A Commentary on
Joan Grant: Speaking from the Heart--Ethics, Reincarnation and What It Means to Be Human
By the book's editor, Nicola Bennett
In 1964 the English author Joan Grant, famed for her best-selling "far memory" novels such as Winged Pharaoh and Scarlet Feather, visited the Association for Research and Enlightenment at Virginia Beach with her husband Dr Denys Kelsey.
There they gave a series of lectures and Joan's first lecture was titled, with typical simplicity, "Why I believe in Reincarnation." Some readers may remember it. She began:
Early this month I stood on the deck of a liner, watching the soaring towers of New York rising from the sea. Half a century ago I stood on the deck of another liner, coming into the same harbour and experiencing the same pleasurable emotions.
If I were asked to prove than in October 1964 I came to New York on the Queen Elizabeth, I could easily do so. My passport would confirm the date of my arrival, and if there is no Cunard label on any of our suitcases, there is probably a notation on the ship's passenger list. But it would be more difficult to prove that in October 1914 I came to New York in the Lusitania.
How do I know that both these episodes really happened? How do I know that a child of seven is an earlier version of the woman of fifty seven who is talking to you now? The answer is, of course, obvious; I know because both experiences are part of my memory.
The best reason I can give you for my belief in reincarnation is that I was born with it. And I was twelve years old before it dawned on me that everyone else had not been born with it too. Until then I thought that to mention anything which had happened to me before I was born annoyed people only because it was something no-one talked about in polite society.
The society she refers to was Edwardian England. Joan Grant was born on 12th April 1907 making this year her centennial. Her mother Blanche was a celebrated beauty with a mysterious past and psychic powers which she so family rumour had it exploited professionally as Mlle Voyer, with rooms in London's West End in the 1890s.
Blanche foretold the sinking of the Titanic, but she appears to have been little more than perplexed and irritated by her daughter's propensity for seeing people whom others did not and later - as Joan grew older, dismissed her vivid dreams of soldiers fighting at the Front as nightmares.
Her husband - the scientist J F Marshall, known as Jack to his friends who made his name as the author of The British Mosquitoes, still the standard work - was as dedicated to the rational as his wife to the irrational. A staunch atheist, he would examine Joan's far-fetched claims with scientific rigour, only according to Joan - to find them corroborated.
But of course the 19th century, in both the US and the UK, had witnessed a love affair between science and the paranormal with famous scientists such as her father's friend Sir Oliver Lodge, who investigated telepathy and ghosts with the same enthusiasm as he discovered electromagnetism.
As a young woman Joan remembered trying to "bluff" herself into pretending that the psychic 9/10ths of her didn't exist. It was only in 1933 that her first husband Leslie Grant persuaded her to try psychometry.
In her autobiography, Far Memory, she describes the moment when she pressed the hilt of the sword against her forehead: "I made my mind a blank and expected it to stay like that.
To my surprise, visual images appeared as though I were seeing them through a third eye set between and slightly above my eyebrows."
It was in this way that she discovered the lifetime she recorded in Winged Pharaoh, her first and most successful book, published to instant acclaim in October 1937.
It was with her second husband Charles Beatty that she began to use her "far sight" to see into other people's past lives. During what they called "Gold Key" sessions at their farmhouse deep in Wales they began to practise what she described later as "high speed psychotherapy" on the friends and acquaintances who flooded through their doors in need of rest and recuperation from the traumas of wartime.
However it was only when Joan met Denys Kelsey, a trained psychiatrist who had been using hypnosis as a way of facilitating his clients' recall of difficult or obscure memories and been astonished to discover some of them were describing the moment of conception and before, that Joan was able to realise her dream of creating a therapeutic environment where she could use her psychic abilities and old wisdom to use in helping other people with what would now be called "past life regression therapy".
From 1962 until the early 1970s Joan and Denys welcomed clients to their house in a beautiful valley in France as well as working in New York and London.
The A.R.E. lectures, which were also given at the University of Virginia at the invitation of Professor Ian Stevenson, set out to explain their particular theories of reincarnation and the ethics they derived from it as the basis for their form of therapy.
Joan began her second lecture thus:
When I read in the September issue of the A.R.E. Bulletin that some of my books were "psychically received", I thought I had better begin this talk by explaining that the faculty of far-memory is in no way concerned with information or ideas received from any outside entity.
The faculty is in no sense magical, mystical, nor super-natural. It is the result of energy expended in acquiring a technique, by which a current personality can re-live the experience of an earlier personality in the same series. In fact, like every other ability, far memory is the result of practice.
The idea that some-people are born gifted, as though their abilities depended on the whims of good, or bad, fairies, who were invited, or not invited, to their christenings, is suitable for a bed-time story; but totally inappropriate to the robust reality of reincarnation.
For reincarnation is a robust reality; and we betray it unless we forthrightly accept entire responsibility for our past, our present, and our future. So we must accept that there are no gifts; there are only acquired abilities...
And she concluded:
Looking back to my childhood, or down a vista of millennia, I see no change in the principles of benign living. What are these basic principles?
That every individual is entirely responsible for his behaviour, and for his reaction to circumstance.
That physical age is irrelevant. The wise are born wise and the sour old person will become a sour baby, unless he changes his attitudes before death, or during the excarnate period.
Those labels of rank, or class, or nationality, or race, or creed, or sex, are so transitory that in the long run they are trivial.
And that character, which has nothing to do with intellect or skill, can evolve only by increasing our capacity to love, and to become lovable.
These basic principles are implicit in a belief in reincarnation; and it is the privilege of all of us to help each other to put them into practice.
I think that of all the lives I can remember, the most concise and effective instructions for living I have learned was when I was a pre-historic North American Indian: they believed that only one question needs to be answered before you could enter their Heaven the "happy hunting grounds".
The question was: "How many people are happier because you were born?"
Joan Grant Speaking from the Heart Ethics, Reincarnation and What It Means to Be Human edited by Nicola Bennett. Jane Lahr and Sophia is a collection of Joan Grant's unpublished teachings and writings including her A.R.E. lectures, and comes out this October from the Overlook Press in company with new paperback editions of "Winged Pharaoh" and "Scarlet Feather".
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