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|Born||Dorothy Jane Roberts|
May 8, 1929
Saratoga Springs, New York, USA
|Died||September 5, 1984(aged 55)|
|Alma mater||Skidmore College|
|Literary movement||New Age|
|Notable works||The Seth Material, The Oversoul Seven Trilogy|
|Born||Dorothy Jane Roberts|
May 8, 1929
Saratoga Springs, New York, USA
|Died||September 5, 1984(aged 55)|
|Alma mater||Skidmore College|
|Literary movement||New Age|
|Notable works||The Seth Material, The Oversoul Seven Trilogy|
Dorothy Jane Roberts (May 8, 1929 – September 5, 1984) was an American author, poet, self-proclaimed psychic and spirit medium, who claimed to channel an energy personality who called himself "Seth". Her publication of the Seth texts, known as the "Seth Material", established her as one of the preeminent figures in the world of paranormal phenomena. The Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives maintains a collection entitled Jane Roberts Papers (MS 1090), which documents the career and personal life of Jane Roberts, including journals, poetry, correspondence, audio and video recordings and other materials donated after her death by Roberts' husband and other individuals and organizations.
Roberts was born in a hospital in Albany, New York and grew up in nearby Saratoga Springs, New York. Her parents, Delmer Hubbell Roberts and Marie Burdo, divorced when she was two years old. With her only child, the young Marie then returned to her own parents, and the home that the family had rented for a number of years: half of a double dwelling in a poor neighborhood in Saratoga Springs. Marie had begun experiencing the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis by 1932, but worked as much as possible. Eventually Roberts' grandfather, Joseph Burdo, with whom she shared a deep mystical identification, was unable to support two extra people, and the family had to rely upon public assistance. Roberts' grandmother was killed in an automobile accident in 1936.
The next year, her grandfather moved out of the house. By then Marie was partially incapacitated, and the Welfare Department began to furnish mother and daughter with occasional (and often unreliable) domestic help. When Marie became a bedridden invalid, it was Jane’s responsibility to take care of her. This included cooking, cleaning, bringing her the bedpan, and getting up in the middle of the night to refuel the stove. Her embittered mother used to tell Jane that she was going to turn on the gas jets in the middle of the night and kill them both. "My mother was a real bitch," Jane said, "but she was an energetic bitch. When my mother attempted suicide for about the fifth time, she took a whole mess of sleeping pills and was in the hospital. I went to the welfare lady and said, 'I can’t take it anymore. I’ve just got to leave.'" Over and over Marie told Jane that she was no good, that the daughter's birth had caused the mother's illness, that she was disowned and considered no longer her daughter.
The persistent psychological abuse and mistreatment by her mother resulted in the young girl's deep fear of abandonment. Such situations increased Jane's sense of not being safe, yet also reinforced feelings of independence, for she did not have to feel as dependent upon Marie as she might otherwise. Well before she was 10 years old Jane had developed persistent symptoms of colitis. By her early teens she had an overactive thyroid gland. Her vision was poor; she required very strong glasses (which she seldom wore). For most of 1940 and half of 1941 Jane was in a strictly-run Catholic orphanage in Troy, NY while her mother was hospitalized in another city for treatment of her arthritis. Priests came to the house regularly and support was offered to the fatherless family. Jane's initial bonding to the cultural beliefs of religion was very strong to make up for the lack of a loving, nurturing family. However, some of Jane's very early poetry using ideas akin to reincarnation offended one priest, who burned her books on the Fall of Rome.
The 'troublesome' material remained relatively inactive until her curiosity and ability led her to actively challenge those ideas while she was also in a situation where the natural fear of abandonment might be suggested. For a time she was left between belief systems. Jane began working at a variety store in the summer of 1945, when she was 16 years old. It was her first job. That fall she continued on the job after school hours, and on an occasional Saturday. After attending public schools, she attended Skidmore College from 1947 to 1950 on a poetry scholarship. Roberts' grandfather died when she was age 19. It was a time of severe shock for her. She was beginning to substitute scientific belief for religious belief.
Jane had been going with a fellow named Walt Zeh at the time, and they decided to go to the west coast by motorcycle to see Jane’s father (who had also come from a broken home). Jane then married Walt, a long-time Saratoga Springs friend, and continued to write while taking a variety of other jobs, including society editor for the Saratoga newspaper and as a supervisor in a radio factory. They lived together for three years. She "then found out — [while she] was working in a radio factory putting lover-boy Walt through school what everybody else in town knew – [that] he isn't going through school." It was then in February 1954 while "cutting up, dancing, and raisin' hell at a party," that Jane first met the former commercial artist Robert Fabian Butts, Jr. (June 20, 1919 - May 26, 2008). The bachelor had shown up at the shindig on a last-minute impulse. The fourth time they met, at another party and never having dated, Jane "just looked at him and said, 'Look, I’m leaving Walt, and I'm going to live by myself or I'm going to live with you, so just let me know." Eventually the two left town together and Jane filed for divorce. Jane and Rob married on December 27, 1954 at the home of his parents in Sayre, PA.
Roberts wrote in a variety of genres: poetry, short stories, children’s literature, nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy and novels. She was the only woman invited to the first science-fiction writer's conference in 1956 in Milford, PA. The couple moved to Elmira, NY, in 1960, to find steady part time work – Rob in the local greeting card company, Jane in an art gallery. Their lives seemed set, their art defined. Now in her 30s, she and her husband began to record what she said were messages from a personality named "Seth", and she wrote several books about the experience.
On a September evening in 1963, their everyday worldview changed. Roberts sat down at her table to work on poetry; Butts' was in his back-room studio, painting. "It was very domestic, very normal, very unpsychedelic," she would later remember. And then "Between one normal minute and the next, a fantastic avalanche of radical, new ideas burst into my head with tremendous force ... It was as if the physical world were really tissue-paper-thin, hiding infinite dimensions of reality, and I was flung through the tissue paper with a huge ripping sound." When she "came to," Roberts found herself scrawling the title of this odd batch of notes: The Physical Universe as Idea Construction. Before this, she had never had any interest in psychic phenomena, and though her fiction typically dealt with such themes as clairvoyance and reincarnation, intellectually neither she nor Butts believed in extrasensory abilities or that anyone survived death once, let alone many times. Yet soon after this episode, Roberts suddenly began recalling her dreams, including two that were inarguably precognitive, the first, as far as she knew, that she'd ever had. Their curiosity piqued, the couple decided to investigate further, and she managed to land a contract with a New York publisher for a do-it-yourself book on extra-sensory perception.
In late 1963, Roberts and Butts started experimenting with a Ouija board as part of Roberts' research for the book. According to Roberts and Butts, on December 2, 1963 they began to receive coherent messages from a male personality who eventually identified himself as Seth. Soon after, Roberts reported that she was hearing the messages in her head. The first seven sessions were entirely with the Ouija board. The three-hour session on the evening of Jan. 2, 1964 was the first where she began to dictate the messages instead of using the Ouija board. For awhile she still opened her sessions with the board, but finally was able to abandon it after the 27th session on Feb. 19, 1964. She began to dictate the messages instead of using the Ouija board, and she eventually abandoned the board.
Roberts described the process of writing the Seth books as entering a trance state. She said Seth would assume control of her body and speak through her, while her husband wrote down the words she spoke. They referred to such episodes as "readings" or "sessions". The 26th session on Feb. 18, 1964 was the first held in the presence of another person, a friend.
On Jan. 17, 1964 Roberts channeled an allegedly recently deceased woman who told Butts that he and his wife's work with Seth was a life-time project, that they would publish his manuscripts, and help spread his ideas. At the 27th session Seth also told the couple how to rearrange the furniture in their apartment which would better suit their energies. Despite feelings of disbelief toward both messages, the couple somewhat reluctantly agreed. Two days afterwards they heard from a psychologist interested in reincarnation to whom they had written three weeks earlier with some session copies enclosed. The psychologist told them that the very fluency of the material suggested that it might come from Roberts' subconscious, though it was impossible to tell. He also cautioned that in some circumstances, amateur mediumship could lead to mental problems.
The letter upset me considerably, yet it also objectified some of my own doubts. They were out in the air where I could at least deal with them. As far as the we could tell, for all of my stewing and hemming and hawing, there were no alarming changes in my personality. I was doing twice the creative work I had done earlier. I was satisfied with the quality of the Seth Material; it was far superior to anything I could do on my own. If nothing else, I thought the sessions presented a way of making deeply unconscious knowledge available on a consistent basis.
Because we were so innocent about psychic literature, we weren't hampered by superstitious fears about such [psychic] phenomena. I didn't believe in gods or demons, so I didn't fear them. I wanted to learn. Rob and I had discovered a whole new world together, and we were going to explore it.
There was a constant battle, though, as some of our results ran full tilt into my intellectual ideas. In the beginning, I took it for granted that Seth was a subconscious fantasy, personified, because I simply couldn't accept the possibility of spirits or, for that matter, life after death. Then, after it became obvious that the Seth sessions were going to continue, we kept constant check on my personality characteristics and went to a psychologist – as any sane, red-blooded American would do under such circumstances in those days. Seth seemed far more mature and well-balanced than the psychologist, so finally I stopped worrying. Besides, my personality showed no adverse signs of instability. If anything, I was more competent in handling physical affairs. This is not to say the experience did not cause certain strains and stresses that could accompany any worthwhile venture in an entirely new field.
Roberts also purportedly channeled the world views of several other people, including the philosopher William James, Rembrandt, and the Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, through a process she described as using a typewriter to write "automatically."
For 21 years until Roberts' death in 1984 (with a one-year hiatus due to her final illness), Roberts held more than 1500 regular, private or deleted and “ESP class” trance sessions in which she spoke on behalf of Seth. Butts served as stenographer, taking the messages down in home-made shorthand, and having others on occasion make recording of some sessions. The messages from Seth channeled through Roberts consisted mostly of monologues on a wide variety of topics. They were published by Prentice-Hall under the collective title Seth Material.
Over the years, hundreds of people witnessed Seth speaking. Some went to the ESP classes Roberts held (Tuesday and some Thursday nights, Sept. 1967 – Feb. 1975) for an evening, others attended for longer periods. (By this time Jane had given up her gallery work, and was teaching nursery school during part of this time.) Outside of the ESP class structure, Roberts gave many personal Seth sessions to various individuals who had written her, asking for help. She never charged for those sessions; however, at some point she did charge $2.50 to $3.50 per ESP class of 5 to 40 people. When the books began to sell in sufficient numbers, she dropped that fee. Book sessions were almost always private, held on Monday and Wednesday evenings without witnesses from 1967 through 1982 (except for Tues and Thurs from Aug. to Nov. 1981).
The material through 1969 was published in summary form in The Seth Material, written by Roberts from the output of the channeling sessions. Beginning in January 1970, Roberts wrote books which she described as dictated by Seth. Roberts claimed no authorship of these books beyond her role as medium. This series of "Seth books" totaled ten volumes. The last two books appear to be incomplete due to Roberts' illness. Butts contributed extensive footnotes, appendices, and other comments to all the Seth books, and thus was a co-author on all of them. These additions describe what was going on in Roberts' and his life at the time of the various sessions, annotated some of Seth's comments in light of contemporary beliefs and materials that Roberts and Butts were reading, described excerpts from some fan mail and letters from professionals commenting on Seth's material about their fields, and especially later, provided insight as to the many steps of production of multiple books with the publisher. By February 1982 they were still receiving “from 30 to 50 letters and packages a week” from readers of their various books. Some of Roberts' earlier and later poetry was occasionally included to show how she had touched upon some of Seth's concepts. Roberts also wrote The Oversoul Seven trilogy to explore via fiction some of Seth's teachings on the concepts of reincarnation and oversouls.
According to Roberts, Seth described himself as an "energy personality essence no longer focused in physical matter", and was independent of Roberts' subconscious. Roberts initially expressed skepticism as to Seth's origins, wondering if he was a part of her own personality. As Seth, Roberts at times appeared stern, jovial or professorial. "His" voice was deeper and more masculine sounding than Jane's and was possessed of a distinct, although not identifiable, accent. Unlike the psychic Edgar Cayce, whose syntax when speaking in trance was antiquated and convoluted, Roberts' syntax and sentence structures were modern and clear when speaking as Seth. Later books continued to develop but did not contradict the material introduced in earlier works. Some Practice Elements were even given so that the readers could see how a few of the concepts could be practically experienced.
Roberts' father died in November 1971 at the age of 68; her mother died six months later at the same age. In early 1982 Roberts spent a month in the hospital for severely underactive thyroid gland, protruding eyes and double vision, an almost total hearing loss, a slight anemia, budding bedsores—and a hospital-caused staph infection She recovered to an extent, but died two and a half years later in 1984, having been bedridden with severe arthritis—like her mother—for the final year and a half of her life. Roberts had spent 504 consecutive days in a hospital in Elmira, N.Y. The immediate causes of her death were a combination of protein depletion, osteomyelitis, and soft-tissue infections. These conditions arose out of her long-standing rheumatoid arthritis. (Butts believed for some 15 years that in Roberts' case, at least, the young girl's psychological conditioning was far more important—far more damaging, in those terms—than any physical tendency to inherit the disease.) Roberts was cremated the next day, in a process she and Butts had agreed upon several years earlier. After Roberts’ death, lovingly recorded in The Way Toward Health (1997), Butts continued his work as a guardian of the Seth texts and continued to supervise the publication of some of the remaining material, including The Early Sessions, and making sure that all of the recordings, manuscripts, notes and drawings related to the extraordinary encounters with Seth would be given to the Yale Library. Butts remarried, and his second wife, Laurel Lee Davies, supported his work during the more than twenty years that they were together. (Davies had moved to Elmira from California in 1985 at Butts' request to help answer mail and proofread manuscripts. They did not actually marry until 1999.) Butts died of cancer on May 26, 2008. Jane Roberts Butts and Robert F. Butts Jr. are interred together in the Wayne County, NY, Furnaceville cemetery; however, there is another gravestone with their names on it in the Sunnyside cemetery in Tunkhannock, PA. The vitality of the teachings they helped to bring to the world continues. A number of groups have compiled anthologies of quotes from Seth, summarized sections of his teachings, issued copies of Seth sessions on audio tape, and further relayed the material via classes and conventions.
Seth's effect upon New Age thinkers has been profound. The title jacket of "The Nature of Personal Reality, A Seth Book" published in 1994 (Amber-Allen/New World Library) contains testimonials from some of the most notable thinkers and writers within the movement. Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Shakti Gawain, Dan Millman, Louise Hay, Richard Bach, and others express the effect the Seth Material had upon their own awakening. In words similar to Williamson's they state: "Seth was one of my first metaphysical teachers. He remains a constant source of knowledge and inspiration in my life." Catherine L. Albanese, professor of religious history at the University of Chicago, stated that in the 1970s the Seth Material "launched an era of nationwide awareness" of the channeling trend. She believes it contributed to the "self-identity of an emergent New Age movement and also augment[ed] its ranks."
John P. Newport, in his study of the impact of New Age beliefs on contemporary culture, described the central focus of the Seth material as the idea that, for each individual: "you create your own reality". (Briefly summarized, our beliefs generate emotions which trigger our memories and organize our associations. Eventually those beliefs become manifested in our physical lives and health.) Newport wrote that this foundational concept of the New Age movement was first developed in the "Seth Material". Historian Robert C. Fuller, a professor of religious studies at Bradley University, wrote that Seth filled the role of guide for what Fuller called "unchurched American spirituality", related to concepts of reincarnation, karma, free will, ancient metaphysical wisdom, and "Christ consciousness".
Some writers noted, "Husband Robert Butts stated that similarities exist between Seth's ideas and those of various religious, philosophical, and mystical doctrines from the Near, Middle, or Far East.... and we've done a little reading on Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, and Taoism, for example, not to mention subjects like shamanism, voodooism, and obeah."
The late amateur physicist Michael Talbot wrote, "To my great surprise—and slight annoyance—I found that Seth eloquently and lucidly articulated a view of reality that I had arrived at only after great effort and an extensive study of both paranormal phenomena and quantum physics."
Roberts and the Seth Material have attracted critiques from outside the paranormal community. The poet Charles Upton, in his collection of essays titled The System of Antichrist, posited that Roberts multiplied the self due to a fear of death. His opinion was that the Seth texts are based on a misunderstanding of both Christianity and of Eastern religions.
Professor of psychology and noted critic of parapsychology James E. Alcock opined, "In light of all this, the Seth materials must surely be viewed as less than ordinary. There certainly was the time and talent for fraud to play a role, but we cannot discriminate between that possibility and the possibility of unconscious production— At any rate, given these circumstances, there seems little need to consider the involvement of any supernatural agency."
Seth's teaching of a philosophy far more detailed than and not in keeping with traditional Church-authority, God-separate-from Creation, one-mortal-life, Jesus-centered messages has also received its share of criticism from some Christian believers. Various ministries have warned their members about the dangers and deceptions of reading channeled messages from Roberts and others. The Seth Material has been considered in certain circles to be "a book entirely written by a demon. A woman simply wrote it down as it was dictated to her by the demon; and, of course, it just destroys everything that is true in terms of God's revelation" and as evidence for "Devil possession." Videos such as Jane Roberts' Seth Speaks is Anti-Catholic Hate Books – Allowed By The Media protested that Seth was "a demon from hell contacted through a ouija board."
Since Roberts' death, others have claimed to channel Seth. In the introduction to Seth's first dictated book, Seth Speaks, "he" says, "communications will come exclusively through Ruburt [Seth's name for Jane] at all times, to protect the integrity of the material". In The Seth Material, Jane Roberts wrote: "Several people have told me that Seth communicated with them through automatic writing, but Seth denies any such contacts." At least one person has claimed more recently to channel Roberts.
Short Stories and novellas by Jane Roberts:
Poetry by Jane Roberts:
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