J. H. M. Whiteman

by Susan Blackmore

For Yram out-of-body experiences are just part of a wider experience. The same is true for Whiteman, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In his book The Mystical Life he describes his vision of God as archetypal light, his practice of continuous recollection, his discovery of 'The Source' and higher Obedience, and other revelations leading him, after more than twenty years, to the 'higher Transformation'. It is within the context of this mystical development that Whiteman describes his out-of-body experiences.

In some sense the whole of the mystical experience takes place 'out of the body' -- that is, in a non-physical world and using non-physical senses; but Whiteman distinguishes many different types of 'separation'. These vary in the degree to which consciousness is clear and rationality maintained, and in the extent of awareness and activity in the physical body. Of most relevance here are the experiences he call 'full separation'. These occur when 'the physical body and its sense organs appear to be asleep or entranced while the subject himself to singly-conscious in another space and body, or multiply conscious in spaces other than the physical'. Related experiences include dreams, 'fantasy separations' and 'half-separation'. Crucial to the full separation is that the subject's consciousness is fully located apart from the physical while the power of rational reflection is maintained.

Whiteman also distinguishes psychological, psychical, and mystical states. The kind of experiences depends on the state of the person undergoing it. Psychical states of separation appears far more 'real' than physical states, almost like being awake for the first time. The difference between psychical and mystical states is hard explain, he admits, but easy to recognize when it happens.

Most of Whiteman's work concerns the different processes involved in separation and return. First there are experiences in which separation is induced by shock, drugs, or illness. Whiteman describes one that occurred when he was a boy of about 12. He was experimenting in his laboratory when he burnt himself with a piece of yellow phosperous. He felt no pain but walked downstairs for his mother to dress the burn. As he watched her the room seemed to take on glowing, dream-like quality; objects seemed to be more distant, and then first his hearing and then his sight disappeared. Feeling in his body then disappeared, from his feet upwards, and only when all feeling had gone did he realize he was standing and aware of the sound of some heavy object falling. Before realizing what was happening he found himself lying on the floor, ashamed at having fainted.

The second type of separation is that which begins from a dream. This was the most common method for Whiteman, as it had been for Oliver Fox. In the first experience of this type he became lucid in a dream and suddenly his perception seemed free and pinpointed. He thought, 'I have never been awake before.' The parallel with Fox's experience can be seen in content as well. In another separation he saw a wonderful building, a glowing palace or temple with stained glass windows and people moving up and down the steps. He was led to understand that this came from a joint memory of many human beings worked out over a long period of time. From this vision he was gradually brought back to the physical world, refreshed in both body and spirit.

Other separations were effected by passing through some sort of opening. On one occasion Whiteman saw a circular opening, within which was a vivid park scene. On others he could see his bedroom 'through the eyelids', seeing it clearly although his eyes were closed; then, he would pass through an opening in the ceiling or a wall. Whiteman relates this method of passing through an opening to the phenomenon of tunnels.

A fourth type of separation can occur from a balanced state of dissociation. Under this heading Whiteman includes those occuring spontaneously when he was in a state of voluntary detachment, those induced by a wish on his part, or by calling forth Obedience. The latter, he claims, leads to a better quality experience. In one experience he left his physical body sleeping in bed and examined his bedroom, which bore only a superficial resemblance to the actual room. He avoided the mirror, in case it should lead him into fantasies, and approached the door, finding it had no handle. He then turned to the windows, trying to escape from the stuffy air, and passed out into the silence of the night. But there the experience ended and he returned to the body because, he thought, he had lacked higher reflection and obedience throughout the experience.

Whiteman describes states in yet further experiences in which he was conscious of more than one space at once. Although he does not say so this seems to be similar to the state of dual consciousness already described. In other experiences he seemed to participate in another person's personality and memory, finding himself aware of some scene simultaneously as though it were unknown and familiar. Finally in his last type he achieved separation through recognition of 'The Waters'. By this he means that there is a transitional stage in which everything appears shapeless and fluid. Often this state lapsed into a dream of flying or floating.

Whiteman also describes a variety of experiences with different processes of return. In some the two bodies gradually come into coincidence. Whiteman gives as an example an experience in which he was in a park or wood when he felt the physical world's call. The inner space began to melt away and in its place there formed a parallel world, like the physical but not identical. From there the other body was lowered into the physical and consciousness returned to the body.

An alternative kind of return involved dual consciousness of an inner world and of the physical world, one gradually supplanting the other. Many other authors have described both these methods of return to the physical. Whiteman also mentions false awakenings of two kinds. In the first he would return from a separation and seem to be back in the physical, only to find that he was still separated. In the other kind he seemed to return to a dissociated state, but the bedroom turned out to be a strange one. Some of Whiteman's experiences ended because they lapsed into other sorts of experience, such as a dream or half-separation. Others ended symbolically with him seeming to return through sinking into earth or water; and in a final type he ended by being absorbed into some other entity.

Whiteman also describes the different forms taken in separation experiences. For example, in psychical separation the other body is like the physical but in mystical states higher form of greater and greater beauty are manifested. Similarly the worlds seen and the light which illuminates them vary as the experience becomes more mystical. Whiteman does not describe many of the features which have so preoccupied other writers such as the silver cord, the different modes of travelling, or the physical objects and places apparently seen. Nor did he experiment with trying to move physical objects or travelling to unknown places to check whether the details seen were correct. In fact he specifically argues that the veridicality of the experiences, in physical terms, is far less important than their 'reality' in terms of that other world in which they take place.

The similarities between Whiteman's and others' findings imply that the same experiences are being described. Separation through shock, from dreaming, or through symbolic openings are all familiar, as is dual consciousness, and return through gradual merging. The clarity and vividness of the experience is a common feature, but the great difference lies in Whiteman's emphasis. For him every state is seen as a reflection of the nature of the inner mind or stage of mystical progress. It may be because of my own lack of mystical awareness, but I cannot help wondering whether the mystical life is really a necessary prelude to these experiences.

Many spontaneous OBEs in otherwise untrained people have mystical qualities about them. In my own OBE I experienced a state of unity with the world and a wonderful sense of joy, energy, and clarity. But I had had no mystical training or prior experience whatever. Whiteman emphsises the need for Obedience, arguing that it was Yram's use of effort which led to his unpleasant experiences, but Yram also describes joy and well-being in his experiences. Whiteman describes the distaste and shame which followed his attempts at induction by effort, but I wonder whether that shame stemmed from a sensitivity to a higher nature, or his own preconceptions about how he ought to behave. I do not know, and can only express some doubts.

Perhaps we can only answer certain questions by experiencing these states for ourselves. And one thing is becoming clearer. If we did experience them they would certainly not be identical to any we have yet read about. No two people have described identical experiences, or identical progression through their experiences out of the body.

  1. Whiteman, J. H. M. 'The Process of Separation and Return in Experiences Fully "Out-of-the-Body"' (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1956, 50, pp. 240-274).
  2. --. The Mystical Life (London: Faber and Faber, 1961).
  3. --. 'The Scientific Evaluation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences' (in J. C. Poynton ed. Parapsychology in South Africa. Johannesburg: South African Society for Psychical Research, 1975, pp. 95-108).


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