Harold Anson

Canon Harold Anson, Master of the Temple, was part of a committee appointed in 1937 by the Church of England and headed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to investigate mediumship. He wrote "Concerning Prayer: Its Nature, Its Difficulties and Its Value" (Macmillan and Company, 1916), "Spiritual Healing: A Discussion of the Religious Element in Physical Health" (University of London Press, 1923), "A Practical Faith" (London: George Allen Unwin, 1925), "Thinking Aloud" (London: George Allen Unwin, 1928), "Looking Forward" (William Heinemann, 1938), "The Truth About Spiritualism" (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1941), "I Believe in God" (Frederick Muller Ltd, 1943), and "T. B. Strong: Bishop, Musician, Dean, Vice-Chancellor" (London: S.P.C.K., 1949).

Physical Phenomena

 - Harold Anson -

          AMONG THE most hotly disputed of the phenomena of Spiritualism are those which are called physical. They are disputed not because, in some cases, they are not well attested, but rather because they go against all our preconceived notions of what is possible.

Among these are the so-called poltergeists, spirits (apparently) who in certain houses move furniture about, give loud raps on the walls, overturn tables, and so on. These phenomena are supposed to be carried out by spirits who are restless, and who cannot tear themselves away from the scenes of their unhappiness. Some otherwise eminently desirable houses have become unsaleable owing to their being subject to this annoyance.

Then we have levitation, where some people have been seen to be raised up in the air, with no apparent support. This has been often noted in the lives of saints. Certain mediums have claimed to have spirits attending them whose forms can be photographed. The evidence for this appears to be poor and unconvincing.

Transportation is the name given to the movement by supranormal means of the mediums from one place to another. The late Lords Crawford and Dunraven declared emphatically that they had seen the medium, D. D. Home, float out of a window in Victoria Street, London, and return by another window.

Lights are said to play over the heads of sitters at a sťance like tongues of fire. Similar phenomena have been noticed at religious revivals, notably at the great missions in the early part of the 20th century in Wales. At the same time an abnormal fall of temperature has been noted.

The most remarkable portents are the materialization of the human form or some part of a form (a face or hand) apparently coming out from the body of the medium. The most arresting claim under the head of physical phenomena is the materialization of a complete human body which can be touched and handled, and has all the appearance of the human form.

This was, according to the testimony of Sir William Crookes, seen in the case of Florence Cook, who produced the materialized form of "Katie King." Sir W. Crookes never swerved to the end of his life in his belief in this fact. An extraordinary instance of this is recorded by Mr. Harry Price, who has devoted himself to the exposure of fraudulent mediums. It is the case of a family circle in the London suburbs, apparently very reliable and honest, and very averse from publicity and money-making. To them appeared from time to time their little girl Rosalie, who had died when she was six. Mr. Price visited the house, and, after making every precaution known to the professional investigator to eliminate possible fraud, sat in the circle with the family. After some time the body of a little girl appeared. Mr. Price was able to touch the whole of the body, to feel the pulse and hear the breathing, and the girl answered "Yes" when asked if she loved her mother. To no other question did she answer anything. The body then disappeared. If this incident should prove to be authenticated, as Mr. Price (a very sceptical investigator) thinks it is, it is of extraordinary interest and importance. There are numberless alleged instances of this materialization of bodies or parts of bodies, but many have been proved to be fakes, and many, seen and touched by quite sensible and normal people, have never been submitted to skilled investigation.

If it were to be proved true that, in certain circumstances, solid human bodies can be for a time touched and handled, consolidated, as these messages assert, out of the matter provided by the sitters themselves, it would indeed revolutionize the conceptions of modern science, though it would not be surprising to believers in traditional religion.

The power of the spirit to control and modify matter is a truth accepted by religion, and somewhat tentatively accepted by modern psychologists. The creation of a temporary bodily form with, apparently, all the semblance of vitality, goes infinitely beyond anything which we should, in the present state of belief of ordinary modern men, be prepared to expect. Nevertheless, there seems to be good evidence for this happening in a few cases, and, with less exacting evidence, in a good many more. If this were proved to be true, it would make it much easier for many Christians to accept the stories of Our Lord's resurrection, which, with their modern outlook, and with the uncriticized evidence on which they are based, they have up to now tended to doubt.

We may perhaps ask why such stories cannot he carefully investigated by the Royal Society. The answer is that Sir William Crookes did invite the Royal Society to investigate them, and the request was refused because, as these learned men asserted, such things could not have happened.

Camille Flammarion, the French astronomer, relates that he was present when the French Academy of Sciences investigated Thomas Edison's phonograph. One learned scientist seized Edison by the collar, crying "Wretch! we are not to be made dupes of by a ventriloquist." This was in 1878. The same man, six months later, after having carefully examined the phonograph, again declared that "it was impossible to admit that mere vile metal could perform the work of human phonation." The phonograph, according to his idea of it, was nothing but an acoustic illusion.

When the advisability of railways, was being discussed in Bavaria, the Royal College of Doctors, having been consulted, declared that railways, if they were constructed, would cause the greatest deterioration in the health of the public, because such rapid movement would cause brain trouble among travellers, and vertigo among those who looked at moving trains. For this last reason it was recommended that all tracks should be enclosed by high board fences raised above the height of the cars and engines. (Flammarion, L'inconnu, chap. 1.)

It seems doubtful whether the Royal Society could be induced, even to-day, to examine scientifically the phenomena of materialization. Even, however, if they were willing, there is the further difficulty that these phenomena will not always submit themselves to an unsympathetic atmosphere. It is a rare thing to get so good a test as the "Rosalie" incident, simply because it seems necessary to the occurrence of these incidents that there should be a certain sympathy in the group which witnesses them. If the "spirits" are correct in what they assert, that the material out of which these solid forms are temporarily constructed is derived from the aetheric bodies of the circle, this is very intelligible. It is very doubtful whether a Committee of the Royal Society would be able to witness a materialization, as doubtful as it would be that a committee of Pharisees could have seen Our Lord's risen form, if they had wished to verify the evidence of Cephas, of the Twelve, or of St. Paul on the way to Damascus.

Mr. Myers (Human Personality, vol. II, page 288) writes as follows:

Jesus Christ" brought life and immortality to light." By His appearance after bodily death, He proved the deathlessness of the spirit. By His character and His teaching He testified to the Fatherhood of God. So far, then, as His unique message admitted of evidential support, it is here supported. So far as He promised things unprovable, that promise is here renewed.

I venture now on a bold saying; for I predict that, in consequence of the new evidence, all reasonable men a century hence will believe the resurrection of Christ, whereas, in default of the new evidence, no reasonable men a century hence would have believed it. The ground of this forecast is plain enough. Our ever-growing recognition of the continuity, the uniformity of cosmic law has gradually made of the alleged uniqueness of any incident its almost inevitable refutation ... And especially as to that central claim of the soul's life manifested after the body's death it is plain that this can less and less be supported by remote tradition alone; that it must more and more be tested by modern experience and inquiry. Suppose, for instance, that we collect many such histories recorded an first hand evidence in our critical age; and suppose that all these narratives break down on analysis; that they can all be traced to hallucination, misdescription and other persistent sources of error, can we then expect reasonable men to believe that this marvellous phenomenon, always vanishing into nothingness when, closely scrutinized in a modern English scene, must yet compel adoring credence when alleged to have occurred in an Oriental country, and in a remote and superstitious age? Had the results (in short) of "psychical research" been purely negative, would not Christian evidence - I do not say Christian emotion, but Christian evidence - have received an overwhelming blow?

As a matter of fact - or, if you prefer the phrase in my own personal opinion - our research has led us to results of a quite different type. They have not been negative only, but largely positive. We have shown that amid much deception and self-deception, fraud and illusion, veritable manifestations do reach us from beyond the grave. The central claim of Christianity is thus confirmed as never before. If our own friends, men like ourselves, can sometimes return to tell us of love and hope, a mightier Spirit may well have used the eternal laws with a more commanding power. There is nothing to hinder the reverent faith that, though we be all "the children of the most Highest," He came nearer than we, by some space by us immeasurable, to that which is infinitely far. There is nothing to hinder the devout conviction that He of his own act "took upon him the form of a servant" and was made flesh for our salvation. foreseeing the earthly travail and the eternal crown. "Surely before this descent into generation," says Plotinus, "we existed in the intelligible world; being other men than now we are, and some of us Gods; clear souls and minds immixed with all existence; parts of the Intelligible, nor severed thence; nor are we severed even now."

Source: "The Truth About Spiritualism" by Harold Anson (London: Student Christian Movement Press, 1941).


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