SPIRITISM(1) IS, in general, in bad repute, and deserves to be. Most of its disciples are unmethodical; they are often lacking in mental poise, are often dupes of illusions. They prefer a belief and a religion which merely console, to the impartial and critical investigation without which we can be sure of nothing. These are bad conditions for research; adequate safeguards are lacking.
(1) Monsieur Flammarion makes a distinction between "spiritualism" and "spiritism." By "spiritualism" he means the general doctrine that departed spirits hold intercourse with mortals. By "spiritism" he means mediumistic research -
In Allan Kardec's time (in the course of the speech which I made at his grave on April 2, 1869) I believed it helpful and even necessary to proclaim, at this very grave, that "spiritism is not a religion but a
science," and to add that "we are now at the dawn of an undiscovered science." During the fifty years which followed the utterance of these words, the continued progress of our research has lent them greater and greater emphasis, confirmed them more and more fully.
It is by the scientific method alone that we may make progress in the search for truth. Religious belief must not take the place of impartial analysis. We must be constantly on our guard against illusions.
Apart from deliberate deception, dishonest and inexcusable, there is autosuggestion leading to involuntary deception. Believers allow themselves to be easily gulled. I have seen tables moved, quite patently, by the hands of so-called "mediums," without these "mediums" themselves suspecting it (at times), despite the clearest evidence. People too often accept the sayings of self-styled "spirits," without the slightest verification (contrôle). Moreover, they have ended by giving the name
contrôle ("control") to the spirit itself - that is to say, to the unknown cause which
is to be determined! This, is a grammatical absurdity.
And all this is usually done in good faith.
There are also dishonest exploiters of credulity, who give "séances," promising apparitions and posthumous manifestations to the simpletons who listen to them. Those who have been gulled then complain, laughably, of having been robbed! The human race, supposedly intelligent, is truly strange. One must have a great deal of courage to work perseveringly, surrounded by these impostors; one must be sustained by the conviction that there are truths to be discovered.
There is more than one danger in psychic research, and above all in spiritistic experiments. The chief danger is that we prove, indubitably, the reality of phenomena that are not merely inexplicable but are, at times, improbable and logically inadmissible. In this way we begin a dangerous descent, for where does reality stop? There is a limit. Where is it? Men and women admit the most blatant absurdities in perfect good
faith - women, above all, if we must speak the truth. Their credulity sometimes equals that of the most simple-minded bigots, who see the devil or Providence in the least changes in temperature or the least important vicissitudes of existence. And with what ease certain "mediums" play upon weak minds! We even ask ourselves, often, whether these naive experimenters are dupes or accomplices, and would not
prefer to be deceived! We must guess where this dangerous descent begins, and never draw near that point.
It is difficult to obtain definite results from the encompassing psychic atmosphere. We get, at times, replies differing so greatly from the ideas of the persons present that the identity of the spirit that has been evoked would seem to be proved by the particular details which that spirit reveals. Then, when his name is asked, he cannot give it! Very often, too, he gives only one initial. Why? It is disconcerting.
But those who reject everything connected with these experiments are wrong, without a doubt. We cannot say in such cases,
"Everything or nothing.'' There are occurrences worthy of the most serious attention. And these occurrences, as well as the diverse experiences given in the three volumes of this work, prove the materialistic theory to be erroneous.
It appears to me that, in order to form an exact and rigorous estimate of the authenticity of proofs of identity in spiritistic communications, we must be certain, above all, that no part of these communications proceeds from the subconscious minds of the experimenters and of those present. If any part can be attributed to them, this renders posthumous research illusory.
If the influence of persons present at the séance can be eliminated, research becomes possible. But, again, we must not lose sight of our present knowledge of telepathy and forget that living people may transmit thought to a distance.
We see what care is necessary in the experimental study of spiritism.
We have already, in this volume, seen examples of such manifestations - among others, in our preliminary investigation, in the revelations of Monsieur Bossan's family, and in other cases in which the identity of the communicating spirit has seemed to us well established.
They are not things of to-day, these investigations in which the identity of the communicating spirits is discussed; investigations which lead to positive results. More than a quarter of a century ago Dr. Chazarain published, in
Le Progres spirite (Lyons), the following account:
Monsieur Honore Chavee was a distinguished anthropologist and linguist, and author of a remarkable book, valued by all the savants of the world: "The Indo-European Lexicology." He was Hovelacque's instructor in matters of linguistic erudition, and was one of the first lecturers who, with Flammarion, Jacolliot, Sarcey, Maria Deraisme, and others, used to speak in the lecture hall in the
boulevard des Capucines, at a time when Yves Henry whose physician and friend I was, was in charge of it. This was in 1866.
While attending his lectures I became acquainted with Monsieur Chavee, and entered into long-continued and friendly relations with him, which lasted until his death.
Monsieur Chavee believed in successive existences, but did not admit that it is possible for the dead to communicate with us. To explain spirit communications and the part played by mediums, he had evolved a most original theory, similar to that based on mental suggestion and the exteriorization of thought.
Madame Chavee had obtained, through Madame Rodiere as a medium (in 1862 she had served as Monsieur Flammarion's medium), a communication which seems to me to express her husband's ideas before he returned to his life in space.
Some days later I had gone to the home of one of my patients, Madame D
, who was in bed. I entered her room, in which were two of her friends, Mademoiselle
G and Madame V
, her housekeeper; they were seated at a table placed close beside her bed. Both were mediums and were at that moment engaged in spiritistic experiments. At once I decided to profit by the occasion and to evoke Chavee. It was simple curiosity on my part; I had no other idea.
The table having replied in the affirmative, Madame D
, sitting up in bed, wrote down the letters given by the rapping.
After the last letter, the table stopped; we asked whether the communication were ended. Since there was an affirmative reply,
Madame D wrote the spirit's name at the bottom of the sheet, spelling it in this way:
Chavet. She believed this spelling to be correct.
Scarcely had she finished when the table, on which our hands were still resting, began to move once more, and dictated these words: "That is not the way my name is spelled."
When Madame D had
had the pencil in her hand, I was about two meters away from her, on a level with her feet. Had I wished to do so, it would have been absolutely impossible for me to see what she had written. This was equally true of the other persons who had their hands on the table; they were, moreover, ignorant of the correct spelling.
No one of us, therefore, could have known that the name had been wrongly spelled when the table began to move, calling attention to the error.
Consequently, the medium could not have been warned, by thought-vibration on the part of the persons present, of the mistake that had been made, and could not have controlled the table.
I must inform you that the great linguist Honore Chavee could not bear, when he was alive, to have his name incorrectly written or his first name altered. His widow, to whom I showed the communication in question and the subsequent remark which the writer of it had dictated, cried at once: "All, that protest was just like him! Just think: when one of his compatriots and friends [Monsieur Chavee was a native of Namur] spoke of his books most eulogistically in a speech he made in Brussels, the newspapers of that city printed a report of the speech, giving his first name as Henri.
He was so annoyed by this error that he had scarcely finished reading the account in the Belgian newspaper when he sent a telegram protesting against the unintentional substitution; he wasn't willing to wait until evening to send a letter."
This furnished still another proof of the spirit's identity. It was because of the persistence, beyond the grave, of this original side of his character that he wished to call attention to the mistake that had been made. For this reason we have here, more or less by chance, an extremely clear proof of identity; its value is unquestionable. But I am inclined to believe that, while faithful to this peculiarity which made him, when alive, unable to bear any confusion of his name with any similar name whatsoever, even for a moment, he also availed himself, eagerly and joyfully, of an occasion to give us a rare proof of the identity of a spirit.
The best proof that these phenomena are not always caused by autosuggestion is the fact that they often occur without our willing it. For example, how many times do we not, at table-rapping
séances, demand vainly that an important message be continued! All those present wish ardently for a continuation, and despite all their waiting (it sometimes lasts a very long while) nothing happens. An
exterior will dominates us, or, at least, dominates our own conscious will. The beginning of a sentence is dictated, and we think we can guess the end of it; but not at all: it ends in another way. A word is begun: we believe we foresee what the last letters will be; but it is another word which is dictated. On a particular day we are in an especially receptive mood as regards communications; we wait for half an hour, an hour, two hours, without obtaining any results. On another day there are rappings, cracking noises; the table moves at once. There is here, plainly, a cause other than our consciousness.
All of us live, without knowing it, in a psychic environment we do not understand. The atmosphere contains not only chemical elements - oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic-acid gas, watery vapor, et cetera - but also psychic elements. Everywhere there are souls. There is a constant mingling of animism and spiritism in the experiments of which we are speaking; it is extremely difficult to separate them, to isolate them. Let us try to do this here, however.
Among the experiments which would lead us to believe in communication with spirits, I should like particularly to call my readers' attention to the following ones, because these were made during the very first years of modern spiritism, which had its inception in 1855. We are concerned here with unquestionable testimony: that of Judge Edmonds, who observed the phenomena in question in his own family, in the case of his daughter Laura.
Judge Edmonds was not a negligible witness. He enjoyed a considerable renown in the United States by reason of the exalted powers with which he was invested, at first as
President of the Senate, then as a member of the New York High Court of Appeal.
When his attention was drawn to spiritism he despised it with all the skepticism of a magistrate accustomed to dealing with uncertain human testimony. But after a conscientious inquiry he stated that he believed not merely that such occurrences took place, but also in the validity of the theory of spirits as an explanation.
The amazement and indignation of the best American society were so great that Judge Edmonds was forced to give up his work as a magistrate and tender his resignation. He sacrificed, unhesitatingly, his own personal interests to what he considered to be the truth. He showed in this a rare courage which we should do well to
admire; it lent weight to the affirmations of this early witness.
His daughter Laura had received a careful education. She was a fervent Catholic. Her spiritual adviser ordered her to renounce mediumistic research; she did this, and refused to be present at
séances, though the persons about her often held them.
But the dwelling in which she lived eventually became a sort of haunted house. Half a year had gone by in this way; she constantly heard strange sounds and witnessed phenomena no less strange occurring without apparent human intervention; phenomena which, nevertheless, seemed to be guided by some intelligent entity. Impelled by curiosity, she began, once more, to go to
séances. Soon she was convinced of the presence of an intelligent force, without knowing what this force could be. She began to speak various languages, though she knew besides her mother tongue only French, which she had learned at school. Her father stated that during this first year, in various circumstances, she spoke nine or ten languages, sometimes within an hour, with perfect case and fluency.
But let us listen to the judge himself:
With her as an intermediary, people who were perfect strangers to us could speak to their dead friends in their own languages. The following occurrence, among others, took place:
One evening I had a visit from a stranger, a Greek named Evangelides; it was not long before he was speaking to Laura in his own tongue. In the course of the conversation he seemed greatly affected, and even shed tears. Six or seven people were present, and one of them asked the reason for his emotion. The Greek avoided a direct reply, saying that it was a question of family matters.
On the next day he renewed his conversation with Laura, and since there were no strangers in my home this time, he gave us the desired explanation. The invisible personality with whom he was speaking, with Laura as an intermediary, said that he was an intimate friend, who had died in Greece: the brother of the Greek patriot Morco Bozarris. This friend informed Evangelides of the death of his (Evangelides's) son, who had stayed in Greece and had been in excellent health when his father left for America.
Ten days after his first visit Evangelides informed us that he had just received a letter telling him of the death of his son. This letter must have been on its way at the time of his first interview with Laura.
I should like to know how I should regard this occurrence. It is impossible to deny it; it was too startlingly evident. I might just as well deny that the sun shines upon us.
Nor could I consider it an illusion, for there was nothing to distinguish it from any other reality which one grows aware of at any time in one's life.
All this took place in the presence of from eight to ten persons, all of them educated, intelligent, logical, and as capable as any one of distinguishing an illusion from a real occurrence.
It would be vain to contend that it was the reflection of our own thoughts. We had never seen this man; he had been introduced to us by a friend on that very evening. Moreover, even supposing that our minds could have transmitted to him the idea that his son was dead, how could our thoughts have made Laura understand and speak Greek, a language which she had never heard?
J. W. EDMONDS
In giving this account
Aksakof(2), too, asks himself how it should be interpreted. If there ever was a case, he remarks, in which we might cite clairvoyance, this would be the one. But such an explanation could not apply, here. Laura saw Evangelides for the first time in her life. She knew absolutely nothing of his family, which was living in Greece, and still less of his deceased friend, Bozarris's brother. Where, then, can we discover the "intense interest" the "powerful motive," capable of rendering the medium clairvoyant, by which Hartmann claims to explain everything? And however perfect this young girl's clairvoyance might have been, how could it have given her the ability to speak Greek? Nor would it be logical to attribute to one source the gift of speaking Greek, and to another source the revelation of the child's death. Plainly, the two manifestations had one and the same cause.
(2) Animisme et Spiritisme, p. 419.
There is, in this case, a psychic element still to be isolated. Here is a similar story, also related by Judge Edmonds:
One day, an unknown entity caused my wife to speak the purest Scotch dialect. This entity had taken the name of a woman from Paisley, Scotland, who informed us of her death; she said that she had died in that town some days earlier. We learned that she was the grandmother of one of the members of our circle who had come to America about a year before. Three or four days afterward the same individuality manifested itself, using as a medium Miss Scongall, a young person from Rockfort, Illinois, who knows no Scotch at all. She announced her death through this young woman as well, speaking her usual dialect and giving various details as to the house in which she was living: the garden, the trees, etc. Miss Scongall had not been present at the first manifestation of this woman, and knew nothing about it. A young man who had a personal interest in the communication, asked various questions, that he might verify the identity of the entity manifesting itself. He sought information concerning certain people, - among others, those whom
he had known in Scotland, - and got replies that were satisfactory in every respect. The same spirit manifested itself at several consecutive
séances, and gave undeniable proofs of its identity.
The young man's conviction was so absolute that he wrote at once to his friends in Scotland and informed them of his grandmother's death, taking care to indicate the source of his information. The letters which he afterward received confirmed the news
Letters on Spiritualism (New York, 1860), pp. 118-120.
We have, therefore, in the foregoing, two similar occurrences: the death of a person completely unknown to the mediums, announced in a language with which the mediums were unacquainted, but which was spoken by the deceased person. These phenomena occurred during the period of the first experiments of modern spiritism.
We might give a large number of like cases in which the messages announcing the deaths of certain persons also revealed various details as to the deceased persons' private affairs, details which were entirely unknown to the others present. "Light" (Letter 1885, page 315) gave among other occurrences the following most remarkable one:
Dr. Davey, who was living near Bristol, had a
son - also a physician - residing in a foreign country. The son, who wished to return, left for England on an English vessel, bound for London. Instead of paying for his passage
he offered his services as ship's doctor; but he died in the course of the voyage. When the ship reached London the captain informed the father of this, and gave him the sum of twenty-two pounds sterling which he said he had found on the deceased man. He also gave him an excerpt from the ship's log-book, in which all these details were set down. Dr. Davey was touched by the captain's acts and gave him, as a remembrance, a gold pencil-holder.
Some months afterward the doctor and his wife were at a spiritistic séance in London. Several boisterous manifestations took place, such as the moving of furniture, rappings, et cetera. The medium, who was a woman, explained these phenomena as meaning that the spirits had a communication to make to one of the persons present. We wished to know which one it was. Then a large table, which no one was touching, and which was at the other end of the room, began to slide along and stopped very near Dr. Davey. We asked who was manifesting himself. The name spelled out was that of Dr. Davey's dead son. He declared, to every one's horror, that he had been poisoned!
The doctor, wishing to make sure of this person's identity, asked for a proof. Then the occult speaker told him of his gift to the captain, a thing which no one of the persons present could have known about. The doctor asked whether the poison had been administered intentionally or by accident. The reply was, "Both things are possible." It was stated, furthermore, that the sum of money left by the deceased was seventy and not twenty-two pounds sterling. Various other details were also given.
After receiving these communications, Dr. Davey had the ship owner give him a copy of the log-book; it did not agree with the excerpt which the captain had put into his hands.
In October, 1884, just before publishing this account, we wrote to Dr. Davey. Here is part of his reply:
"After my son's death (1863) I had occasion to take up spiritism. I learned, one day, at a séance held in London at which my son manifested himself, that the details as to his death, given by the captain, were not authentic. I found out that his death was due to the imprudence of a steward who had put extract of bitter almonds into his castor-oil instead of mint, as my son had requested. I knew nothing, beforehand, about all the pecuniary matters to which he alluded. Among the effects which were given me after my son's death were only twenty-two pounds sterling and several copper coins, but I have every reason to believe that at the moment of his death he had nearly seventy pounds sterling in his possession."
We are seeking to arrive at certainty. But in what science do we attain it, absolutely? Most of the time we attain only a high degree of probability, generally speaking, as an equivalent for certainty. This is true, above all, in ethical questions.
The following is a remarkable case, vouched for by absolutely trustworthy witnesses.
Dr. Vincent Gubernari, who had made his home on the pretty Arcetri Hill near Florence (all Galileo's admirers know of it), had been an orphan from his earliest years and had been brought up tenderly by his aunt, who had become a second mother to him.
He was a convinced materialist, and was, above all, completely skeptical where spiritism was concerned. He was nevertheless impressed by the fact that several of his friends, who were learned and well balanced, were taking certain experiments seriously. Desirous of learning the truth with his own eyes, he expressed a desire to try a
séance in his home.
Favored by fortune, he had married Signora Isabella Sergardi, a member of a patrician family in Siena, who had brought him a large dowry. The husband and wife had agreed that, in case either should die, the possessions of the deceased one should go to the other. Signora Isabella had already made her will with this provision, thinking that her husband had done likewise.
The doctor made an agreement with his spiritistic friends that he would be present at certain
séances, and would see what happened. Let us listen to the story(4):
(4) Bozzano, Luce e Ombra, Dec. 1919.
they held some séances. On the occasion of the second one, on October 29, 1874, the persons of the group had scarcely placed their hands on the table when it was violently shaken. The doctor demanded the disturber's name.
"Tua zia Rosa [Your Aunt Rosa]," was the answer.
Surprised, the doctor replied:
"Well, if you're really my good Aunt Rosa, help me in my profession and aid me to make money."
"I did not come for that. I came to advise you to change your way of life, and to think of your wife."
"Of my wife? I've already thought of her," the doctor answered boldly. "So much so that each of us has made a will in the other's favor."
"That is a lie," said the spirit, shaking the table violently. "She has left everything to you, but you have left her nothing."
It was then that Signora Gubernari, who was present at the séance, entered into the conversation. She declared that the spirit was mistaken and that her husband could prove it by showing his will to the friends then present.
Upon this interruption on the part of his wife, Dr. Gubernari, feeling himself compromised, answered that he was a conscientious man, but that he would show the will to no one.
Then the spirit, shaking the table still more violently, added:
"I tell you again that you are an impostor! Change your will, and change your life, too! You have no time to lose, for before many days have passed you will be in the spirit world."
This revelation was like a thunderbolt to the doctor. He was overwhelmed by it, and cried, in a rage:
"Die before my wife? It's impossible. I'm younger than she. To the devil with that table!"
The séance ended at this point.
The next day Colonel Maurizio, a friend of the doctor, saw that he was greatly agitated, and spoke to him of the deception often practised at spiritistic meetings, proposing that he verify the statements at another
séance at the home of Countess Passerini. This seemed to calm the doctor, and he awaited impatiently the upshot of the new experiment.
"There was no deception," the spirit stated at this new séance, "and what was said was the absolute truth."
"Therefore," they asked, "Dr. Gubernari must soon die?"
"Without any doubt, and before the end of the year."
That they might not increase the doctor's worry, they told him that there had been deception in this case also, and that he would be wrong to bother himself about it. This statement calmed his distress to such an extent that he found himself unable to understand the anguish which the prediction of his imminent death had caused him.
Nevertheless during the night of November 12th, he came down with a raging fever. The physicians stated that his illness was not serious, yet the patient suffered terribly.
His friends went to Countess Passerini's home, for a new séance.
A spirit manifested itself, and made this reply to the questions asked: "I understand nothing about medicine, but to do you a favor I can go and look for a spirit who followed that profession during his life on earth. Wait a minute."
A silence. After some moments the table moved once more:
"I have found the doctor; he is here; question him."
"What illness is Gubernari suffering from?"
''From a fatal disease. He will soon be one of us."
"Is his illness merely physical, or is it mental as well?"
"Both physical and mental."
"Can you tell us who you are?"
"My name is not unknown to you: Dr. Panattoni."(5)
(5) Dr. Panattoni was, when he was alive, a physician in Florence.
Some days later Signore Gubernari's colleagues, called into consultation, diagnosed his malady as inflammation of the bladder, and he succumbed on December 30, 1874.
This former skeptic, on his death-bed, stated that he saw, near him, Dr. Panattoni, who did not desert him for an instant, and also his mother and his Aunt Rosa, who tried to console him, and exhorted him not to regret leaving this earthly life. And he added: "What I say is the absolute truth; I feel it's the end, for me, and under such circumstances people don't lie."
This case seemed to me a most interesting one to give here. All conceivable scientific explanations are inadequate to explain it: the hypotheses that Signora Gubernari's, doubt was transmitted, that the doctor had an uneasy conscience, that there was telepathy, and so on. As for the first hypothesis, the doctor's wife showed that she had no doubt of his sincerity. As for the second, Signore Gubernari felt, assuredly, no remorse, and was astounded by his aunt's intervention. Was it a case of clairvoyance on the part of the medium, who might have read his thoughts? But the whole thing was absolutely unforeseen. And who knew of this "Aunt Rosa,"
Iong since dead? That it was telepathy would seem equally out of the question.
The spiritistic theory must be taken into consideration, like all the other theories, and is no less "scientific." Let us repeat that when Newton discovered the laws of gravitation he summarized his thought in these words: "Things behave as if the stars attracted each other by a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of their distance apart." Let us state, here, with equal simplicity: "Things behave, in the story we have just related, as if the doctor's aunt had really appeared to reproach him as he deserved, and to announce his death." And this explanation is the most satisfactory of all; let us admit this without any prejudice and say, with Newton,
"Hypotheses non fingo! I put forward no hypothesis, I merely state facts!"
Myers gave, as particularly conclusive evidence of survival after death, an experiment recorded by the
British Psychical Society (VIII, page 428). This was the case of Mrs. Finney's brother, who, some months before his death, made certain marks on a brick and, breaking it in two, gave half of it to his sister. He promised to tell her after his death, if he could, the spot where he intended to hide the other half, as well as the contents of a sealed letter concealed in the same place. After her brother's death Mrs. Finney received, by means of a table, the promised communication(1).
(6) Human Personality, p. 346.
We may think that Myers had sufficient reasons for considering this case conclusive, for his discussion of motor automatism shows that he had a tendency to dismiss the spiritistic explanation. He had written
(7) Idem, p. 313.
There is no reason to attribute the movements of a table to
my deceased grandfather's intervention, any more than to my own influence, for though we do not see how I could have caused these movements, we see no better how my grandfather could have done so. By my way of thinking, the most plausible explanation is that these replies were dictated not by the conscious mind, but by that deep and hidden region where fragmentary or incoherent dreams originate.
It was, assuredly, the precise realization of the dead man's promise which made Myers certain of the reality of this posthumous manifestation. He himself tried an experiment conducted on the assumption that he was already dead. It did not
(8) Oliver Lodge, The Survival of Man.
Official report, Dec. 13, 1904.
These manifestations from beyond the grave, through mediums, are the subject of much debate, and rightly so, for it is of the highest importance that their authenticity be proved. A remarkable example was also afforded by the case of Minot Savage. His dead son asked him, in the course of one of Mrs. Piper's
séances, to go to one of his (the son's) former dwelling-places, which the father did not know of, to look for certain papers hidden in a drawer, and to burn them. The father understood the reason for this. The extreme partizans of telepathy think that the son's subconscious mind might have acted, when he was alive, upon the father's mind, and have revealed the secret papers to him, and that Mrs. Piper might have read the father's subconscious mind. According to his extremely informative work on telepathy, Monsieur Warcollier considers this hypothesis preferable to that of influence on the part of the dead
son(9). It appears to me, however, the least probable explanation.
(9) R. Warcollier, La Telepathie, p. 335.
We were, assuredly, surprised, not many pages back, to read of a spirit going in search of a physician in the other world; but such quests are not infrequent in these strange experiments.
Proofs of identity are the touchstone of this research. They are as rare as they are difficult to obtain. Satisfactory, conclusive, unquestionable proofs are rarely met with. The following proofs were of a sort absolutely unlooked for. They were based on mutually consistent attestations published by the
British Society for Psychical Research. The account was given, recently, by the review
Psychica, and was published by Myers (Human Personality, Volume II, page 473), by Bozzano
(Les Phenomenes de hantisem, page 129), and by other competent writers. The story was told by an esteemed observer, Mr. Hodgson, and deserves to be classified with the preceding ones. Let us listen to this curious narration:
On Saturday evening, June 14, 1890, Sofia-Alida Kamp, a widow living in Wymberg (Wolf Street), her daughter, Alida Sofia, and Miss Catherine Mahoney, who was living in the same house, went to bed about eleven o'clock, and from that moment to dawn were not able to sleep because of the strange noises which they heard. They could not discover what caused them, though they searched the farthest corners of the house.
The next morning they told me of these sounds. They had heard stools being rolled heavily in their rooms, noises of empty boxes being dragged across the attic, though it contained nothing by which these sounds might have been explained. Upon their request I consented to go and spend the night in their house (Sunday, June 15th).
The narrator then goes on to say that, before he went to bed, he suddenly thought of improvising a "mediumistic
séance" in his room, and of inviting the ladies in question to take part in it. When they were seated about the table the name "Lewis" was dictated, by rappings, and shortly afterward the words: "It is a warning." The
séance then ended. Here is the rest of the story:
After I had gone to bed, I kept my candle lighted until after midnight, that I might finish a novel in which I was interested. Then I fell asleep.
About two o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the noise of a chair being dragged heavily about in the room in which I was sleeping. This noise was succeeded by another: that of a heavy body being pulled about the attic floor. There was such an uproar that it would have awakened any one. And, as a matter of fact, I heard Miss Kamp's voice asking me, from her room, what this noise could be.
I heard a box of matches fall down very near me.
I got up, out of curiosity, and groped for this box, which I had put on the candlestick, but was not able to find it. I had a second box of matches and was therefore able to light the candle. Then I saw that the other box was on the floor, two feet away from the candlestick.
Now begins the strangest part of this business. Up to that time not one of us had been able to guess for what motives an individual named Lewis should disturb our sleep. We were all the more perplexed from the fact that none of us had ever had anything to do with people of this name. On Monday morning, June 16th, I opened the newspaper I habitually read, - "The Cape Times," - and among other news I read that on the evening of the fourteenth, at forty-five minutes past eight, an
unknown man had been killed by a moving train, near Woodstock. It did not occur to any of us that the mysterious noises might be attributed to this accident.
The Tuesday edition of this same newspaper printed the records of the inquest, from which it appeared that the victim was unknown. That evening I was seated in the Kamps' shop, when a negress came in. In the course of her conversation with Mrs. Kamp, she asked: "Have you heard about the man who was killed by a train on Saturday evening?" - "Yes," Mrs. Kamp answered, "but they don't know who he is".
"I knew him," the negress replied. "He lived in my sister's home, and his name was Jim Lewis." When we heard this name we all thought that we had the key to the mystery. We thought so for the following simple reasons:
(1) A man had been killed at forty-five minutes past eight on the evening of June 14th.
(2) Mrs. Kamp had closed her shop at ten o'clock; she had gone to bed at eleven o'clock, and at that moment the noises had begun.
(3) None of us knew of the accident until we learned of it through the newspapers - that is to say, on the morning of the sixteenth.
(4) Before the night of the fourteenth no nocturnal noises had ever been heard in Mrs. Kamp's house.
(5) The disturbing spirit, on the night of the fifteenth, had given the name "Lewis."
Unquestionably, these arguments were enough to convince us. Out of curiosity, we held still another
séance that evening. The name "Lewis" was again dictated, together with this message, "I cannot find peace until they succeed in identifying my body!' He answered our repeated questions by declaring that he was the spirit of the man who was killed by the moving train." He said that his name was Lewis.
This account was supplemented by the following attestation:
All of us declare that this account is in perfect conformity with the truth. - FREDERICK HODGSON, SOPHIA ALIDA KAMP, ALIDA SOPHIA KAMP, KATE MAHONEY, C. F.
KAMP, J. S. KAMP.
It appears to me that this spontaneous occurrence leaves nothing to be desired as a proof of identity. To attribute it, in all its details, to unknown human faculties, would seem to me absolutely out of the question.
Without Prolonging endlessly our discussion of this subject (a subject which has already taken up six hundred pages of
Les Forces naturelles inconnues) I shall end this chapter concerning manifestations during the course of spiritistic
séances and proofs of identity, with the following story, which is astounding, unbelievable, and yet real. The observer himself told it:
How many of the four of us who were together that evening are still of this world? Life has separated us. The war came. On
two occasions I had news of the three others; one died at Sedul-Bahr, when lie was leading his company of Senegalese in an attack
on the Turkish positions. If one of my other two friends should happen to see these lines, this reminiscence will certainly awaken a
deep emotion in his breast, for there are things which one never forgets, and the message which we received on that day is one of
As for me, my agitation was the beginning of a salutary moral evolution, which brought me faith, calmness, and serenity.
It was in 1904, in Toulon, when the entrance examinations for the Military School were being held. We had returned from the colonies, and had gone to the barracks of the Fourth Regiment of Marines. In this way we found one another again - three from Madagascar and one from Africa. We lived on the same floor, in the rue de la Republique. In the evenings we used to gather in the room of one of us, to work or to talk and drink tea.
A friend lived in the same house in which we were. One fine evening we went into his room, for he had invited us to a
table-turning séance. The evening party was a gay one, and we received a multitude of revelations as to the contents of our pocket-books, the number of buttons which each of us had on his trousers, and the numbers on our watch-cases. One of us, who had mislaid his watch, found it again, thanks to the numbers stamped on the gold watchcase.
Every evening there arose in our conversations the question whether in what we had seen, proved, experimented with, there was something supernormal: the manifestation of an intelligent entity, apart from that which we agreed to call the soul of each of the persons taking part. Can the mingling of fluids emanating from the organisms of several human beings produce another intelligent soul, which has access to our inmost consciousness, can read numbers in our pockets, and count pieces of money in our purses, the contents of which we do not know? Or is all that the marvelous feat of a clever conjurer or a potent trickster? - a trick which may deprive a whole gathering of the power of reasoning, of memory, and of feeling? Can the trickster draw from every one present everything he wishes to know, and, waking his subjects once more, restore each person's self-control, and astonish us with the result of his robbery of our pockets and our thoughts?
Or can there be really a manifestation on the part of a disembodied soul and for that reason could we find in life, once again, an object, an ideal, a driving force?
Such were the deep thoughts which glowed in our minds and lifted us to dizzy heights!
How could we know?
Why not ask this unknown thing to answer the question which was burning on our lips: "Who are you! Where did you come from?"
One evening we gathered in my room, about a small, round, three-legged table. We had placed this table in the very center of the room, with only our four chairs around it; all the other furniture had been moved away. We examined everything, so that we could see that there could be no tricks, and that no strings were tied to anything. On the mantelpiece were two lighted lamps.
We promised one another that we would do nothing either to help or to hinder anything that might take place, and sat down, with our hands flat on the table, forming a continuous chain with our fingers.
Ten minutes passed without anything happening. We were serious, and in a rather painful state, perhaps (at least I was), but were not in the least nervous. I was praying, under my breath: "If there is really something beyond terrestrial life, may a gleam come to us from this unknown source of light."
Suddenly, within the table - in the wood of the table, seemingly - a sharp blow was struck. We looked at one another. This cracking noise seemed to me so characteristic, of such a special kind, that the idea that it might have been caused by one of my three friends did not occur to me, and I felt a shiver run through me from head to foot.
Soon another sharp blow was struck; the table rose on two of its legs and struck three very distinct blows. I had the feeling that the cracking noise could not have been caused by any of us, but that the movement of the table, in striking the floor with one of its legs, might have been so caused, and without a doubt we all had the same thought: that perhaps without wishing to, one or the other of us, bearing down too hard, had pulled the table toward him.
We confided these thoughts to one another, honestly, and then decided to make use of the alphabet, and agreed that the various letters should be designated by the number of blows. After stipulating, besides this, that one blow should mean "no" and two blows should mean "yes," we sat down again.
It was not long before the table tilted again. I asked:
"Is this table being moved?"
"May I know who is moving it?"
"Spirit? The spirit of whom? - of one of us?"
"Have you a name?"
The blows had been struck distinctly, and the letters designated without any mistake. One of the party, even if we had not been watching him, could not have made the table rap with such precision. In a painful state, we looked at one another, without daring to say anything. The table answered some questions as to the existence of the soul after death, and as to certain great moral and religious subjects; it stated the dominant defect of each one of us, and advised: "Read 'Fleurs du Mal [Flowers of Evil].'"
All this time the rappings had been sharp. We were growing accustomed to this long and difficult mode of conversation. At times we would guess a word before it was finished, would utter it, and the table would rap out, more sharply, "Yes." We sometimes guessed the wrong word, and the quick, jerky blows seemed to express the impatience of the spirit who was speaking to us; they were somewhat like.. "No, no! No, no! No, no!"
After a silence the table said, of itself, "Jacquot doubts!"
"Why, yes, I do doubt!" cried Jacquot, getting up. "Haven't all of you doubts?"
No one answered, and the table rapped out, "Kammara!"
Only three of us had our hands on the table; Jacquot had gone over to the mantelpiece and had put his elbows on it. These seven letters meant nothing to us three. I asked that they be repeated, and said to Jacquot: "Get a pencil and take this down; it
is growing complicated."
And the table said once more, "Kammara!"
But then something happened which froze us with terror and made us rise suddenly and leave the table. Scarcely had the last letter of the word been rapped out when Jacquot, who had written it down, advanced toward the table. I had never seen him so pale; his voice was raucous, though he had had a mocking, almost joking air before. He said, "Lieutenant, when you ordered me to stay, did you know of the danger?" - "Yes!" - "But, then, why did you tell Ravan to lead the men? It was my turn." - "Because I was fond of you."
We three from Madagascar witnessed this scene without understanding it. We felt only that something fearful was happening before our eyes. Our comrade, who had been skeptical a short time before, was standing before the table, and speaking to it respectfully, as he would have spoken to a real person, and the table, which we had left suddenly, was moving of itself, rapping replies which we spelled out, mentally, letter by letter.
It was terrible!
The dialogue went on, and we learned in this way that Lieutenant
Maucorge was speaking; he had been in command of the military post of Kammara, in western Africa, where he had under him the French non-commissioned officers Ravan and Jacquot, our friend. Since the lieutenant was fond of Jacquot, and knew that a reconnoitering expedition, which was to be made, was dangerous, he had chosen Sergeant Ravan to accompany him, leaving Sergeant Jacquot at the army post. He went away and never came back. The whole of the reconnoitering party was massacred; the bodies of the two white men were not found.
Before us, the lieutenant told his former comrade the story of the ambuscade in which he and Ravan were wounded. Both were roasted and eaten by their cannibal foes; the infantrymen were massacred, and no one ever knew what had happened. The guilty native chiefs would not be found, and this somber drama of the African brush was forgotten. The lieutenant gave our comrade the names of the traitorous and rebellious chiefs; he stated where his and Ravan's revolvers might be found, and Ravan's watch.
On that evening in February, 1904, we lived through hours which we shall never forget. When he had told his story, this entity went away; Baudelaire returned to say that he was fond of Jacquot, that he would always come back when he called him, and that we, too, had in him a familiar spirit and a protector. Then we parted company.
The examinations were held. Three out of the four of us entered Saint-Maixent that year. I, the fourth, went to Indo-China, where I served with the Native Guard.
Some years later, in Saigon, I saw one of my three friends, and we talked of the past. I learned that, through information given by Lieutenant Jacquot to the Ministry of War, Lieutenant Maucorge's weapons and watch had been found, and Sergeant Ravan's weapons. They were discovered in the hands of the black chiefs who had planned and carried out the ambuscade in which a part of the Kammara garrison perished.
I have never seen Jacquot since, but the message from his former commander, who was fond of him and wished to banish all doubt from his mind, gave him back, most certainly, his faith in the immortality of the soul. And it gave him, as it did me, the courage to live on, doing a little good, and waiting for the blessed hour when we, too, shall step over the threshold of this new life, which will be what we know how to make it. There is, in the spontaneous manifestation of Lieutenant Maucorge's soul, a fine example of communication with the dead, and a convincing proof of identity.
It is as a proof of this sort that I am giving the story. I guarantee its truth, so far as I can answer for my memory, and I assure you that that past scene is always in my mind. When I recall it, I still feel a little of the intense agitation which it aroused in all four of us, who witnessed it.
P. DE LA FONTAINE
This fantastic story was published in the
Revue spirite of July, 1920. I thought at first that it must be taken only for what it was worth. I sought information as to the narrator, and when my first inquiry had virtually satisfied me, I asked Monsieur Jean Myer, the editor of this review, for his personal opinion. He was the founder of the Metaphysical Institute, is an unbiased thinker, and - something that does not lessen intellectual
worth - is upright and a generous philanthropist. This was in February, 1921. His reply, dated February 18th, was as follows: "I knew Monsieur de la Fontaine personally; he died eight days ago. You may consider his story authentic."
It seems to me that all the objections that may be brought up on the score of forgotten recollections, and the subconscious
mind - any objections whatsoever - could not disprove the identity of the spirit which manifested itself in this case. I could not say the same of the spirit of Baudelaire.
As regards testimony concerning the identity of the spirits manifesting themselves, I should like to bring to the attention of readers of psychic works the information given by Jules Baissac in my friend Eugene Nus's book
A la recherche des destinees (1890), page 223, and the testimony that may be read on page 128 of G. Bourniquel's book
Les temoins posthumes (1921). But, as a matter of fact, there is a whole library concerning these occurrences, infinite in their
(10) Among the latest books to be published, Madame Lacombe's is noteworthy,
Merveilleux phenomenes de l'Au-dela (Lisbon, 1921).
This chapter, which began with clearly defined manifestations occurring during the first years of spiritism and gave, as a final example, a very recent case, must end here. It has given us clear proofs that in the course of certain mediumistic experiments dead persons have made their presence known. I have, in both an unpublished and a printed form, ten, twenty times as much testimony. It is of the deepest interest, above all from the point of view of the psychic environment, about which we must learn, but there is no place for it in a single chapter. Baffling obscurities must be cleared up before we can eliminate entirely the influence of the subconscious mind. Spiritism either will or will not become scientific. It must be transformed, and the time for this has come. As we remarked in the first lines of this chapter, most of its adepts have, until now, been the dupes of senseless illusions. When one asks a student of these problems, who is convinced of the reality of psychic manifestations, the question: "Are you a spiritist?" it would be wise to come to an understanding. Certain lecturers are of the opinion that spiritism is represented by incidents such as the following:
Knock, knock, knock!
"Dear spirit! Is that really you, Napoleon?"
"Yes. What do you wish?"
"It would be so good of you if you'd go and find the Virgin Mary for us, for we want to ask her for some information about the apparitions of Lourdes."
"All right, my friends. Wait a minute."
Knock, knock, knock!
"Is this the Virgin Mary?"
"No, she's busy. But here's Messalina."
I know spiritists so credulous that they believe in communications of this sort!
If this is what is called being a spiritist, we can say that we are not spiritists. But metaphysical research is quite another thing. From this time on such credulity must cease.
The pages already read are numerous and very closely packed. They contain a considerable number of documents: the basic material for the new science. I have already greatly overtaxed my readers' patience, and it is time to end this general exposition, that we may arrive at conclusions.
The article above was taken from Camille Flammarion's "Death and Its
Mystery - After Death. Manifestations and Apparitions of the Dead; The Soul
After Death" Translated by Latrobe Carroll (1923, T. Fisher Unwin,
Ltd. London: Adelphi Terrace.)