Patience Worth; Legitimate Literary Legend or Mythical Ghost?
Imagine being invited to a posh Upper East Side apartment to hear the latest writings of a new literary sensation. The energy in the room buzzing as new poetry is presented with a high degree of wit, skill, and lyricism. Now imagine if that poetry was being channeled through an ordinary housewife from St. Louis, Missouri. That is the legend of Patience Worth, a 17th century literary “spirit,” whose rise to fame catapulted both she and her channeler into overnight sensations.
Patience Worth The Sorry Tale
To understand the mystery surrounding Patience Worth, one must first know about Pearl Curran. Born in 1883, Pearl Lenore Pollard was the only child of an often unemployed railroad worker and an ambitious mother who suffered from nervous ailments.
Curran was a talkative child and an average student. She loved music and aspired to be a singer, but her family’s meager finances were stretched thin to make her dream a reality. Like her mother, Curran struggled with anxiety, to the point of dropping out of school at 13 years old. In 1908, Curran met and married John Curran and moved to St. Louis, a city exploding with opportunities.
As a lonely newlywed, unable to have children (although she and Curran adopted a child and eventually had a child of their own), Curran’s constant companion was Emily Hutchinson, a charismatic writer and devoted practitioner of spiritualism, a popular belief in communication with the dead. After Curran’s father died in 1912, her friend suggested they try to communicate with him through a Ouija board.
Curran found these first attempts at communicating with her dead father silly, however one summer evening in 1913, the first of many communications with the spirit known as Patience Worth began to come forth:
“[The board] raced to the letters M, A, N and Y. Within minutes the women had this message: ‘Many moons ago I lived. Again I come—Patience Worth my name.’
Emily Hutchison tried to take control of the communication with this spirit, but it was clear that Worth had chosen Curran as her medium. Soon, word of Curran’s new talent spread and she began to open her home to the public, supported by her husband John, who took careful notes of Worth’s communications, that were delivered rapidly and without interruption: “The pointer would fly around the board and Pearl would call out words at the rate of 1,500 or so an hour.”
Worth told Curran that she was born in Dorsetshire, England in 1649, the daughter of John and Anne Worth, a seamstress to a nobleman. She communicated that she never married and lived her entire life in the small village. Curran channeled that Worth died at the age of 30-years-old in New England, after a long sea voyage from England to America. While mostly sparse with her life’s details, Worth did reveal certain vivid memories:
“I remember a certain church,” she once dictated, “with its wee windows and its prim walls, with its sanctity and meekness, with its aloofness and chilling godliness…[a]ye, well I remember the heat that foretold the wrath of God, making the Good Man [the parson] sweat. Aye, and Heaven seemed far, far.”
Before becoming the medium through which Worth expressed herself, Pearl Curran’s life was quiet and ordinary. But after making contact with Worth and the otherworld, Curran became almost as much of a curiosity as her subject; a curiosity that expanded to psychologists, who wondered if Curran suffered from multiple personality disorder, or who attributed Worth’s writings to Curran’s own unexpressed subconscious. Despite many attempts, Curran refused to cooperate with those who wanted to study her and her “gift.”
Curran did receive a sense of retribution when in 1927 parapsychologist and founder of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, Walter Franklin Pierce published The Case of Patience Worth, a 500-page book that declared “ordinary” Pearl Curran was merely the conduit for transmitting Worth’s copious literary production.
PATIENCE WORTH’S BOOKS AND POEMS: A LITERARY MYSTERY COMES TO LIFE
As word of Curran’s medium ability grew, so did the demand to know more about the spirit who was channeling through her. In 1915, the religious editorial page editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat wrote a series of articles that became the book, Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery published by Henry Holt, (also a spiritualist). The book included Worth’s poems, and resulted in turning Worth into a literary sensation. Even The New York Times took notice, writing that “Patience Worth[’s] messages out of the darkness never sink to the commonplace level, but always show high intelligence and sometimes are even tipped with the flame of genius.”
The country and the literary world were so entranced by Worth’s literary mystery that her work began to appear in print almost as quickly as Curran could channel them.
A PROLIFIC WRITER: WORTH HER WEIGHT IN POEMS
To say that Worth was a prolific writer would be an understatement, as proven hundreds of poems to a number of plays, short stories and seven novels. Her most well known novel, The Sorry Tale: A Story in the Time of Christ, was published in 1917 to wide public and critical acclaim. In addition to these works, she was much loved and often quoted for her proverbs, such as “the owl is silent, and credited with much wisdom.”
Worth was so well-respected in literary circles that the Joint Committee of Literary Arts of New York recognized her as one of the country’s most extraordinary writers. But, her literary esteem was short-lived, as writing styles and readers tastes changed to voices such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Her follow-up novel, Hope Trueblood, received mixed reviews, with the Atlantic Monthly calling the author and her “otherworldly” followers “silly as they are dull.”
FLEETING FAME FOR WORTH AND CURRAN
By the 1920s, Curran and her husband experienced financial troubles, having not benefited from the publication of Worth’s books. John Curran died in 1922, leaving Curran with two children to support. To earn money, Curran began traveling with a gilded Ouija board, offering readings to celebrities include Ethel Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. After two brief and unsuccessful marriages, Curran moved to Los Angeles where her finances remained meager, but she was in demand as a medium in artistic circles.
Throughout all the ups and downs of fame and celebrity, Worth remained a constant for Curran, who reportedly continued to communicate to her one week before Curran died on December 3, 1937 from pneumonia. There have never been any other recorded or verified communications from Worth after Curran’s death.
For believers in the paranormal and in communicating with the great beyond, Patience Worth represents the power of the human spirit that is not bound by death. To skeptics, Worth is nothing more than the subconscious iterations of an unlikely and ordinary person named Pearl Curran. Whatever one believes, we can agree that the power to create, connect, and communicate is universal across physical and psychic boundaries.
The After Effects of a Near-Death Experience
Stories of near-death experiences have existed for centuries. The subject is well researched yet the question remains: Is the origin of the near-death experience rooted in science or religion? Despite the continuous search for empirical explanations, accounts of near-death experiences and their aftereffects prevail.
Initially, aftereffects of a near-death experience can incite feelings of love while negative reports often express fear. Over time, aftereffects can stimulate psychosocial and psycho-spiritual deviations. Psychologists, school counselors and professionals in the medical field understand a need for intervention. Professionals can assist people who have near-death experiences by helping them integrate their experience, as well as provide support for family members.
The Question Remains: Is a Near- Death Experience Fact or Fiction?
Do we need to question our scientific world or spiritual space to understand near-death experiences? Stories from real people and their perceptions may shed some light upon clarifying the subject of near- death experiences.
Over several decades, many clinical cases have been recorded explaining events of people having life-changing experiences of dying, then coming back. This mysterious phenomenon has been named “near- death experience”, or “NDE.” According to the 2006 article Near-Death Experiences and Spirituality by Bruce Greyson, many stories revealed common features such as bright lights, tunnels and feelings of joy.” Furthermore, investigators collected data and found similar features including helping others more often, amplified compassion, spiritual versus religious inclination, and an overall disposition of gratitude and appreciation for life.
History of Near-Death Experiences
Stories of near-death experiences have been reported by many different cultures throughout several eras. The 2009 article Near-Death Experiences and Psychotherapy by LJ Griffith retells the story of a near-death experience: “Plato recounted a tale of a soldier who seemed to be dead, but came back to life explaining he had visited another world.” Global accounts of near-death experience stories “originate from Israel to South America,” Griffith states.
Raymond Moody is considered the pioneer of near-death studies in the mid-1970s. The main focus of his studies was to look at the actual experience and aftereffects. In 1975 Moody published Life After Life, which initiated further research and public interest. Moody’s book ignited over 50 research teams who published more than 55 studies involving a wide cultural span. According to the 2001 article A Hawaiian Near-Death Experience by Allen Kellehear, data collected on near-death stories spans the experiences of over 3,000 people practicing a range of religions.
Research on Near-Death Experiences
Research on near-death experience caught the interest of professionals in a variety of fields. According to Christian Agrillo’s 2011 Near-Death Experience: Out of Body and Out of Brain? research on near-death experiences is considered a valued subject in the field of cognitive neuroscience. The mystery of whether an afterlife exists represents an extremely important topic in philosophy as well. Additionally, Griffith discusses how researchers involved in near-death experiences include physicians, nurses, chaplains and psychologists – and some have written substantially on the subject.
Despite the amount of research on near-death experiences, a roadblock remains regarding what exactly a near-death experience is. Agrillo explains that some investigators have attributed roadblocks to the reality that the process of death and subjective manner in which we die is still a topic of limited knowledge.
Definition of a Near-Death Experience
Psychological and physiological models postulated in the past have failed to pass empirical investigations thus limiting a clear definition of a near-death experience. Research has involved exhaustive interviews resulting in categorical evidence. According to the 2010 article by KE Bell on How School Counselors Can Assist Student Near-Death Experiences, the results of interviews from several studies indicate patterns that define a near-death experience.
In Greyson’s 1999 article Defining Near-Death eExperiences, Greyson described twelve to fifteen consistent themes and features that were discovered on near-death experiences:
- An awareness of being above your body or dead
- Rise in joy or euphoria
- Entering a space or sometimes tunnel
- Seeing or feeling a very bright white light
- A sense of a being in a peaceful, beautiful or sometimes frightening place
- Encounter with loved ones who have previously passed on
- Angel type beings, guides or religious figures
- Some form of a life review which often involves experiencing deep emotion associated with ones actions
- A choice or perception that one has to come back
What happens after experiencing the near-death experience phenomenon? Often experiences result in positive, sometimes profound aftereffects such as a sense of bliss and euphoria in their lives. Many people find their personality has changed in addition to different beliefs and attitudes toward subjects in religion and death. Furthermore, Griffith explains that physiological transformations such as experiencing heightened sensation to noise or other senses, increased or decreased need for sleep and some level of sensitivity toward electromagnetic were described by people interviewed.
While examining the subject of religion, researchers found profound changes in near-death experiencers. According to Greyson’s 1999 article, interviews found the most often reported alteration in life was that of a spiritual matter. Additionally, reports of a stronger concern or empathy for others, a solid sense of purpose, closeness to God and an aversion to conventional religious practices were recorded. Not surprisingly, as reported in the same article, newfound characteristics parallel the definition of a spiritual transformation which often encompasses an authentic love for others on a large scale.