Author Topic: New York's Forgotten Channeler: Jane Roberts and the Seth Material  (Read 2409 times)

Offline Deb

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Here is a thoughtfully written paper by a Chapel Hill scholar. It's also a wonderful resource for someone who is new to the Seth materials and wants to get an idea of the story behind Seth and the Roberts.

If you see any problems with the text of this, please let me know. I copied, with difficultly, the contents of a PDF that was behaving badly.
Cynthia A. Hogan, Ph.D. Candidate
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Paper
presented on March 4, 2014 at Syracuse University
for the Eastern International Regional Meeting
of the American Academy of Religion

Upstate New York’s Forgotten Channeler: Jane Roberts and the Seth Material

(PDF attached below)

N.B I use Jane Roberts or Jane to refer to Jane Roberts,
and Robert Butts or Robert to refer to her husband for clarity
in the following paper. With regards to the “Seth” entity,
I fold this personality in with Jane’s. Therefore, I generally use
the composite Seth/Jane to refer to Jane Roberts in trance.
Finally, though there is a book of the same title (The Seth Material, 1970),
in this paper I use the “Seth Material” as the collective for all of
Jane Roberts’ work related to her Seth/Jane experiences.

When I first proposed this paper, I knew that the community, which had grown up around Jane Roberts and her work, has not forgotten about Jane Roberts at all. That community remains strong with several websites and at least one annual conference. In fact, one of Jane Roberts’ students, Rick Stack, regularly holds online or in-house classes and workshops, introducing new audiences to the Seth Material, or providing advanced training for those ready to explore new depths. Instead, what I was thinking was that Jane Roberts and the rigorous metaphysical system, which she presents throughout the Seth Material, had been overlooked as a viable subject of study for scholars of religion. Jane Roberts and the Seth Material are regularly, yet tangentially, mentioned in scholarly treatments of the foundations of New Age spiritualities and in relation to alternative religious experiences in American religions. But very rarely, if at all, has the Seth Material been analyzed in any great detail.1 Roberts earned brief mention in Ann Braude’s now classic Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America (1989), and Michael Brown discusses Roberts in terms of channels in his 1997 monograph, The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age. But in general, the unreliable and unscientific nature of mediumship, channeling, and non-physical entities scares off even the most intrepid social scientist. Subsequently, in this paper, I do not attempt to define or explain what the “Seth” entity actually is, nor do I affirm the validity of Jane Roberts’ abilities as a channel or a medium. Instead, as I introduce Jane Roberts and the Seth Material, I will note the material’s relationship to its precursors, and highlight the importance of not discarding the Seth Material as an object of scholarly inquiry simply because of its association with the amorphous and ambivalent phenomena of channeling. My interest is to consider the Jane Roberts’ Seth Material, not as an example of channeled material, but as a complex integrated belief system that encompasses theology, ontology, epistemology, cosmology, and teleology. AND, in order to blunt the so-what question here – of why the Seth Material matters anyway – suggest that even if it is understood as an alternative religion or nontheistic belief system, the complexity of the Seth philosophy warrants the same academic treatment as a topic of Western religious expression no different from the scholarly work done on Spiritualism, Theosophy, the studies of magic and witchcraft, or other tendrils of Western esotericism. Jane Roberts’ Seth Material has ties to all of these discourses and yet cannot be reduced to any one of them.

Precursors: The phrase, “You create your own reality” appears almost as a truism of American individualist thought. It calls to us from the Transcendentalist writings of the nineteenth century, and it is embedded in the America Dream, well known from the New Thought Movement as well as Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In one way or another, this idiom “that we create our own circumstances” has made its way into various New Age expressions of it, not to mention its subtle permutations in the Prosperity Gospel. And it keeps making its reappearance in popular culture. Many of us have seen the 2006 documentary entitled The Secret, or read the book of the same name. Rhonda Byrne and the video’s participants would have you believe that you are in charge of your own destiny, all you have to do is: THINK IT because THOUGHTS BECOME REALITY.2

The promoters of this world-view – that you create your reality, or the Law of Attraction, or some other catchphrase – insist that we each have the innate ability to create our own circumstances and reach our greatest potential. Finally, they maintain that this “secret” if you will, has long been known to us from the philosophical and religious heritage left to us from Plato, and Buddha, and Jesus, and now Joel Olsteen. But what these precursors do not embrace is that we create our reality prior to our entrance into it. In other words, according to the Seth Material, we actually form our physical reality, we choose our life circumstances before birth, and we have the ability to reframe our current circumstances at any time. And it is here that the Seth Material differs in degree from its religious and philosophical forebears. Jane Roberts’ Seth Material is too complex to fully cover in this short paper, so let us first begin with the story of Jane Roberts and her initial Seth experience.

Jane Roberts was born May 8, 1929 in Albany, New York, but grew up Saratoga Springs, living with her maternal grandparents for a short time before she and her mother, Marie Burdo, moved into their own place. Marie Burdo began suffering from rheumatoid arthritis by the time Jane was four years old. It would be from complications from rheumatoid arthritis that would later claim Jane’s life in 1984. Jane Roberts attended Skidmore College in the late 1940s, but never graduated. She married Robert Butts on December 27, 1954. The couple lived most of their lives in Elmira, New York. Jane Roberts wrote poetry and short stories, while Robert Butts painted. Jane Roberts had always taken an interest in mystical themes, and decided to explore her own potential for clairvoyance. She describes her first psychic experience, which occurred in 1963, while she was working on her poetry in a case of what we might call “automatic writing.” Roberts described it as being “tuned in” or “connected.” She writes, “Yet I seemed to be somewhere else, at the same time, traveling through things. I went plummeting through a leaf, to find a whole universe open up; and then out again, drawn into new perspectives.” When Roberts came out of her brief spell, she had written, “The Physical Universe as Idea Construction.” 3

In that same year [1963], during the course of research for a new guidebook on developing one’s ESP potential, Jane Roberts began to receive messages from a disembodied personality, who called himself ‘Frank Withers.’ The initial contact occurred while Jane Roberts and Robert Butts were using a store bought Ouija board. Upon asking the Ouija board to provide the name of the “spirit” who was communicating to them, the planchette spelled out the name Frank Withers. The Ouija sessions continued and ‘Frank Withers’ confessed to being part of a larger entity named Seth. Eventually, Jane Roberts would discard the Ouija board altogether and be able to directly channel this “Seth” personality while in a trance state. Roberts’ ability to enter and exit this trance state at will was witnessed by numerous individuals over the course of twenty-one years.4

While in this trance state, Roberts’ voice would audibly deepen, becoming identifiably masculine. She would remove her heavy eyeglasses, and her facial expressions visibly changed. Over the course of nearly twenty years, Jane Roberts and Robert Butts would hold semi-weekly sessions for Seth/Jane to dictate book material as well as weekly classes for ESP students. When Jane was in trance, Robert Butts would take down verbatim what Seth/Jane said in his own version of shorthand. In addition to dictation, Seth/Jane held personal sessions for the purpose of answering Jane Roberts and Robert Butts’ questions or to work on their respective personal development. Seth/Jane dictated a vast output of material that Butts carefully recorded and transcribed between the years of 1963 and 1984, resulting in over 20 published books under “Seth’s” name. According to both Jane Roberts and Robert Butts, Seth/Jane never revised the dictated drafts. Each “book” produced was published just as Seth/Jane dictated it but with annotations by Robert Butts. Further, Jane Roberts and Robert Butts reported that Seth/Jane never needed reminding of where she ended dictation, and could resume from where she left off – despite long absences or breaks between sessions.

Witnesses and students of Seth/Jane formed a tightly-knit but loosely identified community dedicated to following what became known as “Sethian” precepts in their daily lives. Often referring to themselves simply as Seth-Readers, these students continued to maintain strong ties during Roberts’ lifetime. After her death in 1984, several of the original Seth-Readers formed regional Seth Centers in various parts of the nation. As technology advanced, websites appeared. Internet sites such as or continue to be dedicated to disseminating Seth-related material, promoting Sethian ideas, and keeping the Seth phenomena available in the public sphere. The online bookstore provides an ongoing network of communication for the original Seth-Readers as well as introducing the “Seth” material to new audiences.

Jane Roberts and Robert Butts consistently challenged Jane’s experiences. Jane posited her own psychological theory, which she termed “aspect psychology,” in order to help explain her own experiences.5 Both Jane and Robert also kept detailed journals of their experiences as well as correspondence, news articles, interviews and other additional documentation related to the Seth/Jane phenomena. All of this material is now at the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University, where it has been organized, cataloged, and made available to researchers.

To give you some idea of the depth and breadth of Seth/Jane’s metaphysical claims, let us delve into some of the more interesting facets of the Seth Material. According to Jane Roberts, Robert Butts, their students and friends, “Seth” is an entity free of three-dimensional physical existence.6  Seth/Jane describes herself as an energy essence personality that is no longer focused in physical reality. “Seth” maintains that Jane Roberts is only part of a greater consciousness, of which “he” is also a part. Seth as a name is done solely for the sake of convenience. Seth/Jane refers to Jane Roberts as “Rupert,” her entity name, and to Robert Butts as “Joseph,” his entity name.7 Seth, Rupert, and Joseph, have known each other throughout numerous incarnations. To complicate this a bit further, Rupert is to Seth as Seth II is to Seth III, each named personality is only one aspect of a larger, whole entity or, what I will term “gestalt.”

In the Seth Material paradigm, a gestalt is comprised of multiple entities, personalities, and each personality’s probable selves, comparable to theories of multiple or parallel universes. The gestalt creates entities, entities in turn create personalities, and each individual personality has an infinite number of probable selves, each residing within probable realities. Gestalts, entities, personalities, and probable selves all exist simultaneously and are in constant communication. Such communication, Seth/Jane maintains, generally occurs in dream states, in waking dream states, or, in the case of Jane Roberts, during trance states.

Consequently, gestalts, entities, personalities, and probably selves all operate simultaneously, but in various realities, in what Seth/Jane understands as “multidimensionality.” Each reality possesses unique physical or nonphysical laws of operation. As such, a gestalt is a sum of various individual and co-creating parts; each part is in a different stage of development. They are individual of each other but merge together within the gestalt. Each entity, personality, and probable self may draw upon the resources of the entire gestalt. Further, each aspect is able communicate with other gestalts and entities. Multidimensional beings reside across multidimensional realities and are linked by a chain of consciousness to All That Is, which is Seth/Jane’s term for God. According to Seth/Jane, each entity uses its multiple individual consciousnesses (i.e., personalities) to learn by exploring various existences in different dimensions, realities, and probabilities. As such, Jane Roberts and Robert Butts are connected to Seth in this existence due to a mutually agreed upon arrangement that was determined prior to Jane Roberts and Robert Butt’s physical entrance into their earthly lifetimes. Personalities enter into physical existences in order to complete lessons and/or work out issues carried over from previous existences.

Seth/Jane reports that there is no judgment to be faced after death and heaven or hell exist only as constraining mental constructs, which the personality will eventually overcome. Further, unlike religious traditions that invoke Karmic cycles, Seth/Jane assures us that there is no punishment after death, only a review of the personality’s life lived, and its choice to either experience additional physical incarnations or find alternative means of development.

Seth/Jane maintains that the dictated material that she has produced is not new information for humankind. In fact, it is the philosophia perennis that has existed in all times and cultures, accessible through esoteric wisdom traditions. Seth/Jane, however, uses her own terms when referencing ontological or epistemological concepts. For example, God, for Seth/Jane is referred to as “All-That-Is” while mind, spirit, and soul are understood as “frameworks of consciousness.” It is clear that Seth/Jane presents a cohesive and perhaps even systematic metaphysical paradigm that is worthy of attention due to its complexity and relationship to other systematic theologies and philosophies. Further, only through the application of critical scholarly approaches to the Seth material, whether the lens be feminist, historical, textual, source-critical, constructivist, literary, or other – the benefits of studying this corpora can only help us in understanding the continued acceptance and transmission of such spiritual and philosophical currents as they continue to feed American religious imaginaries.

In a recent article in The Chronicle Preview of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey J. Kripal argues that we as scholars have a duty to study, describe, and interpret all phenomena not just the phenomena that fits our neat and accepted [read “constructed”] categories of knowledge. Our neat materialist worldview is comforting, nourishing our fallacies that we actually do understand the mechanics of human society, the human brain, and the physical universe without any of those pesky doubts so often raised by theological or metaphysical questions.

Kripal discusses the human brain in terms of neuroscientist David Eagleman’s analogy of the human brain being a receiver, much like a radio receiver, of something he terms a “transhuman signal” noting that others such as William James, Henri Bergson, and Aldous Huxley have also each considered alternative views of the human brain and its capabilities. The truth is that we don’t even know what we don’t know. The phenomena that has come to be known as the Seth Material deserves scholarly attention and should not be dismissed out of hand because we cannot assign an origin due to its association with channeling and mediumship. As Foucault and others have shown us, ascribing an origin is a tricksey thing. So in sum, I would like to conclude that we set aside questions of origins or source validation, and instead focus on the material – on the body of work that has been left to us, in other words, let us reclaim the material aspects of the Seth material rather than simply FORGET it because we find its origin suspect and the texts therefore spurious.

1 See Paul F. Cunningham, “The Content-Source Problem in Modern Medium Research,”
The Journal of Parapsychology
 76.2 (Fall 2012), 295-319.
2 Rhonda Byrne,
The Secret
 [video recording], (Chicago, Il: TS Production, LLC, c2006),
The Secret
 (New York: Atria Books, 2006).
3 Jane Roberts,
The Seth Material
 (Manhasset, NY: New Awareness Network, 2001), 10.
4 In 1994, I personally interviewed two of Jane Roberts’ former students, Wade and Marianne Alexander, who attended two years worth of class sessions with Seth/Jane from 1972-1974 in Elmira, New York.
5 Jane Roberts,
 Adventures in Consciousness: An Introduction to Aspect Psychology
 (Portsmouth, NH: Moment Point Press, Inc., 1999, originally published 1975).
6 For more in depth descriptions of the “Seth” personality see
The Seth Material
(1970/2001) and
Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul
 (1972/1994), and
The  Nature of Personal Reality
7 Michael F. Brown notes the tendency of female mediums to channel male entities as well as the shared belief among channels that throughout the reincarnational cycle souls will have experienced life though alternate incarnations of both genders.
See The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age,
 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 93-114. For more in-depth analysis of mediums and women’s’ experiences in Spiritualism, see Ann Braude,
 Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s  Rights in Nineteenth-Century America
 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989)
8 Jeffrey J. Kripal, “Visions of the Impossible: How ‘Fantastic’ Stories unlock the nature of consciousness,”
The Chronicle Review of The Chronicle of Higher Education
 (Section B, April 14, 2014), B6-B11

« Last Edit: October 23, 2015, 03:43:31 PM by Deb »

John Sorensen

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Thanks for sharing, now I have to sign up to that whatever so I can download the PDF for my tablet.

I tend to think of the brain not so much as a physical object (which is it in a sense) but as an infinite quantum computer that connects me to all the other infinite quantum computers in existence, as well as the big pie in the sky super-duper All That Is gestalt entity of Awesome.

Of course once we are deceased, the brain will be just a hunk of decaying meat, so don't get too attached to it then. :D

Offline my1eden

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What a wonderful post. Although it formulates all that we know as Sethies, it congregates what we accept as our beliefs and expands our awareness in this wonderful experience we call life. Thank you Deb.

Offline Deb

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now I have to sign up to that whatever so I can download the PDF for my tablet

I just ended up jumping through all the hoops to get the PDF. It's attached to my post. I hope you didn't have to go through all the bother, it was ridiculous.

And my1eden, you're welcome! Every once in a while I find something new on the internet related to Seth et al. If you ever find something worthwhile, feel free to put it up somewhere here. While I prefer copy & paste into a post where possible (it's easy for others to read and doesn't add to the server load), you can also do attachments.


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