Eugene V. (Eugene Valentine) Brewster.

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recalled. Bodily sensations are the most com-
mon cause of dreams. A hot-water bottle at the
feet might cause dreaming of a fire; kicking the^
bed-clotheS from the lower extremities might
carry the dreamer to scenes of snow and ice; get-
ting one's head accidently under the pillow
might involve the dreamer in a drovv^ning epi-
sode or other incident of strangulation. Physi-
cal ills also have their influence upon the un-



sound sleeper, and the nature of the pain is usu-
ally similar to the nature of the dream. The
mind, during unsound sleep, is irrational, and
often groups incongruous things and scenes into
meaningless and impossible situations. Stored
away in hidden recesses of the memory, are in-
numerable items, and during imperfect sleep the
mind seizes some of these haphazard and forms
some of the most fantastic and ludicrous pic-

The cause of the dream is sometimes the cause
of its fulfilment. For example, a person might
think, in his waking moments, of writing a poem,
and if it is strongly on his mind he is likely to
dream of it. The dream may suggest some miss-
ing link or idea, and when he awakes he is bet-
ter prepared to complete it. Belief in the super-
natural origin of dreams is also the frequent
cause of their fulfilment. If a person dreams of
approaching sickness, and is superstitious, his
fears and imagination are likely to hasten the
calamity. There is recorded somewhere in his-
tory the case of a general who dreamed of a de-
feat, and, being superstitious, his courage de-
serted him, and the enemy conquered. There is
also recorded the case of a German student, who
dreamed that he was to die the next day at a cer-
tain hour. His friends found him next morning


making a will and other preparations, and as the
time drew near, he had every appearance of a
person about to die. His friends used every
argument to shake his belief in dreams, but to no
purpose, and they were despairing of saving
him, when the physician contrived to set the
clock forward, and thus prolonged matters un-
til the student's life was at last saved. There are
several instances on record where death has ac-
tually ensued in consequence of the belief in the
supernatural origin of dreams, and there is no
doubt that believers in dreams often cause ful-
filment by mental influence. It is true that there
are instances on record where a person has
dreamed of the death of a relative, and found
that that relative had died at about the time of
the dream, but these instances are rare and prove
nothing. When it is considered that there are
doubtless millions of instances where persons
have dreamed of the death of relatives, when
they have not died, the comparatively few cases
where the dreams came true must be taken as
mere coincidents. It is not a miracle for a dream
of this kind to come true, but it would indeed be a
miracle if one or more of such dreams did not
come true, like the one that is recorded of a
proud young divinity student who dreamed three
times in one night that he must turn to the


seventh verse of the fifth chapter of Ecclesiastes,
where he would find important instructions. He
arose in the morning, and turning to the specified
passage, found this: "In the multitude of dreams
there are divers vanities."

The mental process by which the human mind
arrived at the conclusion that dreams result from
supernatural causes is due to the same propensity
of the mind for the marvelous, and to that excess
credulity which attributes all unusual or remark-
able mental impressions to some external agency.
The average mind is prone to reason out the
causes of phenomena to the limit of its mental
powers, and then, when it arrives at the point
when it can go no farther, and can give no ra-
tional explanation, to attribute the phenomena
to the supernatural.

All dreams originate from former sensations.
These sensations were introduced into the mind
by the senses, at some previous time or times,
and the mind has stored them away where they
have lain dormant and forgotten. The dream-
state is that condition of temporary subconscious-
ness when the memory recalls the aforesaid sen-
sations and submits them to the scrutiny of the
reasoning faculty, by which their relations are
determined, through the agency of association.
During perfect sleep there can be no dream, be-


cause the dream is caused by a state of activity
of certain faculties, which, in perfect sleep, are
in a state of torpor. There could be no dream
if the mental faculties, including memory, are
at perfect rest. Only when part of the mental
faculties are sufficiently active to recall the sen-
sations and impressions that are stored away, and
to institute association, can there be dreams.
Some of the faculties must be active, and some
inactive, to produce a dream, and only in im-
perfect sleep does this condition obtain. Among
the inactive faculties in the dream state is judg-
ment, which, were it active, would correct the
mental process and discover the fallacy. Imagi-
nation is often brought strongly into play by the
dreamer; and the combination of imagination,
previous sensations and associations often create
fantastic objects and pictures wholly different
from those occurring in nature. The mind of
the dreamer can readily combine parts of the
sensations previously derived from beholding an
elephant, a crow and a cow, and may see in his
dream a crow with a trunk, a cow with a bill,
or an elephant with upright horns and a black
feathered tail. It can also readily associate with
his own self parts of various sensations derived
from reading or hearing of certain crimes or im-
proprieties, and picture himself in the act of


doing things utterly at variance with his morals
and inclinations when in a conscious state.

It also may happen, in the various modes of
combination, that objects or events are portrayed
in accordance with nature and facts, but, per-
haps, in exaggerated, diminished or distorted
forms, in which case an erroneous standard of
judgment is formed that will throw all after
sensations out of perspective with truth.

The dreamer generally dreams of things
which have lately been weighing on his mind,
but not necessarily so, nor does it follow that he
will dream what has been ardently expected or
painfully dreaded. Association of ideas may
lead his unguided mind to a scene or object
which, in his wakeful moments, he cannot trace,
for his memory usually preserves only the final
objects or scene, and not the various steps that led
to it. Thus, if moving be on his mind, he may,
in his dream, see a moving van, then a painting
on the side of the van, then an artist, then a paint
shop, a model, another picture on an easel, and
finally a very pleasant or a very horrible scene
in a studio. When the dreamer awakes he re-
members only the scene, and he is at a loss to
know why he should have dreamed of a scene
so foreign to his previous thoughts.

There appears to be no truth whatever in the


theory that dreams come as omens or warnings,
for they are purely accidental. Neither is there
apparently any truth in the belief that dreams
come by opposites, that they are the manifesta-
tion of some invisible agency, or that there is
anything supernatural, uncanny or mysterious
about them.

To maintain that one can foretell future
events, or read past events, from dreams, is ab-
surd. Nearly every person dreams each night,
and particularly during the moments when los-
ing consciousness and the moments when awak-
ening, since imperfect sleep then obtains; and,
it would be strange indeed if, during one or
more of these occasions, we did not by chance
dream of something which afterwards actually

All bodily derangements that interrupt healthy
sleep, such as irritation of the digestive organs,
and even over-exertion, worry, and undue excite-
ment, will produce dreams, and it is therefore
fairly obvious that, since we know the cause of
dreams, their effects and results, there is nothing
marvellous, unnatural, wonderful, extraordinary
or supernatural in dreams.

Until the past few hundred years, the cause
of dreams was not understood. Aristotle be-
lieves the cause of dreams to be common sense.


but placed in the fancy. Avicen thought it to
be an ultimate intelligence moving the moon hi
the midst of that light with which the fancies of
men are illuminated while they sleep. Averroes,
an Arabian physician, ascribed it to the imagina-
tion. Democritus referred the cause of them to
little images, or representations, separated from
the things themselves. Plato placed it among
the specific and concrete notions of the soul.
Albertus attributed dreams to superior influ-
ences, which continually flow from the sky,
through many specific channels.

In order to disdelusionize, it will be necessary
to get a clear understanding of the nature of the
mind and of its workings. "When the mind
turns its view inward upon itself," says John
Locke, "and contemplates its own actions, think-
ing is the first that occurs. In it, the mind ob-
serves a great variety of modifications, and from
them receives distinct ideas. Thus the percep-
tion, which actually accompanies, and is annexed
to any impression on the body, made by an ex-
ternal object, being distinct from all other modi-
fications of thinking, furnishes the mind with a
distinct idea which we call sensation; which is,
as it were, the actual entrance of an idea into
the understanding by the senses.

"The same idea, when it occurs again without


the operation of the like object on the external
sensory, is remembrance; if it be sought after by
the mind, and with pain and endeavor found,
and brought again in view, it is recollection; if
it be held there long under consideration, it is
contemplation; when ideas float in our mind
without any recollection or regard of the under-
standing, it is that which the French call reverie;
our language has scarce a word for it. When the
ideas that offer themselves (for, as I have ob-
served, while we are awake, there will always
be a train of ideas succeeding one another in our
minds) are taken notice of, and, as it were, regis-
tered in the memory, it is attention; when the
mind, with great earnestness, and of choice, fixes
its view on any idea, considers it on all sides, and
will not be called ofif by the ordinary solicitations
of other ideas, it is what we call intention or
study. Sleep without dreaming is rest from all
these; and dreaming itself, is the having of ideas
(while the outward senses are stopped, so that
they receive not outward objects with their
usual quickness) in the mind, not suggested by
any external objects, or known occasion, nor
under any choice or conduct of the understand-
ing at all, and whether that which we call ectasy,
be not dreaming with the eyes open, I leave to
be examined."


We often converse with a dead or absent
friend, in our dreams, without remembering
that the grave or the ocean is between us. We
float, like a feather, or fly like a bird, upon the
wind, one moment in New York, and the next
in Melbourne, without reflecting that the laws
of nature are suspended, or inquiring how the
scene could have been so suddenly shifted. We
accommodate ourselves to every event, however
romantic, impossible, unreasonable, extravagant
and absurd.

We also dream awake, which dreams may be
called reveries or waking-dreams, and they are
sometimes as chimerical, and impossible to be
realized, as our sleep dreams. Many fabulous
stories of apparitions, magic, and apparent mira-
cles, owe their origin to some form of dream.


Superstition has done more harm than war,
famine and pestilence.

IT has been said that all men are tainted with
superstition, in greater or less degree, and
that they are credulous from the cradle to
the grave. We may be particularly strong on Fri-
day, on the thirteenth, on walking under a lad-
der, and other foolish superstitions which have
thousands of times been exposed, yet we find
ourselves weak on something else equally absurd.
We are credulous because we are naturally sin-
cere, which indicates that superstitious belief
proceeds from honorable principles. All men
have a strong attraction to truth, and the man
who is the most deceitful is usually the most dis-
posed to belief that other men respect truth. And
thus, before rejecting the statements of others,
we usually require to detect something in them
which is not in accord with our previous knowl-
edge, unless, perchance, we have cause to sus-
pect a design to deceive us. Creduility is, there-



fore, natural, in part, and it is also the result of
the faulty education that we have received from
our distant ancestors.

Perhaps many of the superstitions owe their
origin to religion. If people had not been
taught about devils, hells, miracles and other
mysteries, they would not be so susceptable to
other beliefs equally absurd.

It is commonly knov/n that gamblers are very
superstitious, but fashions change with them as
they do with everything else; for, where unsuc-
cessful gamblers used formerly to make a knot
in their linen, to change their luck, they now
content themselves with changing their chairs,
and performing other silly things which some
successful gamester has lately done. And so
with other superstitious persons. As a security
against cowardice, it was once only necessary to
wear a pin plucked from the winding sheet of a
corpse; now, all one needs is to rub the back of
a hunchback. To insure a prosperous accouch-
ment to your wife, you once had to tie her girdle
to a bell and ring it three times, while now all
that is necessary is to see the new moon over your
right shoulder and wish. To get rid of warts,
you were to fold up in a rag as many peas as you
had warts, and throw them into the highroad,
when the unlucky person who picked them up


became your substitute; but now, they may be
cured by finding a pin, head toward you. To
cure a tooth-ache you had to solicit alms in
honor of St. Lawrence, but in these enlightened
times it can be done by staring at a horseshoe
over the door. And so on, ad infinitum do we
find the superstitions, like the fashions, ever

The birth of science was the death of super-
stition, said Huxley; but, alas, it is a slow and
painful death. But, science is only half born as
yet, and that is why superstition is only half dead.

P. T. Barnum was known as the prince of
humbuggers, yet few men have ever lived who
had a keener insight into human nature. He
knew the human heart, he knew its weaknesses,
and he knew how to profit by his knowledge.

The gullibility of the public is shown in
various ways: first, by the prosperity of the
palmists, astrologers and mediums; second, by
the success of all get-rich-quick enterprises;
third, by the crowds who patronize the street
fakirs who sell articles which nobody can op-
erate but themselves ; and fourth, by the apparent
success of certain officials who operate through
their press agents.

Palmistry, graphology, physiognomy, phren-
ology, clairvoyancy, chirognomancy, and the


other "sciences," have not yet been accepted by
the powers that be, fortunately, as an infallible
detector of crime. Very few, indeed, of the be-
lievers in these isms and ologies would care to
have their fate in court determined by experts
in one or more of these theories. Only a few
hundred years ago, persons were tried and con-
victed of witchcraft by the same sort of "ex-
perts," and the result was that the accused had a
very slight chance of acquital.

Most of our great men have had their illu-
sions, delusions and superstitions, but that is no
excuse for people of our times. Genius is al-
ways ill-balanced, in accordance with the law of
compensation. Napoleon believed in the ex-
ploded theory of astrology, and he once said of
a bright star, "It has never deserted me. I see
it on every occurrence urging me onward; it is
an unfailing omen of success." Oliver Crom-
well says he saw the figure of a gigantic woman
enter his chamber, w^ho told him that he would
become the greatest man in England. Sir Joshua
Reynolds thought the lamps in his gardens were
trees, and the women bushes, agitated by the
breeze. Descartes thought he was followed by
an invisible person, whose voice urged him to


continue his researches. Loyola, lying wounded
after the siege of Pampeluna, imagined he saw
the Virgin, who encouraged him to prosecute
his mission. Pope thought he saw an army come
through the walls of his home to inquire after
his welfare. Goethe says that he once saw his
exact counterpart coming towards him. Byron
was also visited by ghosts, and Dr. Johnson
thought he heard his mother's voice, though she
was in a distant city. Swedenborg imagined that
he could converse with departed spirits. Cellini
was deterred from suicide by the apparition of a
beautiful woman, and Nicolai was annoyed by
various spirits, one of which had the appearance
of a dead body. And when we remember that
some of the world's greatest minds were deluded
by the doctrines of witchcraft, alchemy, astrolo-
gy, spiritualism, and kindred superstitions, now
known to be false and silly, including the mighty
search for the Philosopher's Stone, we should
hesitate long before accepting any strange theory
just because somebody else believed in it.

ABRACADABRA was one of the names
given to the Persian sun-god Mithra. This word
was supposed to have magic powers to cure
diseases, provided it was written in the form of


a magic triangle several times, as follows, and
worn on the bosom for nine days:







Why is superstition so deep-rooted? Why do
we cling to error so tenaciously? Why does
every new, occult fad soon attract a host of fol-
lowers? Let us see. First, there is a charm to
everything that is extraordinary — we love the
unusual, the different, the marvelous, the mi-
raculous; second, we hate to see destroyed that
which we love. Hence, the tendency to exag-
geration, which is a consequence of it; and hence
the regretful reluctance to have our dreams of
wondrousness dispelled. Is there anything quite
so unpleasant, when we have told a friend of
some marvelous manifestation we had v/itnessed,
as to have that friend prove to us that the mani-
festation was but a trick? Not only is our pride
hurt, but our pet joy is spoiled; we had been
hugging a sacred mystery, only to find it a de-

That which we call mystery is unfinished


knowledge — not complete ignorance. That
which we call the supernatural is but the natural
not yet understood, or only partly understood.
We know a little of everything, but not every-
thing of everything, nor even everything of any
one thing. Science is only a mystery solved.

A prevalent and dangerous form of credulity
or enthusiasm is that which makes us extremists
or faddists. A faddist is an extremist, and an
extremist is a faddist. It is one thing to be so
stubborn and old-fashioned that nothing new has
any interest to us, and it is another to be so credu-
lous and catholic that we seize every new theory
with a mad enthusiasm. Every fad and delusion
is founded on a truth, but the extremist sees in
them more than a truth; his brain becomes a
kaleidoscope, with numerous reflecting surfaces
which reflect multifold imaginary pictures.
From two or three simple truths, sprang an im-
mense false system of astrology; from the sim-
ple truth that our temperaments and characters
are more or less expressed upon our bodies,
sprang some of the silly doctrines of palmistry
and physiogonomy; from the simple truth that
every person has an individuality which is ex-
pressed in his apparel, his home and his man-
ners, sprang the ridiculous theory of phsycom-
etry ; from the simple truth that souls live beyond


the grave, and that our imagination may picture
those souls, sprang the untenable belief in ghosts,
spirits and mediums; and from the simple fact
that our pains and troubles are intensified by
brooding over them, sprang the fallacy of Chris-
tian Science. Who would say that the Boston
tea party caused the Revolutionary war, or that
the firing on Fort Sumpter caused the "late un-
pleasantness"? The quarrel between Queen
Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough over a
pair of gloves did not cause the change of min-
istry and the following peace with Louis XIV,
nor did the blood of Lucretia put an end to the
kingly powers at Rome, as some say, and neither
did the sight of Virginia terminate the decem-
viral power, nor did the view of Caesar's body
and mantle enslave Rome. It seems to be that
love of the marvellous, of the curious, of the
strange, and of the impossible, that makes us
ascribe great results to the most insignificant
and isolated causes.

There is a book entitled "Current Supersti-
tions," which can be had in any library, that
should cure any reasonable mind of superstition.
It contains some thousands of superstitions com-
mon throughout the United States, and if a per-
son were to believe in them all, that person could
not live one day without violating a dozen or


more that would involve him into fatal conse-
quences. Fortunately, the superstitious person
usually clings to only two or three, which are
not bothersome, and he does not see the folly
of them. Some superstitions seem harmless
enough, such as, for example, the belief that
holding an open umbrella over the head in the
house is productive of bad luck, for who wants
to do such a thing? or, that of walking under
a ladder, for how many times in a lifetime does
a person have occasion to avoid doing so? But
all superstitions are harmful to the mind, and
harmful in their influence upon others — particu-
larly upon children. A man cannot successfully
contend against an unknown enemy in the dark,
and superstition pre-supposes that there is some
unknown, relentless, all-powerful force at work,
against God, Nature, common sense, and against
the laws of the universe.

There is an old story, but a well-authenticated
one, which serves to illustrate the dangers of
superstition. In Hamburg, in 1784, a singular
accident occasioned the death of a young couple.
The lady, going to the church of the Augustin
Friars, knelt down near a Mausoleum, orna-
mented with divers figures in marble, among
which was that of Death, armed with a scythe,
and a small piece of the scythe being loose, fell


on the hood of the lady's mantlet. On her re-
turn home, she mentioned the circumstances as
a matter of indifference to her husband, who,
being a credulous and superstitious man, cried
out in a terrible panic, that it was a presage of
the death of his dear wife. The same day he
was seized with a violent fever, took to his bed
and died. The disconsolate lady was so affected
at the loss that she was taken ill and soon fol-
lowed him. They were both interred in the same
grave, and their inheritance, which was very
considerable, fell to some distant relatives.

Under the head of "Thirteen at Dinner," Ed-
wards in "Words, Facts and Phrases" says: "The
common superstition which makes it unlucky to
have thirteen at dinner is no doubt a reference
to the Last Supper of our Lord and his disciples,
where thirteen were present and Judas was
among them. He left first, and therefore the
first of a party of thirteen to leave the table is
the unlucky one." Perhaps this is correctly
stated, but if so, how many persons now make
the dangerous mistake of at once leaving a table
as soon as they discover thirteen present! By
leaving at once they hope to avert the evil, where-
as they are rushing into it. What folly, either
to leave the table or to remain at it, because of
this superstition!


The Thirteen Club of New York serves a use-
ful mission. Composed of several hundred prom-
inent people, it meets, discusses the folly of pop-
ular superstitions, exposes the fallacies of the su-
pernatural, and breeds a healthy condition of
the mind. They meet on Fridays, usually on the
13th of the month, they enter the clubrooms by
passing under a ladder, the dues are multiples

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Online LibraryEugene V. (Eugene Valentine) BrewsterWhat's what in America → online text (page 4 of 12)