Jane Roberts (1929-1984) Power in the Present Moment
By Steven Huff
She was born in Albany, New York, grew up in Saratoga Springs and, in an orphanage in Troy. Later she attended Skidmore College. Soon after marrying Robert Butts (her second marriage), she left Saratoga Springs for Elmira where she and Robert planned to work part-time jobs while pursing writing careers.
It was in Elmira that things really got interesting. Jane discovered that she had the gifts of a psychic-medium when her life was suddenly and mysteriously imposed upon by a spirit named Seth; she began channeling Seth and holding sessions in their upstairs apartments on Water Street where Seth, speaking through Roberts, held court with wisdom from the beyond, which sounded a bit like Buddhist philosophy, a lot like what was later called New Age.
Robert Butts transcribed the Seth sessions, which became ten popular books, among them, The Nature of the Psyche: Its Human Expression; Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul; The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events, and Dreams, “Evolution,” and Value Fulfillment. Soon she developed an international following.
So much material on Jane Roberts and Seth can be found on the Internet and in print that it can be confusing and difficult to sift through it all. (Her papers, by the way, were acquired by Yale.) But Rich Kendall’s book The Road to Elmira, his memoir of attending Roberts’ sessions in the early 1970s as a young man, gives a vivid picture of what those occasions were like, what it was like to encounter the spirit of Seth—who seemed to know intuitively everything about anyone who walked in the door. Even if Roberts was not channeling a spirit, her psychic powers must have been profound.
Whether or not you believe in spirits, let alone one that seems all-wise, it is nevertheless significant that thirty-odd years after her death in 1984 (from rheumatoid arthritis), she has retained a large following, and while she was alive counted among her enthusiasts motivational author Louise Hay, New-Age self-help author Deepak Chopra, and fabulist Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Seth or no Seth, the advice gained from her sessions and books has resonated.
Christian writers have claimed that Roberts was actually channeling a demon intent on luring people away from God. And, you may well ask, was she the center of a personality cult? No, according to Kendall, “Her purpose as a teacher was not to magnify her own persona at the expense of her students but to lead each of us back to our own sense of power; to inspire within each of us the confidence to look for our own answers; and to trust the authority of our own psyche.” Some demon.
According to the Seth Worx website, “The essence of the Seth Material can be contained within the phrase, ‘We each create our own personal reality and the point of power is the present moment.’ However, understanding the full implications of this deceptively simple phrase requires a complete reassessment of our world, our lives, and what we truly are.”
She is buried with her husband, who died in 1988, near her husband’s family in Furnaceville Rural Cemetery.
Furnaceville, Brief History
Furnaceville, New York, now part of Ontario, NY, is a place of vanished industry. An early settler found ore there while digging a well. While it wasn’t gold ore, it set off an industry of open pit mining and forging, and by 1815 a small furnace was producing a whopping 400 pounds of pig iron per day. Then came the big furnaces. The Ontario Iron Company build a $200,000 facility with two blast ovens. Furnaceville and its environs became a region of pits where men digging with picks and shovels carried ore in wheelbarrows to barges on Bear Creek. The night sky in Furnaceville was orange, as was the soil by day.
Business began to go slack by the late 1880s caused by competition from newer mines in the Mesabi Range of Minnesota. The last of the iron production ended in 1922, and the fires of Furnaceville went out. That is the history of industrial America: A little thing becomes a big deal, and later becomes no deal at all.
Today there is no obvious trace of the old industry, save for historical landmark signs noting the location of the open mining pits and a blast furnace. Furnaceville is reforested and sleepy, with charming lakefront residences, and without welcoming amenities. There is no downtown. A man at a yard sale told me that all that is left is the cemetery and the rod and gun club. Nearby schoolhouses and a grocery store are long gone. If you want a place for lunch, you can drive a few miles south to Ontario’s business section, or take your chances along the fast and furious Route 104.
Finding the Grave
From the Thruway, take Exit 45, and drive north on Interstate 390. Near Rochester, take the right side exit to Interstate 590. Follow this road north, past Route 490, until you see signs for Route 104. Take the exit for 104 East, cross the Irondequoit Bay Bridge, and drive approximately twelve more miles until you see a sign reading “Furnace Road 800 Feet.” Turn left (north) at the traffic light. Drive approximately two miles to the intersection with Trimble Road, where you will turn right. Furnaceville Rural Cemetery will be a tenth of a mile on your right, across from Anderson’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Take the second, easternmost entrance (the original wrought iron arch is still there, but it is no longer an entrance, it’s just for looks) onto a paved drive. In about 500 feet you will come to a crossing; turn left onto a short gravel drive and park all the way at the end. You will be facing a pine woods and the last row of graves on the eastern side. From that point, walk to the right along that row. On the seventh plot is the stone for Jane Robert Butts and her husband Robert Fabian Butts. An inscription reads “The Seth Book Authors.” When I visited in July 2017, it was a well-tended grave with artificial flowers, some live plantings and an American flag.
Sources: “About Seth, Jane Roberts and Robert Butts”. California Seth Conference. Archived from the original on 2012-08-28; Dillman, Mary. Email regarding burial of Jane Roberts Butts and Robert Butts, May 12, 2018; “Jane Roberts Author Biography”. Hay House Newsletter, Hay House; Kendall, Richard. The Road to Elmira. Rich Kendall Books. New Haven, 2011; On Furnaceville: Merrill, Arch. The Ridge: Ontario’s Blossom Country. Reprinted from The Democrat & Chronicle. Rochester, NY: Louis Heindl & Son, 1944; Trimble, Augusta. History of the Town of Ontario. Williamson, NY: Bel-Gra Print Shop n.d.; Obituary for Butts, Robert Fabian, New York Times, June 1, 2008.
Text and cemetery photo copyright 2018 by Steven Huff