Interview With

Dr. Jan W. Vandersande
Dr. Jan W. VandersandeInterviewed by Michael E. Tymn via e-mail

In his 2008 book Life After Death: Some of the Best Evidence, Dr. Jan W. Vandersande discusses physical mediumship, exploring some of the best and most interesting cases of various physical phenomena while also reporting on his own observations of some genuine physical mediums.

“In this book, I have tried to describe in considerable detail some of the best evidence that I am aware of for life after death,” Vandersande writes in the conclusion of the book. “I have based this evidence on my own experiences which included sittings with trance mediums and channelers as well as sittings quite regularly for eight years in a circle with Mickey and Sara Wolf.”

After completing his undergraduate work at Swarthmore College and his M.Sc. in physics at Cornell in 1969, Vandersande earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa while studying the thermal properties of diamonds. He then served professorships at both Witwatersrand and Cornell. He has published more than 80 scientific articles and now serves as the communications director for VIASPACE, Inc., a high-tech company.

Dr. Vandersande, what is a physicist doing “dabbling in the occult”? Isn’t that taboo for a man of science?

“My training as a physicist taught me to investigate the laws of nature. So investigating psychic phenomena, specifically what happens when we die, was just a natural extension of the research I was doing. Many famous scientists such as Sir Oliver Lodge (physicist), Professor William James (psychologist), Sir William Crookes (physicist), Lord Rayleigh (physicist), Professor Charles Richet (physiologist) and Professor J.J. Thomson (physicist) were involved in psychic research. Many of them published articles and/or books on their research. Hence, investigating the “occult,” as you call it, is not taboo for a man of science. Unfortunately the exposure of many fraudulent psychics has given this area of research a bad name. Just because there are some fraudulent mediums does not mean that they are all fraudulent. It just makes the research more of a challenge. As I see it, there are natural laws involved and they should be investigated.”

How have your colleagues reacted to your interest in mediumship?

“Many of my fellow physicists who I talked to about my interest in and experiences of the “paranormal,” were polite and listened but did not believe my experiences, such as objects (trumpets) flying around the room and the observation of ectoplasm. At best they were agnostic (as many are about life after death). To them these observations are beyond the laws of physics as we know them today. Many told me that they might believe it if they observed these phenomena themselves. Taking my word for it was just too much. Isn’t it interesting that they will believe the results of a physics experiment I publish, but not an observation that seems to be ‘beyond’ the laws of physics?”

Most of the early psychical researchers, men like James, Lodge, Hodgson, Hyslop, et al, steered clear, for the most part, of physical mediumship because the darkness required did not permit scientific testing. They found their evidence in mental mediumship. Yet, you suggest the best evidence can be found in physical mediumship. Do you think those early pioneers were wrong?

“The early psychical researchers concentrated on mental mediumship rather than physical mediumship because of the darkness, as you rightly suggest, which made proper scientific testing almost impossible. It was thus very difficult for them to rule out fraud which was prevalent in those early days. They did not have infrared film and an infrared flash which made taking photographs in the dark and/or with a dim red light impossible. Photographs taken of Jack Webber (in the 1930’s), by Tom Harrison of his mother Minnie Harrison (in the 1940’s) and by my friend Professor Jack Allen of a medium in Johannesburg in the late 1960’s using infrared film clearly show ectoplasm, materializations and how the trumpets are moved using ectoplasm (some of these photographs are shown in my book). These pioneers were thus not wrong, they just did not have the experimental equipment we have had available the past 60 years or so. I personally have found the best evidence in physical mediumship, specifically in materializations and the movement of the trumpet in the séance room. Having a sitter recognize a deceased relative in a materialized form while also recognizing the voice and speech peculiarities is as good a proof of life after death as you are going to get.”

Would you mind summarizing those eight years of observing Mickey and Sara Wolf?

“My wife Marlene and I met Mickey and Sara Wolf in 1970, when they were in their late 50’s. Up until then we had had sittings with several channelers, trance mediums and in a development circle, but we never really received any evidential messages. In our first sitting with Mickey and Sara we experienced trance mediumship, direct voice and trumpets flying around the dark room. We became very friendly with Mickey and Sara and initially would sit with them every two to three weeks for a few years, then every two to three months and then, as they got older, every several months. Every time we sat with them their main guide (control), Brian, would speak through either Sara, who was in trance, or through the direct voice. His characteristic voice was always the same and easily recognizable. Also, the trumpet, with luminous spots on it, flew around the totally dark room quite rapidly, up to the ceiling then to the walls and then slow down and gently touch each of the sitters (usually between four and eight) on the knee or on the head. (It is impossible to do that in the dark without bumping into chairs or sitters. Try it. There is no way any magician can do that, even though many claim they can. I challenge them to do it!!). We also had what were called Christmas sittings every December for the first few years. During those sittings (which were held in the total dark as were just about all their sittings) ectoplasmic spirit children played musical toys that had been placed in the center of the circle and also unwrapped presents (which were also in the center of the circle). Then the children would touch the sitters who could feel the small fingers and hands. I had my pants pulled several times by what felt like a small hand but I never felt the small fingers. However, my wife did feel them. These experiences I have just described were the highlights of sittings with Mickey and Sara. They never charged for their sittings and they were never suspected of fraud or caught doing anything suspicious.”

What was most evidential to you?

“Mickey and Sara were mainly mediums who produced physical phenomena (direct voice, trumpets flying and ectoplasmic children) and did not often provide evidential messages when we sat with them. We were told by friends (who had sat with them before we did) that when they were younger they would produce ectoplasm in red light and messages. It appears that they had lost some of their powers when we started sitting with them but what we experienced was still very impressive. The best evidence for life after death we experienced with them would have to be the trumpets flying around the room, gently touching sitters and then floating there in mid-air while a spirit would speak through it. This movement of the trumpet can only be explained by an intelligence from the spirit world directing it. There is no way the medium in trance or any body else could move the trumpet like that in the pitch dark. A photograph of Minnie Harrison shows how the trumpet is moved using ectoplasmic rods that are attached to the medium.”

Have you experienced any very evidential mental mediumship?

“There was quite a bit of evidential information communicated through Mickey and Sara, but I had not anticipated writing a book and, unfortunately, did not keep a record of it. It’s all very vague in my memory right now. I did have an interesting reading by a psychic in Ithaca N.Y. during May 1983. We (Marlene, I and our two children) had just arrived back from Chicago where we had bought a house. There was a psychic fair at the hotel next to the Ithaca airport and we decided to stop by and see what was going on. I asked who the best psychic was and the organizer pointed to an elderly lady. We paid her $10 fee for the approximately 15 minute reading. We said nothing except “yes” or “no”, but she hardly asked anything. She just talked. The first thing she said was that we moving to the Midwest but that we wouldn’t be there long. She said we would then be moving to the Southwest and that as far as she could see we would be there quite a while. She then said that we should not take our second car to the Midwest. The rest of the reading that I can recall was about the kids and how well they would do (a very general statement). I don’t remember her saying anything that was wrong or turned out to be wrong. Actually, she turned out to be exactly right. We moved to Chicago two months later and one year later I took a job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. (the Southwest). In Ithaca we had an old Dodge Dart that I wanted to take to Chicago, but Marlene said we shouldn’t. After the reading we decided not to take the car and we sold it a week before we left. The day before we left I got a call from the buyer of the car saying that the thermostat had failed and the car overheated about 20 miles outside of Ithaca. That would have happened to us had we taken the car. It would have caused delays and problems. We still live in the Los Angeles area 24 years later. Our children have done very well both academically and financially. Here is a psychic who made predictions about the future that all came true. They were not generic, general predictions but very specific ones involving places and times. She did not say “I see you moving.” Most people move several times in their lifetime, so that would have been a general prediction that would very likely come true. Also, to make a lucky guess this accurate (Midwest, Southwest and car problems) would be extremely unlikely. Skeptics would say that she picked up the information about the move to Chicago and the car dispute telepathically (super-ESP) from Marlene and myself and just added the rest (a lucky guess). These accurate predictions do not prove there is an afterlife but do indicate some sort of predestination and if our lives are predestined to some degree then what is the purpose if there is no afterlife?”

You mention observing ectoplasm. What exactly did you see?

“Marlene and I have seen ectoplasm in a transparent form at a sitting with Mickey and Sara and their medium friends Max and Kitty Gordon. Mickey and Sara and Max and Kitty were friends for decades and sat together for most of those years. Kitty was a very good physical medium often producing ectoplasm and materializations. On that particular evening Mickey, Sara and Kitty sat in the cabinet. With the red light on Brian, Sara’s guide (the usual master of ceremonies), told us to open the curtains. We could all see the three mediums in trance sitting in the cabinet. Then ectoplasm started pouring out of Kitty’s nose and started to form a gauze-like sheet similar to that seen in photographs of the Johannesburg medium and of Minnie Harrison in my book. One of the sitters was then told to pick up the end of the ectoplasm on the floor, hold it high (about 5-6 feet) and then pull it partly across the room (about 4-6 feet) while it was still attached to Kitty’s nose. It was truly spectacular to see. The ectoplasm was slightly transparent. The person holding the ectoplasm was then told to drop the ectoplasm. It fell to the ground and disappeared (quite fast, within seconds) back into Kitty’s nose. Besides the very clear sight of ectoplasm there was also a very noticeable smell; I would call it a smell very much like a perspiration smell. It was a truly amazing experience and I have absolutely no doubt that it was ectoplasm we had just seen. Unfortunately Kitty, who was already quite elderly, retired from giving sittings after that sitting.”

A debunker looking at the cover of your book would no doubt scoff and sneer at the black beard of the materialized form, as it looks fake. How do you respond to such a reaction?

“One of the four photographs taken by our friend Professor Allen of the Johannesburg medium (taken in the late 1960’s) shows a full materialization with a black beard. Firstly, I want to point out that the materialization is a very impressive materialization. It is not some one dressed up in a white sheet. Just look at all the detail, folds, etc. of the ectoplasm covering the spirit entity. Also, there is a large amount of ectoplasm at the feet of the entity and of a sitter standing next to the entity. Any one dressed up to “impersonate” an ectoplasmic entity would never pull along a large amount of white cloth!! Secondly, Tom Harrison in his book shows a photograph of his materialized grandfather also with a black beard. That to me is not a coincidence. A possible explanation is that those parts of the body covered by skin are made from ectoplasm and that hair is not. I have no explanation what it is made from and why it is black. The fact that it is black does not take away from the genuineness of the materialization.” (See sidebar article [[[[[on page 10]]]]] for another possible explanation.)

Have you had any difficulty reconciling your observations of paranormal phenomena with your scientific knowledge?

“As a scientist you investigate the natural laws of the universe and I definitely believe we have not discovered all the laws yet. Thus the occurrences of paranormal phenomena don’t worry me; they are just beyond the laws of physics as we know them today. One day we might be able to explain how physical phenomena occur and how ectoplasmic forms come about. Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer physical mediums than we had several decades ago, so it will be more difficult to investigate the phenomena.”

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