Transcending the Titanic: Beyond Death’s Door
By Michael Tymn
From the publisher’s website: A Different Perspective on the Titanic Disaster.
As the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Colonel Archibald Gracie was sucked down with it. However, he somehow managed to surface and survive, and he soon found himself sprawled on an overturned life raft, his clothes waterlogged and his teeth chattering from the icy cold. He noticed that the seaman next to him on the raft had a dry cap and asked him if he could borrow it for just a few minutes to warm his head. “And what would oi do?” was the curt reply. “Ah, never mind,” said Gracie, as he thought “it would make no difference a hundred years hence.”
Those hundred years are up this year on April 15 and we might assume that it no longer makes any difference to Colonel Gracie, wherever and however he now exists. But understanding Gracie’s ordeal and those of the other 2,222 passengers, including the crew, of the Titanic, might make a difference now for some people – those interested in learning from the experiences of others while searching for greater meaning in life’s suffering and tragedies.
Basically, the Titanic story is about dying and death, a subject many people don’t like to think about. “Dying is especially difficult in America,” writes Kathleen Dowling Singh, Ph.D., an experienced hospice worker, in her 1998 book, The Grace in Dying. “Our cultural blinders to the world of Spirit, to the transpersonal realms, have left us bereft of meaning, struggling alone with the chaos of psychic deconstruction and physical dissolution.”
This book is not quite like other books about the Titanic. As the title suggests, it is an attempt to explore the more transcendental aspects of the Titanic story – those suggesting a non-mechanistic universe. The subjects include premonitions, apparitions, out-of-body experiences, telepathic communication among the living, and after-death communication, many related to the Titanic passengers, others offered in support of the Titanic phenomena. Key among the passengers is William T. Stead, a British journalist. Although much has been written about Stead’s spiritual pursuits and experiences, very little of it has been discussed in other books about the disaster. Thus, the book is somewhat unique in this respect.
Transcending the Titanic. White Crow Books, March 2012. ISBN 978-1-908733-02-3
Reviewed for the SPR by: Tom Ruffles
The life and death of RMS Titanic has spawned a publishing industry, tapping into a fascination that shows no sign of abating a hundred years after ship and iceberg came into such disastrous contact. Michael Tymn, author of The Articulate Dead and The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens after We Die, has, as the titles of his previous books might suggest, taken a different slant to the typical narrative about the ship’s brief history. As he says, it is about death and the dying, of both the ship and her passengers, but, more importantly, it is about what came next, and what it might all mean.
After giving some details about the ship and a timeline of her fateful voyage, Tymn examines the continuing fascination, why we still remember when worse maritime disasters have been forgotten. Naturally the 1997 film has played a role in maintaining interest, but there is something mythic about the Titanic which blends grand themes of technology and overconfidence brought low with more intimate themes of compassion, heroism and stoicism that address ideals now seemingly rarer in our own age. It is emblematic of a world that seemed safe, secure and prosperous, but which was to collapse in August 1914. The Titanic is a metaphor for that world of complacent self-assurance which was really so vulnerable, and so soon to end. The sinking resonates because it shows how fragile our supposed certainties are.
Tymn presents pen-portraits of a number of those on board, both those who lived and those who died, which provide a thumbnail sketch of the ship’s social composition. He describes the last hours and the various ways in which the passengers behaved – generally well in the circumstances. The most significant person who died that night for Tymn is William T Stead, the English journalist, editor, and campaigner for both social change and Spiritualism. In one way and another, much of the book revolves around him.
Some familiar literary oddities about the ship are rehearsed, such as Stead’s 1892 From the Old World to the New; or, A Christmas Story of the World’s Fair, 1893, which features a real vessel called the Majestic. In the story it is captained by Edward J Smith, who really did captain the Majestic, but after its publication, and then even more strangely was captain of the Titanic. To add to the coincidences, the Majestic sinks after hitting an iceberg in the north Atlantic (one wonders if the two men chatted about Stead‘s book at the captain‘s table as they steamed across the north Atlantic). Also well known are the parallels between the Titanic and Morgan Robertson’s story ‘The Wreck of the Titan‘.
Tymn samples the stories told of passengers booked on the Titanic who cancelled because of bad omens or otherwise foresaw the disaster, and adds cases of similar premonitions with other ships which were duly lost. One of the examples from the Titanic, a premonitory dream which J Connon (not Cannon) Middleton had two nights running, is taken from the SPR’s Journal of June 1912. Tymn quotes extensively from Middleton’s letter to the SPR, but the editing suggests that Middleton cancelled his booking as a direct result of his dreams, and that a business conflict gave him a ready excuse for something he wanted to do anyway, whereas a sentence omitted in Tymn’s extract shows clearly that Middleton cancelled his ticket because of a cable from America suggesting he postpone sailing for a few days.
Then we move on to the collision and its aftermath, as Tymn examines both telepathic messages received from those in crisis, and messages from individuals who had lost their lives which were received by mediums, telling of their new existence. Naturally, given his background as a vigorous promoter of Spiritualism, Stead’s involvement with the movement is scrutinised. A journalist, Julia Ames, had interviewed him, and after her death in 1891 he had begun receiving messages from her through automatic writing. Many of the messages were collected in Letters from Julia, and selections are included here.
Stead himself appeared at séances after the sinking, as did John Jacob Astor IV, and there are accounts of séances supplying details of what it was like to pass over when the ship sank, and how different life experiences affected the manner in which the victims reacted to their changed circumstances. (One survivor says that he saw Stead and Astor clinging to a raft together until succumbing to hypothermia, though Tymn adheres to the version which has Stead struck on the head by a funnel on deck.) Stead’s post-mortem appearances suggested that, because he had studied the evidence provided by Spiritualism during his life, he was able to move on more easily than others on the ship, the wealthy finding that earthly attachment to possessions hindered their transition.
This is not the first work about the paranormal aspects of the Titanic, in fact it is quite a well-worked area. To add to Tymn’s bibliography are Ian Stevenson‘s two papers in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, ‘A review and analysis of paranormal experiences connected with the sinking of the Titanic’ in 1960, and ‘Seven more paranormal experiences associated with the sinking of the Titanic’ in 1965; Rustie Brown’s The Titanic: The Psychic and the Sea (1981); Martin Gardner’s edited collection The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold? (1986); George Behe’s Titanic: Psychic Forewarnings of a Tragedy (1989); John Wilson Foster’s ‘The Titanic Disaster: Stead, Ships and the Supernatural’, in The Titanic in Myth and Memory: Representations in Visual and Literary Culture (2004); and Bertrand Meheust’s Histoires Paranormales du Titanic, 2006. Robertson’s story was reprinted with commentary by Stevenson as The Wreck of The Titan: or, Futility; Paranormal Experiences Connected With the Sinking of the Titanic (1974). Fortean Times, May 2012, has an article by Carol Fenlon on paranormal aspects of the Titanic with the trivialising title ‘That Sinking Feeling’, relying heavily on Behe.
However, as the title suggests, Tymn’s book is not just about the Titanic, or even about Stead. The messages conveyed by those who lost their lives on the ship transcend this one tragic incident and, for Tymn, teach universal truths about the afterlife. He draws out similarities between the instances of paranormal cognition and mediumistic communication arising from the loss of the Titanic and similar examples in the wider literature of psychical research, and finishes with some observations on Spiritualism’s fluctuating fortunes. He is confident that mediumship, including the evidence from communications by those who died as a result of the sinking of the Titanic, demonstrates convincingly the lesson of our survival of bodily death.