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And in the second place, we now discern a possibility of getting
at the percipient's end; of determining whether the telepathic im-
pact is received by the brain or by the spirit of the living man,

196 CHAPTER IX [909

or by both inseparably, or sometimes by one and sometimes by the

On this problem, I say, the phenomena of automatic script, of trance-
utterance, of spirit-possession, throw more of light than we could have
ventured to hope.

Stated broadly, our trance-phenomena show us to begin with that
several currents of communication can pass at once from discarnate
spirits to a living man; and can pass in very varying ways. For
clearness' sake I will put aside for the present all cases where the
telepathic impact takes an externalised or sensory form, and will speak
only of intellectual impressions and motor automatisms.

Now these may pass through all grades of apparent centrality. If a
man, awake and in other respects fully self-controlled, feels his hand
impelled to scrawl words on a piece of paper, without consciousness of
motor effort of his own, the impulse does not seem to him a central one,
although some part of his brain is presumably involved. On the other
hand, a much less conspicuous invasion of his personality may feel much
more central ; as, for instance, a premonition of evil, an inward heavi-
ness which he can scarcely define. Well, the motor automatism goes on
until it reaches the point of possession ; that is to say, until the man's
own consciousness is absolutely in abeyance, and every part of his body is
utilised by the invading spirit or spirits. What happens in such condi-
tions to the man's ruling principle to his own spirit we must consider
presently. But so far as his organism is concerned, the invasion seems
complete : and it indicates a power which is indeed telepathic in a true
sense ; yet not quite in the sense which we originally attached to the
word. We first thought of telepathy as of a communication between two
minds, whereas what we have here looks more like a communication
between a mind and a body, an external mind, in place of the mind
which is accustomed to rule that particular body.

There is in such a case no apparent communication between the
discarnate mind and the mind of the automatist. Rather there is a kind
of contact between the discarnate mind and the brain of the automatist,
in so far that the discarnate mind, pursuing its own ends, is helped up to
a certain point by the accumulated capacities of the automatist's brain ;
and similarly is hindered by its incapacities.

909. Yet here the most characteristic element of telepathy, I repeat,
seems to have dropped out altogether. There is no perceptible com-
munion between the mind of the entranced person and any other mind
whatever. He is possessed, but is kept in unconsciousness, and never
regains memory of what his lips have uttered during his trance.

But let us see whether we have thus grasped all the trance-phenomena ;
whether something else may not be going on, which is more truly, more
centrally telepathic.

To go back to the earliest stage of telepathic experience, we can see


well enough that the experimental process might quite possibly involve
two different factors. The percipient's mind must somehow receive the
telepathic impression ; and to this reception we can assign no definite
physical correlative ; and also the percipient's motor or sensory centres
must receive an excitation ; which excitation may be communicated, for
aught we know, either by his own mind in the ordinary way, or by the
agent's mind in some direct way, which I may call telergic, thus giving a
more precise sense to a word which I long ago suggested as a kind of
correlative to telepathic. That is to say, there may even in these appa-
rently simple cases be first a transmission from agent to percipient in the
spiritual world, and then an action on the percipient's physical brain,
of the same type as spirit-possession. This action on the physical brain
may be due either to the percipient's own spirit, or subliminal self, or
else directly to the agent's spirit. For I must repeat that the phenomena
of possession seem to indicate that the extraneous spirit acts on a man's
organism in very much the same way as the man's own spirit habitually
acts on it. One must thus practically regard the body as an instrument
upon which a spirit plays ; an ancient metaphor which now seems
actually our nearest approximation to truth.

Proceeding to the case of telepathic or veridical apparitions, we see
the same hints of a double nature in the process ; traces of two elements
mingling in various degrees. At the spiritual end there may be what we
have called " clairvoyant visions," pictures manifestly symbolical, and not
located by the observer in ordinary three-dimensional space. These seem
analogous to the views of the spiritual world which the sensitive enjoys
during entrancement. Then comes that larger class of veridical apparitions
where the figure seems to be externalised from the percipient's mind,
some stimulus having actually been applied, whether by agent's or
percipient's spirit, to the appropriate brain-centre. These cases of
" sensory automatism " resemble those experimental transferences of
pictures of cards, &c. And beyond these again, on the physical or rather
the ultra-physical side, come those collective apparitions which in my view
involve some unknown kind of modification of a certain portion of space
not occupied by any organism, as opposed to a modification of centres
in one special brain. Here comes in, as I hold, the gradual transition
from subjective to objective, as the portion of space in question is modified
in a manner to affect a larger and larger number of percipient minds.

910. Now when we proceed from these apparitions of the living to
apparitions of the departed, we find very much the same types persisting
still. We find symbolical visions of departed persons, and of scenes
among which they seem to dwell. We find externalised apparitions or
phantasms of departed persons, indicating that some point in the per-
cipient's brain has been stimulated by his own or by some other spirit.
And finally, as has already been said, we find that in certain cases of
possession these two kinds of influence are simultaneously carried to an

198 CHAPTER IX [911

extreme. The percipient autoraatist of earlier stages becomes no longer a
percipient but an automatist pure and simple, so far as his body is
concerned, for his whole brain not one point alone seems now to be
stimulated and controlled by an extraneous spirit, and he is not himself
aware of what his body writes or utters. And meantime his spirit,
partially set free from the body, may be purely percipient; may be
enjoying that other spiritual form of communication more completely than
in any type of vision which our description had hitherto reached.

911. This point attained, another analogy, already mentioned, will be
at once recalled. There is another class of phenomena, besides telepathy,
of which this definition of possession at once reminds us. We have
dealt much with secondary personalities, with severances and alternations
affecting a man's own spirit, in varying relation with his organism.
F61ida X.'s developed secondary personality, for instance (231 A), might
be defined as another fragment or another synthesis of Fdlida's spirit
acting upon her organism in much the same way as the original fragment
- or the primary synthesis of her spirit was wont to act upon it.

Plainly, this analogy is close enough to be likely to lead to practical
confusion. On what grounds can we base our distinctions? What
justifies us in saying that F61ida X.'s organism was controlled only by
another modification of her own personality, but that Mrs. Piper's is con-
trolled by George Pelham (959) ? May there not be any amount of self-
suggestion, colouring with the fictitious hue of all kinds of identities what
is in reality no more than an allotropic form of the entranced person
himself? Is even the possession by the new personality of some frag-
ments of fresh knowledge any proof of spirit- control? May not that
knowledge be gained (as by Lonie B., see 230 A and 568 A) clairvoyantly
or telepathically, with no intervention of any spirit other than of living

Yes, indeed, we must reply, there is here a danger of confusion, there
is a lack of any well-defined dividing line. While we must decide on
general rules, we must also keep our minds open to possible ex-

On the negative side, indeed, general rules will carry us a good way.
We must not allow ourselves to ascribe to spirit-control cases where no
new knowledge is shown in the trance state. And this rule has at once
an important consequence, a consequence which profoundly modifies the
antique idea of possession. I know of no evidence, reaching in any
way our habitual standard, either for angelic, for diabolical, or for hostile

912. And here comes the question : What attitude are we to assume
to savage cases of possession ? Are we to accept as genuine the possession
of the Esquimaux, the Chinaman, nay, of the Hebrew of old days ?

Chinese possession is a good example, as described in Dr. Nevius'
book (an account of which by Professor Newbold I give in 912 A).


I agree with Professor Newbold in holding that no proof has been shown
that there is more in the Chinese cases than that hysterical duplication
of personality with which we are so familiar in France and elsewhere.

A devil is not a creature whose existence is independently known to
science ; and the accounts of the behaviour of the invading devils seems
due to mere self-suggestion. With uncivilised races, even more than
among our own friends, we are bound to insist on the rule that there must
be some supernormal knowledge shown before we may assume an
external influence. It may of course be replied that the character shown
by the " devils " was fiendish and actually hostile to the possessed person.
Can we suppose that the tormentor was actually a fraction of the
tormented ?

I reply that such a supposition, so far from being absurd, is supported
by well-known phenomena both in insanity and in mere hysteria.

Especially in the Middle Ages, amid powerful self-suggestions of evil
and terror, did these quasi-possessions reach an intensity and violence
which the calm and sceptical atmosphere of the modern hospital checks
and discredits. The devils with terrifying names which possessed Soeur
Ang^lique of Loudun (see 832 B) would at the Salpetriere under Charcot
in our days have figured merely as stages of " clounisme " and " attitudes

And even now these splits of personality seem occasionally to destroy
all sympathy between the normal individual and a divergent fraction. No
great sympathy was felt by L^onie II. for Iconic I. (230 A). And
Dr. Morton Prince's case (234 A) shows us the deepest and ablest
of the personalities of his " Miss Beauchamp," positively spiteful in its
relation to her main identity.

Bizarre though a house thus divided against itself may seem, the
moral dissidence is merely an exaggeration of the moral discontinuity
already observable in the typical case of Mrs. Newnham (849 A). There
the secondary intelligence was merely tricky, not malevolent. But its
trickiness was wholly alien from Mrs. Newnham's character, was some-
thing, indeed, which she would have energetically repudiated.

913. It seems therefore, and the analogy of dreams points in this
direction also, that our moral nature is as easily split up as our intellec-
tual nature, and that we cannot be any more certain that the minor
current of personality which is diverted into some new channel will
retain moral than that it will retain intellectual coherence.

To return once more to the Chinese devil-possessions. Dr. Nevius
asserts, though without adducing definite proof, that the possessing devils
sometimes showed supernormal knowledge. This is a better argument
for their separate existence than their fiendish temper is ; but it is not in
itself enough. The knowledge does not seem to have been specially
appropriate to the supposed informing spirit. It seems as though it may
have depended upon heightened memory, with possibly some slight tele-

200 CHAPTER IX [913

pathic or telaesthetic perception. Heightened memory is thoroughly
characteristic of some hysterical phases ; and even the possible traces of
telepathy (although far the most important feature of the phenomena, if
they really occurred) are, as we have seen, not unknown in trance states
(like Leonie's) where there is no indication of an invading spirit.

Temporary control of the organism by a widely divergent fragment of
the personality, self-suggested in some dream-like manner into hostility to
the main mass of the personality, and perhaps better able than that
normal personality to reach and manipulate certain stored impressions,
or even certain supernormal influences, such will be the formula to
which we shall reduce the invading Chinese devil, as described by Dr.
Nevius, and probably the great majority of supposed devil-possessions
of similar type.

The great majority, no doubt, but perhaps not all. It would indeed
be matter for surprise if such trance-phenomena as those of Mrs. Piper
and other modern cases had appeared in the world without previous
parallel. Much more probable is it that similar phenomena have
occurred sporadically from the earliest times, although men have not
had enough of training to analyse them.

And, in fact, among the endless descriptions of trance-phenomena with
which travellers furnish us, there are many which include points so
concordant with our recent observations that we cannot but attach some
weight to coincidences so wholly undesigned. 1 But although this may be
admitted, I still maintain that the only invaders of the organism who have
as yet made good their title have been human, and have been friendly.
"The devils of Loudun " and the like have, I repeat, entirely failed to sub-
stantiate their independent existence. The higher influences which inspired
the " Martyrs of the Cevennes " are not at this distance of time clearly separ-
able from the inspirations of genius. The teasing, mystifying " controls "
whom we have encountered so often in earlier stages of motor automatisms
(deceptive written messages and the like) are perhaps the most puzzling.
They suggest nor can we absolutely disprove the suggestion a type of
intelligences inferior to human, animal-like, and perhaps parasitic. But
we have seen already that for these cases too a simpler explanation is
forthcoming. There is nothing in the mere fact of the teasing annoyance
to negative the supposition that these controls are also fragments we may

1 One important point of similarity is the concurrence in some savage ceremonies
of utterance through an invading spirit and travelling clairvoyance exercised meantime
by the man whose organism is thus invaded. The uncouth spirit shouts and bellows,
presumably with the lungs of the medicine-man, hidden from view in profound slumber.
Then the medicine-man awakes, and tells the listening tribe the news which his sleep-
wanderings, among gods or men, have won.

If this indeed be thus, it fits in strangely with the experiences of our modern seers,
with the spiritual interchange which takes place when a discarnate intelligence occupies
the organism and meantime the incarnate intelligence, temporarily freed, awakes to
wider percipience, in this or in another world.


call them splinters of the man's own split personality. His will and
character may divide up in manifestation just as his intellect may do.

914. Thus far, then, our field is clear, and with this clearance, I
think, should vanish the somewhat grim associations which have gathered
around the word possession. In what is now to be described there
may often be cause for perplexity, but I have never seen cause for fear.
Nay, how far remote from fear is the resultant feeling, the sequel will

Assuming then, as I think we at present may assume, that we have to
deal only with spirits who have been men like ourselves, and who are
still animated by much the same motives as those which influence us, we
may briefly consider, on similar analogical grounds, what range of spirits
are likely to be able to affect us, and what difficulties they are likely to
find in doing so. Of course, actual experience alone can decide this;
but nevertheless our expectations may be usefully modified if we reflect
beforehand how far such changes of personality as we already know can
suggest to us the limits of these profounder substitutions.

What, to begin with, do we find to be the case as to addition of
faculty in alternating states ? How far do such changes bring with them
unfamiliar powers?

Reference to the recorded cases will show us that existing faculty may
be greatly quickened and exalted. There may be an increase both in
actual perception and in power of remembering or reproducing what has
once been perceived. There may be increased control over muscular
action, as shown, for instance, in improved billiard-playing, in the
secondary state. But there is little evidence of the acquisition telepathy
apart of any actual mass of fresh knowledge, such as a new language,
or a stage of mathematical knowledge unreached before. We shall not
therefore be justified by analogy in expecting that an external spirit con-
trolling an organism will be able easily to modify it in such a way as to
produce speech in a language previously unknown. The brain is used
as something between a typewriter and a calculating machine. German
words, for instance, are not mere combinations of letters, but specific
formulae ; they can only seldom and with great difficulty be got out of
a machine which has not been previously fashioned for their production.

915. Consider, again, the analogies as to memory. In the case of
alternations of personality, memory fails and changes in what seems a
quite capricious way. The gaps which then occur recall (as I have said)
the ccmnesia or blank unrecollected spaces which follow upon accidents
to the head, or upon crises of fever, when all memories that belong to a
particular person or to a particular period of life are clean wiped out,
other memories remaining intact. Compare, again, the memory of
waking life which we retain in dream. This too is absolutely capricious ;
I may forget my own name in a dream, and yet remember perfectly
the kind of chairs in my dining-room. Or I may remember the chairs,

202 CHAPTER IX [916

but locate them in some one else's house. No one can predict the kind
of confusion which may occur.

916. We have also the parallel of somnambulic utterance. In talking
with a somnambulist, be the somnambulism natural or induced, we find
it hard to get into continuous colloquy on our own subjects. To begin
with, he probably will not speak continuously for long together. He
drops back into a state in which he cannot express himself at all. And
when he does talk, he is apt to talk only on his own subjects ; to follow
out his own train of ideas, interrupted rather than influenced by what
we say to him. The difference of state between waking and sleep is in
many ways hard to bridge over.

We have thus three parallelisms which may guide and limit our
expectations. From the parallelism of possession with split personalities
we may infer that a possessing spirit is not likely to be able to inspire
into the recipient brain ideas or words of very unfamiliar type. From
the parallelism of possession with dream we may infer that the memory
of the possessing spirit may be subject to strange omissions and con-
fusions. From the parallelism with somnambulism we may infer that
colloquy between a human observer and the possessing spirit is not
likely to be full or free, but rather to be hampered by difference of state,
and abbreviated by the difficulty of maintaining psychical contact for
long together.

917. And here observe how different is the form our expectations
will gradually assume from the commonplace or even from the poetic
notion of what communication with the dead is likely to be, if it can take
place at all. We now expect to have to do, not with a voice " monotonous
and hollow like a ghost's, denouncing judgment " ; but rather with a
voice incoherent and fugitive, like the voice of a sleeper ; with memories
broken and arbitrary, like the memories of a dream.

And similarly as to what the voice is to tell us. We have no reason
for anticipating either "judgment" or high revelation. We feel pretty
sure, indeed, that there will be no ideas expressed which much transcend
the automatist's habitual range. And, moreover, on the principle of
continuity which has guided us throughout this work, we cannot assume
that the departed spirit has already gained any vast increment of know-

Whatever his new opportunities, we feel that his own capacity for
learning may not have undergone any sudden change. We can hardly
at first expect from him much more than some such account of his new
state as may be intelligible to our material conceptions.

This, I say, is what we who are prepared by these previous studies
are likely to expect. And I shall presently show that this is very much
what we actually find. The expectations of the ordinary public, however,
as seen both in fiction, and in the disappointed comments with which our
actual results are greeted, are of very different scope.


918. There are three strong currents of expectation of which we find
constant traces, but with which the phenomena do not comply. The
failure of compliance, indeed, leads to indifference or even to ridicule.

(i.) There is the orthodox or traditional line of expectation. This
leads people to expect an immediate vision of Jesus Christ, or of angels
or devils ; or some marked and definite division of good and evil souls ;
or at least some foresight of the Last Judgment. There is not, however,
so far as I know, any confirmation at all, from apparitions or messages, of
any of these anticipations.

Perhaps the most striking part of this negative evidence is the absence,
in well-attested cases, of any mention of evil spirits other than human. 1
The belief in devils has played an enormous part in almost all human
creeds, and it was undoubtedly strong in the minds of many of the
persons with whom communication has been held. Unhappy figures
have been seen ; regret and remorse have been expressed. But of evil
spirits other than human there is no news whatever.

Here is a definite case in which I venture to hope that theological
dogma will be insensibly modified by fresh information, and that an error
which has caused much misery will cease to trouble mankind.

(2.) The strain of religious anticipation merges gradually into what I
have called the romantic. Men are tempted to think that the apparition
or message of a departed friend is a special privilege ; directly granted
by Providence, or won in some way by strength of affection. In actual
experience we find that although affection may help by inspiring the wish
to communicate, the power is something quite independent of affection ;
something which love may lack and indifference possess. Nay, it is by
no means certain that any act of will need be involved in the apparition,
which may very probably occur in automatic fashion.

This has been made a subject of ridicule, as though it were a
meaningless thing that B should appear to A who cares nothing about
him. Of course the meaning belongs to the realm of science, not of

(3.) Again, there seems to be a common notion that messages from
the next world ought to subserve some practical purpose in this. In fact,
such a result seldom occurs : and its absence has been a frequent ground
for doubting or deriding the message. Yet the coarseness of such a view
hardly needs exposition.

919. The foregoing remarks may, I hope, have prepared the reader
to consider the problems of possession with the same open-mindedness
which has been needed for the study of previous problems attacked in the
present work. I have shown indeed that this new problem may be
regarded as the natural sequence or development of the old. I have
shown that in the movements or utterances of the possessed organism we
have motor automatism carried to its furthest stage ; that in the incursion

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 28 of 89)