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the spiritual world, sometimes transmitting messages of evidential value ;
of all which she retains no recollection on her return to the normal state.

There is much additional evidence yet to be published that has come
through Mrs. Piper during the last few years in support of the claim that
recently deceased persons are communicating, besides instances of failures
and confusion which we must doubtless continue to expect under the
conditions apparently involved in the communications. It seems from
our experience thus far that the most valuable evidence we can hope to
obtain of personal identity is likely to come from spirits who have recently
passed over with all their inexperience of that other world, but it may be
that these are aided in their task by more remote spirits whose identity
we can neither prove nor disprove. It is perhaps more reasonable to
suppose that there is such supervision if we are in actual communication
with a spiritual world at all than to think that the great spirits of the
past take no abiding interest in the communication of that spiritual world
with ours.

966. We must now try to form some more definite idea based not
on preconceived theories but on our actual observation of trances of
the processes of possession ; though it is hardly necessary to say that the
most adequate conception that we can reach at present must be restricted
and distorted by the limitations of our own material existence, and can
only be expressed by the help of crude analogies.

I may say at the outset that this singular union between two widely
different human beings this possession of the organism has in it
nothing whatever that is weird or alarming. In Mrs. Piper's case the
processes of entering and leaving the trance, which used to be accom-


panied, in Professor James' words, by " a good deal of respiratory dis-
turbance and muscular twitching," are now as tranquil as the acts of
going to sleep and awaking; and no result of the trance upon her
waking state is evident, except a passing fatigue if the trance has been
too far prolonged, or, on the other hand, a state of vague diffused hap-
piness such as sometimes follows the awaking from a pleasant dream.
There has been no harmful influence on health possibly a beneficial
influence. At any rate, after serious injury from a sleigh accident, and
consequent operations, Mrs. Piper is now " a thoroughly healthy woman."
In character she has always belonged to a quiet domestic New England
type, much occupied with her household and her children. 1 In Dr.
Hodgson's view, her control by intelligences above her own has in-
creased her stability and serenity. If we look, in fact, at the flesh-and-
blood side of this strange converse, we seem to watch a process of natural
evolution opening upon us with unexpected ease ; so that our main duty
is carefully to search for and train such other favoured individuals as
already show this form of capacity always latent, perhaps, and now
gradually emergent in the human race. Die Geisterwelt ist nicht ver-
schlosscn; these sensitives have but to sink into a deep recueillement, a
guarded slumber, and that gate stands manifestly ajar. It is rather on
the other side of the gulf that the difficulties, the perplexities, come
thick and fast.

967. Let us try to realise what kind of feat it is which we are ex-
pecting the disembodied spirit to achieve. Such language, I know, again
suggests the medicine-man's wigwam rather than the study of the white
philosopher. Yet can we feel sure that the process in our own minds
which has (as we think) refined and spiritualised man's early conceptions
of an unseen world has been based upon any observed facts?

In dealing with matters which lie outside human experience, our only
clue is some attempt at continuity with what we already know. We can-
not, for instance, form independently a reliable conception of life in an
unseen world. That conception has never yet been fairly faced from the
standpoint of our modern ideas of continuity, conservation, evolution.
The main notions that have been framed of such survival have been
framed first by savages and then by a priori philosophers. To the man of
science the question has never yet assumed enough of actuality to induce
him to consider it with scientific care. He has contented himself, like
the mass of mankind, with some traditional theory, some emotional
preference for some such picture as seems to him satisfying and exalted.
Yet he knows well that this subjective principle of choice has led in
history to the acceptance of many a dogma which to more civilised per-
ceptions seems in the last degree blasphemous and cruel.

The savage, I say, made his own picture first. And he at any rate

1 She was married in i88r and has two daughters, one seventeen, the other eighteen
years old.


dimly felt after a principle of continuity; although he applied it in
crudest fashion. Yet the happy hunting-ground and the faithful dog
were conceptions not more arbitrary and unscientific than that eternal
and unimaginable worship in vacua which more accredited teachers have
proclaimed. And, passing on to modern philosophic conceptions, one
may say that where the savage assumed too little difference between the
material and the spiritual world the philosopher has assumed too much.
He has regarded the gulf as too unbridgeable ; he has taken for granted
too clean a sweep of earthly modes of thought. Trying to shake off time,
space, and definite form, he has attempted to transport himself too magic-
ally to what may be in reality an immensely distant goal.

968. Have we new philosophical conceptions solid enough to with-
stand the impact of even a small mass of actual evidence ? Have our notions
of the dignified and undignified in nature the steady, circular motion of
the planets, for instance, as opposed to the irregular and elliptical guided
us in the discovery of truth ? Would not Aristotle, divinising the fixed
stars by reason of their very remoteness, have thought it undignified to
suppose them compacted of the same elements as the stones under his
feet ? May not disembodied souls, like stars, be of a make rather closer
to our own than we have been wont to imagine ?

What, then, is to be our conception of identity prolonged beyond the
tomb? In earth-life the actual body, in itself but a subordinate element
in our thought of our friend, did yet by its physical continuity override as
a symbol of identity all lapses of memory, all changes of the character
within. Yet it was memory and character, the stored impressions upon
which he reacted, and his specific mode of reaction, which made our
veritable friend. How much of memory, how much of character, must he
preserve for our recognition?

Do we ask that either he or we should remember always, or should
remember all? Do we ask that his memory should be expanded into
omniscience and his character elevated into divinity? And, whatever
heights he may attain, do we demand that he should reveal to us ? Are
the limitations of our material world no barrier to him ?

969. It is safest to fall back for the present upon the few points which
these communications do seem to indicate. The spirit, then, is holding
converse with a living man, located in a certain place at a certain moment,
and animated by certain thoughts and emotions. The spirit (to which I
must give a neuter pronoun for greater clearness) in some cases can find
and follow the man as it pleases. It is therefore in some way cognizant
of space, although not conditioned by space. Its mastery of space may
perhaps bear somewhat the same relation to our eyesight as our eyesight
bears to the gropings of the blind. Similarly, the spirit appears to be
partly cognizant of our time, although not wholly conditioned thereby.
It is apt to see as present both certain things which appear to us as past
and certain things which appear to us as future.


Once more, the spirit is at least partly conscious of the thought and
emotions of its earthly friend, so far as directed towards itself; and this
not only when the friend is in the presence of the sensitive, but also (as
G. P. has repeatedly shown) when the friend is at home and living his
ordinary life.

Lastly, it seems as though the spirit had some occasional glimpses of
material fact upon the earth (as the contents of drawers and the like), not
manifestly proceeding through any living mind. I do not, however, recall
any clear evidence of a spirit's perception of material facts which provably
have never been known to any incarnate mind whatever.

970. Accepting this, then, for argument's sake, as the normal con-
dition of a spirit in reference to human things, what process must it
attempt if it wishes to communicate with living men? That it will wish
to communicate seems probable enough, if it retains not only memory of
the loves of earth, but actual fresh consciousness of loving emotion
directed towards it after death.

Seeking then for some open avenue, it discerns something which cor-
responds (in G. P.'s phrase) to a light a glimmer of translucency in the
confused darkness of our material world. This " light " indicates a sen-
sitive a human organism so constituted that a spirit can temporarily
inform or control it, not necessarily interrupting the stream of the sen-
sitive's ordinary consciousness ; perhaps using a hand only, or perhaps,
as in Mrs. Piper's case, using voice as well as hand, and occupying
all the sensitive's channels of self-manifestation. The difficulties which
must be inherent in such an act of control are thus described by Dr.
Hodgson :

" If, indeed, each one of us is a ' spirit ' that survives the death of the
fleshly organism, there are certain suppositions that I think we may not
unreasonably make concerning the ability of the discarnate ' spirit ' to
communicate with those yet incarnate. Even under the best of conditions
for communication which I am supposing for the nonce to be possible
it may well be that the aptitude for communicating clearly may be as
rare as the gifts that make a great artist, or a great mathematician, or a great
philosopher. Again, it may well be that, owing to the change connected
with death itself, the ' spirit ' may at first be much confused, and such
confusion may last for a long time ; and even after the ' spirit ' has
become accustomed to its new environment, it is not an unreasonable
supposition that if it came into some such relation to another living
human organism as it once maintained with its own former organism, it
would find itself confused by that relation. The state might be like that
of awakening from a prolonged period of unconciousness into strange
surroundings. If my own ordinary body could be preserved in its present
state, and I could absent myself from it for days or months or years, and
continue my existence under another set of conditions altogether, and if I
could then return to my own body, it might well be that I should be very

254 CHAPTER IX [971

confused and incoherent at first in my manifestations by means of it.
How much more would this be the case were I to return to another
human body. I might be troubled with various forms of aphasia and
agraphia, might be particularly liable to failures of inhibition, might find
the conditions oppressive and exhausting, and my state of mind would
probably be of an automatic and dreamlike character. Now, the com-
municators through Mrs. Piper's trance exhibit precisely the kind of
confusion and incoherence which it seems to me we have some reason
a priori to expect if they are actually what they claim to be."

971. At the outset of this chapter I compared the phenomena of
possession with those of alternating personalities, of dreams, and of
somnambulism. Now it seems probable that the thesis of multiplex
personality namely, that no known current of man's consciousness
exhausts his whole consciousness, and no known self-manifestation
expresses man's whole potential being may hold good both for embodied
and for unembodied men, and this would lead us to expect that the
manifestations of the departed, through the sensory automatisms dealt
with in Chapter VII., and the motor automatisms considered in Chapter
VIII. , up to the completer form of possession illustrated in the present
chapter, would resemble those fugitive and unstable communications
between widely different strata of personality of which embodied minds
offer us examples. G. P. himself appears to be well aware of the dream-
like character of the communications, which, indeed, his own style often
exemplifies. Thus he wrote on February isth, 1894 :

" Remember we share and always shall have our friends in the dream-
life, i.e. your life so to speak, which will attract us for ever and ever, and
so long as we have any friends sleeping in the material world ; you to us
are more like as we understand sleep, you look shut up as one in prison,
and in order for us to get into communication with you, we have to enter
into your sphere, as one like yourself, asleep. This is just why we make
mistakes, as you call them, or get confused and muddled."

972. Yet even this very difficulty and fragmentariness of communica-
tion ought in the end to be for us full of an instruction of its own. We
are here actually witnessing the central mystery of human life, unrolling
itself under novel conditions, and open to closer observation than ever
before. We are seeing a mind use a brain. The human brain is in its
last analysis an arrangement of matter expressly adapted to being acted
upon by a spirit ; but so long as the accustomed spirit acts upon it the
working is generally too smooth to allow us a glimpse of the mechanism.
Now, however, we can watch an unaccustomed spirit, new to the
instrument, installing itself and feeling its way. The lessons thus learnt
are likely to be more penetrating than any which mere morbid interrup-
tions of the accustomed spirit's work can teach us. In aphasia, for
instance, we can watch with instruction special difficulties of utterance,
supervening on special injuries to the brain. But in possession we perceive


the controlling spirit actually engaged in overcoming somewhat similar
difficulties writing or uttering the wrong word, and then getting hold of
the right one and sometimes even finding power to explain to us some-
thing of the minute verbal mechanism (so to term it) through whose
blocking or dislocation the mistake has arisen.

We may hope, indeed, that as our investigations proceed, and as we
on this side of the fateful gulf, and the discarnate spirits on the other,
learn more of the conditions necessary for perfect control of the brain
and nervous system of intermediaries, the communications will grow
fuller and more coherent, and reach a higher level of unitary consciousness.
Many the difficulties may be, but is there to be no difficulty in linking
flesh with spirit in opening to man, from his prisoning planet, a first
glimpse into cosmic things? If in such speech as this there be any
reality, it is not stumblings or stammerings that should stop us. Nay,
already on certain occasions there has been no stumble or stammer
when some experienced communicator has poured out an intimate message
under strong emotion. Such, for instance, was a private message written
by G. P. to " Mr. Howard," who is, by the way, a well-known and able
man of professorial status, and who was a definite disbeliever in a future
life until G. P. convinced him. The " holding turn " to that conviction
was given by the message which Dr. Hodgson thus describes. It was
written in response to a request for some incident, which certainly no one
save G. P. and Mr. Howard, his most intimate elder friend and adviser,
could possibly have known.

" The transcription here of the words written by G. P. conveys, of
course, no proper impression of the actual circumstances. The inert mass
of the upper part of Mrs. Piper's body turned away from the right arm,
and sagging down, as it were, limp and lifeless over Mrs. Howard's
shoulder, but the right arm, and especially hand, mobile, intelligent,
deprecatory, then impatient and fierce in the persistence of the writing
which followed, which contains too much of the personal element in
G. P.'s life to be reproduced here. Several statements were read by me,
and assented to by Mr. Howard, and then was written ' private,' and the
hand gently pushed me away. I retired to the other side of the room,
and Mr. Howard took my place close to the hand where he could read the
writing. He did not, of course, read it aloud, and it was too private for
my perusal. The hand, as it reached the end of each sheet, tore it off
from the block-book, and thrust it wildly at Mr. Howard, and then
continued writing. The circumstances narrated, Mr. Howard informed
me, contained precisely the kind of test for which he had asked, and he
said that he was ' perfectly satisfied perfectly.' " (Proceedings S.P.R.,
vol. xiii., p. 322.)

973. In this way we may explain certain facts as to the mode of
communication which are likely to be at first misinterpreted, and to create
an impression of pain or strangeness where, in my view, there is nothing

256 CHAPTER IX [974

beyond wholesome effort in the normal course of evolution among both
incarnate and discarnate men. One touch of pathos, indeed though not
of tragedy stands out to my recollection from the trances which I have
watched a kind of savage and immemorial emotion which takes one
back to many an old-world legend, and to the Odyssey of Homer above all.
Odysseus, at the entrance of the under-world, poured the blood of
victims into a trench, that the dim spirits of the dead might drink of it
and have force to speak and hear. But it was to learn from Teiresias that
he came, and until he had spoken with Teiresias he suffered none of the
thronging spirits to draw anigh. There sat he as Polygnotus' picture
showed him on a heap of stones in the grey light beside the trench, his
drawn sword laid betwixt him and his mother's soul ; since, " not even
thus, tho' sick at heart, would I suffer her to come nigh the blood, ere I
had heard the tale Teiresias had to tell."

oXX' ov8' &>s fia>v irpoTfprjv, irviuvov irep
cuparos &<r<rov ipfv irplv Teipetn'ao

Even in such fashion, through Mrs. Piper's trances, the thronging
multitude of the departed press to the glimpse of light. Eager, but
untrained, they interject their uncomprehended cries ; vainly they call the
names which no man answers ; like birds that have beaten against a
lighthouse, they pass in disappointment away. At first this confusion
gravely interfered with coherent messages, but through the second and
third stages of Mrs. Piper's trances, under the watchful care apparently of
supervising spirits, it has tended more and more to disappear.

All this must needs be so ; yet I, at least, had not realised beforehand
that the pressure from that side was likely to be more urgent than from
this. Naturally ; since often on this side something of inevitable doubt
nay, of shuddering prejudice and causeless fear curdles the stream of
love ; while for them the imperishable affection flows on unchecked and
full. They yearn to tell of their bliss, to promise their welcome at the
destined hour. A needless scruple, indeed, which dreads to call or to
constrain them ! We can bind them by no bonds but of love ; they are
more ready to hear than we to pray ; of their own act and grace they
visit our spirits in prison.

974. We must now remember that this series of incidents does not
stand alone. This case of Mrs. Piper is, indeed, one of the most in-
structive in our collection, on account of its length and complexity and
the care with which it has been observed. But it is led up to by all our
previous evidences, and I will here briefly state what facts they are which
our recorded apparitions, intimations, messages of the departing and the
departed, have, to my mind, actually proved.

(a) In the first place, they prove survival pure and simple ; the per-
sistence of the spirit's life as a structural law of the universe ; the in-
alienable heritage of each several soul.


() In the second place, they prove that between the spiritual and the
material worlds an avenue of communication does in fact exist; that
which we call the despatch and the receipt of telepathic messages, or
the utterance and the answer of prayer and supplication. (See p. 309.)

(<) In the third place, they prove that the surviving spirit retains, at
least in some measure, the memories and the loves of earth. Without
this persistence of love and memory should we be in truth the same ?
To what extent has any philosophy or any revelation assured us hereof
till now?

The above points, I think, are certain, if the apparitions and messages
proceed in reality from the sources which they claim. On a lower evi-
dential level comes the thesis drawn from the contents of the longer
messages, which contents may of course be influenced in unknown degree
by the expectation of the recipients or by some such infusion of dream-
like matter as I have already mentioned. That thesis is as follows ; I
offer it for what it may be worth : Every element of individual wisdom,
virtue, love, develops in infinite evolution toward an ever-highering hope ;
toward " Him who is at once thine innermost Self, and thine ever un-
attainable Desire."

For my own part, the alleged revelation in its general character, so far
as yet coherent, seems to me so good and right that I mistrust it on that
very ground, fearing lest it be but the reflection of the momentary attitude
of the petty minds of men. Many of the messages; no doubt, have been
delivered to persons whose own preconceptions were at least partly hostile
to the teaching given. But this proves little ; for there may be a kind of
sub-conscious consensus of opinion a Zeit-Geist in all contemporary
minds beneath their superficial differences of Church or philosophical
school. We need more tests and more corroborations, a clearer and more
continuous control of the channels of utterance, before we can transmit
with confidence anything beyond the barest provisional sketch of that
Orbis Ignotus. Enough, surely, and more than man had dared to hope,
if now a channel of communication is veritably opened, and if the first
message is one of love. And I believe that whatever of new revelation
may thus be coming to us comes not to destroy but to fulfil. Is there not
promise of some fulfilment of some synthesis of those partial glimpses of
the past even in the few bald phrases in which I have adumbrated what
we are beginning to know ? If we define Religion as " man's normal
subjective response to the sum of known cosmic phenomena, taken as an
intelligible whole," how different will that response become when we know
for certain that no love can die ; when we discern the bewildering Sum of
Things beyond all bounds of sect or system, strepitumque Acherontis
avari broadening and heightening into a moral Cosmos such as our
race could scarcely even conceive till now !

975. There is, however, one feeling which has done much to deter
inquiry in these directions. To many minds there seems to be a want of
VOL. n. * R

258 CHAPTER IX [975

dignity in this mode of acquiring knowledge of an unseen world. It is felt
that even as there is something grand and noble in the object, there ought
to be something correspondingly exalted in the means employed. This has,
it is thought, been the case with all former revelations which have made any
serious claim on the attention of mankind. Religions have been supported
by tradition, by miracle, by the deep personal emotion which they have
been able to generate. There is something paltry or even repugnant
in the notion of establishing a new faith upon a series of experiments
dealing mainly with certain kinds of physical sensibility which seem at
best to be scattered at random among mankind.

There is real prima facie force in such an objection. It is not fanciful
to demand something of manifest congruity between means and end ;
not fanciful, at any rate, to distrust any powers merely of the flesh as
explaining to us the powers of the spirit.

And yet, on a wider view, we shall perceive that what is missing in
this new inquiry lies merely in such elements of impressiveness as befit
the mere childhood of the world ; while, on the other hand, we are gaining

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 35 of 89)