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some effort of its own, acquires certain facts from Mr. Newnham's mind,
and uses her hand to write them down automatically. The great problem
here introduced is how the subliminal self acquires the facts, rather than
how it succeeds in writing them down when it has once acquired them.

But as we go further we can no longer limit the problem in this
way, to the activities of the automatist's subliminal self. We cannot
always assume that some portion of the automatist's personality gets at the
supernormal knowledge by some effort of its own. Our evidence, as we
know, has pointed decisively to telepathic impacts or influences from
without. In the Kirby case (852), for instance, we have supposed that the
spirit of the sleeping sister affected the brother by a telepathic impact, from
without, which worked itself out by automatic movements just like those
automatic movements which we have already described as originating
wholly from within. What, then, is the mechanism here? Are we still
to suppose that the automatist's subliminal self executes the movements
obeying somehow the bidding of the impulse from without? or does the
external agent, who sends the telepathic message, himself execute the
movements also, directly using the automatist's arm? And if telekinetic
movements accompany the message, (a subject thus far deferred, but of
prime importance), are we to suppose that these also are effected by the
percipient's subliminal self, under the guidance of some external spirit,
incarnate or discarnate? or are they effected directly by that external
spirit?

880. We cannot really say which of these two is the easier
hypothesis.

From one point of view it may seem simpler to keep as long as we
can to that acknowledged vera causa, the automatist's subliminal self ; and
to collect such observations as may indicate any power on its part of pro-
ducing physical effects outside the organism. Such scattered observations
occur at every stage, and even Mrs. Newnham, (I may briefly observe in
passing) , thought that her pencil, when writing down the messages tele-
pathically derived from her husband, was moved by something other than
the ordinary muscular action of the fingers which held it. On the other
hand, there seems something very forced in attributing to an external
spirit's agency impulses and impressions which seem intimately the auto-
matist's own, and at the same time refusing to ascribe to that external
agency phenomena which take place outside the automatist's organism,
and which present themselves to him as objective facts, as much outside
his own being as the fall of the apple to the ground.



188 CHAPTER VIII [880

Reflecting on such points and once admitting this kind of interaction
between the automatist's own spirit and an external spirit, incarnate or
discarnate we find the possible combinations presenting themselves in
perplexing variety ; a variety both of agencies on the part of the invading
spirit, and of effects on the part of the invaded spirit and organism.

What is that which invades? and what is that which is displaced or
superseded by this invasion? In what ways may two spirits co-operate
in the possession and control of the same organism ?

These last words control and possession remind us of the great
mass of vague tradition and belief to the effect that spirits of the departed
may exercise such possession or control over the living. To those ancient
and vague beliefs it will be our task in the next chapter to give a form as
exact and stable as we can. And observe with how entirely novel a
preparation of mind we now enter on that task. The examination of
" possession " is no longer to us, as to the ordinary civilised inquirer, a
merely antiquarian or anthropological research into forms of superstition
lying wholly apart from any valid or systematic thought. On the contrary,
it is an inquiry directly growing out of previous evidence ; directly needed
for the full comprehension of known facts as well as for the discovery of
facts unknown. We need (so to say), to analyse the spectrum of helium,
as detected in the sun, in order to check and correct our spectrum of
helium as detected in the Bath waters. We are obliged to seek for certain
definite phenomena in the spiritual world in order to explain certain
definite phenomena of the world of matter.



900]



CHAPTER IX

TRANCE, POSSESSION AND ECSTASY

Vicit iter durum pietas.

VIRGIL.

900. The appearance of this book has been delayed for several years
by several causes, of which it is to be feared that the chief has been that
cause which the gods call Sheer Indolence, and men the Pressure of
Occupation. What evil may have resulted from the long deferment it is
not for the author to say. What counterbalancing good there may have
accrued ought to be manifest in the following chapter. For it is in this
chapter that the main difference lies between what I should have written
ten years ago, and what it seems to me not only permissible, but even
urgently necessary to write to-day. It is in what must needs be said about
Possession that the great change has come.

Possession, to define it for the moment in the narrowest way, is a more
developed form of Motor Automatism. The difference broadly is, that in
Possession the automatist's own personality does for the time altogether
disappear, while there is a more or less complete substitution of personality ;
writing or speech being given by a spirit through the entranced organism.
The change which has come over this branch of evidence since the present
work was first projected, in 1888, is most significant. There existed
indeed, at that date, a good deal of evidence which pointed in this
direction, 1 but for various reasons most of that evidence was still possibly
explicable in other ways. Even the phenomena of Mr. W. S. Moses left
it possible to argue that the main " controls " under which he wrote or
spoke when entranced were self-suggestions of his own mind, or phases of
his own deeper personality. I had not then had the opportunity, which
the kindness of his executors after his death afforded to me, of studying
the whole series of his original note-books, and forming at first-hand my
present conviction that spiritual agency was an actual and important
element in that long sequence of communications. On the whole, I did
not then anticipate that the theory of possession could be presented as
more than a plausible speculation, or as a supplement to other lines of
proof of man's survival of death.

1 The cases of Swedenborg, Cahagnet's subject, D. D. Home, and Stainton Moses
will be discussed in the course of this chapter.

189



190 CHAPTER IX [901

The position of things, as the reader of the S.P.R. Proceedings knows,
has in the last decade undergone a complete change. The trance-
phenomena of Mrs. Piper so long and so carefully watched by Dr.
Hodgson and others formed, I think, by far the most remarkable mass
of psychical evidence till then adduced in any quarter. And more
recently other series of trance-phenomena with other "mediums"
though still incomplete have added materially to the evidence obtained
through Mrs. Piper. The result broadly is that these phenomena of
possession are now the most amply attested, as well as intrinsically the
most advanced, in our whole repertory.

901. Nor, again, is the mere increment of direct evidence, important
though that is, the sole factor in the changed situation. Not only has
direct evidence grown, but indirect evidence, so to say, has moved to
meet it. The notion of personality, of the control of organism by spirit,
has gradually been so modified that Possession, which passed till the
other day as a mere survival of savage thought, is now seen to be the
consummation, the furthest development, of many lines of experiment,
observation, reflection, which the preceding chapters have opened to our
view.

Let us then at once consider what the notion of possession does
actually claim. It will be better to face that claim in its full extent at
once, as it will be seen that the evidence, while rising through various
stages, does in the end insist on all that the ancient term implies. The
leading modern cases, of which Stainton Moses and Mrs. Piper may
be taken as types, are closely analogous, presenting many undesigned
coincidences, some of which come out only on close examination.

The claim, then, is that the automatist, in the first place, falls into a
trance, during which his spirit partially '' quits his body " : enters at any
rate into a state in which the spiritual world is more or less open to its
perception ; and in which also and this is the novelty it so far ceases
to occupy the organism as to leave room for an invading spirit to use it in
somewhat the same fashion as its owner is accustomed to use it.

The brain being thus left temporarily and partially uncontrolled, a
disembodied spirit sometimes, but not always, succeeds in occupying it ;
and occupies it with varying degrees of control. In some cases (Mrs.
Piper) two or more spirits may simultaneously control different portions of
the same organism.

The controlling spirit proves his identity mainly by reproducing, in
speech or writing, facts which belong to his memory and not to the
automatist's memory. He may also give evidence of supernormal per-
ception of other kinds.

His manifestations may differ very considerably from the automatist's
normal personality. Yet in one sense it is a process of selection rather
than of addition ; the spirit selects what parts of the brain- machinery he
will use, but he cannot get out of that machinery more than it is con-



902] TRANCE, POSSESSION, ECSTASY 191

structed to perform. The spirit can indeed produce facts and names
unknown to the automatist ; but they must be, as a rule, such facts and
names as the automatist could easily have repeated, had they been known
to him : not, for instance, mathematical formulae or Chinese sentences, if
the automatist is ignorant of mathematics or of Chinese.

After a time the control gives way, and the automatist's spirit returns.
The automatist, awaking, may or may not remember his experiences in
the spiritual world during the trance. In some cases (Swedenborg) there
is this memory of the spiritual world, but no possession of the organism
by an external spirit. In others (Cahagnet's subject) there is utterance
during the trance as to what is being discerned by the automatist, yet no
memory thereof on waking. In others (Mrs. Piper) there is neither utter-
ance as a rule, or at least no prolonged utterance, by the automatist's own
spirit, nor subsequent memory ; but there is writing or utterance during
the trance by controlling spirits.

902. Now this seems a strange doctrine to have reached after so
much disputation. For it simply brings us back to the creeds of the
Stone Age. We have come round again to the primitive practices of the
shaman and the medicine-man ; to a doctrine of spiritual intercourse
which was once oecumenical, but has now taken refuge in African swamps
and Siberian tundras and the snow-clad wastes of the Red Indian and the
Esquimaux. If, as is sometimes advised, we judge of the worth of ideas
by tracing their origins, no conception could start from a lower level of
humanity. It might be put out of court at once as unworthy of civilised
men.

Fortunately, however, our previous discussions have supplied us with
a somewhat more searching criterion. Instead of asking in what age a
doctrine originated with the implied assumption that the more recent
it is, the better we can now ask how far it is in accord or in discord
with a great mass of actual recent evidence which comes into contact,
in one way or another, with nearly every belief as to an unseen world
which has been held at least by western men. Submitted to this test,
the theory of possession gives a remarkable result. It cannot be said
to be inconsistent with any of our proved facts. We know absolutely
nothing which negatives its possibility.

Nay, more than this. The theory of possession actually supplies us
with a powerful method of co-ordinating and explaining many earlier
groups of phenomena, if only we will consent to explain them in a way
which at first sight seemed extreme in its assumptions seemed unduly
prodigal of the marvellous. Yet as to that difficulty we have learnt by
this time that no explanation of psychical phenomena is really simple, and
that our best clue is to get hold of some group which seems to admit of
one interpretation only, and then to use that group as a point de repere
from which to attack more complex problems.

Now I think that the Moses- Piper group of trance-phenomena cannot



192 CHAPTER IX [903

be intelligently explained on any theory except that of possession. And
I therefore think it important to consider in what way earlier phenomena
have led up to possession, and in what way the facts of possession, in their
turn, affect our view of these earlier phenomena.

If we analyse our observations of possession, we find two main factors
the central operation, which is the control by a spirit of the sensitive's
organism; and the indispensable prerequisite, which is the partial and
temporary desertion of that organism by the percipient's own spirit.

Let us consider first how far this withdrawal of the living man's spirit
from his organism has been rendered conceivable by evidence already
obtained.

903. First of all, the splits, and substitutions of phases of personality
with which our second chapter made us familiar have great significance
tor possession also.

We have there seen some secondary personality, beginning with slight
and isolated sensory and motor manifestations, yet going on gradually
to complete predominance, complete control of all supraliminal mani-
festation.

The mere collection and description of such phenomena has up till
now savoured of a certain boldness. The idea of tracing the possible
mechanism involved in these transitions has scarcely arisen.

Yet it is manifest that there must be a complex set of laws concerned
with such alternating use of brain-centres; developments, one may
suppose, of those unknown physical laws underlying ordinary memory,
of which no one has formed as yet even a first rough conception.

An ordinary case of ecmnesia may present problems as insoluble in
their way as those offered by spirit- possession itself. There may be in
ecmnesia periods of life absolutely and permanently extruded from
memory ; and there may be also periods which are only temporarily thus
extruded. Thus on Wednesday and Thursday I may be unaware of
what I learnt and did on Monday and Tuesday ; and then on Friday I
may recover Monday's and Tuesday's knowledge, as well as retaining
Wednesday's and Thursday's, so that my brain-cells have taken on, so to
say, two separate lines of education since Sunday that which began on
Monday, and that which began on Wednesday. These intercurrent
educations may have been naturally discordant, and may be fused in all
kinds of ways in the ultimate synthesis.

These processes are completely obscure ; and all that can be said is
that their mechanism probably belongs to the same unknown series of
operations which ultimately lead to that completest break in the history
of the brain-cells which consists in their intercalary occupation by an
external spirit.

904. Passing on to genius, which I discussed in my third chapter,
it is noticeable that there also there is a certain degree of temporary
substitution of one control for another over important brain-centres.



906] TRANCE, POSSESSION, ECSTASY 193

We must here regard the subliminal self as an entity partially distinct
from the supraliminal, and its occupation of these brain-centres habitually
devoted to supraliminal work is a kind of possession, which illustrates in
yet another way the rapid metastasis of psychical product (so to term it)
of which these highest centres are capable. The highest genius would
thus be the completest self-possession, the occupation and dominance
of the whole organism by those profoundest elements of the self which
act from the fullest knowledge, and in the wisest way.

905. The next main subject which fell under our description was
sleep. And this state the normal state which most resembles trance
has long ago suggested the question which first hints at the possibility of
ecstasy, namely, What becomes of the soul during sleep? I think that
our evidence has shown that sometimes during apparent ordinary sleep
the spirit may travel away from the body, and may bring back a memory,
more or less confused, of what it has seen in this clairvoyant excursion.
This may indeed happen for brief flashes during waking moments also.
But ordinary sleep seems to help the process ; and deeper states of sleep
spontaneous or induced seem still further to facilitate it. In the
coma preceding death, or during that " suspended animation " which is
sometimes taken for death, this travelling faculty has seemed to reach its
highest point.

906. I have spoken of deeper states of sleep, " spontaneous or in-
duced," and here the reader will naturally recall much that has been said
of ordinary somnambulism, much that has been said of hypnotic trance.
Hypnotic trance has created for us, with perfect facility, situations ex-
ternally indistinguishable from what I shall presently claim as true
possession. A quasi- personality, arbitrarily created, may occupy the
organism, responding to speech or sign in some characteristic fashion,
although without producing any fresh verifiable facts as evidence to the
alleged identity. Nay sometimes, as in a few of the Pesaro experiments,
(see Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. pp. 563-565), there may be indications that
something of a new personality is there. And on the other hand, the
sensitive's own spirit often claims to have been absent elsewhere, much
in the fashion in which it sometimes imagines itself to have been absent
during ordinary sleep, but with greater persistence and lucidity.

Our inquiry into the nature of what is thus alleged to be seen in sleep
and cognate states has proved instructive. Sometimes known earthly
scenes appear to be revisited with only such alteration as may have
taken place since the sleeper last visited them in waking hours. But
sometimes also there is an admixture of an apparently symbolical element.
The earthly scene includes some element of human action, which is pre-
sented in a selected or abbreviated fashion, as though some mind had
been concerned to bring out a special significance from the complex
story. Sometimes this element becomes quite dominant ; phantasmal
figures are seen ; or (as in Dr. Wiltse's case of apparent death, 713 A) there

VOL. II. N



194 CHAPTER IX [906

may be a prolonged symbolical representation of an entry into the spiritual
world.

Cases like these do of course apparently support that primitive doc-
trine of the spirit's actual wandering in space. On the other hand, this
notion has become unwelcome to modern thought, which is less unwilling
to believe in some telepathic intercourse between mind and mind in
which space is not involved. For my own part, I have already explained
that I think that the evidence to an at least apparent movement of some
kind in space must outweigh any mere speculative presumption against it.
And I hold that these new experiences of possession fall on this contro-
versy with decisive force. It is so strongly claimed, in every instance of
possession, that the sensitive's own spirit must in some sense vacate the
organism, in order to allow another spirit to enter, and the evidence for
the reality of possession is at the same time so strong, that I think that
we must argue back from this spatial change as a relatively certain fact,
and must place a corresponding interpretation on earlier phenomena.
Such an interpretation, if once admitted, does certainly meet the phe-
nomena in the way most accordant with the subjective impressions of the
various percipients.

As we have already repeatedly found, it is the bold evolutionary
hypothesis which best fixes and colligates the scattered facts. We en-
counter in these studies phenomena of degeneration and phenomena of
evolution. The degenerative phenomena are explicable singly and in
detail as declensions in divergent directions from an existing level. The
evolutive phenomena point, on the other hand, to new generalisations ;
to powers previously unrecognised towards which our evidence converges
along constantly multiplying lines.

This matter of psychical excursion from the organism ultimately in-
volves the extremest claim to novel faculty which has ever been advanced
for men. For it involves, as we shall see, the claim to ecstasy : to a
wandering vision which is not confined to this earth or this material world
alone, but introduces the seer into the spiritual world and among com-
munities higher than any which this planet knows. The discussion of this
transportation, however, will be better deferred until after the evidence for
possession has been laid before the reader at some length.

Continuing, then, for the present our analysis of the idea of possession,
we come now to its specific feature, the occupation by a spiritual agency
of the entranced and partially vacated organism. Here it is that our
previous studies will do most to clear our conceptions. Instead of at
once leaping to the question of what spirits in their essence are, of what
they can do and cannot do, of the antecedent possibility of their re-entry
into matter, and the like, we must begin by simply carrying the idea
of telepathy to its furthest point. We must imagine telepathy becoming
as central and as intense as possible ; and we shall find that of two
diverging types of telepathic intercourse which will thus present them-



908] TRANCE, POSSESSION, ECSTASY 195

selves, the one will gradually correspond to possession, and the other
to ecstasy.

907. But here let us pause, and consider what is the truest conception
which we are by this time able to form of telepathy. The word has been
a convenient one ; the central notion of communication beyond this
range of sense can at any rate thus be expressed in simple terms. But
nevertheless there has been nothing to assure us that our real compre-
hension of telepathic processes has got much deeper than that verbal
definition. Our conception of telepathy, indeed, to say nothing of
telaesthesia, has needed to be broadened with each fresh stage of our
evidence. That evidence at first revealed to us certain transmissions of
thoughts and images which suggested the passage of actual etherial vibra-
tions from brain to brain. Nor indeed can any one say at any point of
our evidence that etherial vibrations are demonstrably not concerned in
the phenomena. We cannot tell how far from the material world (to use
a crude phrase) some etherial agency may possibly extend. But tele-
pathic phenomena are in fact soon seen to overpass any development
which imaginative analogy can give to the conception of etherial radiation
from one material point to another.

For from the mere transmission of isolated ideas or pictures there is,
as my readers know, a continuous progression to impressions and appari-
tions far more persistent and complex. We encounter an influence which
suggests no mere impact of etherial waves, but an intelligent and respon-
sive presence, resembling nothing so much as the ordinary human inter-
course of persons in bodily nearness. Such visions or auditions, inward
or externalised, are indeed sometimes felt to involve an even closer
contact of spirits than the common intercourse of earth allows. One
could hardly assign etherial undulations as their cause without assigning
that same mechanism to all our emotions felt towards each other, or
even to our control over our own organisms.

Nay, more. There is as I have striven to show a further pro-
gression from these telepathic intercommunications between living men
to intercommunications between living men and discarnate spirits. And
this new thesis, in every way of vital importance, while practically
solving one problem on which I have already dwelt, opens also a pos-
sibility of the determination of another problem, nowise accessible until
now. In the first place, we may now rest assured that telepathic com-
munication is not necessarily propagated by vibrations proceeding from
an ordinary material brain. For the discarnate spirit at any rate has
no such brain from which to start them.

908. So much, in the first place, for the agenfs end of the com-



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 27 of 89)