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for the quest of spiritual truth that truer dignity which Science has given
to man's scattered knowledge ; the dignity of universal cogency and of
unarrested progressiveness. Science, as we know, will not rest with com-
placency in presence of the exceptional, the catastrophic, the miraculous.
Such qualities constitute for her not a claim to reverence but a challenge
to explanation. She" finds a truer grandeur in the colligation of startling
phenomena under some comprehensive generalisation. Her highest ideal
is cosmic law ; and she begins to suspect that any law which is truly
cosmic is also in some sense evolutionary.

Now I repeat, and in the present stage of human thought it can
scarcely be repeated too often, that in the law of telepathy, developing
into the law of spiritual intercommunication between incarnate and dis-
carnate spirits, we see dimly adumbrated before our eyes the highest law
with which our human science can conceivably have to deal. The
discovery of telepathy opens before us a potential communication between
all life.

And if, as our present evidence indicates, this telepathic intercourse
can subsist between embodied and disembodied souls, that law must
needs lie at the very centre of cosmic evolution. It will be evolutionary,
as depending on a faculty now in actual course of development. It will
be cosmic ; for it may it almost must by analogy subsist not on this
planet only, but wherever in the universe discarnate and incarnate spirits
may be intermingled or juxtaposed.

This surely is a generalisation as vast, as impressive, as the human
mind can entertain. Tradition, miracle, personal emotion; which of
these ancient buttresses is any longer needed for the firmer, the scientific
faith ? And yet, if it be a question of tradition, what single religion can
unite and harmonise oecumenical tradition like this old-new creed? The


legendary lore of all countries, the sacred books of all religions, the
Bible itself included, are full of psychical phenomena which thus only
are made coherent and intelligible. If there be question of miracle, what
sacred history can show such strange apparent contraventions of the
physical order, such victories over the grossness of matter, as our ob-
servations involve ? or (better still) can reduce all these so convincingly
under the realm of Higher Law? While as for personal emotion; what
can there be at once more intimate and more exalting than the waking
reality of converse with beloved and enfranchised souls? So shall a
man feel the ancient fellow-labour deepened, the old kinship closer
still ; the earthly passion sealed and hallowed by the irreversible judg-
ment of the Blest.

976. Among the cases of trance discussed in this chapter, we have
found intimately interwoven with the phenomena of possession many
instances of its correlative, ecstasy. Mrs. Piper's fragmentary utterances
and visions during her passage from trance to waking life, utterances
and visions that fade away and leave no remembrance in her waking self;
Moses' occasional visions, his journeys in the " spirit world " which he
recorded on returning to his ordinary consciousness ; Home's entrance-
ment and converse with the various controls whose messages he gave ;
all these suggest actual excursions of the incarnate spirit from its organism.
The theoretical importance of these spiritual excursions is, of course, very
great. It is, indeed, so great that most men will hesitate to accept a
thesis which carries us straight into the inmost sanctuary of mysticism ;
which preaches " a precursory entrance into the most holy place, as by
divine transportation."

Yet I think that this belief, although extreme, is not, at the point to
which our evidence has carried us, in any real way improbable. To put
the matter briefly, if a spirit from outside can enter the organism, the
spirit from inside can go out, can change its centre of perception and
action, in a way less complete and irrevocable than the change of death.
Ecstasy would thus be simply the complementary or correlative aspect of
spirit-control. Such a change need not be a spatial change, any more
than there need be any spatial change for the spirit which invades the
deserted organism. Nay, further : if the incarnate spirit can in this
manner change its centre of perception in response (so to say) to a
discarnate spirit's invasion of the organism, there is no obvious reason
why it should not do so on other occasions as well. We are already
familiar with " travelling clairvoyance," a spirit's change of centre of
perception among the scenes of the material world. May there not be
an extension of travelling clairvoyance to the spiritual world? a spon-
taneous transfer of the centre of perception into that region from
whence discarnate spirits seem now to be able, on their side, to com-
municate with growing freedom?

260 CHAPTER IX [977

The conception of ecstasy at once in its most literal and in its most
lofty sense has thus developed itself, almost insensibly, from several
concurrent lines of actual modern evidence. It must still, of course, be
long before we can at all adequately separate, I can hardly say the
objective from the subjective element in the experience, for we have got
beyond the region where the meaning of those words is clear, but the
element in the experience which is recognised and responded to by spirits
other than the ecstatic's, from the element which belongs to his own
spirit alone.

In the meantime, however, the fact that this kind of communion of
ecstasy has been, in preliminary fashion, rendered probable is of the
highest importance for our whole inquiry. We thus come directly into
relation with the highest form which the various religions known to men
have assumed in the past.

977. It is hardly a paradox to say that the evidence for ecstasy is
stronger than the evidence for any other religious belief. Of all the
subjective experiences of religion, ecstasy is that which has been most
urgently, perhaps to the psychologist most convincingly, asserted ; and it
is not confined to any one religion. From a psychological point of view,
one main indication of the importance of a subjective phenomenon found
in religious experience will be the fact that it is common to all religions.
I doubt whether there is any phenomenon, except ecstasy, of which
this can be said. From the medicine-man of the lowest savages up to
St. John, St. Peter, St. Paul, with Buddha and Mahomet on the way,
we find records which, though morally and intellectually much differing,
are in psychological essence the same.

At all stages alike we find that the spirit is conceived as quitting the
body ; or, if not quitting it, at least as greatly expanding its range of per-
ception in some state resembling trance. Observe, moreover, that on this
view all genuine recorded forms of ecstasy are akin, and all of them
represent a real fact.

We thus show continuity and reality among phenomena which have
seldom been either correlated with each other or even intelligibly conceived
in separation. With our new insight we may correlate the highest and the
lowest ecstatic phenomena with no injury whatever to the highest. The
shaman, the medicine-man when he is not a mere impostor enters as
truly into the spiritual world as St. Peter or St. Paul. Only he enters a
different region thereof; a confused and darkened picture terrifies instead
of exalting him. For us, however, the very fact that we believe in his
vision gives a new reality to strengthen and aid our belief in the apostle's
vision of " the seventh heaven."

" Whether in the body or out of the body," whether the seer's spirit
be severed for the time from his organism or no, such inlet and intro-
gression does occur.

It is these subjective feelings of vision or inspiration which have to


many men formed the most impressive and fruitful moments of life.
While not allowing an objective truth to their revelations, we shall now
be prepared to admit a reality in the subjective experience. There is
no special point at which we must assume a barrier interposed to the
inward withdrawal and onward urgency of man.

We need not deny the transcendental ecstasy to any of the strong
souls who have claimed to feel it ; to Elijah or to Isaiah, to Plato or to
Plotinus, to St. John or to St. Paul, to Buddha or Mahomet, to Virgil or
Dante, to St. Theresa or to Joan of Arc, to Kant or to Swedenborg, to
Wordsworth or to Tennyson. Through many ages that insight and that
memory have wrought their work in many ways. The remembrance of
ecstasy has inspired religions, has founded philosophies, has lifted into
stainless heroism a simple girl. Yet religions and philosophies as these
have hitherto been known are but balloon-flights which have carried
separate groups up to the mountain summit, whither science at last must
make her road for all men clear. It is by breach of continuity, by passing
from one element to another, that they have been able to soar so high.
For science, on the other hand, the continuity of the Universe is in fact
its key. The task of our race in its maturity must be to rise to those
same heights with that steady tramp as of legions along a Roman road
which has already gathered in the earthly knowledge of earlier ages
within the pomcerium of scientific law. The continuity of the universe,
that is to say, so far as by us comprehensible, must needs be a con-
tinuity of objective, and for that very reason of symbolic manifestation.
All the objective is symbolic ; our daily bread is as symbolic as the
furniture of Swedenborg's heavens and hells. To our embodied souls
the matter round us seems real and self-existent ; to souls emancipated
it is but the sign of the degree which we have reached, and thus the
highest task of science must be to link and co-ordinate the symbols
appropriate to our terrene state with the symbols appropriate to the
state immediately above us. Nay, one might push this truth to paradox,
and maintain that of all earth's inspired spirits it has been the least
divinised, the least lovable, who has opened the surest path for men.
Religions have risen and die again ; philosophy, poetry, heroism, answer
only indirectly the prime need of men. Plotinus, " the eagle soaring
above the tomb of Plato," is lost to sight in the heavens. Conquering and
to conquer, the Maid rides on through other worlds than ours. Virgil
himself, " light among the vanished ages, star that gildest yet this earthly
shore," sustains our spirit, as I have said, but indirectly, by filling still
our fountain of purest intellectual joy. But the prosaic Swede, his
stiff mind prickly with dogma, the opaque cell-walls of his intelligence
flooded cloudily by the irradiant day, this man as by the very limitations
of his faculty, by the practical humility of a spirit trained to acquire but
not to generate truth, has awkwardly laid the corner-stone, grotesquely
sketched the elevation of a temple which our remotest posterity will be

262 CHAPTER IX [978

upbuilding and adorning still. For he dimly felt that man's true passage
and intuition from state to state depends not upon individual ecstasy,
but upon comprehensive law ; while yet all law is in fact but symbol ;
adaptation of truth timeless and infinite to intelligences of lower or higher

978. In the course of this book I have several times touched on
the difficult questions raised by the incidents which have been classed
as retrocognitive and precognitive, 1 and which seem to suggest a power
yet more remote than telepathy or teleaesthesia from our ordinary
methods of acquiring knowledge. The consideration of the problems
involved was, however, postponed to this chapter, and must now be
dealt with here.

In a universe where instantaneous gravitation operates unexplained
where a world of ether coexists with a world of matter men's minds must
needs have a certain openness to other mysterious transmissions ; must
be ready to conceive other invisible evironments or co-existences, and in
a sense to sit loose to the conception of Space, regarded as an obstacle to
communication or cognition. A similar emancipation .from the limita-
tions of Time is more difficult. We can, of course, imagine increased
powers of remembering the Past, of inferring the future. But we can
hardly conceive the Past revived, save in some mind which has directly
observed it. And to imagine the Future as known, except by inference
and contingently, to any mind whatever is to induce at once that iron
collision between Free Will and " Fixed Fate, Foreknowledge absolute,"
from which no sparks of light have ever yet been struck. Still more un-
welcome is the further view that the so-called Future actually already
exists ; and that apparent time-progression is a subjective human sensa-
tion, and not inherent in the universe as that exists in an Infinite Mind.

Nor shall we in fact find it necessary to insist upon any very revolu-
tionary line of explanation. There is one analogy which will meet

1 A more complete discussion of these phenomena, with numerous cases illustrating
apparent stages in their evolution, and a description of the faculties they seem to
indicate, summarised in a diagrammatic scheme, are given in my article on " Retro-
cognition and Precognition " in the Proceedings S.P.R., vol. xi. pp. 334-593.

For references to retrocognitive cases, see sections 572, 663, 733, 859-863, 963,
also 572 A, 572 B. See also the accounts of retrocognitive scenes quoted in the
record of Miss A.'s crystal visions in 625 C. For cases bearing on precognition see the
case of Anna Winsor (237 A), where there were predictions concerning the course of
her 'disease; refer to 541 F and 564 A, where the difficulty of excluding the agency
of self-suggestion is considered ; compare also the cases given in 541 H and 573 F
where prognoses concerning other persons were made correctly by hypnotised subjects
and the prediction of his aunt's death given in Mr. W.'s automatic writing, in 873.
See section 425 and the Appendices to that section, also 663 A, the cases in section
717 and 717 B, cases 6,7, n, and 12 in the experiences of Lady Mabel Howard,
851 A ; also 852 A, 874 A, 927 B, and section 963 with its Appendices. There may
have been something of prevision also in Professor Thoulet's case, in 930.


most of our evidence (though not all), and to which we must repeatedly
recur as our simplest guide. As is the memory and the foresight of a
child to that of a man, even such, I suggest, is the memory and the
foresight of the man's supraliminal self as compared to the retro-
cognition and the precognition exercised by an intelligence unrestrained
by sensory limits ; whether that intelligence belong to the man's own
subliminal self, or to an unembodied human spirit, or possibly to spirits
higher than human. I maintain that in this thesis there is nothing in-
credible ; nay, that it is the necessary corollary of belief in the existence
anywhere of any extension of the powers which we habitually exercise.

If there is a transcendental world at all, there is a transcendental view
of Past and Future fuller and further-reaching than the empirical ; and in
that view we may ourselves to some extent participate, either directly, as
being ourselves denizens all along of the transcendental world, or indirectly,
as receiving intimations from spirits from whom the shadow in which our
own spirits are " half lost " has melted away.

This I believe to be the central reflection to which the study of super-
normal knowledge of Past and Future at present points us ; and I shall
be well satisfied if the evidence should persuade the reader that in some
undefined fashion we share at moments in this transcendental purview.
As to the precise manner in which we share it, the difficulties are just
those which meet us when, in any other group of our phenomena, we try
to distinguish between the activity of the automatist's own spirit, and of
other spirits, embodied or unembodied, and perhaps also of a World-Soul
or of Intelligences finite, but above anthropomorphic personification.

979. The general characteristic of these occurrences is to show us
fragments of knowledge coming to us in obscure and often symbolical
ways, and extending over a wider tract of time than any faculty known to
us can be stretched to cover. On the one side there is retrocognition, or
knowledge of the past, extending back beyond the reach of our ordinary
memory; on the other side there is precognition, or knowledge of the
future, extending onwards beyond the scope of our ordinary inference.

In each direction, indeed, there are certain landmarks ; the regression
and the progression alike seem to develop gradually, and to follow lines
which we can learn to recognise. In the direction of the Past we begin
with hypermnesia ; our first step lies in the conception that what has once
been presented to our sensory field, although never gathered into what we
deem our conscious perception, may nevertheless have been perceived
and retained by the subliminal self. It is partly through dream and partly
by automatic artifices that this fact is realised ; and those same dreams,
those same artifices of script or vision, presently carry us a step further,
and reveal a knowledge which must have come from the memories of
other living persons, or (as I hold) of departed spirits. Then in another
direction a less direct source of knowledge opens out ; living organisms,
our own or others', disclose (in ways unknown to biology) the history

264 CHAPTER IX [980

implicate in their structure ; objects which have been in contact with
organisms preserve their trace ; and it sometimes seems as though even
inorganic nature could still be made, so to say, luminescent with the age-
long story of its past. Or it may even be that some retrocognitive picture
is presented which we may discover to be veracious, but with which we
can discern no spiritual or material link ; as though a page of the cosmic
record had been opened to us at random, and had closed again without
sign or clue.

980. And next let us look forward into the Future ; across that im-
palpable, almost imaginary line of the Present Moment, which for us is
the greatest reality of all. Naturally enough, the first time-confusion
which we find is a confusion affecting that present moment itself; namely,
that sensation of already remembering what is happening or is just about
to happen to which some authors have applied the too wide term
paramnesia, but for which promnesia seems a more exact and distinctive
name. 1 Next we have the wide range of suggestive phenomena, where the
subliminal self possesses knowledge of the future unshared by the supra-
liminal ; since the subliminal self has in fact wound up the organism to
strike a given note at a given hour. Self-suggestion in turn merges into
organic prevision; where the subliminal self foresees what will happen
not in consequence of any determining effort of its own, but by virtue of
its deeper knowledge of the organism and of the changes which that
organism must by physiological laws undergo. This organic prevision may
lead us far ; but as it grows more distant and complex, involving more and
more of a man's future environment, as well as of his future organic history,
it merges into a form of precognition which cannot depend on insight
into material bodies alone.

We now proceed, that is to say, along a line which is an extension of
ordinary intellectual inference. First comes hyperaesthetic inference ;
that enlarged span of anticipation which acuter sensory impressions
permit ; as a sensitive patient will be able to predict her doctor's visit
when his step is merely heard in the street, although others cannot
recognise that step until it is close to the bedroom door. Then comes an
obscure point where this hyperaesthesia seems to pass into telaesthesia ;
where sensory perception seems to cease, and supersensory, telepathic, or
clairvoyant perception to begin.

Well then, when we have definitely passed from the sensory to the
transcendental mode of perception, it is probable that our power of infer-
ence as to the future will be greatly enlarged. We cannot, indeed, guess
how far this enlargement will extend. There is nothing absolutely to
forbid us to regard all precognitions as the result of this wider outlook of
the subliminal self. (See 980 A.)

1 For a discussion of this subject with illustrative cases, see pp. 341-347 of my
article on " The Subliminal Self : Retrocognition and Precognition," in Proceedings
S.P.R., vol. xi.


981. Nor shall I attempt to draw the line at which this telaesthetic in-
ference ceases. If I do still look further for other sources of precognition,
this is partly because in some cases I think that there is actual evidence
that the precognition comes from a disembodied intelligence ; and partly
also on the wider ground that I distrust all explanations which give to
man, embodied or disembodied, any monopoly of the transcendental
world. The simplicity of our instinctive anthropomorphism is not the
simplicity of truth ; it is no more so, when we are thus dealing with
intelligences which may be far above our ken, than when the savage
ascribes to a man-like demon the movements and influences of gross
inanimate things.

But first, as I have said, I ascribe some precognitions to the reasoned
foresight of disembodied spirits, just as I ascribe some retrocognitions to
their surviving memory. I have tried to show ground for believing that
some spirits have a continued knowledge of some earthly affairs ; and if
they have such knowledge, and can show us that they have it, they may
presumably reveal to us also their not infallible inferences from what they

Thus far I have been indicating roads along which I fancy that believers
in any kind of transcendental faculty will some day be forced to travel.
What follows is a speculation, or suspicion, which no record or experi-
ments of ours can prove, but which seems to me to loom behind them
all. I suspect, then, that it is not by wider purview, wiser inference
alone, that finite minds, in the body or out of it, have attained to
knowledge of what yet must be. I imagine that the Continuity of the
Universe is complete ; and that therefore the hierarchy of intelligences
between our minds and the World-Soul is infinite ; and that somewhere
in that ascent a point is reached where our conception of time loses
its accustomed meaning. To Plato's " Spectator of all Time and of all
Existence " there may be no barrier between Then and Now. The
idea, of course, is familiar enough to philosophical speculation. The
novelty is that this, with many other ideas which have hitherto floated
gaseously inter apices philosophic, like helium in the atmosphere of the
sun, may now conceivably be tested in earthly laboratories and used
as a working explanation for undeniable facts.

982. Returning now to the question of retrocognition, let us consider
to what extent our knowledge of the Past will sometimes open itself
beyond the familiar bounds. We may begin by inquiring in what ways we
ordinarily and normally acquire our knowledge of the Past. We acquire
such knowledge partly from direct personal memory, and partly from
retrospective inference based on what we see or hear. We might, indeed,
define memory as an acquisition of fresh potential changes of conscious-
ness concomitant with changes in our organism, which imply certain past
events as their cause. But this definition, which sounds natural enough
when applied to diffused or organic memories, such as the cricketer's

266 CHAPTER IX [982

memory of the feel of the bat, would seem pedantic if applied to the
minute cerebral changes which accompany the learning of a new fact. In
such a case we ignore in common speech the real organic change which
the learning of any fact implies in us, and we merely refer to the specialised
sensory channel through which the information comes to us as hearing,
reading, and so forth. In a vague but quite intelligible way, we thus mark
off organic memory from definite sensory or intellectual memories.

In our inquiry into retrocognition it will be well to keep roughly to
some division of this sort, and to begin by inquiring into the extensions
which seem to be given to organic memory.

We know, of course, that there is a great difference between our evocable
memory that which we can summon up and use at will and that much

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 89)