Jane Roberts (1929-1984) was an American writer and trance channel who was the forerunner of many contemporary psychic and channeling practices.
She is best known for producing a large volume of spiritual work known as the Seth Material.
Seth was the entity that Roberts allegedly channeled for more than twenty years.
This resulted in a large number of books and recorded sessions, many of which are widely circulated on the internet and elsewhere today.
The Origins of Seth
Jane Roberts first began hearing messages from Seth in 1963, when she and her husband Robert Butts were living in Elmira, New York.
She had begun experimenting with a Ouija board, a popular occult game where a weighted object moves around a board to indicate different letters. These letters can spell out messages, allegedly from deceased people or entities from other dimensions.
Seth referred to himself as “an energy personality essence, no longer focused in physical reality.” In many of the Seth books, Seth would describe various incarnations as a human, as well as non-physical dimensions of reality. Seth claimed to have known Jane Roberts in another incarnation, which is why he refers to her as Rupert in the books and transcripts.
Roberts and Butts quickly developed a following, and people began to listen to the Seth sessions. These sessions followed a familiar protocol, with Roberts going into a trance while Butts recorded the material, sometimes asking for clarification on various points.
Some of the distinctive features of these sessions were the fact that Roberts often sipped alcoholic beverages while delivering Seth's words. She even smoked cigarettes during the sessions.
Afterwards, she would not remember many details of the session and would have to read it over or discuss it with her husband to know what had transpired.
Many of the topics covered were on subjects important to many people regarding life and death, the meaning of life, the question of reincarnation and other such metaphysical inquiries. Aside from the numerous sessions conducted for individuals and groups, Roberts and Butts produced a series of books, including The Seth Material, Seth Speaks, The Nature of Personal Reality and many others.
Core Teachings of Seth
The most famous quote that Seth originated, and that is frequently repeated today in new age and metaphysical circles is “you create your own reality.” While this sounds simplistic to some critics, it is actually part of an extremely sophisticated metaphysical belief system, one that has much in common with many traditional mystical teachings.
Seth taught that the universe is made of consciousness and that our thoughts and beliefs determined the outcome of our lives. Another aspect of the Seth teaching that fascinate many people are his views on reincarnation. Since, in Seth's view, time as we know it does not really exist, everything is actually happening at once.
Therefore, reincarnation does not occur in a linear fashion, but in a simultaneous way. We all have many parallel lives happening at once, each affecting the others. One implication of this is that what we think of as the past can be changed just as much as the future.
Jane Roberts' Influence on the New Age Movement
Though it's doubtful that Jane Roberts would have identified with the new age movement, it can't be denied that she had a profound influence on the loosely knit body of teaching that fall under that banner.
The term “channeling” was not widely used in Roberts' time, and never in association with her sessions. In the 1980s, however, trance mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who appears in the controversial documentary What the Bleep do We Know, helped to get a wider public interested in this type of material.
Another major influence during this period was Shirley Maclaine, whose miniseries Out on a Limb brought psychic channeling and other metaphysical concepts to an even wider audience.
Yet it was Jane Roberts and the Seth material that really lies at the foundation of the modern new age movement. When you compare Roberts' work with that of many later individuals, a couple of things stand out. For one thing, Roberts and Butts maintained a very low key and modest lifestyle in a quiet part of upstate, New York.
They did not sell tickets to high priced seminars around the world. While skeptics can argue that Roberts was simply expressing a part of her subconscious mind, it's very hard to label her a charlatan.
Later trance channels, including Knight, were far more controversial, both for their lavish lifestyles and the way they sometimes encouraged a cultlike following.
Secondly, there is the sheer breadth of Roberts' work. There are more than two dozen books, most of which are still in publication. In addition to the Seth sessions, Roberts wrote books of her own, such as How to Develop Your ESP Power, The Oversoul Seven Trilogy, The World View of Rembrandt and many others.
Jane Roberts' Premature Death
Jane Roberts died at the age of 54 from a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis. Because many of the Seth teachings focus on how to maintain health, this gave ammunition to critics of Roberts and the Seth material. If there was any legitimacy to the teachings, why couldn't Roberts cure herself using the wisdom supplied by her teacher?
While there is no simple answer to this question, there is evidence that Roberts did not follow Seth's advice when it came to her own well being. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, as many healers, mystics and even conventional medical doctors have died young of preventable causes.
Roberts was certainly not perfect, and apart from her spiritual activities she did not live the most healthy lifestyle. This does not, however, detract from the value so many people have gotten from her work.
Jane Roberts' Enduring Legacy
Fortunately, the Seth material and other works by Roberts have been well preserved. Her books are easy to find, and now you can even find YouTube videos that feature some of her Seth sessions, though the quality is understandable not perfect.
It is difficult to overestimate the impact Jane Roberts has had on contemporary spirituality. This is acknowledged by one of today's most popular channels, Esther Hicks. Hicks, who channels an entity known as Abraham, admits that she was inspired by Roberts and Seth. The Seth material gives people a complex and satisfying body of knowledge to study.
Whether you agree with every aspect of it or not, it is surely a notable achievement in the history of human thought.