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Miss I. writes :

13 PARK STREET, WINDSOR, February 22nd, 1884.

I will copy the memorandum which I made in my diary just after the death
of my dear friend and connection, Mrs. L.

"July 2&A, 1881.

"Just after dear Mrs. L.'s death between two and three A.M., I heard a most
sweet and singular strain of singing outside the windows ; it died away after
passing the house. All in the room heard it, and the medical attendant, who



747] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 71

was still with us, went to the window as I did, and looked out, but there was
nobody. It was a bright and beautiful night. It was as if several voices were
singing in perfect unison a most sweet melody, which died away in the distance.
Two persons had gone from the room to fetch something, and were coming up-
stairs at the back of the house, and heard the singing and stopped, saying,
'What is that singing?' They could not naturally have heard any sound
outside the windows in the front of the house from where they were. I cannot
think that any explanation can be given to this as I think supernatural
singing ; but it would be very interesting to me to know what is said by those
who have made such matters a subject of study. E. I."

Dr. G. writes in 1884 :

ETON, WINDSOR.

I remember the circumstance perfectly. Poor Mrs. L. died on July 28th,
1 88 1. I was sent for at about midnight, and remained until her death at about
2.30 A.M. As there was no qualified nurse present, I remained and assisted the
friends to " lay out " the body. Four or five of us assisted, and at my request
the matron of Mr. L.'s house and a servant went to the kitchen department to
find a shutter or flat board upon which to place the body. Soon after their
departure, and whilst we were waiting for their return, we distinctly heard a
few bars of lovely music not unlike that from an jEolian harp which seemed
to fill the air for a few seconds. I went to the window and looked out, thinking
there must be some one outside, but could see no one, although it was quite
light and clear. Strangely enough those who went to the kitchen heard the
same sounds as they were coming upstairs, quite at the other side of the door.
These are the facts, and I think it right to tell you that I have not the slightest
belief in the supernatural, spiritualism, &c., &c. J. W. G.

The fact that Mr. L. did not share the experience is strong evidence
that the sounds were not objectively caused by persons singing outside
the house ; and this is further confirmed by the slight difference which
there appears to have been between the impressions received.

I have already discussed (Chapter VI., 643 and 655) the nature of
these phantasmal sounds: nor is it contrary to our analogies that the
person most deeply concerned in the death should in this case fail to
hear them. But the point on which I would here lay stress is that
phantasmal sounds even non-articulate sounds may be as clear a mani-
festation of personality as phantasmal figures. Among non-articulate
noises music is, of course, the most pleasing; but sounds, for instance,
which imitate the work of a carpenter's shop, may be equally human
and intelligent. In some of the cases of this class we see apparent
attempts of various kinds to simulate sounds such as men and women
or manufactured, as opposed to natural, objects are accustomed to
produce To claim this humanity, to indicate this intelligence, seems the
only motive of sounds of this kind. 1

1 See, however, Mrs. Sidgwick's remarks (Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iii. pp. 79-80),
as to the rarity of any indication of intelligence in such sounds, and the possibility of
reading more intelligence into them than they really possess. There is now, of course,
more evidence as to these sounds than there was at the date of Mrs. Sidgwick's paper
(1885).



72 CHAPTER VII [748

748. These sounds, in their rudimentary attempt at showing intelli-
gence, are about on a level with the exploits of the " Poltergeist," where
coals are thrown about, water spilt, and so forth. Physical phenomena of
that type will fall to be dealt with in a later chapter ; but it is a curious
fact that Poltergeist phenomena should so seldom coincide with the
ordinary phenomena of a haunt. We have one remarkable case to be
mentioned later where Poltergeist phenomena coincide with a death
(868 B) ; and a few cases where they are 7 supposed to follow on a death ;
but, as a rule, where figures appear there are no movements ; and where
there are movements no apparition is seen. If alleged Poltergeist pheno-
mena are always fraudulent, there would be nothing to be surprised
at here. If, as I suspect, they are sometimes genuine, their dissociation
from visual hallucinations may sometimes afford us a hint of value.

749. But after Poltergeists have been set aside after a severe line
has been drawn excluding all those cases (in themselves singular enough)
where the main phenomena observed consist of non-articulate sounds,
there remains a great mass of evidence to haunting, that is, broadly
speaking, to the fact that there are many houses in which more than one
person has independently seen phantasmal figures, which usually, though
not always, bear at least some resemblance to each other. 1 The facts
thus baldly stated are beyond dispute. Their true interpretation is a
very difficult matter. Mrs. Sidgwick gives four hypotheses, which I must
quote at length as the first serious attempt ever made (so far as I know) to
collect and face the difficulties of this problem, so often, but so loosely,
discussed through all historical times. (From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iii.
pp. 146-8.)

" I will, therefore, proceed briefly to state and discuss the only four
theories that have occurred to me.

" The two which I will take first in order assume that the apparitions
are due to the agency or presence of the spirits of deceased men.

"There is first the popular view, that the apparition is something
belonging to the external world that, like ordinary matter, it occupies and
moves through space, and would be in the room whether the percipient
were there to see it or not. This hypothesis involves us in many diffi-
culties, of which one serious one that of accounting for the clothes of
the ghost has often been urged, and never, I think, satisfactorily answered.
Nevertheless, I am bound to admit that there is some little evidence

1 Thus Mrs. Sidgwick, even as far back as 1885 (Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iii. p. 142),
writes . " I can only say that having made every effort as my paper will, I hope, have
shown to exercise a reasonable scepticism, I yet do not feel equal to the degree of
unbelief in human testimony necessary to avoid accepting, at least provisionally, the con-
clusion that there are, in a certain sense, haunted houses, i.e. that there are houses in
which similar quasi-human apparitions have occurred at different times to different
inhabitants, under circumstances which exclude the hypothesis of suggestion or
expectation."



749] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 73


tending to suggest this theory. For instance, in the account, 1 of which I

have given an abstract, of the weeping lady who has appeared so frequently
in a certain house, the following passage occurs : ' They went after it
(the figure) together into the drawing-room ; it then came out, and went
down the aforesaid passage (leading to the kitchen), but was the next
minute seen by another Miss [M.] . . . come up the outside steps from the
kitchen. On this particular day, Captain [M.'s] married daughter happened
to be at an upstairs window . . . and independently saw the figure con-
tinue her course across the lawn and into the orchard.' A considerable
amount of clear evidence to the appearance of ghosts to independent
observers in successive points in space would certainly afford a strong
argument for their having a definite relation to space ; but in estimating
evidence of this kind it would be necessary to know how far the observer's
attention had been drawn to the point in question. If it had been a real
woman whom the Miss [M.'s] were observing, we should have inferred, with
perfect certainty, from our knowledge that she could not be in two places
at once, that she had been successively, in a certain order, in the places
where she was seen by the three observers. If they had noted the
moments at which they saw her, and comparing notes afterwards, found
that according to these notes they had all seen her at the same time, or in
some other order to that inferred, we should still feel absolute confidence
in our inference, and should conclude that there must be something wrong
about the watches or the notes. From association of ideas, it would be
perfectly natural to make the same inference in the case of a ghost which
looks exactly like a woman. But in the case of the ghost the inference
would not be legitimate, because, unless the particular theory of ghosts
which we are discussing be true, there is no reason, so far as we know, why
it should not appear in two or more places at once. Hence, in the case
of the ghost, a well-founded assurance that the appearances were successive
would require a careful observation of the times, which, so far as I know,
has never been made. On the whole, therefore, I must dismiss the
popular theory as not having, in my opinion, even a prima facie ground for
serious consideration.

" The theory that I will next examine seems to me decidedly more
plausible, from its analogy to the conclusion to which I am brought by the
examination of the evidence for phantasms of the living. This theory is
that the apparition has no real relation to the external world, but is a
hallucination caused in some way by some communication, without the
intervention of the senses, between the disembodied spirit and the per-
cipient, its form depending on the mind either of the spirit or of the
percipient, or of both. In the case of haunted houses, however, a diffi-
culty meets us that we do not encounter, or at least rarely encounter, in
applying a similar hypothesis to explain phantasms of the living, or phan-
tasms of the dead other than fixed local ghosts. In these cases we have .
1 This case is given in 751 A.



74 CHAPTER VII [749

generally to suppose a simple rapport between mind and mind, but in *a
haunted house we have a rapport complicated by its apparent dependence
on locality. It seems necessary to make the improbable assumption, that
the spirit is interested in an entirely special way in a particular house
(though possibly this interest may be of a subconscious kind), and that his
interest in it puts him into connection with another mind, occupied with
it in the way that that of, a living person actually there must consciously
or unconsciously be, while he does not get into similar communication
with the same, or with other persons elsewhere.

" If, notwithstanding these difficulties, it be true that haunting is due
in any way to the agency of deceased persons, and conveys a definite idea
of them to the percipients through the resemblance to them of the appari-
tion, then, by patiently continuing our investigations, we may expect, sooner
or later, to obtain a sufficient amount of evidence to connect clearly the
commencement of hauntings with the death of particular persons, and to
establish clearly the likeness of the apparition to those persons. The fact
that almost everybody is now photographed ought to be of material assist-
ance in obtaining evidence of this latter kind.

" My third theory dispenses with the agency of disembodied spirits,
but involves us in other and perhaps equally great improbabilities. It is
that the first appearance is a purely subjective hallucination, and that the
subsequent similar appearances, both to the original percipient and to
others, are the result of the first appearance ; unconscious expectancy
causing them in the case of the original percipient, and some sort of tele-
pathic communication from the original percipient in the case of others.
In fact, it assumes that a tendency to a particular hallucination is in a way
infectious. If this theory be true, I should expect to find that the appa-
rently independent appearances after the first depended on the percipient's
having had some sort of intercourse with some one who had seen the
ghost before, and that any decided discontinuity of occupancy would stop
the haunting. I should also expect to find, as we do in one of the cases
I have quoted, that sometimes the supposed ghost would follow the family
from one abode to another, appearing to haunt them rather than any
particular house.

" The fourth theory that I shall mention is one which I can hardly
expect to appear plausible, and which, therefore, I only introduce because
I think that it corresponds best to a certain part of the evidence ; and, as
I have already said, considering the altogether tentative way in which we
are inevitably dealing with this obscure subject, it is as well to express
definitely every hypothesis which an impartial consideration of the facts
suggests. It is that there is something in the actual building itself some
subtle physical influence which produces in the brain that effect which,
in its turn, becomes the cause of a hallucination. It is certainly difficult
on this hypothesis alone to suppose that the hallucinations of different
people would be similar, but we might account for this by a combination



750] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 75

of this hypothesis and the last. The idea is suggested by the case, of
which I have given an abstract, where the haunting continued through
more than one occupancy, but changed its character ; and if there be any
truth in the theory, I should expect in time to obtain a good deal more
evidence of this kind, combined with evidence that the same persons do
not as a rule encounter ghosts elsewhere. I should also expect evidence
to be forthcoming supporting the popular idea that repairs and alterations
of the building sometimes cause the haunting to cease." l

750. These hypotheses none of which, as Mrs. Sidgwick expressly
states (op. cit. t p. 145), seemed to herself satisfactory did nevertheless, I
think, comprise all the deductions which could reasonably be made from
the evidence as it at that time stood. A few modifications, which the
experience of subsequent years has led me to introduce, can hardly be
said to afford further explanation, although they state the difficulties in
what now seems to me a more hopeful way.

In the first place then as already explained in Chapter VI. -I in
some sense fuse into one Mrs. Sidgwick's two first hypotheses by my own
hypothesis of actual presence, actual spatial changes induced in the mete-
therial, but not in the material world. I hold that when the phantasm is
discerned by more than one person at once (and on some other, but not
all other occasions) it is actually effecting a change in that portion of
space where it is perceived, although not, as a rule, in the matter
which occupies that place. It is, therefore, not optically nor acoustically
perceived ; perhaps no rays of light are reflected nor waves of air set in
motion ; but an unknown form of supernormal perception, not necessarily
acting through the sensory end-organs, comes into play. In the next
place, I am inclined to lay stress on the parallel between these narratives
of haunting and those phantasms of the living which I have already
classed as psychorrhagic . In each case, as it seems to me, there is an in-
voluntary detachment of some element of the spirit, probably with no know-
ledge thereof at the main centre of consciousness. Those " haunts by the
living," as they may be called (see Chapter VI., 649) where, for instance,
a man is seen phantasmally standing before his own fireplace seem to me
to be repeated, perhaps more readily, after the spirit is freed from the flesh.

1 In an earlier part of this paper, I mentioned cases of haunted houses where the
apparitions are various, and might therefore all of them be merely subjective hallucina-
tions, sometimes, perhaps, caused by expectancy. It is, of course, also possible to
explain these cases by the hypothesis we are now discussing. Another class of cases is,
perhaps, worth mentioning in this connection. We have in the collection two cases of
what was believed by the narrators to be a quite peculiar feeling of discomfort, in houses
where concealed and long since decomposed bodies were subsequently found. Such
feelings are seldom clearly defined enough to have much evidential value, for others, at
any rate, than the percipient ; even though mentioned beforehand, and definitely con-
nected with the place where the skeleton was. But if there be really any connection
between the skeleton and the feeling, it may possibly be a subtle physical influence such
as I am suggesting. E. M. S.



76 CHAPTER VII [751

751. Again, I think that the curious question as to the influence of
certain houses in generating apparitions may be included under the broader
heading of Retrocognition. That is to say, we are not here dealing with a
special condition of certain houses, but with a branch of the wide problem
as to the relation of supernormal phenomena to time. Manifestations
which occur in haunted /houses depend, let us say, on something which
has taken place a long time ago. In what way do they depend on that
past event? Are they a sequel, or only a residue? Is there fresh opera-
tion going on, or only fresh perception of something already accomplished ?
Or can we in such a case draw any real distinction between a continued
action and a continued perception of a past action? The closest parallel,
as it seems to me, although not at first sight an obvious one, lies between
these phenomena of haunting, these persistent sights and sounds, and
certain phenomena of crystal-vision and of automatic script, which also
seem to depend somehow upon long-past events, to be their sequel or
their residue. One specimen case I give in an Appendix (751 A) , where
the connection of the haunting apparition with a certain person long de-
ceased may be maintained with more than usual plausibility. From that
level the traceable connections get weaker and weaker (see 751 B), until
we come to phantasmal scenes where there is no longer any even apparent
claim to the contemporary agency of human spirits. Such a vision, for
instance, as that of a line of spectral deer crossing a ford, may indeed,
if seen in the same place by several independent observers, be held to be
something more than a mere subjective fancy ; but what in reality such a
picture signifies is a question which brings us at once to theories of the
permanence or simultaneity of all phenomena in a timeless Universal
Soul.

Such conceptions, however difficult, are among the highest to which
our mind can reach. Could we approach them more nearly, they might
deeply influence our view, even of our own remote individual destiny.
So, perhaps, shall it some day be ; at present we may be well satisfied if we
can push our knowledge of that destiny one step further than of old, even
just behind that veil which has so long hung impenetrably before the eyes
of men.

752. Here, then, is a natural place of pause in our inquiry. We have
worked as far as we can on the data which we have had under our view.
The sensory automatisms with which we have dealt in this and the
preceding chapter have proved to us, in my view, the connection of defi-
nite apparitions with individual men, both during bodily life and after
bodily death. They have, in short, proved by logical reasoning the exist-
ence and the persistence of a spirit in man.

But great as this achievement is, it opens out more problems than it
solves ; it leaves us even more eager than at first for a fuller insight into
this new dim-lit world. We crave for some wider field of induction, for some
more potent engine of analysis. We feel that, important though the facts



753] PHANTASMS OF THE DEAD 77

of phantasmal appearances may be, they yet are in a sense somewhat
jejune and external ; we want to get deeper, to reach some psychological
discussion not dependent on time-coincidences nor on the details of some
evanescent observation. We instinctively seek, in short, just that know-
ledge which will now be in some measure afforded to us through the study
of that wide range of phenomena which I have classed together as motor
automatisms.

The line of demarcation indeed between sensory and motor automa-
tisms is by no means distinct. Neither class, to begin with, is more
veridical, more inspired from without than the other. In neither case
have we any clear subjective criterion as to the origin of the message ;
whether it comes merely from the automatist's own mind, or from minds
of the living, or from minds of the departed. Even in mere external form,
again, the two groups are often closely mixed. It makes little difference
whether one sees words written in a crystal, or writes them oneself with
unknowing hand. But nevertheless it must on the whole be admitted
that motor automatisms have thus far been, and seem likely to continue,
the more instructive of the two classes. The suddenness, the brevity of
an apparition may be actually an evidential aid if we are simply estab-
lishing, say, a death coincidence. But when we have proceeded to a
somewhat further stage when we are looking for information from the
inside as to the nature of spiritual operations then, as I have said, the
power of question and answer, of prolonged scrutiny, becomes all-important.
We certainly cannot, I repeat, claim any more universal trustworthiness
for motor than for sensory automatisms. The proportion of misleading to
veridical written messages is probably even greater than the proportion of
merely subjective to veridical apparitions. But while the apparition is
gone in a moment, the written or spoken matter may renew itself for
years, allowing us to test both its authenticity and its truthfulness
two different matters with ever}' touchstone which our leisure can
devise.

It must be, then, on the study of motor automatisms that our general
view of the metetherial world now opening to us must mainly be based.
Those longer colloquies of automatic speech and script will introduce us
to points of philosophy which fleeting apparitions cannot teach.

753. And yet it is by no means needful, it would be by no means wise,
to close even this earlier branch of the inquiry without some few words on
its ethical, its religious aspect. If one hopes to influence opinion, one
must realise where that opinion at present stands which one would fain
lead into further truth. The novelties of this book are intended to work
upon preconceptions which are ethical quite as much as intellectual. It
would be mere pedantry to avoid all mention of ethical implications, when
matters are touched upon which the majority of thinking men are agreed
to regard from a point of view which is as yet ethical rather than scientific,
If the new facts, of such far-reaching import, are to enter deeply into



78 CHAPTER VII [753

the consciousness of our race, they must be seen to be morally, as well as
intellectually, coherent and acceptable.

For the most part, indeed, such discussion may be postponed to my
concluding chapter. But one point already stands out from the evidence
at once so important and so manifest, that it seems well to call attention
to it at once as a solvent more potent than any Lucretius could apply
to human superstition and human fears.

In this long string of narratives, complex and bizarre though their
details may be, we yet observe that the character of the appearance varies
in a definite manner with their distinctness and individuality. Haunting
phantoms, incoherent and unintelligent, may seem restless and unhappy.
But as they rise into definiteness, intelligence, individuality, the phantoms
rise also into love and joy. I cannot recall one single case of a proved
posthumous combination of intelligence with wickedness. Such evil as
our evidence will show us, we have as yet hardly come across it in this
book is scarcely more than monkeyish mischief, childish folly. In deal-
ing with automatic script, for instance, we shall have to wonder whence
come the occasional vulgar jokes or silly mystifications. We shall discuss
whether they are a kind of dream of the automatist's own, or whether they
indicate the existence of unembodied intelligences on the level of the dog
or the ape. But, on the other hand, all that world-old conception of Evil
Spirits, of malevolent Powers, which has been the basis of so much of



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 89)