As a journalist for saratoga living, I spend hours rifling through Saratoga Springs’ bottomless bag of tricks, searching for new and interesting stories. Recently, I plunged my arm past the world’s first potato chip, digging far below the recently renovated Adelphi and even further still, until—caught off guard by a sudden surge of underground mineral water—I found myself tumbling down a paranormal rabbit hole. I had made first contact with Seth, the “energy personality essence no longer focused in physical matter” channeled by world-famous medium, Jane Roberts, who grew up right here in Saratoga.
You’re probably asking yourself, Who the heck is Seth? “[He’s] the internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher who spoke through the author Jane Roberts while she was in trance, and coined the phrase ‘You Create Your Own Reality,'” writes the Seth Learning Center. “Seth’s empowering message literally launched the New Age movement.” But here’s the kicker: Seth is, technically, Roberts. She channelled him hundreds, if not thousands of times over the course of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, delivering speeches with a commanding, masculine energy that differed remarkably from her normal speaking habits—particularly because Seth spoke with a distinct but indistinguishable accent (described by many as a mix of West Indian and South African, with nodes of Italian and British). Seth also guided Roberts in writing down his spiritual teachings and creeds, which combined with transcriptions of hundreds of his lectures, make up 32 published works known collectively as “The Seth Books.” The Seth Books, along with audio and video recordings of “Seth Sessions,” during which Roberts would lecture as Seth, make up “The Seth Material.”
“I have been conscious before your Earth was formed,” Roberts (as Seth) writes in Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul, the best-selling book from all of the Seth Material. “To write this book—and in many of my communications with Ruburt [Seth referred to Roberts as “Ruburt,” using her name from a past life, lived as a male]—I adopt from my own bank of past personalities those characteristics that seem appropriate. I am primarily a personality with a message: You create the world you know. You have been given perhaps the most awesome gift of all: The ability to project your thoughts outward into physical form.” Unfettered by the constrictions of physical matter, Seth’s influence literally crosses time and space; eight million Seth Books have been sold in 11 languages, not including those sold by Seth Publishing, founded in 2007 by Dr. Tien-Sheng Hsu, the former Director of the mental health department of Taipei County Hospital. Dr. Hsu has spent more than a decade translating the Seth Material into Chinese, a 6,000-page endeavor that Hsu manages to balance alongside the obligations of treating cancer patients at the Seth Holistic Clinic in Taiwan. Reading groups devoted to Seth in the US, France and the Netherlands post their schedules on the Seth Network: International website. Germany’s Sethfreunde or “Seth Friends” Association, which was founded in ’79, continues to release new editions of its club magazine, Multidimensional Reality. And most importantly, the Seth Material is highly respected among some of the most famous names in the New Age movement. Deepak Chopra has been quoted as saying the Seth books “present an alternate map of reality with a new diagram of the psyche…useful to all explorers of consciousness.” And Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, described The Nature of Personal Reality: A Seth Book as “Quite simply one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
Before the Seth phenomenon began, Roberts spent her youth fostering a budding writing talent in Saratoga. “While attending Saratoga Springs High School, Miss Roberts won first prize in a Scholastic Awards writing contest,” reads an article in The Saratogian, published on October 19, 1966. The piece was written almost 20 years after Roberts graduated high school, when she published her first metaphysical self-help book, How to Develop Your ESP (Extra Sensory Perception Powers). As the article notes, Roberts was particularly enamored of poetry writing, which she often published in the school newspaper. After high school, she attended Skidmore College on a poetry scholarship, where she wrote a column about the college for The Saratogian. She wouldn’t graduate, instead jetting off to the West Coast on a motorcycle and eventually falling in love with a commercial artist named Robert Butts, who was to become the dedicated stenographer for the Seth Sessions. They eventually moved back East to Elmira, New York in 1960, where they both held a series of odd jobs in the arts.
Seth first made contact on an otherwise average fall evening in ’63, when Jane was 34. “Between one normal minute and the next, a fantastic avalanche of radical, new ideas burst into my head with tremendous force,” Roberts would later say. “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.” Roberts took notes frantically and didn’t “come to” until she had affixed a title to her first breakthrough: The Physical Universe as Idea Construction. This was the beginning of Roberts’ period of experimentation with extrasensory perception, a process that involved weeks of Ouija board sessions, finally culminating, on December 2, with a coherent message from somebody named “Seth.” By January 2, 1964, Roberts was able to dictate Seth’s messages directly. By February 18, she had an audience.
“It wasn’t like a séance,” Rick Stack remembers of his first session with Roberts/Seth. Stack is the director of the Seth Educational Institute, an online organization that offers Seth courses; live workshops; and educational materials “designed to help people use their own resources to actualize their dreams, explore inner reality and awaken to a greater understanding of themselves and the multidimensional universe.” Stack is deeply involved in disseminating the Seth Material; along with being the President of New Awareness Network Inc. and the Seth Bookstore, he is the Publisher and Editor of The Seth Audio Collection, The Early Sessions, The Personal Sessions and a handful of other books written by Roberts/Seth. “There was no darkness, people weren’t sitting around in a circle,” Stack says. “We were just sitting in class, and Jane was talking, and then at one point, Jane took off her glasses and Seth started talking. He apparently was able to use her eyes differently, according to him, and didn’t need the glasses.” Stack remembers the way Seth spoke in a “completely different voice” and manner than Roberts did: “her facial characteristics changed, everything changed. After awhile you just got used to it. You just felt that you were talking to two totally different people, and one of them happened to be a spiritual teacher that was incredibly sophisticated,” says Stack.
Seth even had his own personal history—which, to an outside observer, can’t help but come off as outlandish, if not a little creepy. In a session dictated in May 1971, he reminisces about a past life: “I was a pope in A.D. 300. I was not a very good pope. I had two illegitimate children, a mistress that sneaked into my private study, a magician that I kept in case I did not do too well on my own, a housekeeper who was pregnant every year that I had her, and three daughters who joined a nunnery because I would not have them…My name was not Clement [in answer to a question from a class member] although Clement is a lovely name.” A pope, you say? When Roberts’ husband ultimately transcribed this section, he noticed that Seth mentioned being a pope in both 300 A.D. and, paradoxically, “the third century,” which spans from 201 A.D. to 300 A.D. “At this moment we do not know which pope Seth referred to,” Butts writes in a footnote following the transcription. “When I came to type up this section I wondered if Seth-Jane’s mention of the third century might be an error. (If so, I hadn’t been quick enough to catch it; I could have asked about it at once.) Since Seth gave A.D. 300 in the class session for last May, I personally think it more likely his papal incarnation followed this date, taking place in the fourth century.”
Stack was already an avid reader of metaphysical philosophy when he first found the Seth Material in ’72. “It rang true to me,” he says. “In all my studies I had never found anything as empowering.” Stack contacted Roberts and signed up for her Tuesday night classes, during which she would channel Seth during a lecture for 10-15 students. The classes were held in Elmira, a five-hour drive from Stack’s home in New York City. “Me and a couple friends started at 2pm, drove five hours to get there around 7ish, stayed for three to four hours of class, then drove home all night,” he says. “We did that for three years.”
Perhaps the most interesting take on the Seth phenomenon is from Roberts herself in the introduction to Seth Speaks: “Regardless of my ideas about Seth or the nature of reality…this manuscript must stand on its own as a book. It bears the mark of Seth’s personality, as any book carries indelibly within it the stamp of its author, no more and no less. The ideas within it deserve a hearing, despite their source, and conversely, because of it.”
I must admit that I agree with Roberts’ assessment. I have a copy of Seth Speaks sitting on my desk as I write this, and I’m enjoying flipping through it—at the very least for a reminder of the endless character that bubbles like mineral water just beneath the surface of Saratoga Springs.