Throughout history there have been those gifted individuals who have been claimed to possess vast powers of the mind beyond mere mortals. With powers and abilities that transcend what we think we know about the universe and the human mind, such figures have very often managed to become larger than life, with stories and histories that are every bit as amazing as their own supposed psychic skills. One of these was a woman who rose from a troubled childhood to go on to become one of the most well-known and greatest psychics of the 20th century, tested by scientists, controversial, but who has left an indelible mark upon the landscape of psychic research.
Born in Ireland in 1893, Eileen J. Garrett had a rough go of things from an early age. Her mother killed herself by drowning just a few days after she was born, and her father followed suit just 6 weeks later by shooting himself, leaving her doomed to never even really know their faces. She was sent off to live at a rural farmhouse with her aunt, who was overbearing and prone to fits of rage that often sent the young child to be off on her own in her own little world. She felt more of a connection with nature than to people at this time, spending most of her time wandering the moors. It was at about 4 years of age that she began to be aware that she had certain gifts. She started to see and communicate with spirits, in particular those of two girls and a boy around her age, and she also developed the powers of precognition, clairvoyance, telepathy, and the ability to see the energy auras of people and objects, which she called “the surround.” She would say of this ability:
I saw all bodies surrounded by a nimbus of light, not merely as physical bodies, but as if each were set within a nebulous egg-shaped covering of his own. This surround, as I called it for want of a better name, consisted of transparent changing colors, or could become dense and heavy in character—for these coverings changed according to the variations in people’s moods. From the beginning, space has never been empty for me. There was both sound and movement in the ‘space’ of every area, and I could discriminate among environments by the impressions of this tremendous ‘vitality’ that I appear to gather otherwise than by means of my five senses.
She also would claim to be able to see the lifeforce leave a body upon death. For instance, once when she was angry at her aunt she killed some ducks on the farm as revenge, and as they died she could see “a gray, smoke-like substance rose up from each small form.” These powers would grow and follow her as she grew up, but so did misfortune and tragedy. She would marry three times and lose three sons as infants, each time reportedly witnessing their souls leave their bodies. Her marriages were marred by this tragedy, as well as hallucinations and signs of dissociative identity disorder that led one of her husbands to describe her as “on the brink of madness.” Her second husband died in an explosion during World War I, an event she had a premonition of during a dinner party, of which she would say:
I was caught in the shattering concussion of a terrible explosion. I saw my gentle, golden-haired husband blown to pieces. I floated out on a sea of terrific sound. When I came to myself, I knew that my husband had been killed.
It was yet another horrific tragedy for Garrett, but nevertheless, her psychic abilities had also grown. She became convinced that she was imbued with “cosmic consciousness,” and that she was being followed around by a sort of guardian angel in the form of man “in gray garments,” who had helped save the life of her ailing daughter, Babette, when she was ill with pneumonia. In the 1920s she began to try and focus her gifts for spirit mediumship, in particular what is called “trance mediumship,” during which the medium goes into a deep trance and channels spirits through them. Garrett very quickly became popular in the spiritualist movement at the time, and was a regular feature of high-profile seances and mediumship sessions. During these years she became aware of what she called “spirit controls,” who were sort of spirit guides, and which she claimed to have two. One of these was named Ouvani, or Uvani, who was apparently a 14th century Persian soldier, and the other was the man in grey himself, known as Abdul Latif, a 13th century Muslim physician. These spirit controls helped her to hone and improve her powers, and gave her insight and guidance into the afterlife. In one instance the spirit control Uvani channeled the spirit of British barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall, who allegedly told the audience of his experience with the afterlife:
I fear I am going to disappoint you, but this is not heaven, neither is it hell, though it savors of both. My friends are still tied up with knots and problems, but I played at both things and was terribly sincere when I played. I am still playing. This is not a state of spirit any more than the one I have left, and I am young here, a mere baby. I have only been over a year or two. I am doing what the other infants do, opening my eyes, looking around and asking questions. There is still a lot of earth man left in me, thank God. I am still in a state of matter, with a more beautiful and much less troublesome body. I take a hand in everything that is going on … This is a place where free will predominates . . . All experience is growth … it can be Hell or Heaven . . . from my own point of view, I am not in Hell … I am now in a comfortable part of the globe … Here is freedom from pain, freedom from sorrow, the vision which has led me all my life and which I would not change.
Garrett steadily rose to international fame through her sessions, and it was this high profile that brought her to the attention of many researchers, scientists, parapsychologists, and spiritualists, including such organizations as the American Society for Psychical Research, Duke University’s parapsychology laboratory, and the British College of Psychic Science. In 1931 she moved to the United States, and famously subjected herself to a series of experiments to test her abilities. In one of these, carried out by the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, she contacted the spirit of Herbert Carmichael Irwin, captain of the British R101 airship, which crashed in 1930 killing 48 people. During this session, he apparently gave information and technical details that only he could have known, and it was big news at the time. Psychical researcher Harry Price would say of this particular experiment:
It is not my intention to discuss if the medium were really controlled by the discarnate entity of Irwin, or whether the utterances emanated from her subconscious mind or those of the sitters. “Spirit” or “trance personality” would be equally interesting explanations – and equally remarkable. There is no real evidence for either hypothesis. But it is not my intention to discuss hypotheses, but rather to put on record the detailed account of a remarkably interesting and thought-provoking experiment.
During another experiment Garrett also allegedly channeled the spirit of the mother of the famous film producer Cecil B. DeMille, who wanted to give her son advice on a movie he was making. She was also studied by J. B. Rhine and William McDougall at Duke University, the Boston Society for Psychic Research, the Psychological Laboratory at the University College London, the psychical researcher Hereward Carrington and Dr. Adolph Meyer of Johns Hopkins University, among others, but the results of these were mixed at best, with conclusions ranging from that she was genuinely psychic to that she was merely conjuring up alternate personalities in her own psyche, to that she was no more successful than random guessing.
Garrett would head back to Europe, where she assisted in the French Resistance during World War II, after which she immigrated permanently to the United States in 1941 to flee the Nazi occupation. There she established her own New Age publishing company, Creative Age Press, which published the well-received publication Tomorrow, and she wrote many of her own books, including My Life in Search for the Meaning of Mediumship, Telepathy: In Search of a Lost Faculty, Awareness, The Sense and Nonsense of Prophecy, Life is the Healer, Many Voices, and others, as well as three fiction novels. In 1951, she helped found the Parapsychology Foundation along with U.S. Congresswoman Frances Bolton. In addition to hosting various conferences, with the Foundation she continued her forays into psychic powers, including a case in which she exorcised the supposed spirit of a witch who had been plaguing a wealthy young married woman living in an opulent town house on New York’s Upper East Side. She also became involved with the psychedelic movement in the 60s, falling in with the renowned psychedelic author and researcher Aldous Huxley and his research team. Garrett would claim that psychedelics helped her greatly expand her powers, at one point saying:
I have had psychic experiences which occur at the height of the LSD experience. I believe the drug has made me a better, more accurate sensitive when I perceive, hear, think and feel.
She was so enamored with the psychedelic culture that the Parapsychology Foundation carried out their own experiments into LSD and its effects on psychic abilities and other psi phenomena, and they held several conferences on the matter. Indeed, Garrett would be seen as a pioneer in the world of psychedelic research. It is interesting that in later years Garrett distanced herself from the idea that she was being guided by outside spirits, instead embracing the theory that these spirit controls were merely aspects of her own mind linked into the cosmic consciousness. Indeed, she would state that she did not believe that there was even necessarily a spirit world at all, although she still insisted that her powers were very real, she just was not sure exactly from where they sprung. However, she constantly tried to downplay her abilities while at the same time fighting off skeptics, and would once say, “I have been called many things, from a charlatan to a miracle woman. I am, at least, neither of these.”
Garrett continued her work and demonstrations up until September 15, 1970, when she tragically passed away from heart failure during the Parapsychology Foundation’s nineteenth international conference, in Nice, France. There is no way of knowing if she could ever do the things she claimed, and the tests done on her were inconclusive at best, so we are left to wonder. Who was this mysterious woman and what was she really capable of? If she did possess these powers, then from where did they originate? In the end it doesn’t really seem to matter, as Eileen J. Garrett has most certainly cemented herself into place as one of the most famous psychics of the century, and no matter what the story behind her story might be, she will likely remain that way for some time to come.