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1 See Chapter VII., section 753.

204 CHAPTER IX [920

of the possessing spirit we have telepathic invasion achieving its com-
pletest victory. And I have uttered, too, an initial warning against
certain misconceptions which have in past time deterred men from
serious study of the messages received through such channels.

It is time, then, to proceed to the actual evidence, to detail the
various proofs which we have as yet collected to show that such possession
has in fact occurred. When this shall have been done, we must again
look round us; and we shall find that in describing this complete or
" mediumistic " form of trance, we have opened up analogies with other
forms of trance also, which will be discerned as elements in a continuous
and mutually corroborative chain of psychological facts.

920. Yet there must needs be one more delay. There is another
aspect of possession which must be explained before we can go further ;
involving a group of phenomena which have in various ways done much
to confuse and even to retard our main inquiry, but which, when properly
placed and understood, are seen to form an inevitable part of any scheme
which strives to discover the influence of unseen agencies in the world we

In our discussion of all telepathic and other supernormal influence I
have thus far regarded it mainly from the psychological and not from the
physical side. I have spoken as though the field of supernormal action
has been always the metetherial world. Yet true as this dictum may be
in its deepest sense, it cannot represent the whole truth " for beings such
as we are, in a world like the present." For us every psychological fact
has (so far as we know) a physical side ; and metetherial events, to be
perceptible to us, must somehow affect the world of matter.

In sensory and motor automatisms, then, we see effects, supernormally
initiated, upon the world of matter.

Imprimis, of course, and in ordinary life our own spirits (their
existence once granted) affect our own bodies and are our standing
examples of spirit affecting matter. Next, if a man receives a telepathic
impact from another incarnate spirit which causes him to see a phantasmal
figure, that man's brain has, we may suppose, been directly affected by
his own spirit rather than by the spirit of the distant friend. But it may
not always be true even in the case of sensory automatisms that the
distant spirit has made a suggestion merely to the percipient's spirit which
the percipient's own spirit carries out ; and in motor automatisms, as they
develop into possession, there are indications, as I have already pointed
out, that the influence of the agent's spirit is telergic rather than telepathic,
and that we have extraneous spirits influencing the human brain or
organism. That is to say, they are producing movements in matter ;
even though that matter be organised matter and those movements

921. So soon as this fact is grasped, and it has not always been
grasped by those who have striven to establish a fundamental difference


between spiritual influence on our spirits and spiritual influence on the
material world, we shall naturally be prompted to inquire whether inor-
ganic matter as well as organic ever shows the agency of extraneous spirits
upon it. The reply which first suggests itself is. of course, in the negative.
We are constantly dealing with inorganic matter, and no hypothesis of
spiritual influence exerted on such matter is needed to explain our experi-
ments. But this is a rough general statement, hardly likely to cover
phenomena so rare and fugitive as many of those with which in this
inquiry we deal. Let us begin, so to say, at the other end ; not with the
broad experience of life, but with the delicate and exceptional cases of
possession of which we have lately been speaking.

Suppose that a discarnate spirit, in temporary possession of a living
organism, is impelling it to motor automatisms. Can we say a priori
what the limits of such automatic movements of that organism are likely
to be, in the same way as we can say what the limits of any of its voluntary
movements are likely to be? May not this extraneous spirit get more
motor power out of the organism than the waking man himself can get
out of it? It would not surprise us, for example, if the movements in
trance showed increased concentration ; if a dynamometer (for instance)
was more forcibly squeezed by the spirit acting through the man than by
the man himself. Is there any other way in which one would imagine
that a spirit possessing me could use my vital force more skilfully than
I could use it myself?

I do not know how my will moves my arm ; but I know by experience
that my will generally moves only my arm and what my arm can touch ;
whatever objects are actually in contact with the " protoplasmic skeleton "
which represents the life of my organism. Yet I can sometimes move
objects not in actual contact, as by melting them with the heat or (in the
dry air of Colorado) kindling them with the electricity, which my
fingers emit. I see no very definite limit to this power. I do not know
all the forms of energy which my fingers might, under suitable training,

922. And now suppose that a possessing spirit can use my organism
more skilfully than I can. May he not manage to emit from that organism
some energy which can visibly move ponderable objects not actually in
contact with my flesh ? That would be a phenomenon of possession not
very unlike its other phenomena ; and it would be telekinesis.

By that word (due to M. Aksakoff) it is convenient to describe what
have been called " the physical phenomena of spiritualism," as to whose
existence as a reality, and not as a system of fraudulent pretences, fierce
controversy has raged for half a century, and is still raging.

My own method of dealing with this thorny subject in this book will
be as follows : I have first indicated, in the pages just preceding, that
telekinetic phenomena can be fitted, with no manifest illogicality, into
that conception of possession which forms the most advanced point to

206 CHAPTER IX [923

which our evidence leads us. I shall next feel bound to utter an earnest
warning against the fraud and folly which have gathered with exceptional
thickness round this special group of phenomena. I shall then refer to
certain phenomena of telekinesis, in cases where they are inextricably
mixed up with the psychological phenomena which I consider as my more
especial field. And finally, in a long Appendix (926 A), I shall set forth
a " Scheme of Vital Faculty " which will suggest some possible parallels
between the operations of the supraliminal self, the subliminal self, and the
possessing spirit.

923. Along this line, as I believe, we reach important truths ; and
truths entirely concordant with the psychological evidence of preceding
chapters. And yet it is with a half- reluctant feeling that I admit the
topic into this work. So sorely needed here is the word of warning of
which I have spoken ; so humiliating is the confession which must be
made of the fraud and folly which have made of spiritualism a kind of
by-word in scientific circles ; which have presented the very men who have
obtained the first inkling of momentous truths in the guise of a credulous
sect, preyed upon by a specially repulsive group of impostors. The fact
is, that just here, and not earlier, we reach the points where the enormous
issues, which have in truth underlain each stage and step in our long
inquiry, become conspicuous to the ordinary mind. We somewhat sud-
denly pass from speculations and experiments on which the public look
with the indifference which they feel for philosophy to speculations and
experiments on which they look with the interest which they feel in the
religious dogmas which are to decide their own future. I do not say
that the public interested has been a very wide one. It has indeed
been wide enough, as I have said, to foster and support a particularly
detestable group of charlatans; but it has not been wide enough, or
earnest enough, to compile any considerable mass of careful experiment.
I conjectured in a previous chapter that not a hundred men, at the
ordinary professional level, had up till now made the study of the
phenomena of hypnotism the main intellectual business of their lives. If
for hypnotism we substitute these "phenomena of spiritualism " the list of
serious students might probably be reduced to fifty.

It is well to point out the scantiness of efficient investigators of these
problems, in view of the objection often made to the lack of progress in
the difficult task. Outside some comparatively small group the number
of spiritists rather resemble that multitude of indiscriminate givers who,
in the days of haphazard charity, encouraged impostors, and brought
philanthropy into contempt.

Confronted with these evils, the early members of the Charity
Organisation Society had a painful and invidious task to perform. They
had to repress where they would fain have stimulated ; to act as detec-
tives where they would fain have acted as benefactors ; to pass judgment
on men whose charitable impulses were as pure and ardent as their own.


Only through the seeming sternness of such training could the public learn
to help the miserable without fostering the impostors.

The parallel at which I am pointing here is obvious enough ; but in
the realm of psychical research as indeed in the realm of almsgiving
that needed lesson has as yet been very imperfectly acquired. I propose
to indicate in Appendices (923 A and B) some of the work which the
Society for Psychical Research has done in exposing and guarding against
fraud and credulity ; and I further refer my readers to a forthcoming book
by my friend and colleague, Mr. Podmore, in which the imposture which
has dogged so-called " Modern Spiritualism " from its inception will be
exposed with a distinctness which needs must be salutary ; even though
in a history so complex it be always possible that more intimate knowledge
might have modified judgment on one or other detail. 1

924. This serious warning given, I may pursue my task of describing
that most interesting of supernormal phenomena which we term Pos-
session ; a phenomenon to which the telekinesis which has often accom-
panied it lends an additional element of attractive mystery. It has, of
course, been that interest, that mystery, which has attracted the fraudulent
imitations of which I have spoken ; and which it would not have been
worth while to contrive except for some phenomena thus strongly mani-
festing spiritual presence and spiritual power.

This persistent simulation of telekinesis has, naturally enough, in-
spired persistent doubt as to its genuine occurrence even in cases where
simulation has been carefully guarded against, or is antecedently improb-
able. Important though the phenomenon is, it is not so intimately linked
with my own general thesis in this work as to render it needful for me to
review its whole history in detail. I deal with it only where it comes
immediately before me as an element in spirit-possession; especially
noticeable in the two important cases of D. D. Home and of W.
Stainton Moses.

And recognising, as I do, that telekinesis like the simpler motor
automatisms of which it forms the extreme term reaches in cases of
possession its maximum intensity, I feel bound (if it were only for the
sake of analogical completeness) to show that, like other motor auto-
matisms, telekinesis has appeared occasionally at earlier stages, although
needing the free play of a possessed organism to develop itself to the full.

925. It is not, indeed, necessary to suppose that all telekinesis is
due to spiritual action. Rather we may begin by regarding it as a
form of motor automatism, initiated by the subliminal self. I believe
that there is sometimes an element of telekinesis in such common
phenomena as table-tilting and automatic writing with planchette or even
with pencil (eg. in Mr. Wedgwood's and Mrs. Newnham's experiments,
see 861, 862, and 849 A).

1 Modern Spiritualism ; a History and a Criticism, by Frank Podmore (Methuen
and Co., London, 1002).

208 CHAPTER IX [926

We cannot, of course, expect that any such slight and obscure admix-
ture of telekinesis can be sifted out from an act of motor automatism
in any evidential form. But from my point of view this kind of
evidential difficulty is pretty sure to occur, from the very nature of the
supernormal movement. If that movement could be started with equal
ease from any given point in space, and in any direction, we might fairly
expect that such points would be chosen, and such movements performed,
as gave the best evidence of the movement's independence of ordinary
human agency. But the telekinetic force, in my view, is generally (I do
not say always) a mere extension to a short distance from the sensitive's
organism of a small part of his ordinary muscular power. It even seems
to tend to simulate that ordinary action ; much as other supernormal
exercises of faculty follow, so far as they can, the modes in which normal
faculty operates.

So gradual, so inconspicuous, are the beginnings of telekinesis;
which presently develop, no doubt, into something which we can no
longer ascribe to any hyperboulic activities of the subliminal self. It
develops, indeed, in two directions, into messages and into marvels.
Genuine raps, or percussive sounds, are rare (see 925 A), nor is it possible
by mere description of the noises to prove their genuineness in any given
case, unmistakable and inimitable though they are when actually heard.
But with one sensitive known intimately to me, the lady described as
Miss A. (see 859), raps have occurred (as I know both by actually
hearing them and by abundant attestation) as a means of attracting
attention under many circumstances, and of conveying advice and infor-
mation of all kinds ; from such dicta as subliminal perception might
furnish up to evidential messages ascribed to deceased persons.

Midway between the raps which spell out messages and the sheer
marvels which may be performed " to show spirit-power " come the
various displacements of objects, &c., which are attested as coinciding
(like veridical phantasms) with moments of death or crisis (see, e.g., case
III. in 716 C), or merely as testifying to presences, as of a dear friend
recently dead.

926. Thus much it was needful to say in order to make certain
cases of possession soon to be cited intelligible to the reader, but I
should not have deferred my mention of telekinesis to this point in my
book had I intended to deal with these physical phenomena as fully as
with the psychical phenomena which I endeavour to expound and in
some measure to connect and correlate.

While believing absolutely in the occurrence of telekinetic pheno-
mena, I yet hold that it would be premature to press them upon my
reader's belief, or to introduce them as an integral part of my general
expository scheme. From one point of view, their detailed establishment,
as against the theory of fraud, demands an expert knowledge of conjuring
and other arts which I cannot claim to possess. From another point of


view, their right comprehension must depend upon a knowledge of the
relations between matter and ether such as is now only dimly adum-
brated by the most recent discoveries ; for instance, discoveries as to
previously unsuspected forms of radiation.

In a long Appendix, viz., "Scheme of Vital Faculty" (926 A)
originally written with reference to the manifestations through Mr. Stainton
Moses I have tried to prepare the way for future inquiries ; to indicate in
what directions a better equipped exploration may hereafter reap rich
reward. Even that tentative sketch, perhaps, may have been too am-
bitious for my powers in the present state not only of my own, but of
human knowledge ; and in the text of this chapter I shall allude to
telekinetic phenomena only where unavoidable,- owing to their inmixture
into phenomena more directly psychological, and in the tone of the
historian rather than of the scientific critic. As a matter of history I
shall give in 926 B references to the best extant accounts of telekinetic

* * * * * i

927. The way has now been so far cleared for our cases of Possession
that at least the principal phenomena claimed have been (I hope) made
intelligible, and shown to be concordant with other phenomena already
described and attested. It will be best, however, to consider first some
of the more rudimentary cases before going on to our own special instances
of possession, those of Mr. Stainton Moses or Mrs. Piper.

I have reason to believe, both from what I have witnessed myself and
from the reports of others, that occasional phenomena of ecstasy or posses-
sion are not infrequent in some family circles or groups of intimate friends
(see, e.g., the case of Mr. O. in 927 A).

The persons concerned, however, generally do not realise the import-
ance of accurate records ; in some cases the manifestations are sporadic
in character and scarcely susceptible of any detailed investigation ; and
often the very occurrence of the phenomena has been sedulously con-
cealed from all outside the circle. Sometimes the sacredness of the mani-
festations has been pleaded as a sufficient reason for their concealment,
or the tendency to trance on the part of the " sensitive " has been regarded
as a calamity, to be checked and prohibited as though it were a distressing

There are further occasional cases of the frankly "mediumistic" type
(of which I give examples in 927 B and C). But the problems involved
are so complicated, and the main question that of the agency of dis-
carnate spirits in the matter is so difficult of determination, that no

1 The asterisks indicate the end of the part of this Chapter which was consecutively
composed by the author. See Preface. The rest of the Chapter consists chiefly of
fragments written by him at different times. In putting these together, the Editors felt
it desirable to preserve as much as possible of the original form and to present as much
of the material as was complete in itself, at the risk of some lack of transition and even
of a certain degree of repetition.


210 CHAPTER IX [928

collection of such fragmentary material could be of much service to us in
our present inquiry unless perhaps to indicate that the fully-developed
cases belong, after all, to a not uncommon type.

928. We have already seen that there is no great gulf between the
sudden incursions, the rapid messages of the dead, with which we are
already familiar, and incursions so intimate, messages so prolonged, as to
lay claim to a name more descriptive than that of motor automatisms.

And similarly no line of absolute separation can be drawn between
the brief psychical excursions previously described, and those more pro-
longed excursions of the spirit which I would group under the name of

In the earlier part of this book I have naturally dwelt rather on the
evidence for supernormal acquisition of knowledge than on the methods
of such acquisition, and my present discussion must needs be restricted to
a certain extent in the same way. We must, however, attempt some pro-
visional scheme of classification, though recognising that the difficulties of
interpretation which I pointed out in Chapter IV. (section 419), when
endeavouring to distinguish between telepathy and telsesthesia, meet us
again in dealing with possession and ecstasy. We may not, that is, be
able to say, as regards a particular manifestation, whether it is an instance
of incipient possession, or incipient ecstasy, or even whether the organism
is being " controlled " directly by some extraneous spirit or by its own
incarnate spirit. It is from the extreme cases that we form our categories.
But now that we have reached some conception of what is involved in
ecstasy and possession, we can interpret some earlier cases in this new
light. Such experiences, for instance, as those of Mr. Mamtchitch (714),
Miss Conley (721), Madame X. (833), and Miss A. (859 A), suggest a
close kinship to the more developed cases of Mr. Moses and Mrs. Piper.

929. In other cases it may be clear that no control of any dis-
carnate spirit is involved, but there seems to be something like incipient
possession by the subliminal self or incarnate spirit. From this point
of view the following incident recorded, it will be observed, on the
day of its occurrence is of undoubted psychological interest. If it is
not a case of thought-transference from Miss C. to Mrs. Luther (possibly
between their subliminal selves during sleep), we must assume that a
very remarkable recrudescence of latent memory occurred to the latter
independently, at the same time that a similar though less remarkable
revival of memory occurred to the former. But I introduce the case here
simply as suggestive of the momentary domination of the subliminal over
the supraliminal self. The account is quoted from the Journal S.P.R.,
vol. v. p. 253. Professor Luther writes :

HARTFORD, CONN., March 2nd, 1892.

. . . Miss C. is often in my study and consults my books freely, so that
her dream was not remarkable. The dream of Mrs. L. (my wife) was also


ordinary in character. The coincidence in time of the dreams may have
been merely a coincidence. But that after these occurrences Mrs. L. should
suddenly, without the least premeditation and without hesitation, take the
right book and open it at the right page with the certainty of a somnambulist,
seems to me strange. . . .

These events took place yesterday, last night, and this morning.

(Prof. Math., Trinity College).

Mrs. L. and Miss C. live at the same hotel and meet daily. Miss C. is
engaged in writing an essay upon Emerson, and expresses to Mrs. L. her wish
to obtain some particulars as to Emerson's private life. Mrs. L. regrets that
she has no book treating of the subject. During the night following this con-
versation Mrs. L. dreams of handing Miss C. a book containing an article such
as is desired, and Miss C. dreams of telling Mrs. L. that she had procured just
the information which she had been looking for. Each lady relates to the other
her dream when they meet at breakfast the next morning. Mrs. L. returns to
her room, and, while certainly not consciously thinking of Emerson, suddenly
finds in her mind the thought, "There is the book which Miss C. needs." She
goes directly to a bookcase, takes down vol. xvii. of the Century Magazine, and
opens immediately at the article, " The Homes and Haunts of Emerson."
Mrs. L. had undoubtedly read this article in 1879, but she had never studied
Emerson or his works, nor had she made any special effort to assist Miss C. in
her search, though feeling a friend's interest in the proposed essay.

After receiving the book and hearing how it was selected, Miss C. relates
her dream more fully, it appearing that she had seemed to be standing in front
of Mrs. L.'s shelves with a large, illustrated book in her hands, and that in the
book was something about Emerson.

Still later it is found that Miss C. had actually noticed the article in question
while actually in the position reproduced in her dream. This, however, had
happened about a month previous to the events just narrated, and before she
had thought of looking up authorities as to Emerson, so that she had entirely
forgotten the occurrence and the article. Neither did she, at that time, call
Mrs. L.'s attention to the article, or mention Emerson.

According to the best information attainable, Miss C. was not thinking of
her essay at the time when Mrs. L. felt the sudden impulse to take down a
certain book. And perhaps it should be added that the volume is one of a
complete set of the Century variously disposed upon Mrs. L.'s shelves.

[This account is signed by Professor Luther, Mrs. L., and Miss C.]

930. Of special interest are a few cases where the actual mechanism
of some brief communication from the spiritual world seems to suggest and
lead up to the mechanism which we shall afterwards describe either as
ecstasy or as possession.

I give first a case which suggests such knowledge as may be learnt in
ecstasy ; as though a message had been communicated to a sleeper during
some brief excursion into the spiritual world, which message was remem-

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 29 of 89)