One recurring idea in the world of the paranormal is that there are spirits of all types all around us and that they wish to communicate with us in any way possible. It is the idea that has driven such things as spirit mediumship and Ouja boards, anything to allow these entities to reach over and talk to us, perhaps to teach us something new. Stories abound of various spirits and entities speaking to the world of the living, from both the land of the dead and sometimes even from other planes of existence, and one of the more fascinating of these cases is that of a mysterious entity that reached out from a domain beyond our understanding to impart great wisom onto an unassuming woman and launch her into a saga that would take her to new realms, new knowledge, and make her a driving force in the world of the paranormal.
In 1960, American poet and author Jane Roberts and her husband Robert Fabian Butts moved to Elmira, New York and moved into an apartment in an old converted mansion. Roberts had had some amount of success as a writer, dabbling in a variety of genres including poetry, short stories, children's literature, nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, and novels, but she mostly wrote pulp fantasy stories and most of her money came from her work at an art gallery. Her husband was a modestly successful greeting card illustrator and they were mostly a pretty normal couple just trying to get by until several years after they moved in, when things would change and their lives would be transformed forever.
It began with strange dreams and flashes of what she believed were visions of the future. It was odd because although she often wrote of such things in her fiction, Jane had never actually really believed in psychic phenomena before and she had certainly never experienced visions like this. These visionary flashes and dreams continued, perplexing both her and her husband, until one night in September of 1963 it all graduated to the truly bizarre. Jane would claim that she had been sitting at her typewriter about to write something when she was overcome with a potent, powerful force that made her feel as if her soul had been knocked from her body and that she was spinning through space. At the same time, she felt her mind fly open and she would describe feeling as if her mind had become a radio receiver for something from beyond our reality. She would say of it:
The evening was very domestic, very normal, very unpsychedelic. And then between one normal minute and the next, a fantastic avalanche of radical, new ideas burst into my head with tremendous force ... It was as if the physical world were really tissue-paper-thin, hiding infinite dimensions of reality, and I was flung through the tissue paper with a huge ripping sound.
This forceful and somewhat invasive vision convinced her that some sort of psychic phenomenon was going on, something which she had never intellectually believed before but which she now could not deny. Her husband was a little skeptical at first, as he too had not really believed in things like psychic abilities and clairvoyance, but he went along with her idea to start researching for a book she now wanted to write on extrasensory perception that she planned to title The Physical Universe as Idea Construction. As part of their research, they decided to experiment with a Ouija board, and the next chapter of their strange odyssey would begin.
During one Ouija board session on December 2, 1963, there was a strong contact from a male discarnate entity that called himself “Seth.” This entity described himself as an "energy personality essence no longer focused in physical matter," and that he was originally from a lost civilization called Lumania, but that he had then gone through history in a series of reincarnations. He claimed that he had first been reborn on Atlantis, after which he had continued this cycle of reincarnations throughout the ages, living as both men and women from all walks of life and places in society, always remembering his past lives clearly and accumulating wisdom and knowledge. He then told Jane that he had completed his earthly reincarnations and was speaking from an adjacent plane of existence, another dimension, and he now wanted to impart this collected knowledge onto her, for her to channel his words and write them down so that she could share it with the world.
At first Jane dictated his messages through the Ouija board, but she soon found that she was able to hear Seth’s voice directly in her head. After this, Seth began taking complete control of her body and channeling himself directly through her. During her numerous sessions with Seth, she would typically go into a trance and Seth would enter her to speak to Jane’s husband, who would write everything down. During these trances, Jane’s voice would deepen and she would take on a strange accent that Robert could not place. On occasion, various paranormal phenomena would orbit the sessions, such as moving objects, apparitions, and on one occasion her hand was seen to turn into a paw, then grow an extra set of fingers. When Jane woke from these trances, she would not remember anything that had happened or what Seth had said, only able to see it from what her husband had written down.
These sessions would continue regularly over the years, Robert dutifully writing down every word, and by the late 1960s Jane was holding public channeling sessions, during which Seth would talk to those present. As for what he dictated and what he talked about, Seth covered a vast range of occult topics and metaphysical concepts, including reincarnation, psychic powers, the nature of the universe beyond our five senses, the nature of God, the evolution of the soul and ascension to higher planes of existence, after-death experiences, guardian spirits, the purpose of life, the nature of good and evil, multidimensional reality, transpersonal realms, other dimensions, and alternative creation myths to that of the Big Bang or Intelligent Design, among others. One of his favorite topics to talk about was the principle that consciousness creates matter, and that each individual is capable of creating his or her own reality through their thoughts, beliefs and expectations, and that that all individuals create their own circumstances and experiences within a shared earthly environment, with reality a construct that is projected by our inner selves en masse, which is then filled with energy by each individual. According to Seth, all objects and all events are created in this manner.
At first Jane and her husband believed that Seth was merely a projection of her own subconscious, still reluctant to fully buy into the idea that she was actually channeling an outside intelligence from another dimension. They believed that Seth’s words were merely creative ramblings from her subconscious mind, as after all she was a fantasy writer. Jane even went to a psychologist, but soon they began to accept that it was possibly really all coming from this strange entity calling itself Seth and came to peace with it to give themselves over to it. Jane would say of her thoughts on the matter:
I was doing twice the creative work I had done earlier. I was satisfied with the quality of the Seth Material; it was far superior to anything I could do on my own. If nothing else, I thought the sessions presented a way of making deeply unconscious knowledge available on a consistent basis. Because we were so innocent about psychic literature, we weren't hampered by superstitious fears about such psychic phenomena. I didn't believe in gods or demons, so I didn't fear them. I wanted to learn. Rob and I had discovered a whole new world together, and we were going to explore it. Seth seemed far more mature and well-balanced than the psychologist, so finally I stopped worrying. This is not to say the experience did not cause certain strains and stresses that could accompany any worthwhile venture in an entirely new field.
For the next 21 years Jane and her husband would continue these sessions and publish more than 20 books from them, which would collectively come to be known as The Seth Materials and which would spawn reading groups across the country and launch a new subgenre of pop spiritual literature. They would also conduct countless public and private channeling sessions, and Jane would go on to become one of the preeminent figures in the world of paranormal phenomena and a pioneer in an emerging New Age movement. However, for all of this popularity, she never sought fame or money, and never tried to codify any of this into some sort of religion, cult, or organization. She actually shied away from the limelight and never credited herself as the author on any of the books, merely as the channeler.
In 1982, Jane’s health began to deteriorate. She spent a month in the hospital for a severely underactive thyroid gland, protruding eyes and double vision, an almost total hearing loss, as well as slight anemia, and after this she would develop severe arthritis. Her arthritis got so bad that she was bedridden, and her health would wane until she passed away in 1984 at the young age of 55, with her last words to her husband allegedly being “Don’t let them make a god out of me.” Considering this modesty and her unwillingness to be held up as some sort of religious figure, she left behind no requests for a successor and no direction for the Seth Materials. Her husband took up the mantle and served as the keeper and guardian of the publications until his own death in 2008, and in the meantime there were numerous other mediums who stepped forward to claim that they too were now channeling Seth, something they had also been trying when Jane was alive. Rather amusingly, Seth himself had already included a disclaimer in his first book, Seth Speaks to prevent others from trying to claim to channel him, saying “Communications will come exclusively through Ruburt [Seth's name for Jane] at all times, to protect the integrity of the material,” and Jane had once said “Several people have told me that Seth communicated with them through automatic writing, but Seth denies any such contacts.” Basically, the Seth Materials from Jane were the only official words of Seth and all others were not recognized.
To this day there are adherents to the Seth Materials, and Jane still maintains a strong following. Her work has gone on to influence a veritable who's who of New Age authors, paranormal researchers, and gurus, and the books have remained very popular and well-respected. Of course there are critics who say that this was all a fiction, the Seth Materials merely another one of her fantasy works, but Jane Roberts always maintained it was real and never sought to gain fame or money from any of it. We are left to wonder just what was going on here. Was she really in communication with this entity and privy to the secrets of the universe? Are the Seth Materials really imprtant teachings from a realm beyond our understanding, or are they just the musings and rantings of a fiction writer? No matter what the answers to these questions may be, one thing that is for sure is that Jane Roberts certainly made an indelible mark on the world of the paranormal and New Age beliefs, for better or wrose.