Merston, “Claire,” and the Dangers of Prematurely Separating out the Astral and Physical Bodies

This follows a line begun in this post, albeit in a tangent:

In 1931, Ethel Merston began a stormy relationship with a 13-year-old girl known to us only as “Claire.” Having been born in late 1882, Merston would have been 48 going on 49. Whether it was a sexually realised relationship or not, the lesbian nature of the emotional attachment is not in doubt. From what is visible, the relationship was highly strung and turbulent through to the bitter end.

According to Korman, whenever the young Claire so much as sat down, she would go into a trance, and articulate intimate thoughts, including details of her personal life. (36) Given what we know of her nature, it is little wonder that Merston was horrified, and arranged for Claire to receive psychiatric care in London. The doctor and his colleagues all believed that her case was too advanced for any treatment to succeed, yet they persevered, and Claire was able, for a while, to lead a decent life, eventually procuring a position as a governess in India.

The two maintained a correspondence. In May 1934, Merston went to India to see her. (40-41) Before she went, she visited Gurdjieff, the only time she had done so since 1927, and the last time she ever saw him. When she asked if she should go to India, he said “Go.” When they finally met up, Claire looked to be in bad shape: apparently she had had an affair with a man who had died suddenly after it ended. (43)

In India, Claire was operating as a medium, claiming to receive messages from a spirit guide named “Le Vieux,” “the old man.” She began receiving cheerful premonitions of “death … (and) tombs” (48). This led to séances, and when Claire was exhausted, “Ethel spent several hours in restoring Claire, patting and soothing her like a child.” (50)

Significantly, Merston wrote that she often felt too tired to have Claire near her, as she “sapped my vitality.” (51) Around this time:

Ethel heard Claire from her room asking in a low voice for Ethel to bring her paper and a pencil. Ethel could see she was in a vision, and moved quietly so as not to shock her into losing it. She laid down the pencil and paper and left. Shortly, she heard Claire calling in a weak voice and found her lying on her bed looking terrified. Ethel guessed she had gone out of her body and could not get back. Ethel had the intuition to put her hand on Clair’s solar plexus. … For the next fifteen minutes Claire stared at Ethel as she slowly returned. Finally she was able to tell Ethel that she had gotten out of her body somehow, was unable to come back and became very frightened. (52-53)

On another occasion, something similar occurred: the girl sensed that she had left her body and could not return. (79) Aside from this, although not unrelated, the relationship between the two was bizarre. Claire would place Ethel’s hand on her heart and say “she needed to feel sue Ethel was there.” (68) Claire would awaken with energy, but Ethel was conversely exhausted, speechless, and numb. (69) Once when Claire was in pain, Ethel laid down alongside her, giving Claire “her vitality,” and she received the gift. (74) When Claire placed Ethel’s head on her chest and heart, Ethel felt her head expand and “melt into her atmosphere.” (77)

The real lesson here, as I see it, was that in such an emotionally charged relationship, the energies of the feeling body were also in turbulence. They are always explosive if suddenly and without control released into the physical body. As Mr Adie indicated in his piece on the formation of the astral body, as it forms, must remain within its limits, that is, within its “astral skin,” so to speak. If these are “filmy” and poorly formed, it escapes into the body and in the best case, makes the physical body itch to move (see the book George Adie, from By the Way Books).

But here the situation was far worse. I shall not pursue this to the end of the story, but it all followed from the volatile and formless nature of the relationship and the energies of the two women. However, it was Claire who was experimenting with mediumship and the separating out of her second body. This is most dangerous if a person does not how to reintegrate and reblend the two. Merston stumbled upon part of the way, by placing her hand on Claire’s solar plexus. This brings sensation to the chief parts of the physical centre of the feeling apparatus (although as Gurdjieff said, the organic aspect of this body is more diffuse than is the case with the others).

I think I can say with some confidence that this shows the dangers of meddling with mediums, spirits, and the astral body, without understanding the principles of grounding oneself in sensation, and, as Gurdjieff taught in his Aiessirittorassnian-contemplation, relating and harmonising the work of all three centres. Anyone who is not emotionally stable but engages in such practices, is in danger of losing even the ordinary, down-to-earth sense of personal coherence which is needed to function in life. It is rather like seeing someone trying to run when they cannot even walk: surely we would teach them to find and control basic movements of their feet, and then, when they can balance, help them to take their first steps. With a sound foundation like that, they can incrementally learn to run.

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