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The Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 5, November, 1863 online

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every object?

Spirit acts independently of God. And here I would not be misunderstood.
For though God, as the Author of all spiritual being, may be said to be
the indirect cause of all spiritual action, since, if he had not created
it, the action could not have resulted, yet He has created the soul to
act upon its own promptings, and entirely independent of Himself,
holding it, at the same time, to a strict accountability for all the
deeds done in the body. To deny this, is to deny the whole doctrine of
freewill agency, and with it that of all human responsibility, unless we
go to the other and blasphemous extreme of branding with cruelty and
injustice the entire system of revealed religion. In consequence, then,
of this independent action of spirit, we see the soul of man constantly
departing from its normal state, effecting evil as well as good, and
guilty of action for which its Creator can in no wise be held
responsible. And upon this simple fact hangs the whole system of future
rewards and punishments. If now we consider this force which we have
been discussing to be spiritual in its nature, it is not for us to draw
the line between it and the soul of man. Spirit, so far as it touches
our knowledge or experience, is one and the same thing the world over,
differing only in degree of its qualities. If we concede to this force
the status of spirit, we must also concede to it that essential
characteristic or faculty of spirit, _independent action_; and hence the
Creator God could not be said to have any hand whatever in the works of
this spiritual force - in other words, in the creation of any of the
features of the physical world - further than in the original creation of
the spirit which underlies and produces them. But this position is in
direct variance with the teachings of Holy Writ, wherein we are told
that He maketh every flower to bloom, every leaf to grow, and without
Him not even a sparrow falls to the ground. In fact, upon almost every
page of the sacred book is recognized and taught the fact of the direct
intervention of God, not only in human affairs, but also in every work
of nature, however minute and insignificant.

And as another result of this independent action, we should find this
spiritual force, as in the case of the human soul, frequently departing
from its normal state, deviating from the laws which now seem to control
it, and multiplying so-called 'freaks of nature,' abnormal works in the
physical world, calculated to derange the comfort of mankind and render
all things uncertain and insecure. In a word, it would be in the power
of such a force, or combination and opposition of forces, to turn the
earth again to its original chaos. With such a belief, then, we must
assume that God has delegated the care of the material world to other
hands of His own creation, and left the comfort and well-being of
humanity at the mercy of another spirit, no wiser and perhaps not even
so far advanced in the scale of progress as itself.

But it seems to me that the mysterious productive forces of nature can
in no wise be called spiritual. Certainly spirit 'animates, informs, and
shapes the universe,' in the sense that all things are created and all
agencies are kept in operation by an all-powerful God, who is himself
pure Spirit, but in no other sense; for God makes use of certain
principles or laws to accomplish all things in this world of ours. That
unknown force which vivifies the seed and produces the stalk, the blade,
and the ear, which clothes the earth with verdure, and which underlies
and induces all the works of nature, is not a thinking, reasoning
spirit, like that which renders humanity godlike; but a principle - a
law - a mere agency whereby the Almighty effects his designs, which is
wholly controlled by him, dependent upon him for its very existence, and
which in each individual instance ceases to be with the accomplishment
of its end; a principle which humanity cannot comprehend, and with which
human spirit can have no sympathy or connection except as it excites
wonder and admiration. Under this view all the objects of nature are the
products, not of spirit, but of law, which is itself the product of the
one great Creative Spirit whereby all things are. Even if we admit that
so subtle is the connection between the spirit and the law, the law and
the material object, that matter may, after all, be said to be the work
of and acted upon by spirit, yet it will be seen that even in this
instance, spirit does not act directly upon matter, but only through
certain intermediate agencies, of which more anon; while, in the matter
under discussion, the direct action of spirit upon matter is assumed by
the so-called spiritualists.

Again, in regard to the connection of the soul with the organized frame,
nothing is better established than the mutual action and reaction
between the mind and body. A volume of truth is contained in the simple
and hackneyed phrase, _Mens sana in corpore sano_. A diseased frame is
almost invariably accompanied by depression of spirits and a
disinclination, if not an absolute disability for profound thought; and,
on the other hand, a diseased mind soon makes itself manifest to the
outer world in an enfeebled and sickly frame. The merest tyro in
medical science recognizes the fact that in sickness no medicine is so
effective as cheerfulness, hope, and a determined will; while not
unfrequently the direst evil against which the physician has to contend
is despondency. And many other instances might be given of this mutual
action, which are unnecessary in this connection, since the point is
conceded.

Yet, as regards the outer world, it is nevertheless true that the soul
cannot directly perceive material objects, but only through the agency
of the physical senses. In the matter of sight and sound, the atoms of
the elastic medium must first make a material and tangible impression
upon the eye and ear, which impression is conveyed by the nerves to the
brain, where all human knowledge of the mystic process ceases. We only
know that there is an intimate connection between the nerves and the
mind established in the brain - which is the fountain head of
both - whereby the mind receives this subtile impression and thereby
becomes cognizant of the object which is its original cause. The same
thing is true of all the other senses. Destroy now any one of these
bodily senses, and the soul at once becomes dead to all that class of
impressions which before were conveyed through that medium. Destroy the
sight, and the mind can have no cognizance whatever of material objects
save through the sense of touch - for our knowledge of matter through the
senses of hearing, taste, and smell, is one of experience alone, which,
aided by sight and touch, has taught us in the past that where sound,
taste, or odor exist, there must be matter to produce these impressions.
Destroy, then, if it were possible, this sense of touch, and our
absolute perception of objects is entirely lost - the connection between
the outer world and the perceptive faculties of the mind is dissolved
forever. The truth of this position is seen in the fact that in a swoon,
when all the senses are benumbed, the mind is utterly unconscious of its
surroundings.

Again, to go to the other end of the chain - admitting that the force
which resides in the material points and produces the vibration in the
elastic medium is spiritual in its nature, do we not find that this
force never produces an impression upon the senses, and through them
upon the mind, except through the intermediate agency of a material
object? The object itself must exist before the force can act, and hence
arises our confidence in the evidence of our senses. Were it otherwise,
indeed, our whole life would be one of uncertainty, of innumerable
deceptions, a mere wandering about in a mist of delusions worse than
those of a maniac. And if this force could act upon our perceptions
without a material point in which to reside, is it not reasonable to
suppose that it would occasionally so do, and that we should sometimes
perceive effects for which we could find no cause in the material
world - no connection with matter? Yet in the whole range of human
experience no such thing is known. Even the phenomena which we call
optical illusions arise from certain derangements of the atomic
particles of the medium through which the impression is conveyed.

From this course of reasoning two plain deductions arise, either of
which is disastrous to the spiritualistic theory. For if we deny, as I
have done, that this hidden, mysterious force is spiritual in its
nature, we have in all our knowledge and experience no _instance_ of the
direct action of spirit upon matter. While, if we _acknowledge_ that
fact, we have still no instance of spirit so acting upon the medium
through which we receive our physical perceptions as to produce an
impression through the senses upon the mind, without the intervention of
a material point.

Is it reasonable, then, to suppose that in this our age, for the first
time, a single solitary manifestation of this supernatural power should
occur, as claimed by the spiritualists, unaccompanied by any analogous
contemporary or corroborative fact of the same or of a different nature?
To admit this is to admit one of three things: 1st, that both the
physical senses and spiritual constitution of humanity have undergone a
sudden and wonderful change; 2dly, that the Almighty has entirely
altered his mode of communication with mankind; or, 3dly, that the whole
world of spirits has been let loose to wander at will over the universe
and space!

But admitting, as all must do, that there is in each individual human
organism an intimate and mysterious connection, through the nerves and
brain, between the spirit and the senses, the fact that this is the only
known connection, direct or indirect, between matter and spirit, seems
to me to argue that there is no other perceptible one. For, if there
were any such, designed in any way to affect our perceptions, mental,
moral, or physical, would it not, in some one of its phases, have been
made manifest through all the past ages of the world? That such a
connection has never been discovered is proof sufficient that no such
was ever intended by the Supreme Being to affect mankind in any way,
_unless_ we admit that the spiritual and religious necessities of
mankind, and, in fact, the very constitution itself of human spirit, are
entirely different from what they have been in the ages gone by, and
require not only a different pabulum, but also a different mode of
dealing at the hands of the Almighty: in a word, that the very essence
of religion is progressive.

If these positions be correct, the discussion is narrowed down to the
consideration of the relations of the spirit as connected with the
organized frame. And this brings us to another very natural deduction.

Every schoolboy knows the story of the wonderful clock whose inventor
was blinded by the order of his sovereign, that he might not be able to
repeat his work for any rival power; and how, many years afterward, when
the memory of his person had passed away from those who had known him in
his younger days, he groped his way back to the scene of his former
labors, and, guided by a lad to the tower which enclosed the already
famous work of art, under pretence of listening once more to its chimes,
he suddenly, with his scissors, severed a single small wire, and the
wonderful performances were closed forever. No artist thereafter could
be found to restore the work, for none other than the inventor was
acquainted with its mechanism, or could discover the secret of its
operation. And so it remained a silent monument to the ingratitude of a
sovereign and the revenge of a victim of the most barbarous cruelty. And
yet the principle was still there uninjured, and as capable of operation
as ever before, yet forever dead to that complicated mechanism, since
the single connecting rod was severed which bound the idea to its only
means of action - the immaterial to the material - the soul to the body.
The mechanism too was as perfect as ever, in all its constituent parts,
but forever silent and inoperative from lack of connection with the idea
upon which it depended. Side by side lay the principle and its means of
manifestation, separated only by the infinitesimal portion of space
which divided the parts of the broken wire, yet as effectually separated
as if worlds had rolled between them. Unite again these slender
fragments, and both would again spring to life, unimpaired in their
workings, and as brilliant as ever; but without this restoration both
must remain forever dead.

Even such is the connection between the soul and body. A system of
slender wires - more slender by far than the most attenuated thread of
human construction - connects the more than ethereal spirit with the
wonderful mechanism of the human body. And so long as this intimate
connection is maintained intact we have the living, breathing,
reasoning being, the image of his Creator, the most wonderful
manifestation of Almighty power. But once these slender wires are
parted, and the soul separated from the body by death, the relation of
that man's spirit with the material world is dissolved forever. The
senses of the body are the only medium through which the soul can act
upon or receive impressions from the world of matter, and between them
and it, once so intimately associated, there is now a great gulf
fixed - the gulf which separates time from eternity. Henceforth the body,
deprived of the lifegiving principle, its end accomplished, which was
only to serve as a temporary dwelling for the soul in its time of trial
and probation, goes swiftly to decay, and returns to its original dust.
But the soul lives on for another world and a different stage of
existence, entirely free from the trials and sufferings and sorrows of
this. Its mission here is fully accomplished, and it has nothing further
to do with the material. Only that Almighty Power which created it can
restore its association with a perception of matter, and that by
reuniting the broken chord - the silver chord which bound it to its
prison walls of clay. Henceforth it is to deal only with pure spirit and
as pure spirit; it has a nobler destiny before it, and higher and more
glorious objects to employ its powers and engross its emotions and
affections than any that earth can afford; and to maintain that it can
again return and mingle in the affairs of a sordid world is to degrade
it from its new and more glorious eminence - to drag it down from the
sublime, the eternal, and the godlike, to the insignificant, the
ephemeral, and the human.

Yet it is not to be assumed that matter and spirit are _opposed_ to each
other in any other respect than that of constitution - of construction,
if the term is allowable. As in color white and black are the opposite
extremes of a long line of causes and effects, and as one is the
synonyme for utter absence of the other, so, and so only, are matter and
spirit opposite poles to each other; and we frequently use the terms
ethereal, _spiritual_, to denote the strongest contrast to the
substantial, the material. And so, in just the degree in which any
object departs from the substantial and lacks the properties of the
material, do we say that it approaches the spiritual. Yet, even as in
nature we find not only objects, but even forces, of entirely different
and even opposite origin and construction working in perfect harmony, so
matter and spirit may exist together, and work in harmony, though acting
independently of each other, and incapable of producing upon each other
what, for lack of a better word, we may call physical effects.

It was not attempted, in the article referred to, to disprove the
phenomena of spiritualism by the above mode of reasoning, but simply to
deny and disprove the intervention of the supernatural in their
origin - to show, in fact, that disembodied spirit can by no possibility
have anything to do with their production. That the phenomena certainly
exist is not to be denied, and the only question which puzzles the
philosophical mind of the age is whence do they arise. If these
manifestations are due to the tricks of legerdemain, it is certain that
the jugglery is so cunningly devised and skilfully executed as hitherto
to have baffled the detective ingenuity as well as the deep wisdom of
the most profound minds of the age. Philosophy is no nearer the solution
of the question than at the beginning; yet as the process of inquiry
goes on, there is little doubt that the investigation will develop the
little knowledge now possessed, and perhaps bring to light new facts in
regard to the relation between matter and spirit as it exists in the
body. Possibly it may some day, in the far future, be discovered that
these phenomena are due to some at present undiscovered connection
between the mind and will of the medium and the material objects of his
immediate surroundings. At present man's knowledge of the properties and
workings of the spirit within him is infinitesimal in quantity and
degree, and, if this inquiry shall, by making humanity better acquainted
with its immortal part, open new paths of research to human intellect,
and add to the world's comparatively slender stock of knowledge of
spiritual things, or of the natural forces which are constantly working
around and within us, then will spiritualism, with all its errors and
its dangerous tendencies, prove to have been one of the blessings of
this age.

And, in passing, it may be well here to mention an incident, for the
truth of which the writer can vouch, and which may, perhaps, throw some
light upon this vexed question, or give a clue to some earnest searcher
into the cause of this mystery.

A gentleman, being for the first time in his life in the city of
Cincinnati, where he had not a single acquaintance, and having long been
anxious to test this spiritualistic second sight, on the evening of his
arrival muffled himself closely and attended a 'circle.' Summoning the
spirit of a distant relation long deceased, he inquired first into his
name, age, and residence; all of which were given correctly. Not a
little startled with this result, he proceeded with his inquiries, and
elicited the following information in regard to his family, viz.: that
two of his brothers, named George and Henry, died before his own birth;
that of these two George was the elder, but Henry died first. Astounded
at the accuracy of these replies, he waited to hear no more, but at once
left the circle, with his own faith quivering in the balance.

On returning to his home, he related these circumstances to an elder
sister, within whose recollection the birth and death of these children
had occurred. She listened attentively to the close, and then quietly
informed him that both the spirits and himself were in error, for that
Henry was the elder and George died first. As these questions of age and
date were the strongest points made by him in his spiritual
consultation, and the points most relied upon to test the accuracy of
the replies, this revelation at once upset all his doubts and fears, and
restored him again to the faith of his fathers. He himself had always
believed the facts to be as he had heard them from the medium, they
having, by some means, been reversed in his mind in the absence of any
other knowledge in the premises than that derived from hearsay, and that
too long gone by.

Now, in this instance, the mind of the medium was clearly _en rapport_
with that of the inquirer, and hence all the errors of the latter had
been closely followed. The facts were given not as they really were, but
as they existed in the mind of the inquirer. In other words, his mind
was read by the medium as an open book. And while, in this case, this
close copying of error at once precluded the idea of supernatural
agency, the facts are interesting as furnishing a new line of inquiry,
by showing that, in this instance at least - and if in this, why not in
others? - the phenomena of spiritualism were closely allied to those of
clairvoyance and mesmerism, and that the path of investigation into all
these mysteries may be pursued by one and the same course of reasoning.

But whether the cause of these mysteries is to be found in jugglery, in
some subtile connection between mind and matter, in animal magnetism, or
in any other of the thousand new branches of natural or mental science,
it must in the end be found - if found at all - to depend upon purely
natural laws - laws fixed and undeviating in the very constitution of
things, and which would have worked as well a thousand years ago as
to-day. The supernatural is entirely excluded from the investigation,
for that is a world beyond humanity's ken, into which no mortal may
peer. If the world of disembodied spirits have any connection whatever
with these wonderful and mystical phenomena, the question must ever
remain as perplexing and mysterious as it is to-day.

But human intellect is progressive. Age after age brings man nearer to
the comprehension of the myriad wonders that surround him, though he
must ever remain, while fettered to the earth and blinded by the body,
unable to grasp and comprehend the Infinite. And the time will come,
perhaps not in this age, nor even in its successor, when this perplexing
problem shall be solved, and the hidden truths of to-day be as clear as
the noonday sun.

And if not here, then hereafter. Ah! that hereafter! how much of
spiritual knowledge it involves! how much of manifestation of eternal
truth and clearing up of mysteries! Into what a sea of knowledge does
the spirit glide when it departs from the body! Every wave in that
illimitable ocean of space is freighted with wisdom, every sound is the
tone of undying truth, every breath is redolent of divine wisdom. We
wonder now at the wisdom of the sages of our own and of ages gone by - at
the learning, the profundity, the astonishing acquirements of the
Newtons, the Lockes, the Bacons, the Franklins, and the Humboldts. But
when we shall stand, in all the nakedness of pure, unfettered spirit,
within the confines of the spirit land, and gaze with all the clearness
of unveiled spiritual vision upon the wonderful mechanism of the
universe and of the spirit world; when we see - as we shall see - laws and
principles, and even abstract truths, as plainly as we now look upon the
material objects around us; when, indeed, nothing shall be hidden from
our view, and questions which are now too intricate for the wisest minds
to solve, and others which are now too profoundly mysterious for human
intellect to comprehend or even conceive, shall seem as axioms which
need no argument, and which a child can perceive; when, finally, the
mysteries of God himself are revealed to our progressive souls, then how
contemptibly insignificant will appear the learning of the wisest of
earth's sages! how infinitesimal the wisdom of Solomon himself! For to
such knowledge we must and shall attain; knowledge wisely barred from
our attainment in this earthly existence, lest in our presumption we
should rebel against God, and, like Lucifer of old, endeavor to make
ourselves equal to Him who is the Author of our spiritual being. Yet in
every soul is implanted a yearning for this forbidden knowledge, an
undying thirst, which can never be satiated in this life, for but a
single draught of that wisdom and truth which flows like a sea about the
great white throne. And it is this which makes me comprehend how even an
unregenerated soul - and how much more the Christian - can long for that
which we call death, but which is but the initiation into the mysteries
of the Beyond. It is this which, even aside from religious aspirations
and fears, wraps our departure in an awful sublimity. To die that we may
KNOW - to give up the transitory, the perishing, the earthly, that we may
grasp the all-enduring, the imperishable, the divine; to pass from
blindness to far-stretching, unimpeded sight! to be able at a single
glance to count the very stars of heaven, and to see the network of laws
which bind them in their places, and control, not only their motions,
but the minutest particulars of their internal organism; and, above and
greater than all, to comprehend the relation between the soul and its
God. Here is an existence worthy of spirit which is the image of its
God - an existence which will give full scope for the exercise of those
faculties which can only act so feebly here - the only existence for


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Online LibraryVariousThe Continental Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 5, November, 1863 → online text (page 11 of 20)