Dr. Raynor C. Johnson

Obtained a First Class in the final Honour School of Natural Science, then worked under Professor T. R. Merton, FRS, in the field of spectroscopy, and continued this research at the Queen's University of Belfast, where he was appointed Lecturer in Physics in 1923. In 1927 he left Belfast for a Lectureship in the University of London, King's College. He was awarded the Doctorate in Science of this University. In 1934 he was appointed Master of Queen's College in the University of Melbourne.

Apparitions and Hauntings

 - Raynor C. Johnson -

"In the collection of facts, one cannot be over-cautious. But in the invention of theories, especially in a field so peculiar as ours, where analogies drawn from the existing sciences are almost useless, a canny and sober circumspection would be the greatest mistake. If people accuse us of being speculative and even 'metaphysical' we must refuse to be frightened... The phenomena with which we are concerned are so peculiar, and so unlike those visible and tangible facts which ordinary language is designed to deal with, that the right theory of them is bound to seem nonsense when first propounded."
Professor H. H. Price (in his Presidential address to the S.P.R., 1939).

"Telepathy demands a revolution in current ideas about human personality; and precognition demands a revolution in current ideas about time. In general, the entire outlook necessitated by the findings of psychical research breaks up the naive realism in which the human mind is steeped and shows it to be largely illusory; and I suggest that the distaste for psychical phenomena is mainly due to a half-conscious instinct which prompts people to rally in defence of common-sense realism. It is, in a sense, a reaction to defend a creed... Before we can realise that psychical facts fit naturally in the complete scheme of things, we must realise also that this psychologically ingrained view does not tell us the ultimate truth about the world, but is a peculiar system of appearances got up to serve a practical end."
(in the F. W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture, 1942).

1. Introduction

          STORIES of apparitions and ghosts are as old as humanity. It may be a matter of surprise to the student of science who is unacquainted with the literature of psychical research, that a subject which seems so obviously the product of popular credulity and superstition and a happy hunting-ground for the short-story writer, merits our careful consideration. It has been the business of psychical research to attempt to sift truth from error, and the interested student can today study the records of many hundreds of reports which have been checked and counter-checked so far as this was possible. One of the earliest collections of this kind was the book Phantasms of the Living by Gurney, Myers and Podmore, published in 1886. A further collection of 200 cases is given by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick(1), covering the period 1886-1920. H. and E. B. Hart made a shorter study of selected cases in 1933(2) Sir Ernest Bennett published fifty new cases in 1939 in a book entitled Apparitions and Haunted Houses. Various representative selections from these sources have been published, of which that by A. T. Baird(3) is a good example. The student of these will possibly feel like the sceptical Professor Richet, who said that although he doubted almost every case individually, he was nevertheless impressed, probably quite illogically, by the massed evidence.

(1) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 33, Part 86, pp. 23-429 (1923).
(2) Ibid., Vol. 41, Part 130, PP. 205-49 (1933).
(3) One Hundred Cases for Survival after Death (T. W. Werner Laurie, 1943).

In 1890 an attempt was made to discover by a census how widespread was personal experience of this para-normal kind. The question circulated was "Have you ever, when believing yourself to be completely awake, had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice; which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?" The question was framed to exclude dreams. Of 17,000 persons questioned, 1,684 or 9.9% answered "yes". A similar census in 1948 which elicited 1,519 replies showed that 217 or 14.3% answered "yes . The data were analysed from many different standpoints. The 1890 census showed, for example, that 32% of the hallucinations were of living persons, 14.3% of dead persons and 33.2% of unidentified persons; the comparable figures for the later survey were 40.5%, 9.0% and 27.5%. Contrary to popular ideas, apparitions of the living substantially outnumber those of the dead. Analysis of the senses affected showed(4): visual, 54.8%; visual combined with auditory or tactile, 11.6%; auditory, 25.6%; tactile, 7.1%; auditory and tactile, 0.9%.

(4) Jour. S.P.R., Vol. 34, p. 187, March 1948.

The most outstanding contribution made to the subject, apart from the labours of those who collected and checked the original records, seems to me that of G. N. M. Tyrrell(5), who in 1942 delivered the F. W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture on "Apparitions". To this valuable survey, classification and analysis, the present chapter is greatly indebted. For purposes of illustration I shall give a number of examples of apparitions in each of the four classes which Tyrrell found it convenient to recognise: (a) Experimentally produced apparitions, (b) Crisis cases, (c) Post-mortem cases and (d) Hauntings.

(5) Published by S.P.R., 31 Tavistock Square, London.

2. Experimental Cases

It may be a matter of some surprise to the reader that there should be cases of apparitions initiated consciously by a living agent. While these are relatively few in number, they may be of considerable importance for an understanding of their nature and origin. Tyrrell's views, stated very simply, are that apparitions are telepathically caused by an agent, but are constructed jointly with certain mental levels of the percipient. We do in fact find innumerable stages between vague feelings and fully fledged apparitions affecting several senses. The accounts given below as examples are abbreviated, but references will allow the student to go back to the sources for detail.

Case 1. Mr. S. H. Beard(6). S. H. Beard was known to Sir William Barrett and friends of W. T. Stead as a man of high character. He strongly willed to make his presence felt in a certain bedroom three miles away, where two sisters, Miss L. S. Verity (aged 25) and Miss E. C. Verity (aged 11), slept. The older was terrified to see S. H. B. standing at her bedside in evening dress, and woke her sister, who also saw the apparition at the time when S. H. B. was experimenting. The older sister spoke of her experience to S. H. B. spontaneously some four days later.

(6) Phantasms of the Living, Vol. I, pp. 104-8.

About a year later another similar experiment was successful. S. H. B. strongly concentrated about 9.30 p.m. on the interior of the house at Kew in which Miss V. and her two sisters then lived. He says:

"During this experiment I must have fallen into a mesmeric sleep, for although I was conscious I could not move my limbs. I did seem to have lost the power of moving them, but I could not make the effort to do so... At 10 p.m. I regained my normal state by effort of will... When I went to bed on this same night, I determined that I would be in the front bedroom of the above-mentioned house at 12 p.m. and remain there until I had made my spiritual presence perceptible to the inmates."

He continues:

"On the next day I went to Kew to spend the evening, and met there a married sister of Miss V. [This was Mrs. L., whom he had only met once two years previously and for a short time.] In the course of conversation, although I did not think for a moment of asking her any questions on the subject, she told me that on the previous night she had seen me distinctly on two occasions. At about half-past nine she had seen me in the passage going from one room to another, and at 12 p.m., when she was wide awake, she had seen me enter the bedroom and walk round to where she was lying and take her hair (which is very long) into my hand. She also told me that the apparition took hold of her hand, and gazed intently into it, whereupon she spoke saying, 'You need not look at the lines, for I have never had any trouble'. She then awoke her sister, Miss V., who was sleeping with her, and told her about it. After hearing this account, I took the statement which I had written down on the previous evening, from my pocket, and showed it to some of the persons present, who were much astonished, although incredulous. I asked Mrs. L. if she was not dreaming at the time of the latter experience, but this she stoutly denied, and stated that she had forgotten what I was like, but seeing me so distinctly she recognised me at once."

Several points may be noted. The agent's apparition appeared to Mrs. L., whom he did not know to be there, the mutual association being slight. Moreover, the apparition behaved in a way the agent had not purposed or imagined (walking in the passage, holding her hair and her hand and speaking). Such details may be of importance in formulating any theory of the nature of apparitions. Mr. B. made another experiment on March 22nd, 1884, informing Mr. E. Gurney by letter of his intention to try to appear and touch Miss V.'s hair. On April 2nd, calling upon Miss V., she informed him that on March 22nd, while wide awake, she had seen a most vivid and unmistakable apparition of him coming towards her and stroking her hair. Miss V.'s sister signed a statement that she had been told about this before Mr. B. called.

The two following cases are abbreviated from F. W. H. Myers(7).

(7) F. W. H. Myers: Human Personality, Vol. I, pp. 690-700 (Longmans, Green & Co., 1903); or Proc. S.P.R., Vol. X, P. 270.

Case 2. Mr. Kirk. Each night from June 10th to June 20th, between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., without giving any indication to his friend Miss G. of the experiment, Mr. Kirk endeavoured to make himself visible to her by an act of concentration. He was particularly careful to drop no hint of these experiments, and remarks that each time Miss G. called at his house during this period she complained of being sleepless and restless from an uneasy feeling which she was unable to describe or account for. On June 23rd he heard he had succeeded on an occasion when he might not have expected to. The experiment was made at his office on the spur of the moment, on the afternoon of June 11th.

"I had been rather closely engaged on some auditing work, which had tired me, and as near as I can remember, the time was between 3.30 and 4 p.m. that I laid down my pencil, stretched myself, and in the act of doing the latter I was seized with the impulse to make a trial on Miss G. I did not of course know where she was at the moment, but with a flash, as it were, I transferred myself to her bedroom. I cannot say why I thought of that spot, unless it was that I did so because my first experiment had been made there. As it happened, it was what I must call a 'lucky shot', for I caught her at the moment she was lightly sleeping in her chair, a condition which seems to be peculiarly favourable to receiving and externalising telepathic messages."

Mr. Kirk was impressed by the fact that Miss G. described him as wearing a dark-reddish check suit, which he was in fact wearing at the office, although it was unusual for him to do so. Miss G.'s account is:

"A peculiar occurrence happened to me on the Wednesday of the week before last. In the afternoon (being tired by a morning walk), while sitting in an easy-chair near the window of my own room, I fell asleep. At any time I happen to sleep during the day (which is but seldom) I invariably awake with tired uncomfortable sensations, which take some little time to pass off; but that afternoon, on the contrary, I was suddenly quite wide awake, seeing Mr. Kirk standing near my chair, dressed in a dark-brown coat, which I had frequently seen him wear. His back was towards the window, his right hand towards me; he passed across the room towards the door, which is opposite the window, the space between being 15 feet, the furniture so arranged as to leave just that centre clear; but when he got about 4 feet from the door which was closed, he disappeared... I then thought, knowing he must be at the office at the time I saw him (which was quite as distinctly as if he had been really in the room), that in this instance, at least, it must be purely imaginary, and feeling so sure it was only fancy, resolved not to mention it, and did not do so until this week when, almost involuntarily, I told him about it. Much to my astonishment, Mr. Kirk was very pleased with the account, and asked me to write it, telling me that on that afternoon, feeling rather tired, he put down his pen for a few moments, and, to use his own words, 'threw himself into this room'. He also told me he had purposely avoided this subject in my presence lately, that he might not influence me, but was anxiously hoping I would introduce it. I feel sure I had not been dreaming of him, and cannot remember that anything had happened to cause me even to think of him that afternoon before falling asleep."

Mrs. Sidgwick interviewed Miss G., who was confident she was awake: it was as if she had wakened up to see the apparition, but had not been dreaming of Mr. Kirk. The apparition did not look towards her or appear to take any interest in her.

Case 3. Wesermann's Experiments. H. M. Wesermann had made numerous attempts to transfer mental images to sleeping friends - i.e., to impress dreams upon them. He had been successful in four previous cases. The experiment described below resulted in an apparition. The intention in Wesermann's mind was that in a dream, a lady who had been dead five years should appear to Lieut.   n and incite him to good deeds. Contrary to expectation, Lieut.   n had not gone to bed at the time of the experiment, but was discussing the French campaign with his friend Lieut. S    in an ante-room. Lieut.   n said that suddenly the door of the room opened, the lady entered, dressed in white with a black kerchief and uncovered head. greeted S    with her hand three times in a friendly manner, then turned to    n, nodded to him and returned through the doorway. Lieut. S    gave the following written account of the incident:

"Herr    n came to pay me a visit at my lodgings about a league from A   . He stayed the night with me. After supper, and when we were both undressed, I was sitting on my bed and Herr    n was standing by the door of the next room on the point also of going to bed. This was about half-past ten. We were speaking partly about indifferent subjects and partly about the events of the French campaign. Suddenly the door opened without a sound, and a lady entered, very pale, taller than Herr    n, about five feet four inches in height, strong and broad of figure, dressed in white, but with a large black kerchief which reached to below the waist. She entered with bare head, greeted me with the hand three times in complimentary fashion, turned round to the left towards Herr    n, and waved her hand to him three times; after which the figure quietly, and again without any creaking of the door, went out. We followed at once in order to discover whether there was any deception, but found nothing. The strangest thing was this, that our night-watch of two men, whom I had shortly before found on the watch, were now asleep, though at my first call they were on the alert, and that the door of the room, which always opens with a good deal of noise, did not make the slightest sound when opened by the figure"(8).

(8) F. W. H. Myers, loc. cit., p. 699.

It is scarcely necessary to say that the dead woman had nothing to do with the apparition. Wesermann describes it as a "dream in the waking state", but this is not very helpful so long as we remain ignorant of the mechanism of dream production. Tyrrell regards the case as on a par with other apparitional cases, except that the agent's own apparition was replaced by another figure. He points out that Wesermann did not know there were two possible percipients, and would naturally have assumed that Lieut.    n was at home in his own bedroom. The whole drama was thus inevitably a joint creation or production in which certain levels of the three minds were acting together.

3. Crisis Cases

Here a living agent is the involuntary cause of the apparition.

Case 4. Hon. Miss K. Ward(9).

(9) Proc. S.P.R., Vol 33, p. 255. Mrs. Sidgwick's paper.

"Two years ago, on awaking one morning at 8 o'clock, I saw a distinct appearance of my sister Emily, seated at the foot of my bed in her night-gown. She was rocking herself backwards and forward, as if in pain. Putting out my hand to touch her, the phantasm vanished. Going into my sister's room half an hour later, I related to her my experience, and she (being still in much pain) informed Me that at 8 o'clock she had actually been in the position above described on her own bed and had meditated coming into my room, but had not liked to disturb me. (She had been perfectly well the night before.) My sister's room is at some distance from mine, being divided there from by a corridor and cross-door."

Case 5. Mr. Kearne(10). Mr. Kearne, who was the percipient, had lived for some years with two intimate friends, Alfred Hobday and Arthur Bent. He was expecting them back about 10 p.m. from a musical tour of the provinces and was sitting reading about 10.50 p.m.

(10) F. W. H. Myers: loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 672; or Jour. S.P.R., Vol. 7, p. 25.

"I had read some twenty minutes or so, was thoroughly absorbed in the book, my mind was perfectly quiet, and for the time being my friends were quite forgotten, when suddenly, without a moment's warning, my whole being seemed roused to the highest state of tension or aliveness, and I was aware, with an intenseness not easily imagined by those who have never experienced it, that another being or presence was not only in the room but close to me. I put my book down, and although my excitement was great, I felt quite collected and not conscious of any sense of fear. Without changing my position, and looking straight at the fire, I knew somehow that my friend A. H. was standing at my left elbow, but so far behind me as to be hidden by the arm-chair in which I was leaning back. Moving my eyes round slightly without otherwise changing my position, the lower portion of one leg became visible, and I instantly recognised the grey-blue material of trousers he often wore, but the stuff appeared semi-transparent, reminding me of tobacco smoke in consistency(11). I could have touched it with my hand without moving more than my left arm. With that curious instinctive wish not to see more of such a 'figure', I did no more than glance once or twice at the apparition and then directed my gaze steadily at the fire in front of me. An appreciable space of time passed - probably several seconds in all, but seeming in reality much longer - when the most curious thing happened. Standing upright between me and the window on my left, and at a distance of about four feet from me and almost immediately behind my chair, I saw perfectly distinctly the figure of my friend - the face very pale, the head slightly thrown back, the eyes shut, and on one side of the throat, just under the jaw, a wound with blood on it. The figure remained motionless with the arms close to the sides, and for some time, how long I cannot say, I looked steadily at it; then all at once roused myself, turned deliberately round, the figure vanished, and I realised instantly that I had seen the figure behind me without moving from my first position, - an impossible feat physically. I am perfectly certain I never moved my position from the first appearance of the figure as seen physically, until it disappeared on my turning round."

(11) The trousers of grey-blue stuff proved to be what A. H. wore the evening the vision was seen.

Mr. Kearne described his anxiety for the following forty-five minutes, until at 11.35 p.m. a hansom cab drew up. A. B. came upstairs and said, "Come and see A. H.; what a state he is in!" They found him in the bathroom with collar and shirt torn open, bathing a wound under his jaw which was bleeding. It appeared that they had been to a restaurant after arriving in London, that A. H. had complained of feeling faint from the heat of the place, and going out into the fresh air had fainted and fallen forward, striking his jaw on the edge of the kerb. Mr. Kearne calculated, from the distance and average speed of a cab, that this incident must have been within about three minutes of the time of appearance of the apparition. He refers to the curious mental sympathy between A. H. and himself by which they were often aware of each other's thoughts, and often each aware of the proximity of the other prior to seeing him.

Case 6. M. J. and J. Pedley(12). This is a collective case, the apparition of the dying mother being seen ten hours before her death and again three months later, on the night before her baby's death.

(12) Sir Ernest Bennett: Apparitions and Haunted Houses, p. 26 (Faber & Faber, 1939).

"A friend of mine named Mrs. J. died in November 1877; she had been confined just over a week. A few days before she died she said to me, 'I am going to die', and asked me to take care of her baby, which I did until it died three months after. The night before she died we were awakened between twelve and one o'clock by a noise like tapping at the window twice. My husband got up and went downstairs but could see nothing. So we tried to settle to sleep again, when all of a sudden we were alarmed by our little boy, who was not quite two years old, calling out 'Auntie', by which name he used to call her, and pointing towards the foot of the bed, and there I saw her, standing all in white. She died the next morning between nine and ten. She appeared again a second time about three months later: it would be about midnight. My husband saw her standing by the fire. At first he thought it was I, until he turned round and saw I was in bed. We were very much frightened for a long time after. The baby died the next day about three o'clock in the afternoon."

4. Post-Mortem Cases

Here the simplest hypothesis, though not the only one, is that a discarnate agent is responsible for the apparition in the same way that an incarnate or living person was I responsible for those previously recorded. Of the modus operandi, we have not as yet said anything.

Case 7. Lord Brougham(13). Lord Brougham, aged twenty-one, was travelling in Sweden with friends.

(13) Wm., Lord Brougham: Life and Times of Henry, Lord Brougham (1871).

"We set out for Gothenburg, determining to make for Norway. About one o'clock in the morning, arriving at a decent inn, we decided to stop for the night. Tired with the cold of yesterday, I was glad to take advantage of a hot bath before I turned in, and here a most remarkable thing happened to me - so remarkable that I must tell the story from the beginning.

"After I left the High School, I went with G., my most intimate friend, to attend the classes in the University. There was no divinity class, but we frequently in our walks discussed and speculated upon many grave subjects - among others, on the immortality of the Soul, and on a future state. This question, and the possibility, I will not say of ghosts walking, but of the dead appearing to the living, were subjects of much speculation; and we actually committed the folly of drawing up an agreement, written in our blood, to the effect that whichever of us died first should appear to the other, and thus solve any doubts we had entertained of the life after death. After we had finished our classes at the college, G. went to India, having got an appointment there in the Civil Service. He seldom wrote to me, and after a lapse of a few years I had almost forgotten him; moreover, his family having little connection with Edinburgh, I seldom saw or heard anything of them, or of him through them, so that all this schoolboy intimacy died out, and I had nearly forgotten his existence. I had taken, as I have said, a warm bath, and while lying in it and enjoying the comfort of the heat, after the late freezing I had undergone, I turned my head round, looking toward the chair on which I had deposited my clothes, as I was about to get out of the bath. On the chair sat G., looking calmly at me. How I got out of the bath I know not, but on recovering my senses I found myself sprawling on the floor. The apparition, or whatever it was, that had taken the likeness of G., had disappeared.

"The vision produced such a shock that I had no inclination to talk about it even to Stuart; but the impression it made upon me was too vivid to be easily forgotten; and so strongly was I affected by it that I have here written down the whole story, with the date, 19th December, and all the particulars as they are now before me. No doubt I had fallen asleep; and that the appearance presented so distinctly to my eyes was a dream, I cannot for a moment doubt; yet for years I had had no communication with G., nor had there been anything to recall him to my recollection; nothing had taken place during our Swedish travels either connected with G. or with India or with anything relating to him or to any member of his family. I recollected quickly enough our old discussion and the bargain we had made. I could not discharge from my mind the impression that G. must have died, and that his appearance to me was to be received by me as a proof of a future state, yet all the while I felt convinced that the whole was a dream; and so painfully vivid, so unfading was the impression, that I could not bring myself to talk of it, or to make the slightest allusion to it."

Lord Brougham afterwards wrote:

"Soon after my return to Edinburgh, there arrived a letter from India, announcing G.'s death, and stating that he had died on the 19th of December."

Case 8. Rev. Arthur Bellamy.

"When a girl at school my wife made an agreement with a fellow pupil, Miss W., that the one of them who died first should, if divinely permitted, appear after her decease to the survivor. In 1874 my wife, who had not seen or heard anything of her former school-friend for some years, casually heard of her death. The news reminded her of her former agreement, and then, becoming nervous, she told me of it. I knew of my wife's compact, but I had never seen a photograph of her friend or heard any description of her. [Mr. Bellamy told Gurney in conversation that his mind had not been in the least dwelling on the compact.]

"A night or two afterwards as I was sleeping with my wife, a fire brightly burning in the room and a candle alight, I suddenly awoke and saw a lady sitting by the side of the bed where my wife was sleeping soundly. At once I sat up in the bed, and gazed so intently that even now I can recall her form and features. Had I the pencil and the brush of a Millais, I could transfer to canvas an exact likeness of the ghostly visitant. I remember that I was much struck, as I looked intently at her, with the careful arrangement of her coiffure, every single hair being most carefully brushed down. How long I sat and gazed I cannot say, but directly the apparition ceased to be, I got out of bed to see if any of my wife's garments had by any means optically deluded me. I found nothing in the line of vision but a bare wall. Hallucination on my part I rejected as out of the question, and I doubted not that I had really seen an apparition. Returning to bed, I lay till my wife some hours after awoke, and then I gave her an account of her friend's appearance. I described her colour, form, &c., all of which exactly tallied with my wife's recollection of Miss W. 'Finally I asked, 'But was there any special point to strike one in her appearance?' 'Yes,' my wife promptly replied; 'we girls used to tease her at school for devoting so much time to the arrangement of her hair.' This was the very thing which I have said so much struck me. Such are the simple facts.

"I will only add that till 1874 I had never seen an apparition, and that I have not seen one since"(14).

(14) F. W. H. Myers: loc. cit., Vol. II, p. 350.

Case 9. Captain Eldred Bowyer-Bower(15). Captain Bower, aged twenty-two, was shot down in his plane in France on March 19th, 1917. The case is remarkable in that a number of "appearances" to different people took place, three approximately at the time of death and the other two in December 1917. The most remarkable was to his half-sister, Mrs. Dorothy Spearman, who was at the time staying in a hotel in Calcutta. She did not, of course, know of Eldred's death, or even that he was out in France again, as he had been home several months and had only returned there three weeks before he was killed. Her baby was baptised on the day of Captain Bower's death, and he was to have been the child's godfather. The following extract is from a letter to Captain Bower's mother (January 1918):

(15) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 33, pp. 167-76 (1923); or Jour. S.P.R., Vol. lX, pp. 39-46.

"Eldred was greatly on my mind when baby was born and I could only think of him. On March 19th, in the late part of the morning, I was sewing and talking to baby; Joan was in the sitting-room and did not see anything. I had a great feeling I must turn round and did, to see Eldred; he looked so happy and had that dear mischievous look. I was so glad to see him, and told him I would just put baby in a safer place, then we could talk. 'Fancy coming out here,' I said, turning round again, and was just putting my hands out to give him a hug and a kiss, but Eldred had gone. I called and looked for him. I never saw him again. At first I thought it was simply my brain. Then I did think for a second something must have happened to him and a terrible fear came over me. Then again I thought how stupid I was, and it must be my brain playing tricks. But now I know it was Eldred, and all the time in Church at baby's christening he was there, because I felt he was, and know he was, only I could not see him. All the time I thought why do I feel like this when Eldred is safe...?"

About the time of his death a little niece of his, not quite three years old, appears to have had some visual impression of him. On the morning of his death she came up to her mother's room about 9.15 a.m. (the latter being still in bed), and said, "Uncle Alley Boy is downstairs". Although her mother told her he was in France, she insisted she had seen him. The third contemporary impression was received by Mrs. Watson, an elderly friend of Captain Bower's mother, who had not written to Mrs. Bower for eighteen months but felt impelled to write a letter to her on March 19th: "... Something tells me you are having great anxiety about Eldred. Will you let me know?"

5. Hauntings

There is a class of apparition which differs from the preceding classes in that it seems to be associated with a particular locality. It makes recurrent appearances at such a place, and in general appears to pay little attention to human beings. This type, the so-called ghost, gives the impression to percipients of "somnambulistic" or automatic behaviour.

Case 10. The Morton Case(16). The six percipients in this case were all interviewed by F. W. H. Myers. The principal percipient, Miss R. C. Morton, was a young medical student, and the testimony was very consistent. The phenomena covered a period of years 1882-89, and the full account is an impressive and straightforward one, giving an account of the large number of occasions when it was seen and the number of witnesses to it. There was substantial agreement in the descriptions of the figure.

(16) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 8, pp. 311-32.

"The figure was that of a tall lady, dressed in black of a soft woollen material, judging from the slight sound in moving. The face was hidden in a handkerchief held in the right hand... I saw the upper part of the left side of the forehead, and a little of the hair above. Her left hand was nearly hidden by her sleeve and a fold of her dress. As she held it down, a portion of a widow's cuff was visible on both wrists, so that the whole impression was that of a lady in widow's weeds. There was no cap on the head, but a general effect of blackness suggests a bonnet, with long veil or a hood."

During the two years 1882-84 Miss Morton saw the figure about half a dozen times, and on three separate occasions it was seen by her sister, Mrs. K., by a housemaid and by her young brother and another little boy. The appearances reached a maximum in July and August 1884, thereafter gradually diminishing in frequency to 1889. From then on the appearances ceased. The light, muffled footsteps associated with the figure persisted a little longer, but they also eventually ceased. For the first two years Miss Morton describes it as appearing to be so solid and life-like that it was often mistaken for a real person. It intercepted the light, but Miss M. was not able to determine if the figure cast a shadow. Its appearance later became less distinct. Twice Miss M. reported having seen the figure pass through fine strings, and says, "It was not that there was nothing there to touch, but that she always seemed to be beyond me, and if followed into a corner simply disappeared." An extract from Miss Morton's account will illustrate the type of experience.

"On the evening of August 11th we were sitting in the drawing room with the gas lit but the shutters not shut, the light outside getting dusk, my brother and a friend had just given up tennis, finding it dark; my eldest sister, Mrs. K., and myself both saw the figure on the balcony outside, looking in at the window. She stood there for some minutes, then walked to the end and back again, after which she seemed to disappear. She soon after came into the drawing-room, when I saw her but my sister did not. The same evening my sister E. saw her on the stairs as she came out of a room on the upper landing.

"The following evening, 12th August, while coming up the garden, I walked towards the orchard, when I saw the figure cross the orchard, go along the carriage drive in front of the house, and in at the open side door, across the hall and into the drawing-room, I following. She crossed the drawing-room and took up her usual position behind the couch in the bow window. My father came in soon after and I told him she was there. He could not see the figure, but went up to where I showed him she was. She then went swiftly round behind him, across the room, out of the door and along the hall, disappearing as usual near the garden door, we both following her. We looked out into the garden, having first to unlock the garden door, which my father had locked as he came through, but saw nothing of her.

"On 12th August, about 8 p.m. and still quite light, my sister E. was singing in the back drawing-room. I heard her stop abruptly, come out into the hall and call me. She said she had seen the figure in the drawing-room close behind her as she sat at the piano. I went back into the room with her and saw the figure in the bow window at her usual place. I spoke to her several times, but had no answer. She stood there for ten minutes or a quarter of an hour; then went across the room to the door and along the passage, disappearing in the same place by the garden door.

"My sister M. then came in from the garden, saying she had seen her coming up the kitchen steps outside. We all three then went into the garden, when Mrs. K. called out from the window on the first storey that she had just seen her pass across the lawn in front and along the carriage drive towards the orchard. This evening, then, altogether four people saw her. My father was then away and my youngest brother was out."

Miss Morton remarks that the figure was not called up by a desire to see it, and says that on all those occasions when parties of them had sat up at night hoping to see it, they had always been disappointed. The figure was believed to be connected with a lady who had lived in the house (the second Mrs. S.) and who had died in September 1878. Mr. S., an Anglo-Indian, had lived in the house from 1860 to 1876. His first wife, to whom he was deeply attached, died, and he became an intemperate drinker. His second wife had hoped to cure him, but instead took to drinking herself, and their life was embittered and quarrelsome. The grounds for identifying the figure with the second Mrs. S. were (a) the widow's garb - Mr. S. had died two years before she did; (b) several people who had known her identified her from the description, and Miss Morton picked out the sister of Mrs. S. from a number of portraits as being most like the figure.

Miss Morton gives grounds for believing that the apparition was on two occasions seen by dogs. She also makes the interesting observation that when familiarity with the apparition had eliminated her feelings of awe, so that she could be analytical and observe more closely, she was "conscious of a feeling of loss, as if I had lost power to the figure".

Case 11. Borley Rectory(17). The two books which Harry Price wrote on this case are extremely readable, and include the records of ten years' observations in which about 100 people participated. They make this probably one of the best-attested cases of haunting. The rectory, built in 1863 and destroyed by fire in 1939, was built on the site of a much older building, of which the foundations were traced, and probably others preceded it. It is impossible to do justice in a few extracts to the variety and number of the phenomena. The apparition of a nun was seen by as many as seventeen people, singly or collectively, between 1885 and 1943. The most amazing and sensational phenomena were of the "poltergeist" type, and Price estimates that during the period October 1930 to October 1935, during which the Rev. Lionel A. Foyster, MA, and his family resided there, more than 2,000 poltergeist phenomena were experienced. Mr. Price says:

(17) Harry Price: The Most Haunted House in England (Longmans, Green & Co., 1940) and The End of Borley Rectory (Harrap, 1946).

"I visited the Rectory several times in 1929 and witnessed many phenomena under perfect conditions of control. In addition to the incessant para-normal bell-ringing I saw showers of pebbles and keys coming from nowhere, and on one occasion a Roman Catholic medallion, and a badge struck during the French Revolution came tumbling down the stairs in good light. Also, we managed to obtain phenomena at request. We asked the 'entities' to ring one of the house-bells for us, and it was rung - under perfect control... As we reached the study an empty claret bottle was hurled down the staircase well, smashing at our feet. At the same moment one of the bells rang violently. We rushed upstairs again but could not account for the phenomena. Then a further outbreak of bell-ringing, and small pebbles rattled downstairs."

Mr. Price himself secured a lease of the rectory for a year from May 17th, 1937. During this period he organised constant surveillance of the house, with the assistance of some forty men of standing in various walks of life. He reports:

"I will say at once that most of the major phenomena were experienced under scientific conditions. The nun was seen again: many footsteps and similar sounds were heard; raps, taps and knockings were frequent; there were many para-normal movements of objects, and appearances, disappearances and reappearances of strange articles; a luminous phenomenon, pleasant and unpleasant odours, sensation of coldness, tactual phenomena, etc."

What are we to make of experiences such as these:

"On another occasion Mr. Mark Kerr-Pearse (a British pro-consul at Geneva) was alone in the Rectory and was having his evening meal in the Base Room with the door closed. He heard the key in the lock turn. Something had locked him in. The extraordinary thing was that the key was on the inside of the door. Consequently whatever locked him in remained in the room... On May 7th, 1938, Mr. M. Savage, a B.B.C. television engineer, and a friend named Bowden reported new pencillings which 'appeared' while they actually watched the walls."

The full account should be studied by those who desire to feel the accumulated weight of evidence in which 200 witnesses are involved. Mr. Price says:

"In view of the legal opinions printed above, plus the evidence of two hundred witnesses, and what I have seen with my own eyes, there is only one conclusion at which I can arrive: the Borley phenomena (or most of them) occurred in the way they were said to occur; they were of para-normal origin; they have been scientifically proved; and as Sir Albion Richardson emphasises, the evidence for their para-normality is as conclusive as human testimony can ever be."

Of the nature of poltergeist phenomena we shall have something to say in Chapter 11. If this type of phenomenon is to be accepted and it is all a question of evidence, which in the above case is considered by competent jurists adequate and incontrovertible - we shall have to take into account an order of existence, inter-acting with the material one, but involving forces, energies and purposes of a kind quite outside that orderly scheme of material things which science has studied so successfully. We are not concerned at present with the motor phenomena but with the sensory phenomena only. As a preliminary to considering a theory of these, we must look at the nature of sense perception.

6. Sense Perception, Hallucination and Illusion

Philosophers have considered at great length the nature of sense perception: it is very important to know its real nature, for the world of science and the plain man's world are both the results of using our senses. When a person says, "I see an apple", this is called an act of perception, and it is, in fact, rather a complex act. What he really experiences are sense-data. He senses a nearly circular, green, shiny patch of colour in contrast with a background. When he makes the act of perception he makes an intuitive jump beyond these sense-data. (He does not infer that an apple is there, for inference is a logical process based on premises and deduction.) As a consequence of this "jump" he believes without any doubt that there exists out in space an object, and that the greenness, roundness and shininess are properties of the surface of this object. This, we say, is common sense, and all sane persons agree about it. Now, "common sense" is the interpretation of things which is adequate for all practical purposes, but when we are trying to understand the mysterious character of the world in which we live and our knowledge of it, we find common sense does not take us very far. We saw nowhere more clearly than in the biological field (Chapter 3) how completely inadequate it is to explain growth or the act of seeing. We must therefore be prepared to examine without prejudice many of the things we take for granted, and which we say are just common sense, if we want really to understand the world.

To return, then, to our analysis of perceiving an apple, we have to admit that "seeing" does not give us the direct acquaintance with things which common sense imagines. We are directly acquainted only with our own sense-data, not with "things" outside. The following considerations, if carefully weighed, should convince us of this. (a) We never see things as they are, but only as they were. In practice this distinction does not usually matter, because of the enormous speed of light, but in the case of distant stars or nebulae, whose light may take 100,000 years to reach us, the "thing" which we say we see will have changed, and may even no longer exist.

(b) The "direct-acquaintance" or common-sense view says that the greenness, roundness and shininess are properties of the thing's surface. But are they? One person (who is colour blind) thinks it is grey, another sees no shine upon it, another sees it rather flattened. As a person moves around, his own sense-data may change, the size and shape of the colour patch, its shine and its tint. Have the properties of the surface changed? And where several observers differ, who is right? (Consider again the discussion in Chapter 5, Section 1.)

Reflection shows that sense-data, which we are prone to project on to an external object, are really private and personal. That they have much in common with other people's sense-data is no doubt true. That there is a "subsistent object" which corresponds to an impenetrable region of space outside ourselves may also be true. All we want to be clear about is that the sense-data are what the mind is immediately acquainted with, and that they are not a part or property of the subsistent object, but are the mind's contribution to the art of perceiving. We might put it in the form of an equation:

Material Object for a person = Subsistent Object + Sense-Data for that person.

Of the nature of the subsistent world we can know nothing through our senses. Since this is so, it is open to us to speculate that it may be of the nature of a permanent mental field to which our own minds are related or in which they are immersed. The assumption that because the subsistent object has the quality of impenetrability it has the sort of concrete materiality which common sense pictures, has no foundation in observation or experiment. Indeed, modern physics reminds us, what common sense is always making us forget, that the quality of impenetrability is due to electromagnetic fields of force, and even the supposedly "concrete" particles often behave in a way quite inconsistent with such a view of their nature. We know so little of the real nature of both the electromagnetic fields and the so-called "particles", that to claim them as being of the nature of mind is quite plausible. When we go on to consider the biological world (vide Chapter 3) with the indubitable evidence of purpose and the necessary inference of mental fields or patterns to which "matter" must conform, I think we may feel that there are indeed strong indications that the subsistent world is of the nature of Mind. We may regard the subsistent world as the ever-present dominant background of a World Mind to which our own individual minds are related in a selective manner (as we have tried to suggest in the round-tower diagram of Chapter 5). One hesitates to use diagrams to illustrate ideas of this kind, for diagrams are more precise and clear-cut than words. Both of course are symbols, and both very inadequate to the task of clearly portraying ideas of this kind. The diagram shown is an attempt to convey just a suggestion of these ideas. The round tower is an individual mind. Five slits (not shown) corresponding to the special senses can be imagined as penetrating the thick walls of the tower in the zone X and permitting a limited selection of sense-data to pass to the prisoner within. The act of perception is portrayed on the right-hand side (sensing + an intuitive jump). The three downward-pointing arrows on the right symbolise the creation of the whole lower stratum of sense-data by the operation of a World-Mind in the stratum next above. Physicists interpret this activity in terms of electromagnetic fields but this is a label for an "unknown". This higher stratum, with which zone Y of the individual mind is in touch through the psi-faculty, must be very complex. It includes, among much else, the subsistent world of which we have spoken. The left-hand tower represents a percipient mind. While higher-psi would presumably be symbolised by a horizontal arrow (not shown) from zone Y of the agent to zone Y of the percipient, the common mechanism of apparitions may perhaps be portrayed by the arrows abcd, a functioning of lower-psi. With the risk of pressing the diagram too far, we might say ab represents the concentration and visualisation of the agent, bc is the inter-personal mental field, and cd is the intuitive jump of the percipient to the conclusion that there is an apparition outside himself - i.e., objective. The whole process abcd is similar to that portrayed on the right-hand side of the diagram. The arrow ab is a feeble mimicry, without permanence in Time, by an individual mind, of the creation of the whole world of sense-data maintained by the World-Mind. The arrows bcd are the process of normal perception.

Hallucinations (or apparitions) would thus be regarded as perceptions similar to those of everyday life, except that they lack permanence and impenetrability, due to the evanescent character of the subsistent object created at a. Presumably this mechanism is similar to, if not identical with, that by which a hypnotised person can be made to "see" what to others is a non-existent object. Alternatively, the mechanism may sometimes be the direct higher-psi linkage in the zones Y-Y.

Illusions are different from hallucinations. In hallucinations (of which apparitions are a special type) the sense-data are genuine enough, but the subsistent object is evanescent. In illusions the interpretation of the sense-data is mistaken. In our diagram the upward-pointing arrow (labelled "intuitive jump") would have a fault in it. Thus a person who sees a piece of coiled rope and believes he sees a snake, suffers an illusion, but a person who sees a piece of rope which other observers cannot see, suffers an hallucination.

7. Theories of Apparitions

We are now in a position to look at the theories advanced about apparitions. There seems no good reason to distinguish between phantasms of the living and the "dead"; a satisfactory theory may be expected to account for both. The early workers in the Society for Psychical Research all appeared to hold a telepathic theory of apparitions which, stated very simply, is that an agent telepathically impresses a percipient who embodies the message in this visual dramatic form. On this view apparitions are simply an objectified and vivid form of vehicle for a telepathic message or impulse. If we revert to Chapter 6, we have there numerous examples of different vehicles. In Mrs. Upton Sinclair's case it was visual imagery (though subjective); in Professor Gilbert Murray's case it was verbal-visual imagery of remarkable accuracy: in Case 1 on p. 112 feelings of acute anxiety were the vehicle; in Case 2 we have an hallucination of the auditory sense as a vehicle, as also in Case 4; in Case 3 we have an experience originating telepathically, but of great clairvoyant vividness. In this last case, if the child had seen her mother in front of her on the road, appealing for help, it would have been described as an apparition; but as the child "saw" the scene as it actually was at home, we call it clairvoyance. We do not know enough to say what are the precise conditions of the two minds which favour the one form of communication rather than the other. It seems, however, quite plausible that hallucinations of the visual sense may at times be the vehicle of a telepathic message or impulse: whether all apparitions are in this category is quite another question, and I personally do not think so.

One of the impressive features to be taken into account in any theory is that there is plenty of evidence for collective percipience, i.e., perception by two or more persons at once. This feature, of course, immediately suggests to us that an apparition does consist of something physically present in space external to both observers. This is just the point at which our immediate commonsense reaction must be examined critically, as we did in the preceding section. We saw there that in ordinary perception sense-data are in some measure private to each individual person. Each member of a crowd round a table might say "I see a green apple", establishing thereby, so far as possible, a large measure of common agreement in their sense-data - even though each one's sense-data have their peculiarities. Because they all make the intuitive jump involved in their acts of perception we postulate a subsistent object as the common cause of their agreement. (We also find the "subsistent object" useful to explain why, if the crowd go to sleep, as a result of which all their sense-data vanish, the apple does not cease to exist, and there is no necessity for a miraculous new creation of similar sense-data the next morning.) We have postulated that a World-Mind creates and sustains this subsistent world, with which, as it were, individual minds are in mental rapport. The end result of the act of perception is a belief in the common-sense world of space, a convenient conventional fiction so far as philosophers are concerned, equally convenient for, but not regarded as a fiction by, the ordinary man.

Because apparitions can be collectively perceived, it means no more and no less than the fact that apples can be collectively perceived. I infer a "subsistent apparition", if for brevity I may write in this inexact way, as well as a "subsistent apple". The former has its origin in an individual mind, and is often the cause of incompletely developed sense-data. It is also evanescent. The latter is a part of the pattern sustained by the World-Mind. From our standpoint we see that Edmund Gurney's denial that apparitions are present in space has the same validity only as a denial that chairs and tables are present in space. Gurney conceived the telepathic process to operate by a kind of "infection" where more than one percipient was involved, but such analogies are little more than picturesque modes of presenting observational data. Myers was obviously oscillating between ideas of the non-material character of apparitions and their localisation in space. He used the term "metetherial" for an order which would combine these characteristics, and was, I believe, thinking along the lines of the psychic-aether hypothesis, to which I have referred on several occasions. To this theory Professor H. H. Price has given the most satisfactory form.

The most important contribution to the theory of apparitions has been made by G. N. M. Tyrrell(18). I shall here present an outline of his views, indicating the points at which I venture to differ. Tyrrell regards the perfect apparition as a "material thing without a physical occupant". He uses the term "physical object" where we have used "subsistent object". Considering the simple equation we wrote down previously - Material Object for a person = Subsistent Object + Sense-Data for that person - this would mean that an apparition is the aggregate of sense-data without a subsistent object. The sense-data are quite real, but are not physically caused - i.e., no light-waves impinge from without on the retina, no sound-waves on the ear-drum, no pressures on the hand. The sense-data are caused inwardly or centrally  -not peripherally or externally. Tyrrell's view is that the whole apparatus of sense-perception can be put into operation in either of these ways: one way is that of normal sense-perception, under stimulus from "without"; the other way is under the stimulus of an implanted idea, in which case certain mid-levels of both the agent's and percipient's minds collaborate closely. Tyrrell then makes the bold suggestion that perhaps this dual control of the mind is more apparent than real, and propounds the startling hypothesis that there is really only one control  - viz., the psychological or centrally caused one. All that the brain-processes do when stimulated by lights, sounds and pressures from without is to act in a guiding or advisory manner to these mid-levels of mind which are the causative agent of the sense-data. These mid-levels do in practice create sense-data with remarkable fidelity to the advisory stimuli received from the brain; but it is not inevitable or obligatory that they should do so. They do so, Tyrrell suggests, to secure the survival of the physical organism, much as car-drivers obey the traffic lights, and for similar reasons. In the course of evolution these mind-levels causing sense-data have come to follow the stimuli of the special senses and brain, semi-automatically. When these levels do occasionally start to work without such advisory stimuli from the brain, the result is hallucination - often a little imperfect or amateurish compared with normal sense-data, as we have observed from recorded cases. The agent who is responsible for causing an apparition is acting on the mid-levels of the percipient's mind with the stimulus of an idea conveyed telepathically, much as a hypnotist is acting on these levels with a verbal stimulus. In so far as there are collective hallucinations of the Indian rope-trick variety, these would seem to depend on the ability of an agent to create telepathically a common mental field with a dominant idea, operating on the mid-levels of the minds of all observers.

(18) Apparitions: the F. W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture (1942) (pub. S.P.R., London).

Tyrrell considers some of the characteristics of apparitions and what can be inferred from these about the conditions of their production. Where an apparition of the agent himself appears, the latter certainly does not visualise himself in other than the most general way, yet he appears in perfection of detail. Moreover, apparitions adapt themselves to the percipient's surroundings in behaviour and action-apparently open doors, walk round furniture, etc., in a way which suggests that the production is a joint effort of both the agent's and percipient's minds. It is recognised that there must be various levels in the human mind: possibly one which supplies the motif or general idea with the necessary driving force, and other executant levels, like the producer of a play and the stage carpenter. These mid-levels of the two or more personalities involved must operate together in a close relationship in the production of any apparition. Tyrrell points out that the product usually in some degree suggests consciousness is operative, and in some degree that mechanism is operative, and coins the term "idea-pattern" for it.

There can be little doubt, I think, of the co-operative nature of the process leading to apparitions, and of the fact that the human mind has many complex levels of functioning. We are all aware how in dreams one level throws up the theme or motif, another disguises and dramatises it, and still another level of the self is a surprised spectator of the drama which it observes. Tyrrell's theory, however, introduces the concepts of peripheral and central excitation, with the latter the immediate cause of sense-data, as explained above. I venture to suggest that this distinction is without meaning: that there is only one mode of excitation of sense-data which is identical for both normal "objects" and apparitions. In both cases the fact of collective percipience leads naturally to the view that there is a subsistent object. This world of subsistent objects is a stratum of the "World of all Mind's potentialities" in the diagram. A and a are subsistent objects in this stratum, only A has permanence - i.e., of substance, not necessarily of form - because of the World-Mind which sustains it, while a is evanescent, being created by an individual mind through a transient act of thought. D is the state of mind of a person who perceives an ordinary object (whose subsistent is A) and d is the precisely analogous state of mind of an observer who perceives what we call an apparition (whose temporary subsistent was a).

I cannot find that any of the characteristics of apparitions which Tyrrell carefully listed and considered in his Myers Lecture are inconsistent with the views I have expressed above. That apparitions should appear and disappear in locked rooms and vanish while being watched, that they may pass through physical objects (though they do not always do so), and that they leave no traces behind, are all consistent with the transient character and difference in degree of development of the subsistent object. There is nothing remarkable about different degrees of materialisation (or different densities - as the physicist might put it). We may recall that the Borley Rectory case suggested some extraordinary materialisations, and so do certain sťance-room phenomena - of which more in a later chapter. The fact that apparitions are seen or heard by some, but not by all, of those persons present, is again not surprising. We have agreed that the sense-data constituting the apparition are a joint construct of the agent and one or more percipient minds. It is not to be expected that a mind not participating in the common idea-pattern would perceive the data. These are two ways of saying the same thing. If this seems strange at first, let us recall that there are many different states of consciousness - e.g., absorption in a problem, or day-dreaming, in which a conversation or an action is not noticed-though everyone else may have been aware of it. There is an appropriateness of mental state required for even normal perception, and there is no more reason why an apparition should be perceived by everyone in a locality than there is for everyone in a percipient's locality to be in similar telepathic rapport with an agent.

The manner in which apparitions simulate in behaviour their more common counterparts, which borders on the miraculous if the former are regarded as "non-physical", requires no explanation in our view. The process of perception is the same in both cases. When the percipient shuts his eyes or when he turns his head he no longer sees the apparition; if a mirror is appropriately placed he sees it in the mirror - all of which are normal because some degree of light reflection is involved in these cases too. In a case such as 5 on p. 196, where Mr. Kearne maintains he could see the apparition as though through the back of his head, we may postulate clairvoyant perception on his part. It does not seem unreasonable that - in the state of telepathic rapport with his friend this kindred faculty may also be exercised if necessary with equal facility. It probably is exercised in support of normal perception of the apparition in many such cases, where it is afterwards realised that details have been observed beyond the power of normal seeing at that distance. It is a fact that in collective percipience, each one sees the apparition from a position appropriate to his spatial relations, one seeing the profile and another the full face, etc. This is almost incredible on a nonphysical theory, but is to be expected if there is no difference in existential status between commonplace objects and apparitions except that inhering in the transient and possibly weak or imperfectly developed character of the subsistent object.

The question may be raised whether there is, then, no difference in existential status between a well-developed apparition capable of stimulating all the senses of a human being, and a living person. Our answer would be "None" - so far as sense-data are concerned - but this is, of course, a correspondence only on the lowest of the significant levels in our diagram. On the next higher level of mental qualities there is a most marked difference. The apparitional behaviour is usually confined to a semi-automatic type. Anything beyond this is generally of a single idea or purpose - e.g., to stroke hair, to wave the hand, to exhibit a wound, to frequent a neighbourhood or to demonstrate continued existence; having done which the sustaining subsistent thought (or object) has expended the impulse which gave it birth and it fades away. Such mono-ideaism is far removed from the wealth and complexity of mental structure of the normal living person. We may also add, though we shall not enlarge upon it at this stage, that those higher levels of significance, beyond the mental, which are represented in the human being by structures constituting the essential self and its sustaining self-consciousness, have, as far as can be seen, no representative in apparitions. In other words, an apparition of a human being is not a centre of consciousness: it is, so to speak, a psychical marionette given temporary life by some quite separate centre of consciousness. This is doubtless true both of apparitions of the living and the "dead" (with reservations made in regard to another type of apparition to be discussed in the next chapter).

8. Conception of a Psychic Aether and its Relation to Haunting

We have postulated on several occasions the conception of a medium intermediate between mind and matter as a key to the modus operandi of object-reading (Chapter 8), clairvoyance (p. 137), psycho-kinesis (Chapter 11), and retrocognition (p. 159). Such a concept may finally have to go the way of the physicist's aether; in the meantime it is a helpful hypothesis. It provides a bridge - to use everyday terms - between mind and matter, and it must be supposed malleable and plastic to the action of mind, on the one hand, while it interpenetrates matter and is modified and moulded by it, on the other. Using the terminology of the preceding section, it is a medium structurally modified by those mid-mind levels described as the "stage-carpenter" by Tyrrell. It is an aether of "images" in which certain types of thought achieve an objectivity or form of existence. It may well be the vehicle or medium of those fields of force of Smuts, or those mental "blue-prints" of which we saw clear evidence in the biological world (Chapter 3). Professor H. H. Price, in his Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research(19) in 1939, has given perhaps the best exposition of the psychic aether and its necessary properties, especially applying it to a theory of hauntings. He conceives that when a certain level (or function) of mind creates a mental image, this image has a degree of persistence in the psychic aether, and moreover is no longer private to the mind which originated it. Every image may be endowed with a kind of telepathic charge in virtue of which it persists and can affect other minds or mental contents; when this charge finally fades out with lapse of time, the image may disappear. Such an aether of images may be regarded as one stratum of the collective mind - a more primitive stratum than that of verbal constructs, which is obviously a much later evolutionary development necessary to abstract thinking. While abstract thinking is the type developed by our educational system because it is necessary in science, technology and philosophy, the stream of image-thinking proceeds continually in a lower stratum of mind, and breaks through into consciousness at times of relaxation, fatigue, fever and in the approach to, and emergence from, the sleep state (where it is called hypnogogic and hypnopompic imagery). Price suggests that the cultivation of lower-psi is tantamount to overcoming the barrier which cuts off this level from normal consciousness, and that this is in fact facilitated by such mental techniques as crystal-gazing or such physiological techniques as fasting, hatha-yoga and the employment of certain drugs. My own view is that every significant level of the self has its own type of communication with the corresponding levels of other selves, through the "world stuff" or "world-structure of that level. For this reason I have used rather loosely the term "lower-psi" to connote communication through a psychic aether (possibly the bc level of the previous diagram).

(19) Proc. S.P.R., Vol. 45, pp. 307-43.

Returning to Price's conception of the properties of the aetheric images, it is considered that they may have "greater or lesser degrees of telepathic affinity". Between the images formed by two persons A and B there might be little or no telepathic affinity, even though their bodily organisms are close together, while between the images of A and C there may be considerable telepathic rapport, although their bodies are widely separate in space. The aetheric world has an air of strangeness about it embodying something of the material and something of the mental order in its make-up.

The theory of haunting to which this leads is quite naturally called the psychometric theory, for it considers the mechanism as being similar to that of "psychometry" or object reading, where, however, a house or locality takes the place of the small object. In Chapter 7 (5) we spoke of the "memory" of places and assimilated the phenomena of retrocognition to this view. The main question in this case is why the memory of one particular time should be accessible in preference to any other. It may be supposed that the emotions and thought-images of some person who once occupied the house have intensely modified the psychic aether associated with it, and that, given a suitable percipient-mind in the locality, an apparition is constructed as a consequence. The production is similar to that of those apparitions previously discussed where the mid-levels of the minds of agent and percipient co-operate to produce the idea-pattern. In haunting, however, the original agent has (on this theory) no direct part in it: he may possibly have no consciousness of the surviving phenomena. The "charged" psychic aether of the locality becomes as it were the proximate "agent", and, together with the normal aetheric memory of the place, co-operates with the appropriate levels of the percipient's mind. (In this connection the sense of "loss" of energy to the apparition remarked by Miss Morton in Case 10 is of interest.) It is obvious that by a simple extension of this psychometric theory we may pass over to a "spiritistic" one. For example, it might be maintained that the "charged" psychic aether in the locality was maintained in this condition by persistent activity of the surviving mind of the original agent. On the psychometric theory the psychic aether in the locality retains a persistent dynamic memory - the telepathic charge possibly corresponding in degree to the emotional intensity of the original cause. When a person comes into the locality, if there is some small measure of telepathic affinity between his mental content and the localised imagery, he may feel a vague emotional malaise or a sense of depression or of a "presence". In cases of marked telepathic affinity there may be actual generation of a phantasm. Possibly there is a joint contribution of energy to its production: it may be that in time the telepathic charge leaks away, corresponding to the gradual expenditure of its imprisoned energy and the fading of the haunting phenomena (as in the Morton case).

In terms of the previous diagram, haunting would be interpreted somewhat as follows. The original and probably intensely emotional acts of thought (a) create a semi-permanent subsistent image-structure stored in the psychic aether somewhere near b. The originating mind may no longer operate "there" - i.e., at a. If, however, a percipient having the appropriate telepathic affinity approaches the locality of b, the process bcd is then generated. Price expresses this idea by saying that "haunting is a kind of deferred telepathy resulting in a post-dated telepathic phantasm". It will be a telepathic transaction between Smith as he was ten years ago when he lived in this room, and I who am in it now. It is interesting to observe that the psychometric theory of haunting, in postulating the persistence of thought-images independently of a brain and nervous system, indicates as at least likely, the continued survival of the complex mind which gave it origin. Professor Bozzano considered that many cases of haunting can in fact only be explained satisfactorily on the hypothesis of activity by a surviving discarnate mind.

Professor Price recognises and considers carefully the difficulties of a purely telepathic theory of ghosts, assuming they are nonphysical in character. The most obvious difficulty is, that in being highly localised, as hauntings are, we are placing a restriction on telepathy for which we have no other warrant at all. I am of the opinion (as is Tyrrell) that there is no essential difference between apparition and ghost, but I differ from him in regarding both as being physical. Many of the characteristics of apparitions, as we have seen, are extraordinarily difficult to understand on a non-physical theory, and are immediately intelligible if a physical theory is accepted. I would maintain that they do reflect in a limited degree ordinary light-waves. Because of their transience and unheralded appearance, the possibilities of photography are obviously quite small, but there is one noteworthy instance where a photograph was obtained(20), and this has been published.

(20) Country Life, Dec. 16th, 1936 (Country Life, Ltd.)

Captain Provand, Art Director, and Mr. Indre Shira, Court Photographer of London, were photographing Raynham Hall, Norfolk, seat of the Marquess of Townshend. It was a routine commission. Neither of these experienced photographers were interested in Psychical Research. About 4 p.m. on September 19th, 1936, they were ready to photograph the oak staircase. Mr. Shira, observing what he described as "an ethereal veiled form" moving slowly down the staircase, shouted out excitedly, and Captain Provand, whose head was under the cover, removed the cap of the lens, while Mr. Shira pressed the flashlight pistol. Captain Provand was sceptical and not in a position to have seen the apparition; Mr. Shira stoutly maintained that he had seen it. When the negatives were being developed Captain Provand suddenly exclaimed, "Good Lord, there's something on the staircase negative after all." Mr. Shira took a glance at the negative and then hurried off to bring in Mr. Jones, Manager of Blake, Sandford and Blake, chemists, as a witness. He arrived in time to see the negative being taken from the developer and placed in the hypo bath. Mr. Harry Price examined the negative, which he pronounced innocent of any faking, and was unable to shake the witnesses' story.

Expressed in the simplest terms, I regard the telepathic thought-form as the animating principle or transient "mind" which clothes itself in an aetheric body. This may condense enough chemical matter around it to reflect light. The extent to which it does this seems to differ greatly: sometimes the figure is transparent and the background can be seen through it; at other times it has a solidity indistinguishable from an ordinary figure.

Professor H. H. Price raises the interesting question why, on this psychometric view of haunting, so few places are haunted? Even if it be supposed that emotions of great intensity are a necessary condition, it is surprising that all old houses, law-courts, hospitals, railway stations, etc., are not haunted. The suggestion he makes is that every such long-inhabited place is saturated and overlaid with a multitude of persistent and localised images, the mass of which does give to the sensitive percipient a characteristic feeling or "psychic atmosphere". But because of the massed effect, nothing individual can, however, be perceived, just as a large number of finger-prints does not permit the identification of any one. To be perceptible, an aetheric image must stand out in intensity and also be of the quality or "telepathic affinity" to which a percipient can respond.

Our study of apparitions has perhaps shown us that ranging between mind and body are complex levels of personality with many different functions and not the least remarkable of these are creative potentialities, which, though transient, are reminiscent of those more permanent sublime forms which are created and sustained in such rich profusion by the World-Mind.


The article above was taken from Raynor C. Johnson's 1953 book "The Imprisoned Splendor" published by Hodder & Stoughton.


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