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done some little harm, owing to the obstinate belief of the writers that the
obvious trash which they wrote was necessarily true and authoritative. In
the remaining cases no apparent harm was done ; nor, so far as I know,
was there any ill-health or disturbance in connection with the practice.
Several of the writers were persons both physically and mentally above the
average level.

My own conclusion is that when the writing is presumptuous or
nonsensical, or evades test questions, it should be stopped ; since in that
case it is presumably the mere externalisation of a kind of dream-state of
the automatist's ; but that when the writing is coherent and straight-
forward, and especially when some facts unknown to the writer are given
as tests of good faith, the practice of automatic writing is harmless, and
may lead at any moment to important truth. The persons, in short, who
should avoid this experiment are the self-centred and conceited. It is
dangerous only to those who are secretly ready and many are secretly
ready to regard themselves as superior to the rest of mankind.

828. What has now been said may suffice as regards the varieties of
mechanism the different forms of motor automatism which the messages
employ. I shall pass on to consider the contents of the messages, and
shall endeavour to classify them according to their apparent sources.

A, In the first place, the message may come from the percipient's own
mind ; its contents being supplied from the resources of his ordinary


memory, or of his more extensive subliminal memory ; while the drama-
tisation of the message its assumption of some other mind as its
source will resemble the dramatisations of dream or of hypnotic trance.

Of course the absence of facts unknown to the writer is not in itself
a proof that the message does not come from some other mind. We
cannot be sure that other minds, if they can communicate, will always be
at the pains to fill their messages with evidential facts. But, equally of
course, a message devoid of such facts must not, on the strength of its
mere assertions, be claimed as the product of any but the writer's own

B. Next above the motor messages whose content the automatist's own
mental resources might supply, we may place the messages whose content
seems to be derived telepathically from the mind of some other person
still living on earth ; that person being either conscious or unconscious of
transmitting the suggestion.

C. Next comes the possibility that the message may emanate from
some unembodied intelligence of unknown type other, at any rate, than
the intelligence of the alleged agent. Under this heading come the views
which ascribe the messages on the one hand to " elementaries," or even
devils, and on the other hand to " guides " or " guardians " of superhuman
goodness and wisdom.

D. Finally we have the possibility that the message may be derived,
in a more or less direct manner, from the mind of the agent the
departed friend from whom the communication does actually claim
to come.

My main effort has naturally been thus far directed to the proof that
there are messages which do not fall into the lowest class, A in which
class most psychologists would still place them all. And I myself
while reserving a certain small portion of the messages for my other
classes do not only admit but assert that the great majority of such
communications represent the subliminal workings of the automatist's
mind alone. It does not, however, follow that such messages have for us
no interest or novelty. On the contrary, they form an instructive, an
indispensable transition from psychological introspection of the old-
fashioned kind to the bolder methods on whose validity I am anxious to
insist. The mind's subliminal action, as thus revealed, differs from the
supraliminal in ways which no one anticipated, and which no one can
explain. There seem to be subliminal tendencies setting steadily in
certain obscure directions, and bearing as little relation to the individual
characteristics of the person to the deeps of whose being we have some-
how penetrated as profound ocean-currents bear to waves and winds on
the surface of the sea. 1

1 See Professor James's Psychology, vol. i. p. 394 : " One curious thing about trance
utterances is their generic similarity in different individuals. ... It seems exactlv as if
one author composed more than half of the trance messages, no matter by whom they are


Is this indeed the drift of the Zeitgeist -as Professor James suggests
steady beneath the tossings and tumblings of individual man ? Or is it
something independent of age or season? Is there some pattern in the
very fabric of our nature which begins to show whenever we scratch the
glaze off the stuff?

All this may be better considered hereafter, apart from the evidential
discussions with which this chapter must be mainly concerned.

Another point also, of fundamental importance, connected with the
powers of the subliminal self, will be better deferred until a later chapter.
I have said that a message containing only facts normally known to the
automatist must not, on the strength of its mere assertions, be regarded as
proceeding from any mind but his own. This seems evident ; but the
converse proposition is not equally indisputable. We must not take for
granted that a message which does contain facts not normally known to
the automatist must therefore come from some mind other than his own.
If the subliminal self can acquire supernormal knowledge at all, it may
obtain such knowledge by means other than telepathic impressions from
other minds. It may assimilate its supernormal nutriment also by a
directer process it may devour it not only cooked but raw. Parallel
with the possibilities of reception of such knowledge from the influence
of other embodied or disembodied minds lies the possibility of its own
clairvoyant perception, or active absorption of some kind, of facts lying
indefinitely beyond its supraliminal purview.

829. Now, as I have said, the great majority of the nunciative
or message-bearing motor automatisms originate in the automatist's own
mind, and do not involve the exercise of telepathy or telaesthesia, or any
other supernormal faculty; but they illustrate in various ways the co-
existence of the subliminal with the supraliminal self, its wider memory,
and its independent intelligence.

I need not here multiply instances of the simpler and commoner
forms of this type, and I will merely quote in illustration two short cases
recounted by Mr. H. Arthur Smith (author of The Principles of Equity,
and a member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research)
who has had the patience to analyse many communications through
" Planchette."

(From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. ii. p. 233.) Mr. Smith and his nephew
placed their hands on the Planchette, and a purely fantastic name was
given as that of the communicating agency.

uttered. Whether all sub-conscious selves are peculiarly susceptible to a certain stratum
of the Zeitgeist, and get their inspiration from it, I know not." See the account of auto-
matic and impressional script, by Mr. Sidney Dean, which Professor James goes on to
quote, and which is closely parallel to (for instance) Miss A.'s case, to be given below,
although the one series of messages comes from the hand of a late member of Congress,
"all his life a robust and active journalist, author, and man of affairs," and the other
from a young lady with so different a history and entourage.


Q. " Where did you live ? " A. " Wem." This name was quite unknown
to any of us. I am sure it was to myself, and as sure of the word of the others
as of that of any one I know.

Q. " Is it decided who is to be Archbishop of Canterbury ? " A. " Yes."

Q. "Who?" A. "Durham." As none of us remembered his name, we

" What is his name ? " A. " Lightfoot." Of course, how far the main
statement is correct, I don't know. The curiosity at the time rested in the fact
that the name was given which none of us could recall, but was found to be

Now, this is just one of the cases which a less wary observer might
have brought forward as evidence of spirit agency. An identity, it would
be said, manifested itself, and gave an address which none present had
ever heard. But I venture to say that there cannot be any real proof
that an educated person has never heard of Wem. A permanent recorded
fact, like the name of a town which is to be found (for instance) in Brad-
shaw's Guide, may at any moment have been presented to Mr. Smith's
eye, and have found a lodgment in his subliminal memory.

Similarly in the answers " Durham " and " Lightfoot " we are reminded
of cases where in a dream we ask a question with vivid curiosity, and are
astonished at the reply; which nevertheless proceeds from ourselves as
undoubtedly as does the inquiry. The prediction in this case was

In the next case, although it is possible that the lady's mental action
may have contributed, as Mr. Smith supposes, to the very result which
she so little desired, the word written may have emanated from the sub-
liminal self of the writer alone.

April 2jtA, 1883.

Present H. A. Smith (A), R. A. H. Bickford-Smith (B), another gentle-
man (C), and two ladies (D and E).

R. A. H. B.-S. having, on previous occasions, exhibited considerable
aptitude for automatic writing with a Planchette, it was designed to apply
this instrument as a means of testing the transference of thoughts. No
exact record having been made at the time of the whole of the results ob-
tained, it would be of little service now to record isolated instances of success.
Sometimes names thought of were correctly reproduced, sometimes not; but
the proportion of successes to failures cannot now be accurately stated. The
following incident, however, very much struck us at the time, and seems
worthy of record.

Our method of procedure at the time was as follows: C, sitting at one
end of the room, wrote down a name of an author, showing it to no one in
the room; B had his hands on the Planchette, no one else being in contact
with him or it. C fixed his attention on the written name, and our design
was to see whether that name would be written through the medium of the
Planchette. The ladies were meanwhile sewing in silence, and taking no part
in the experiments. It happened that one of the ladies had at the time,
owing to some painful family circumstances, the name of a gentleman (not



present) painfully impressed on her mind. The name was not a common one,
and though all present knew something of the circumstances, they had not
been mentioned during the evening, and no one had mentioned the name in
question, which we will call " Bolton." C then wrote " Dickens " on his
paper, and was " willing " B with all his might to write this, when, to the
surprise of every one, Planchette rapidly wrote " Bolton." This was not only
surprising to us, but painful; and no comments were made at the time, the
subject being changed as rapidly as possible. It would appear from this that
the effect of C's volitional concentration was overmatched by the intensity of
the lady's thought, though not directed to the same object.


830. I quote in 830 A a more complex case (" Clelia ") furnished
by a gentleman whom I there call Mr. A. It is a very good instance of
the capricious half-nonsense which has often been referred to the agency
of spirits. The indisputable evidence for complex subliminal mentation
which this case seems to me to furnish lies in the fact that here Mr. A.'s
pen wrote not only unintelligible abbreviations, but absolute anagrams
of sentences ; anagrams, indeed, of the crudest kind, consisting of mere
transpositions of letters, but still puzzles which the writer had to set him-
self to decipher ab extra. The chances against drawing a group of letters
at random which will form several definite words and leave no letters over
are, of course, very great.

831. I add another case, precisely parallel with "Clelia," with
which the late Professor Sidgwick furnished me, from his own experience
with an intimate friend. The account was written in 1885.

(From Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iii. p. 25.)

The experiences which I mentioned to you as similar to those described
in your paper so far as the mere effects of unconscious cerebration are con-
cernedoccurred about twenty years ago. An intimate friend of mine who
had interested himself somewhat in Spiritualism, and had read Kardec's book,
discovered almost by accident that his hand could write, without any conscious
volition on his part, words conveying an intelligible meaning in fact, what
purported to be communications of departed spirits. He asked me to come
and stay with him, in order to investigate the phenomenon ; he had been rather
struck by some things in Kardec's book, and was quite disposed to entertain
the hypothesis that the writing might be due to something more than uncon-
scious cerebration, if it should turn out that it could give accurate information
on facts unknown to him. The experiments, however, that we made in order
to test this always failed to show anything in the statements written down that
might not have been due to the working of his own brain ; and at the end of
my visit we were both agreed that there was no ground for attributing the
phenomenon to any other cause but unconscious cerebration. At the same
time we were continually surprised by evidences of the extent to which his
unconscious self was able to puzzle his conscious mind. As a rule, he knew
what he was writing, though he wrote involuntarily; but from time to time
he used to form words or conjunctions of letters which we were unable to
make out at first, though they had a meaning which we ultimately discovered.


Thus one evening, just as we were about to break up, the capital letters
KHAIRETE were written; their meaning will not be obscure to you, but
it so happened that it did not at first occur to us that K H represented the
Greek ^, so that we had no idea what the letters meant, and tried various
solutions till the true signification (" Farewell ") suddenly flashed upon my
mind. On another occasion I asked a question of the supposed communicating
intelligence, and requested that the answer might be given in German, a
language which my friend was unable to read or write, though he had learnt to
speak one or two words while travelling in the country. His hand proceeded
to write what was apparently one long word, which seemed to him absolutely
without meaning ; but when I came to read it I could see that it was composed
of a number of German words, though put together without proper gramma-
tical terminations ; and that these words suggested though they could hardly
be said to convey what would have been a proper and significant answer to
my question. The words were all common words, such as he might have
heard in conversation ; and when I had separated them, and told him their
meaning, he seemed faintly to recognise some of them.

Sometimes, again, when we tried to get correct information as to facts
unknown to either of us, the result was curious as showing an apparently
elaborate attempt on the part of my friend's unconscious self to deceive his
conscious self. I remember (e.g.) that one night we got written down what
purported to be the first sentence in a leading article of the Times that had
just been written and would appear next morning. The sentence was in the
familiar style of Printing House Square ; but I need not say that when we
came down to breakfast next morning we did not find it in the printed
columns. My friend immediately placed his hand on a piece of paper ; and
there came, involuntarily written in the usual way, a long rigmarole of explana-
tion to the effect that the article originally written, containing the sentence
that we had got the night before, had been cancelled at the last moment by
the editor in consequence of some unexpected political exigency, and another
article hastily substituted. And similarly in other cases when statements
involuntarily written were ascertained to be false, explanations were written
exhibiting the kind of ingenuity which a fairly inventive hoaxer might show
when driven into a corner.

If I had not had absolute reliance on my friend's bona fides, I might have
supposed that he was mystifying me ; but I could not doubt that his curiosity
as to the result of the experiments was greater than mine, and that he had
no conscious desire to make me believe that the phenomenon was anything
more than the result of unconscious cerebration.

I am sorry that the notes I took at the time have been destroyed ; but I
have no doubt that what I have just written is accurately remembered.

I have said that the writer usually knew what he was writing. This was
not the case in his first trials, when the writing came in an abrupt, jerky, and
irregular way, and he rarely knew what he had written till he looked at it.
But after the first few trials, the flow of unconscious action became even and
steady, like that of ordinary conscious handwriting; and then he generally
though not always knew just before each word was written what it would be ;
so that when the statements made were entirely contrary to our expectation
as was often the case his surprise used to come just before the word was
actually written. H. SIDGWICK.


832. The cases of automatic writing thus far given have shown us
an independent activity of the subliminal self holding colloquies with the
supraliminal ; but they have shown us nothing more. Yet we shall
find, if we go on accumulating instances of the same general type, that
traces of telaesthesia and telepathy begin insensibly to show themselves ;
not at first with a distinctness or a persistence sufficient for actual proof,
but just in the same gradual way in which indications of supernormal
faculty stole in amid the disintegration of split personalities ; or in which
indications of some clairvoyant outlook stole in amid the incoherence of
dream. Many of these faint indications, valueless, as I have said, for purely
evidential purposes, are nevertheless of much theoretical interest, as showing
how near is the subliminal self to that region of supernormal knowledge
which for the supraliminal is so definitely closed.

Mr. Schiller's case, given in 832 A, is a good example of these
obscure transitions between normal and supernormal, and introduces us
to several phenomena which we shall afterwards find recurring again and
again in independent quarters. Dramatisation of fictitious personalities,
for instance, which forms so marked a feature in Professor Flournoy's cele-
brated case (to be cited later, 834-842) begins in this series of experi-
ments, conducted throughout with a purely scientific aim, and with no
sort of belief in the imaginary "Irktomar" and the rest. It seems as
though this "objectivation of types" were part of a romance which some in-
scrutable but childish humorist was bent on making up. The " cryptomne-
sia" shown in this case through the reproduction of scraps of old French
with which the automatist had no conscious acquaintance, reached a
point at which (as again in Professor Flournoy's case) one is almost driven
to suspect that it was aided by some slight clairvoyance on the part of
the subliminal self.

I subjoin in 832 fi a mediaeval case where the fictitious per-
sonalities though rampant as alleged devils, in that rougher age have
no more reality than the milder " Heliod " or " Irktomar."

833. The next case which I shall quote combines various motor
automatisms in a very unusual way. I give it at length in the text, partly
on account of its strangeness and partly in deference to the high scientific
authority on which I received it.

The account is taken from an article by Dr. A. T. Myers and myself
(already referred to, see 577) in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. ix. p. 182.

The writer of the following narrative is a physician occupying an im-
portant scientific post on the Continent of Europe. He is known to us
by correspondence and through a common friend himself a savant of
European reputation who has talked the case over with Dr. X. and his
wife, and has read the statement which we now translate and abbreviate.
We are bound to conceal Dr. X.'s identity, and even his country ; nor is
this unreasonable, since the bizarrerie of the incidents to be recorded
would be felt as greatly out of place in his actual scientific surroundings.


The Dr. Z. who here appears in the somewhat dubious character of a
mesmerising spirit, was also, as it happens, a savant of European repute,
and a personal friend of Dr. X.'s.

Mme. X. is a lady healthy in body and mind, well-balanced, of sound
judgment, strong common sense, and a calm and firm character ; she is
charitable without excess ; is not susceptible to flatter)', nor given to enthusiasm ;
she detests falsehood and duplicity and abhors injustice. She has never had
any one of those serious maladies, such as meningitis, typhoid fever, &c., which
are apt to leave traces on the nervous system. Nor has she suffered from any
nervous complaint. She is the very opposite of what would be termed a nervous
or hysterical subject. She is sensibly affected by accounts of human woes,
especially among children ; but such sensibility by no means explains the
accesses of violent laughter which I have remarked in her since the commence-
ment of the series of events to be now related. These accesses, which have
nothing in common with the hysterical crises which they superficially resemble,
are always caused by some extraordinary communication emanating from an
occult intelligence.

In September 1890, while we were staying in the country, Mme. X.
sprained her right foot on a very dark night. A fortnight after our return to

M the foot was almost well; but shortly afterwards I fell ill, and Mme. X.

underwent much fatigue in nursing me. The injured foot then became inflamed
and painful; and the left foot also became painful. For all that winter Mme.
X. was obliged to lie up, the foot being kept from all movement by plaster or
silicate dressings. This treatment was ultimately abandoned ; the foot was
simply bound up and crutches used. There was inflammation of the tissues of
several of the joints of the right foot, and we were seriously alarmed.

At this point certain friends talked to Mme. X. about the alleged facts of
Spiritism, of which until that date she had had a very vague notion. They
praised the beneficent intervention of spirits in disease ; but had much diffi-
culty in inducing her to admit the mere possibility of facts of this nature. I
can affirm, therefore, that it was only with great difficulty that these friends
succeeded in vanquishing Mme. X.'s scepticism which was moreover sup-
ported by my own objections to Spiritism and at last persuaded her to submit
herself to the action of the invisibles. The spirit-guide of a group of which one
of our friends was a member advised the intervention of the (spirit)-doctor Z.
A day was arranged when Dr. Z. was to visit Mme. X., and she was informed of
the date. Owing to other preoccupations we completely forgot this rendezvous.
On the day named it was in April 1891 Dr. Z. announced himself by raps in
the table. Only then did we recollect the rendezvous agreed upon. I asked
Dr. Z. his opinion on the nature of the injury to Mme. X.'s foot. By tilts of the
table, through Mme. X.'s mediumship, he gave the word "tuberculosis." He
meant that there was tuberculosis of the joints, and of this there had been
some indications. Had Mme. X. been predisposed to tubercle I doubt not that
this would have supervened. Personally, I much feared this complication, and
Dr. Z.'s answer (as I at once thought) might well be the mere reflection of my
fears. It left me no more anxious than before. We now know that there was
in fact no tuberculosis. In any case, Dr. Z. ordered a merely soothing remedy,
sulphur ointment. Some days later, at our request, Dr. Z. reappeared and
promised to undertake the cure of Mme. X.'s feet; warning us, however, that


there would never be a " restitutio ad integrum," but that the patient would be
unequal to long walks, and would suffer more or less from her feet in damp
weather which has proved to be the case.

I come now to the phenomena, mainly subjective, which Mme. X.'s case

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 18 of 89)