On September 9, 1963, 34-year-old Jane Roberts had finished her dinner and was sitting down to her usual evening session of poetry writing. Her husband, Robert F. Butts, was in his art studio, three rooms away, working on his painting. Roberts picked up her pen and stared at the blank piece of paper, waiting for the creative juices to begin flowing. She had no reason to suspect that this night would be any different from others in her life.
All at once she found herself in the throes of an experience she could only liken to a drugless trip. "Between one normal minute and the next, a fantastic avalanche of radical, new ideas burst into my head, with tremendous force, as if my skull were some sort of receiving station, tuned up to unbearable volume," she wrote later, describing the experience. "Not only ideas came through this channel, but sensations, intensified and pulsating. I was…connected to some incredible source of energy."
The startled young woman had no time to call out to her husband, but her pen began feverishly to cover the page before her with a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Consciousness and reality were all turned around, and the thoughts that she was receiving seemed to be invading her mind, taking up permanent residence. Feeling and knowing became one and the same thing, and the importance of intellectual knowledge paled before the sensation of wisdom gained beyond the power of reasoning. At the same time all this was happening, a small part of Roberts seemed to remember that this same scenario had been enacted the night before in a dream, but she had forgotten it. Somehow, though, she knew the two experiences were connected.
When she returned to full consciousness, Roberts found herself giving a title to the barrage of words that had streamed across the paper in front of her: The Physical Universe of Idea Construction. The title seemed to fit the hastily scribbled notes, but none of the material fit anywhere into Roberts's previous convictions regarding life and the human psyche. The sudden paranormal experience had turned her world upside-down and would eventually lead to a series of dramatic events that forever changed her life.
Jane Roberts and Rob Butts bought a book on extrasensory perception, and they decided to try some experiments with an old Ouija board that their landlady had found in the attic. The first two times they tried to move the planchette, nothing happened. Neither of them were surprised, for they had little faith in the board's capabilities. On the third try, they were both amazed when the planchette began to move across the board and spell out answers to their questions. The couple found out that they had contacted an entity calling itself Frank Withers, who claimed to have lived in their New York town of Elmira and died there in the 1940s. The spirit provided other details of his life on Earth, and Jane Roberts and Rob Butts were surprised when the information actually checked out in the town records.
On December 8, 1963, the spirit of Frank Withers said while he had lived a "rather colorless" existence by that name, he preferred to be addressed as Seth, because it better suited the whole self that he was trying to be. He went on to say that from his perspective, Rob would better be named Joseph, and Jane, Rupert.
After that session, which lasted until after midnight, Roberts was convinced that Seth was an aspect of either her or Butts's subconscious. She could not accept the idea that Seth might represent a separate entity that had survived death. In subsequent sessions, she was determined to resist the development of mediumship that was apparently growing stronger within her each time they sat down at the Ouija board. Then, on the evening of December 15, Roberts felt a great rush of words welling up within her. She felt nearly choked up with "piles of nouns and verbs" in her head. And then, "without really knowing how or why, I opened my mouth and let them out." Seth was no longer restricted to the Ouija board. He was now able to speak through Jane and to deal with complex subjects that changed their response to the universe and their own role within it.
There seemed little in either Roberts's or Butts's early lives to which a psychical researcher might point and reach a clear conclusion that a spirit medium or channel was in the making. Growing up in Saratoga Springs, New York, as far as Roberts could remember, she had never demonstrated any extrasensory abilities before Seth's arrival. She had begun writing poetry as a child, and she had always been creative, but there was nothing to indicate that the girl would grow into a psychic of substantial ability. Her parents divorced, and Roberts had lived with her mother as they struggled to make ends meet. It had been a poetry scholarship that got Roberts into Skidmore College and out of her relentlessly poor life.
Butts was a product of what Jane called middle-class American "social Protestantism." A talented painter, Butts's role in accumulating what would later come to be called "The Seth Material" was from the first that of scribe and questioner. They seldom used a tape recorder during their twice-a-week sessions, but Butts maintained meticulous notes. He observed the subtle changes in Roberts or Seth as he carefully transcribed Seth's words verbatim, and he had the pleasure of conversing with Seth, something that Roberts at times wished that she were able to do.
At first Roberts had been reluctant to give in too much to Seth, and she insisted on being able to keep her eyes open while she paced around the room. Later, she liked to sit in a rocker while in trance, and though she went through a period of closing her eyes for a couple of years, she returned to open, though half-lidded, eyes. Seth usually announced his presence by taking off Roberts's glasses and casting them to the floor or a nearby piece of furniture. The volume of his voice went through various stages of development. It was resonant and conversational, but on occasion, boomed out at an extraordinary volume.
Both Butts and Roberts were greatly affected personally by the lessons learned from their sessions with Seth. Butts benefitted from what Seth termed "inner visual data," and he even received a few useful art instructions from his unusual friend. Roberts saw her latent psychic abilities flower under Seth's tutelage. She received specific instructions from Seth on how to develop telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. Of particular interest to her were her out-of-body experiences, which sometimes occurred under curious circumstances while she was in trance with Seth.
Through such books as The Seth Material, Jane Roberts essentially created a renewed interest in contemporary spirit mediumship, which was now updated as "channeling," likening the psychic-sensitive to a television set receiving channels telecast to it. Central to an understanding of the Seth Material is an awareness of the entity's basic teaching that all reality is created by thought and emotions. Specifically, what a person thinks and feels forms his or her surrounding reality. This process of reality-building is not static, however. It is dynamic. Therefore, reality is constantly changing, and it follows that a conscious awareness of this process can change any reality for the better. No one is at the mercy of past events. An individual cannot blame his or her parents, church, schooling, or any other person or event for making him or her the way he or she is. In ignorance, one may have made oneself unhappy, but with conscious awareness that person can make himself or herself a happy, productive individual. Because individuals create their own reality, they can therefore change it.
Seth's belief in mind as the builder expands the concept of human personality in a unique way. Since thoughts and emotions are believed to create reality, then dreams, too, have a separate reality. When individuals dream of themselves, they are seeing a fragment of their own personality, such as the probable self identified by Seth. According to the spirit entity, each individual has a counterpart in other systems of reality. These are not identical selves or twins, but other selves who are part of the whole person, developing ideas in a different way. Each of these probable selves represents a portion of the whole self existing in a different dimension, yet all are a part of the whole self. According to Seth, these various realities "merge in the overall perceptions of the whole self" and "ultimately the inner ego must bring about comprehension on the parts of the simultaneous selves. Each portion of the whole self must become aware of the other parts." Seth also maintained that all layers of the whole self continually exchange information on a subconscious level.
In such terms, Jane Roberts may then have been a physical manifestation of the personality Seth; she may even have been one of his probable selves. She could have been part of a completely other whole self, separate from the whole self of which Seth was a part. Roberts continually attempted to better understand the relationship she had with Seth and to explain the true nature of their connection.
On February 26, 1982, Roberts was hospitalized for an underactive thyroid gland, severe arthritis, and other complications. Through the years of their spiritual interaction, Seth had provided suggestions to ease certain of her physical conditions, but nevertheless, she died on September 5, 1984. Butts has continued disseminating the Seth Material and completed two books on which they had been working before his wife's death.
It is difficult to place Jane Roberts in a category, for she herself refused any attempts to analyze either her trance abilities or the phenomenon of Seth in the old traditional medium/spirit guide relationship. The material that Seth imparted to her was not often seen in traditional examples of mediumship and spirit guides. It may take years before the Seth Material can be appropriately evaluated.