other token of kindness. Otherwise we shall find that our house bids us welcome itself, and renews our feeling of 'being at home'.
Ruth had wandered all over the house by herself, we have no stupid formalities here, and I had asked her to make the whole house her own whenever she wished, and to do whatever she liked. The antique style of the architecture appealed to her artistic nature, and she reveled in the old wooden paneling and carvings--the latter being my own embellishments--of the past ages. She eventually came to my small library, and was interested to see my own works among the others upon the shelves. One book, in particular, she was attracted to, and was actually perusing it when I entered. The title alone revealed much to her, she said, and then I could feel her sweet sympathy pouring out upon me, as she knew what was my great ambition, and she offered me all the help which she could give me in the future towards the realization of this ambition.
As soon as she had completed her inspection of the house, we foregathered in the sitting-room, and Ruth asked Edwin a question which I had been meaning to ask him myself for some time: Was there a sea somewhere? If there were lakes and streams, then, perhaps there was an ocean? Edwin's answer filled her with joy: Of course, there was a seaside--and a very beautiful one, too! Ruth insisted upon being conducted there at once, and, under Edwin's guidance, we set forth.
We were soon walking along a beautiful stretch of open country with the grass like a green velvet carpet beneath our feet. There were no trees, but there were many fine clumps of healthy-looking shrubs, and, of course, plenty of flowers growing everywhere. At length we arrived at some rising ground, and we felt that the sea must be beyond it. A short walk brought us to the edge of the grassland, and then the most glorious panorama of ocean spread out before us.
The view was simply magnificent. Never had I expected to behold such sea. Its coloring was the most perfect reflection of the blue of the sky above, but in addition it reflected a myriad rainbow tints in every little wavelet. The surface of the water was calm, but this calmness by no means implies that the water was lifeless. There is no such thing as lifeless or stagnant water here. From where we were, I could see islands of some considerable size in the distance, island's that looked most attractive and must certainly be visited! Beneath us was a fine stretch of beach upon which we could see people seated at the water's edge, but there was no suggestion of over-crowding! And floating upon this superb sea, some close at hand--others standing a little way out, were the most beautiful boats--though I think I am not doing them full justice by calling them mere boats. Ships would be more apposite. I wondered who could own these fine vessels, and Edwin told us that we could own one ourselves if we so wished. Many of the owners lived upon them, having no other home but their boat. It made no difference. There they could live always, for here it is perpetual summer.
A short walk down a pleasant winding path brought us to a sandy seashore. Edwin informed us that it was a tireless ocean, and that at no place was it very deep by comparison with terrestrial seas. Storm and wind being impossible here, the water was always smooth, and in common with all water in these realms, it was of a pleasantly warm temperature that could occasion no feelings of cold--or even chilliness--to bathers. It was, of course, perfectly buoyant, possessed no single harmful element or characteristic, but it was, on the contrary, life-sustaining. To bathe in its waters was to experience a perfect manifestation of spiritual force. The sand upon which we were walking had none of the unpleasant features associated with the seashore of the earth plane. It was never tiring to walk on. Although it had every appearance of sand as we had always known it, yet to the tread it was firm in consistency although soft to the touch of the hand.
In fact, this peculiar quality rendered it more like well-kept lawn to walk on, so closely did the grains hold together. We took some handfuls of the sand, and allowed it to run through our fingers, and great was our surprise to find that it lacked every trace of grittiness, but seemed to the touch more akin to some smooth soft powder. Yet examined closely, it was undeniably solid. It was one of the strangest phenomena we had met so far. Edwin said that that was because we had, in this particular instance, carried out a more minute examination of what we were beholding than we had done hitherto in other things. He added that if I chose to make a close scrutiny of all that we saw, whether it the ground we walked on, the substance of which our house were made, or the thousand and one other objects that go make up the world of spirit, we should be living in a state continual surprise, and there would be revealed to us some small idea--but only a very small idea--of the magnitude of the Great Mind--the Greatest Mind in the Universe--that upholds this and every other world. Indeed, the great scientists of the earth-plane find, when they come to live in the spirit world, that they have a completely new world upon which to commence a fresh course of investigations. They begin de novo as it were, but with all their great earthly experience behind them. And what joy it brings them, in company with their scientific colleagues, to probe the mysteries of the spirit world, to collect their data, to compare their new knowledge with the old, to record for the benefit of others the results of their investigations and discoveries. And all through they have the unlimited resources of the spirit world upon which to draw. And joy is in their hearts.
Our little experiment with the sand led us to place our hands in the sea. Ruth fully expected it to taste of salt, but it did not, much to her surprise. As far as I could observe, it had no taste at all! It was sea more by virtue of its great area and the characteristics of the adjacent land than anything else. In all other respects it resembled the water of the brooks and lakes. In general appearance the whole effect was totally unlike the earthly ocean, due, among other things, to the fact that there was no sun to give its light from one quarter only and to cause that change of aspect when the direction of the sunlight changes. The overspreading of light from the great central source of light in the spirit world, constant and unmoving, gives us perpetual day, but it must never be assumed that this constancy and immobility of light means a monotonous and unchanging land--or seascape. There are changes going on the whole time; changes of color such as man never dreamt of--until he comes to the spirit world. The eyes of the spirit person can see so many beautiful things in the world of spirit that the eyes of incarnate man cannot see--unless he be gifted with the psychic eye.
We wanted very much to visit one of the islands that we could see in the distance, but Ruth felt that it would be a nice experience to travel over the sea in one of the fine vessels that were close to the shore. But the difficulty arose--that is, it seemed as though it might arise! --as to the boat. If, as I understood, these were 'privately' owned, we should first have to become acquainted with one of the owners. Edwin, however, could see how Ruth was so longing to go upon the water that he soon explained the exact position--to her unbounded joy.
It seemed that one of these elegant boats belonged to a friend of his, but had it been otherwise we should have found that we would be welcome to go aboard any one of them, introducing ourselves--if we wished to observe that formality, though it was unnecessary--to whomsoever we found on board. Had we not already received, wherever we went, that friendly reception and assurance that we were welcome? Then why should there be any departure, in the case of the boats of the sea, from the fundamental rule of hospitality that operates in the spirit world? Edwin drew our attention to a very beautiful yacht that was riding 'at anchor' close to the shore. From where we were she had all the appearance of having had much attention devoted to her--our opinion was afterwards confirmed. She was built on the most graceful lines, and the grand upward sweep of her bows held the promise of power and speed. She looked much the same as an earthly yacht, that is, externally.
Edwin sent a message across to the owner, and in reply received an instantaneous invitation to us all. We therefore wasted no time, and we found ourselves upon the deck of this most handsome vessel, being greeted with great good cheer by our host. who immediately took us off to present us to his wife. She was very charming, and it was obvious to see that the two made a perfect couple. Our host could see that Ruth and I were both very keen to see over the boat, and knowing from Edwin that we had not been long in spirit, he was so much the more pleased to do so.
Our first observations at close band showed us that many devices and fittings that are essential to earthly ships were here absent. That indispensable adjunct, an anchor, for instance. There being no winds, tides, or currents in spirit waters, an anchor becomes superfluous, though we were told that some boat-owners have them merely as an ornament and because they did not feel their vessels would be complete without them. There was unlimited space on deck, with a copious provision of very comfortable-looking chairs. Below deck were well-appointed saloons and lounges. Ruth, I could see, was disappointed because she could see no evidence whatever of any motive power to drive the vessel, and she naturally concluded that the yacht was incapable of independent movement. I shared her disappointment, but Edwin had a merry twinkle in his eye which ought to have told me thatthings are not always what they seem to be in the spirit world. Our host had received our thoughts, and be immediately took us up into the wheelhouse. What was our astonishment when we saw that we were slowly and gently moving away from the shore! The others laughed merrily at our bewilderment, and we ran to the side to watch our progress through the water. There was no mistake about it, we were really on the move, and gathering speed as we went. We returned at once to the wheelhouse, and demanded an instant explanation of this apparent wizardry.