Vicit iter durum pietas. (A sense of duty made easy the hard way.)
POSSESSION, to define it for the moment in the narrowest way, is a more developed form of Motor Automatism. The difference broadly is, that in Possession the automatist's own personality does for the time altogether disappear, while there is a more or less complete
substitution of personality; writing or speech being given by a spirit through the entranced organism.
There has recently been a great accretion of evidence in this direction. The result broadly is that the phenomena of possession are now the most amply attested, as well as intrinsically the most advanced, in our whole repertory.
Let us then at once consider what the notion of Possession does actually claim.
The claim is that the automatist, in the first place, falls into a trance, during which his spirit partially 'quits his body': enters at any rate into a state in which the spiritual world is more or less open to its perception; and in which also - and this is the novelty - it so far ceases to occupy the organism as to leave room for an invading spirit to use it in somewhat the same fashion as its owner is accustomed to use it.
The brain being thus left temporarily and partially uncontrolled, a disembodied spirit sometimes, but not always, succeeds in occupying it; and occupies it with varying degrees of control. In some cases (Mrs Piper) two or more spirits may simultaneously control different portions of the same organism.
The controlling spirit proves his identity mainly by reproducing, in speech or writing, facts which belong to
his memory and not to the automatist's memory. He may also give evidence of supernormal perception of other kinds.
His manifestations may differ very considerably from the automatist's normal personality. Yet in one sense it is a process of selection rather than of addition; the spirit selects what parts of the brain-machinery he will use, but he cannot get out of that machinery more than it is constructed to perform. The spirit can indeed produce facts and names unknown to the automatist; but they must be, as a rule, such facts and names as the automatist could easily have repeated, had they been known to him; not, for instance, mathematical formulae or Chinese sentences, if the automatist is ignorant of mathematics or of Chinese.
After a time the control gives way, and the automatist's spirit returns. The automatist, awaking, may or may not remember his experiences in the spiritual world during the trance. In some cases (Swedenborg) there is this memory of the spiritual world, but no possession of the organism by an external spirit. In others there is utterance during the trance as to what is being discerned by the automatist, yet no memory thereof on waking. In others (Mrs Piper) there is neither utterance as a rule, or at least no prolonged utterance, by the automatist's own spirit, nor subsequent memory; but there is writing or utterance during the trance by controlling spirits.
If we analyse our observations of possession, we find two main factors - the central operation, which is the control by a spirit of the sensitive's organism; and the indispensable prerequisite, which is the partial and temporary desertion of that organism by the percipient's own spirit.
Let us consider first how far this withdrawal of the living man's spirit from his organism has been rendered conceivable by evidence already obtained.
First of all, the splits, and substitutions of phases of personality with which our second chapter made us familiar, have great significance for
possession also. We have there seen some secondary personality, beginning with slight and isolated sensory and motor manifestations, yet going on gradually to complete predominance, - complete control of all supraliminal manifestation. And genius suggested a temporary possession of the brain centres by the subliminal self.
It is manifest that there must be a complex set of laws concerned with such alternating use of brain centres; developments, one may suppose, of those unknown physical laws underlying ordinary memory, of which no one has formed as yet even a first rough conception.
Furthermore, we saw that sometimes during apparent ordinary sleep the spirit may travel away from the body, and may bring back a memory, more or less confused, of what it has seen in this clairvoyant excursion.
And in the hypnotic trance or in spontaneous somnambulism, we often found a quasi-personality occupying the organism, while the sensitive's own spirit claimed to have been absent elsewhere, and sometimes exhibited real clairvoyant power. This matter of psychical excursion from the organism ultimately involves the extremest claim to novel faculty which has ever been advanced for men. For it involves the claim to
ecstasy; to a wandering vision which is not confined to this earth or this material world alone, but introduces the seer into the spiritual world and among communities higher than any which this planet knows.
Continuing, then, our analysis of the idea of possession, we come now to its specific feature - the occupation by a spiritual agency of the entranced and partially vacated organism. Here it is that our previous studies will do most to clear our conceptions. Instead of at once leaping to the question of what spirits in their essence are, - of what they can do and cannot do, - of the antecedent possibility of their re-entry into matter, and the like, - we must begin by simply carrying the idea of telepathy to its furthest point. We must imagine telepathy becoming as central and as intense as possible; - and we shall find that of two diverging types of telepathic intercourse which will thus present themselves, the one will gradually correspond to possession, and the other to ecstasy.
For from the mere telepathic transmission of isolated ideas or pictures there is, as my readers know, a continuous progression to impressions and apparitions far more persistent and complex. We encounter an influence which suggests no mere impact of etherial waves, but an intelligent and responsive
presence, resembling nothing so much as the ordinary human intercourse of persons in bodily nearness.
Nay, more. There is - as I have striven to show - a further progression from these telepathic intercommunications between living men to intercommunications between living men and discarnate spirits.
So much, in the first place, for the agent's end of the communication.
And in the second place, we now discern a possibility of getting at the percipient's end; of determining whether the telepathic impact is received by the
brain or by the spirit of the living man, or by both inseparably, or sometimes by one and sometimes by the other.
On this problem, I say, the phenomena of automatic script, of trance-utterance, of spirit-possession, throw more of light than we could have ventured to hope.
Stated broadly, our trance-phenomena show us to begin with, that several current of communication can pass at once from discarnate spirits to a living man; and can pass in very varying ways. For clearness' sake I will put aside for the present all cases where the telepathic impact takes an externalised or sensory form, and will speak only of intellectual impressions and motor automatisms.
Now these may pass through all grades of apparent centrality. If a man, awake and in other respects fully self-controlled, feels his hand impelled to scrawl words on a piece of paper, without consciousness of motor effort
of his own, the impulse does not seem to him a central one, although some part of his brain is presumably involved. On the other hand, a much less conspicuous invasion of his personality may feel much more central; - as, for instance, a premonition of evil, - an inward heaviness which he can scarcely define. And so the motor automatism goes on until it reaches the point of
possession; - that is to say, until the man's own consciousness is absolutely in abeyance, and every part of his body is utilised by the invading spirit or spirits. What happens in such conditions to the man's ruling principle - to his own spirit - we must consider presently. But so far as his organism is concerned, the invasion seems complete: and it indicates a power which is indeed telepathic in a true sense; - yet not quite in the sense which we originally attached to the word. We first thought of telepathy as of a communication between two minds, whereas what we have here looks more like a communication between a mind and a body, - an external mind, in place of the mind which is accustomed to rule that particular body.
There is in such a case no apparent communication between the discarnate mind and the
mind of the automatist. Rather there is a kind of contact between the discarnate mind and the
brain of the automatist, in so far that the discarnate mind, pursuing its own ends, is helped up to a certain point by the accumulated capacities of the automatist's brain; - and similarly is hindered by its incapacities.
Yet here the most characteristic element of telepathy, I repeat, seems to have dropped out altogether. There is no perceptible communion between the mind of the entranced person and any other mind whatever. He is
possessed, but is kept in unconsciousness, and never regains memory of what his lips have uttered during his trance.
But let us see whether we have thus grasped all the trance phenomena; - whether something else may not be going on, which is more truly, more centrally telepathic.
To go back to the earliest stage of telepathic experience, we can see well enough that the experimental process might quite possibly involve two different factors. The percipient's mind must somehow receive the telepathic impression; - and to this reception we can assign no definite physical correlative; - and also the percipient's motor or sensory centres must receive an excitation; - which excitation may be communicated, for aught we know, either by his own mind in the ordinary way, or by the agent's mind in some direct way, - which I may call
telegric, thus giving a more precise sense to a word which I long ago suggested as a kind of correlative to
telepathic. That is to say, there may even in these apparently simple cases be first a transmission from agent to percipient in the spiritual world, and then an action on the percipient's physical brain, of the same type as spirit-possession. This action on the physical brain may be due either to the percipient's own spirit or subliminal self, or else directly to the agent's spirit. For I must repeat that the phenomena of possession seem to indicate that the extraneous spirit acts on a man's organism in very much the same way as the man's own spirit habitually acts on it. One must thus practically regard the body as an instrument upon which a spirit plays; - an ancient metaphor which now seems actually our nearest approximation to truth.
But there is another class of phenomena, besides telepathy, of which this definition of possession at once reminds us. We have dealt much with
secondary personalities, with severances and alternations affecting a man's own spirit, in varying relation with his organism. Felida X.'s developed secondary personality, for instance (see Chapter II), might be defined as another fragment - or another synthesis - of Felida's spirit acting upon her organism in much the same way as the original fragment - or the primary synthesis - of her spirit was wont to act upon it.
On what grounds can we base our distinctions? What justifies us in saying that Felida X.'s organism was controlled only by another modification of her own personality, but that Mrs Piper's is controlled by George Pelham (see p. 264)? May there not be any amount of self-suggestion, colouring with the fictitious hue of all kinds of identities what is in reality no more than an allotropic form of the entranced person himself? Is even the possession by the new personality of some fragments of fresh knowledge any proof of spirit-control? May not that knowledge be gained clairvoyantly or telepathically, with no intervention of any spirit other than of living men?
Yes, indeed, we must reply, there is here a danger of confusion, there is a lack of any well-defined dividing line. While we must decide on general rules, we must also keep our minds open to possible exceptions.
On the negative side, indeed, general rules will carry us a good way. We must not allow ourselves to ascribe to spirit-control cases where no new knowledge is shown in the trance state.
Again, from the parallelism of possession with split personalities we may infer that a possessing spirit is not likely to be able to inspire into the recipient brain ideas or words of very unfamiliar type. From the parallelism of possession with dream we may infer that the memory of the possessing spirit may be subject to strange omissions and confusions. From the parallelism with somnambulism we may infer that colloquy between a human observer and the possessing spirit is not likely to be full or free, but rather to be hampered by difference of state, and abbreviated by the difficulty of maintaining psychical contact for long together.
Our expectations will thus be very different from the commonplace or even the poetic notion of what communication with the dead is likely to be.
There is one more aspect of possession which must be considered before we proceed to the actual evidence.
For us every psychological fact has (so far as we know) a physical side; and spiritual events, to be perceptible to us, must somehow affect the world of matter.
Imprimis, of course, and in ordinary life, our own spirits (their existence once granted) affect our own bodies and are our standing examples of spirit affecting matter. Next, if a man receives a telepathic impact from another incarnate spirit which causes him to see a phantasmal figure, that man's brain has, we may suppose, been directly affected by his own spirit rather than by the spirit of the distant friend. But it may not always be true even in the case of sensory automatisms that the distant spirit has made a suggestion merely to the percipient's spirit which the percipient's own spirit carries out; and in motor automatisms, as they develop into
possession, there are indications, as I have already pointed out, that the influence of the agent's spirit is
telergic rather than telepathic, and that we have extraneous spirits influencing the human brain or organism. That is to say, they are producing movements in matter; - even though that matter be organised matter and those movements molecular.
So soon as this fact is grasped, - and it has not always been grasped by those who have striven to establish a fundamental difference between spiritual influence on our spirits and spiritual influence on the material world, - we shall naturally be prompted to inquire whether inorganic matter as well as organic ever shows the agency of extraneous spirits upon it.
Suppose that a discarnate spirit, in temporary possession of a living organism, is impelling it to motor automatisms. Can we say
a priori what the limits of such automatic movements of that organism are likely to be, in the same way as we can say what the limits of any of its voluntary movements are likely to be? May not this extraneous spirit get more motor power out of the organism than the waking man himself can get out of it? It would not surprise us, for example, if the movements in trance showed increased
concentration; if a dynamometer (for instance) was more forcibly squeezed by the spirit acting through the man than by the man himself. Is there any other way in which one would imagine that a spirit possessing me could use my vital force more skilfully than I could use it myself?
I do not know how my will moves my arm; but I know by experience that my will generally moves only my arm and what my arm can touch; whatever objects are actually in contact with the 'protoplasmic skeleton' which represents the life of my organism. Yet I can sometimes move objects not in actual contact, as by melting them with the heart or (in the dry air of Colorado) kindling them with the electricity, which my fingers emit. I see no very definite limit to this power. I do not know all the forms of energy which my fingers might, under suitable training, emit.
And now suppose that a possessing spirit can use my organism more skilfully than I can. May he not manage to emit from that organism some energy which can visibly move ponderable objects not actually in contact with my flesh? That would be a phenomenon of possession not very unlike its other phenomena; and it would be
By that word (due to M. Aksakoff) it is convenient to describe what have been called 'the physical phenomena of spiritualism', as to whose existence as a reality, and not as a system of fraudulent pretences, fierce controversy has raged for half a century, and is still raging.
The interest excited in the ordinary public by these phenomena has, as is well known, fostered much fraud, to expose and guard against which has been one of the main tasks of the S.P.R.
Indeed, the persistent simulation of telekinesis has, naturally enough, inspired persistent doubt as to its genuine occurrence even in cases where simulation has been carefully guarded against, or is antecedently improbable. And thus while believing absolutely in the occurrence of telekinetic phenomena, I yet hold that it would be premature to press them upon my readers' belief, or to introduce them as an integral part of my general expository scheme. From one point of view, their detailed establishment, as against the theory of fraud, demands an expert knowledge of conjuring and other arts which I cannot claim to possess. From another point of view, their right comprehension must depend upon a knowledge of the relations between matter and ether such as is now only dimly adumbrated by the most recent discoveries; for instance, discoveries as to previously unsuspected forms of radiation.
The rest of the chapter consists chiefly of fragments written by him at different
The way has now been so far cleared for our cases of Possession that at least the principal phenomena claimed have been (I hope) made intelligible, and shown to be concordant with other phenomena already described and attested. It will be best to consider first some of the more rudimentary cases before going on to our own special instances of possession - those of Mr Stainton Moses or Mrs Piper.
We must, however, attempt some provisional scheme of classification, though recognising that the difficulties of interpretation when endeavouring to distinguish between telepathy and telaesthesia, meet us again in dealing with possession and ecstasy. We may not, that is, be able to say, as regards a particular manifestation, whether it is an instance of incipient possession, or incipient ecstasy, or even whether the organism is being 'controlled' directly by some extraneous spirit or by its own incarnate spirit. The first step apparently is the abeyance of the supraliminal self and the dominance of the subliminal self, which may lead in rare cases to a form of trance (or of what we have hitherto called secondary personality) where the whole body of the automatist is controlled by his own subliminal self, or incarnate spirit, but where there is no indication of any relation with discarnate spirits. The next form of trance is where the incarnate spirit, whether or not maintaining control of the whole body, makes excursions into or holds telepathic intercourse with the spiritual world. And, lastly, there is the trance of possession by another, a discarnate spirit. We cannot, of course, always distinguish between these three main types of trance - which, as we shall see later, themselves admit of different degrees and varieties.
The most striking case known to me of the first form of trance possession by the subliminal self - is that of the Rev. C. B. Sanders(1) whose trance-personality has always called itself by the name of 'X Y = Z'. The life of the normal Mr Sanders has apparently been passed in the environment of a special form of Presbyterian doctrine, and there seems to have been a fear on the part of Mr Sanders himself lest the trance manifestations of which he was the subject should conflict with the theological position which he held as a minister; and indeed for several years of his early suffering 'he was inclined to regard his peculiar case of affliction as the result of Satanic agency'. On the part of some of his friends also there seems to be a special desire to show that 'X + Y = Z' was not heterodox. Under these circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that we find so much reticence in 'X + Y = Z' concerning his own relations to the normal Mr Sanders, whom he calls 'his casket'. What little explanation is offered seems to be in singular harmony with one of the main tenets advanced in this book, since the claim made by 'X + Y = Z' is obviously that he represents the incarnate spirit of Mr Sanders exercising the higher faculties which naturally pertain to it, but which can be manifested to the full only when it is freed from its fleshly barriers. This frequently occurs, he says, in dying persons, who describe scenes in the spiritual world, and in his own experience when 'his casket' is similarly affected, and the bodily obstructions to spiritual vision are removed.
(1) See "X + Y = Z"; or, "The Sleeping Preacher of North Alabama". By, the Rev. G. W. Mitchell (New York, 1876).
In this case, then, the subliminal self seems to take complete control of the organism, exercising its own powers of telepathy and telaesthesia, but showing no evidence of direct communication with discarnate spirits.
Professor Thoulet's case, which I give here, suggests such knowledge as may be learned in ecstasy; - as though a message had been communicated to a sleeper during some brief excursion into the spiritual world, - which message was remembered for a few moments, in symbolic form, and then rapidly forgotten, as the sleeper returned fully into the normal waking state. What is to be noted is that the personality of sleep, to which I attribute the spiritual excursion, seems at first to have been 'controlling' the awakened organism. In other words, Professor Thoulet was partially entranced or possessed by his own spirit or subliminal self.
I quote from Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xi, pp. 503-5. Professor Thoulet writes to Professor Richet as follows:
1891... During the summer of 1867, I was officially the assistant, but in reality the friend, in spite of difference in age, of NI. F., a former officer in the navy, who had gone into business. We were trying to set on foot again the exploitation of an old sulphur mine at Rivanazzaro, near Voghera, in Piedmont, which had been long abandoned on account of a falling in.
We occupied the same rooms, and our relations were those of father and son, or of elder and younger brother...
I knew that Madame F., who lived at Toulon, and with whom I was slightly acquainted, would soon be confined. I cannot say I was indifferent about this fact, for it concerned M. E; but it certainly caused me no profound emotion; it was a second child, all was going well, and M. F. was not anxious. I myself was well and calm. It is true that a few days before, in Burgundy, my mother had fallen out of a carriage; but the fall had no bad consequences, and the letter which informed me of it also told me there was no harm done.
M. F. and I slept in adjoining rooms, and as it was hot we left the door between them open. One morning I sprang suddenly out of bed, crossed my room, entered that of M. F., and awakened him by crying out, 'You have just got a little girl; the telegram says …' Upon this I began to read the telegram. M. F. sat up and listened; but all at once I understood that I had been asleep, and that consequently my telegram was only a dream, not to be believed; and then, at the same time, this telegram, which was somehow in my hand and of which I had read about three lines aloud, word for word, seemed to withdraw from my eyes as if some one were carrying it off open; the words disappeared, though their image still remained; those which I had
pronounced remained in my memory, while the rest of the telegram was only a
I stammered something; M. F. got up and led me into the dining-room, and made me write down the words I had pronounced; when I came to the lines which, though they had disappeared from my memory, still remained pictured in my eye, I replaced them by dots, making a sort of drawing of them. Remark that the telegram was not written in common terms; there were about six lines of it, and I had read more than two of them. Then, becoming aware of our rather incorrect costume, M. F. and I began to laugh, and went back to our beds.
Two or three days after I left for Toree; I tried in vain to remember the rest of the telegram; I went on to Turin, and eight or ten days after my dream I received the following telegram from NI. F., 'Come directly, you were right'.
I returned to Rivanazzaro and NI. F. showed me a telegram which he had received the evening before; I recognised it as the one I had seen in my dream; the beginning was exactly what I had written, and the end, which was exactly like my drawing, enabled me to read
again the words which I saw again. Please remark that the confinement had taken place the evening before, and therefore the fact was not that I, being in Italy, had seen a telegram which already existed in France - this I might with some difficulty have understood - but that I had seen it ten days before it existed or could have existed; since the event it announced had not yet taken place. I have turned this phenomenon over in my memory and reasoned about it many times, trying to explain it, to connect it with something, with a previous conversation, with some mental tension, with an analogy, a wish, - and all in vain. 'M. F. is dead, and the paper I wrote has disappeared. If I were called before a court of justice about it, I could not furnish the shadow of a material proof, and again the two personalities which exist in me, the animal and the
savant, have disputed on this subject so often that sometimes I doubt it myself. However, the animal, obstinate as an animal usually is, repeats incessantly that I have seen, and I have read, and it is useless for me to tell myself that if anyone else told me such a story I should not believe it. I am obliged to admit that it happened.
Professor at the Faculte des Sciences at Nancy
Professor Richet adds:
M. Thoulet has lately confirmed all the details contained in his letter. He has no longer any written trace of this old story, but the recollection of it is perfectly clear. He assured me that he had
seen and read the telegram like a real object...
We must now pass on to the most notable recent case where communication with discarnate spirits has been claimed, - that of Swedenborg. The
evidential matter which he has left behind him is singularly scanty in comparison with his pretensions to a communion of many years with so many spirits of the departed. But I think that the half-dozen 'evidential cases' scattered through his memoirs are stamped with the impress of truth, - and I think also, that without some true experience of the spiritual world Swedenborg could not have entered into that atmosphere of truth in which even his worst errors are held in solution. Swedenborg's writings on the world of spirits fall in the main into two classes, - albeit classes not easily divided. There are
experimental writings and there are dogmatic writings. The first of these classes contains accounts of what he saw and felt in that world, and of such inferences with regard to its laws as his actual experience suggested.
On the other hand, the second or purely dogmatic class of Swedenborg's writings, - the records of instruction alleged to have been given to him by spirits on the inner meaning of the Scriptures, etc., - these have more and more appeared to be mere arbitrary fancies; - mere projections and repercussions of his own preconceived ideas.
On the whole, I may say that Swedenborg's story, - one of the strangest lives yet lived by mortal men, - is corroborative rather than destructive of the slowly rising fabric of knowledge of which he was the uniquely gifted, but uniquely dangerous, precursor.
The next case to be mentioned is that of D. D. Home. In Home's case the subliminal self seems, throughout the longest series of séances of which we have a record, to have been the spirit chiefly controlling him during the trance and acting as intermediary for other spirits, who occasionally, however, took complete possession.
But, although I attribute much value to what evidence exists in the case of Home, it cannot but be deplored that the inestimable chance for experiment and record which this case afforded was almost entirely thrown away by the scientific world. Unfortunately the record is especially inadequate in reference to Home's trances and the evidence for the personal identity of the communicating spirits. His name is known to the world chiefly in connection with the telekinetic phenomena which are said to have occurred in his presence, and the best accounts of which we owe to Sir William Crookes. It is not my intention, as I have already explained, to deal with these, but it must be understood that they form an integral part of the manifestations in this case, as in the case of Stainton Moses. For detailed accounts of them the reader should consult the history of Home's life and experiences.
To the history of William Stainton Moses I now turn. It was on May 9th, 1874, that I met Mr Moses for the first time.
Here was a man of University education, of manifest sanity and probity, who vouched to us for a series of phenomena, - occurring to himself, and with no doubtful or venal aid, - which seemed at least to prove, in confusedly intermingled form, three main theses unknown to Science. These were (1) the existence in the human spirit of hidden powers of insight and of communication; (2) the personal survival and near presence of the departed; and (3) interference, due to unknown agencies, with the ponderable world. He spoke frankly and fully; he showed his note-books; he referred us to his friends; he inspired a belief which was at once sufficient, and which is still sufficient, to prompt to action.
The experiences which Stainton Moses had undergone had changed his views, but not his character. He was already set in the mould of the hard-working, conscientious, dogmatic clergyman, with a strong desire to do good, and a strong belief in preaching as the best way to do it. For himself the essential part of what I have called his 'message' lay in the actual words automatically uttered or written, - not in the accompanying phenomena which really gave their uniqueness and importance to the automatic processes. In a book called "Spirit Teachings" he collected what he regarded as the real fruits of those years of mysterious listening in the vestibule of a world unknown.
With the even tenor of this straightforward and reputable life was inwoven a chain of mysteries which, as I think, in what way soever they be explained, make it one of the most extraordinary which our century has seen. For its true history lies in that series of physical manifestations which began in 1872 and lasted for some eight years, and that series of automatic writings and trance-utterances which began in 1873, received a record for some ten years, and did not, as is believed, cease altogether until the earthly end was near.
The physical manifestations included the apparent production of such phenomena as intelligent raps, movements of objects untouched, levitation, disappearance and reappearance of objects, passage of matter through matter, direct writing, sounds supernormally made on instruments, direct sounds, scents, lights, objects materialised, hands materialised (touched or seen). Mr Moses was sometimes, but not always, entranced while these physical phenomena were occurring. Sometimes he was entranced and the trance utterance purported to be that of a discarnate spirit. At other times, especially when alone, he wrote automatically, retaining his own ordinary consciousness meanwhile, and carrying on lengthy discussions with the 'spirit influence' controlling his hand and answering his questions, etc.
That these messages were written down in good faith by Mr Moses as proceeding from the personages whose names are signed to them, there can be little doubt. But as to whether they did really proceed from those personages or no there may in many cases be very great doubt; - a doubt which I, at least, shall be quite unable to remove.
If we confine ourselves to the verbal messages, we find that they contain comparatively few verifiable facts of which there is no printed record and which it is practically certain that the medium could never have known.
In two cases, however, the announcement of a death was made to Mr Moses, when the news was apparently not known to him by any normal means. One of these is the case of President Garfield (Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xi, p. 100). The other (see my article in Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xi, pp. 96
et seq.) is in some ways the most remarkable of all, from the series of chances which have been needful in order to establish its veracity. Specially noticeable in this case is the resemblance of the handwriting of the script to that of the alleged control, a lady whose writing was almost certainly unknown to Mr Moses. Both to the lady's son and to myself the resemblance appeared incontestable, and our opinion was confirmed by Dr Hodgson, who was an expert in such matters.
The case of Mrs Piper, to which we must now turn, differs in two important respects from that of W. Stainton Moses or D. D. Home. In the first place, no telekinetic phenomena have occurred in connection with her trance-manifestations; and, in the second place, her supraliminal self shows no traces of any supernormal faculty whatsoever. She presents an instance of automatism of the extreme type where the 'possession' is not merely local or partial, but affects, so to say, the whole psychical area, - where the supraliminal self is for a time completely displaced, and the whole personality appears to suffer intermittent change. In other words, she passes into a trance, during which her organs of speech or writing are 'controlled' by other personalities than the normal waking one. Occasionally, either just before or just after the trance, the subliminal self appears to take some control of the organism for a brief interval; but with this exception the personalities that speak or write during her trance claim to be discarnate spirits.
I do not propose here to discuss the hypothesis of fraud in this case, since it has been fully discussed by Dr Hodgson, Professor William James, Professor Newbold of Pennsylvania University, Dr Walter Leaf, and Sir Oliver Lodge. I merely quote as a summary of the argument a few words of Professor James, from "The Psychological Review", July, 1898, pp. 421-22:
Dr Hodgson considers that the hypothesis of fraud cannot be seriously maintained. I agree with him absolutely. The medium has been under observation, much of the time under close observation, as to most of the conditions of her life, by a large number of persons, eager, many of them, to pounce upon any suspicious circumstance for [nearly] fifteen years. During that time, not only has there not been one single suspicious circumstance remarked, but not one suggestion has ever been made from any quarter which might tend positively to explain how the medium, living the apparent life she leads, could possibly collect information about so many sitters by natural means. The scientist who is confident of 'fraud' here, must remember that in science as much as in common life a hypothesis must receive some positive specification and determination before it can be profitably discussed, and a fraud which is no assigned kind of fraud, but simply 'fraud' at large, fraud
in abstracto, can hardly be regarded as a specially scientific explanation of concrete facts.
Mrs Piper's trances may be divided into three stages: (1) Where the dominant controlling personality was known as 'Dr Phinuit' and used the vocal organs almost exclusively, communicating by
(2) Where the communications were made chiefly by automatic writing in the trance under the supervision more particularly of the control known as 'George Pelham', or 'G. P.', although 'Dr Phinuit' usually communicated also by speech during this period, 1892-96.
(3) Where supervision is alleged to be exercised by Imperator, Doctor, Rector, and others, and where the communications have been mainly by writing, but occasionally also by speech.
There were various cases of alleged direct 'control' by spirits other than Phinuit during the first stage of Mrs Piper's trance history. But such cases were not usual, and on the whole, although there seemed to be abundant proof of some supernormal faculty which demanded at least the hypothesis of thought-transference from living persons both near and distant, and suggested occasionally some power of telaesthesia or perhaps even of premonition, yet the main question with which we are now concerned, - whether Mrs Piper's organism was controlled, directly or indirectly, by discarnate spirits who could give satisfactory evidence of their identity, - remained undecided.
More important, as regards this question of personal identity, is the series of sittings which formed the second stage of Mrs Piper's trance history, in the years 1892-96 (of which a detailed account is given in Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xiii, pp. 284-582, and vol. xiv, pp. 6-49), where the chief communicator or intermediary was G. P. This G. P., whose name (although, of course, well known to many persons) has been altered for publication into 'George Pelham,' was a young man of great ability, mainly occupied in literary pursuits. Although born an American citizen, he was a member of a noble English family. I never met him, but I have the good fortune to include a number of his friends among my own, and with several of these I have been privileged to hold intimate conversation on the nature of the communications which they received. I have thus heard of many significant utterances of G. P.'s, which are held too private for print; and I have myself been present at sittings where G. P. manifested. For the full discussion of the evidence tending to prove the identity of G. P., I refer my readers to the original report in the Proceedings, S. P. R. I quote here a general summary, given by Dr Hodgson several years later, of the whole series of his manifestations. (From Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xiii, pp. 328-30.)
On the first appearance of the communicating G. P. to Mr Hart in March, 1892, he gave not only his own name and that of the sitter, but also the names of several of their most intimate common friends, and referred specifically to the most important private matters connected with them. At the same sitting reference was made to other incidents unknown to the sitters, such as the account of Mrs Pelham's taking the studs from the body of G. P. and giving them to Mr Pelham to be sent to Mr Hart, and the reproduction of a notable remembrance of a conversation which G. P. living had with Katharine, the daughter of his most intimate friends, the Howards. These were primary examples of two kinds of knowledge concerning matters unknown to the sitters, of which various other instances were afterwards given; knowledge of events connected with G. P. which had occurred since his death, and knowledge of special memories pertaining to the G. P. personality before death. A week later, at the sitting of Mr Vance, he made an appropriate inquiry after the sitter's son, and in reply to inquiries rightly specified that the sitter's son, had been at college with him, and further correctly gave a correct description of the sitter's summer home as the place of a special visit. This, again, was paralleled by many later instances where appropriate inquiries were made and remembrances recalled concerning other personal friends of G. P. Nearly two weeks later came his most intimate friends, the Howards, and to these, using the voice directly, he showed such a fulness of private remembrance and specific knowledge and characteristic intellectual and emotional quality pertaining to G. P. that, though they had previously taken no interest in any branch of psychical research, they were unable to resist the conviction that they were actually conversing with their old friend G. P. And this conviction was strengthened by their later experiences. Not least important, at that time, was his anxiety about the disposal of a certain book and about certain specified letters which concern matters too private for publication. He was particularly desirous of convincing his father, who lived in Washington, that it was indeed G.P. who was communicating, and he soon afterwards stated that his father had taken his photograph to be copied, as was the case, though Mr Pelham had not informed even his wife of this fact. Later on he reproduced a series of incidents, unknown to the sitters, in which Mrs Howard had been engaged in her own home. Later still, at a sitting with his father and mother in New York, a further intimate knowledge was shown of private family circumstances, and at the following sitting, at which his father and mother were not present, he gave the details of certain private actions which they had done in the interim. At their sitting, and at Howards, sittings of the Howards, appropriate comments were made concerning different articles presented which had belonged to G. P. living, or had been familiar to him; he inquired after other personal articles which were not presented at the sittings, and showed intimate and detailed recollections of incidents in connection with them. In points connected with the recognition of articles with their related associations of a personal sort, the G. P. communicating, so far as I know, has never failed. Nor has he failed in the recognition of personal friends. I may say generally that out of a large number of sitters who went as strangers to Mrs Piper, the communicating G. P. has picked out the friends of G. P. living, precisely as the G. P. living might have been expected to do [thirty cases of recognition out of at least one hundred and fifty persons who have had sittings with Mrs Piper since the first appearance of G. P., and no case of false recognition], and has exhibited memories in connection with these and other friends which are such as would naturally be associated as part of the G. P. personality, which certainly do not suggest in themselves that they originate otherwise, and which are accompanied by the emotional relations which were connected with such friends in the mind of G. P. living. At one of his early communications G. P. expressly undertook the task of rendering all the assistance in his power towards establishing the continued existence of himself and other communicators, in pursuance of a promise of which he himself reminded me, made some two years or more before his death, that if he died before me and found himself still existing, he would devote himself to prove the fact; and in the persistence of his endeavour to overcome the difficulties in communicating, as far as possible, in his constant readiness to act as amanuensis at the sittings, in the effect which he has produced - by his counsels, - to myself as investigator, and to numerous other sitters and communicators, - he has, in so far as I can form a judgment in a problem so complex and still presenting so much obscurity, displayed all the keenness and pertinacity which were eminently characteristic of G. P. living.
Finally the manifestations of this G. P. communicating have not been of a fitful and spasmodic nature, they have exhibited the marks of a continuous living and persistent personality, manifesting itself through a course of years, and showing the same characteristics of an independent intelligence whether friends of G. P. were present at the sittings or not. I learned of various cases where in my absence active assistance was rendered by G. P. to sitters who had never previously heard of him, and from time to time he would make brief pertinent reference to matters with which G. P. living was acquainted, though I was not, and sometimes in ways which indicated that he could to some extent see what was happening in our world to persons in whose welfare G. P. living would have been specially interested.
There are numerous instances in the reports in the Proceedings of the giving of information unknown to the sitters and afterwards verified. A striking illustration of this occurred in the case of the lady called 'Ellsa Mannors', whose near relatives and friends concerned in the communications were known to myself. On the morning after the death of her uncle, called F. in the report, she described an incident in connection with the appearance of herself to her uncle on his death-bed. I quote Dr Hodgson's account of this (Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xill, p. 378, footnote).
The notice of his [F.'s] death was in a Boston morning paper, and I happened to see it on my way to the sitting. The first writing of the sitting came from Madame Elisa, without my expecting it. She wrote clearly and strongly, explaining that F. was there with her, but unable to speak directly, that she wished to give me an account of how she had helped F. to reach her. She said that she had been present at his death-bed, and had spoken to him, and she repeated what she had said, an unusual form of expression, and indicated that he had heard and recognised her. This was confirmed in detail in the only way possible at that time, by a very intimate friend of Madame Elisa and myself, and also of the nearest surviving relative of F. I showed my friend the account of the sitting, and to this friend, a day or two later, the relative, who was present at the death-bed, stated spontaneously that F. when dying said that he saw Madame Elisa who was speaking to him, and he repeated what she was saying. The expression so repeated, which the relative quoted to my friend, was that which I had received from Madame Elisa through Mrs Piper's trance, when the death-bed incident was of course entirely unknown to me.
At the outset of this chapter I compared the phenomena of possession with those of alternating personalities, of dreams, and of somnambulism. Now it seems probable that the thesis of multiplex personality may hold good both for embodied and for unembodied men, and this would lead us to expect that the manifestations of the departed would resemble those fugitive and unstable communications between widely different strata of personality of which embodied minds offer us examples. G. P. himself appears to be well aware of the dream-like character of the communications, which, indeed, his own style often exemplifies. Thus he wrote on February 15th, 1894:
'Remember we share and always shall have our friends in the dream-life, i.e. your life so to speak, which will attract us for ever and ever, and so long as we have any friends
sleeping in the material world; you to us are more like as we understand sleep, you look shut up as one in prison, and in order for us to get into communication with you, we have to enter into your sphere, as one like yourself, asleep. This is just why we make mistakes, as you call them, or get confused and muddled.'
The difficulties which must be inherent in such an act of communication are thus described by Dr Hodgson:
'If indeed, each one of us is a 'spirit' that survives the death of the fleshly organism, there are certain suppositions that I think we may not unreasonably make concerning the ability of the discarnate communicate with those yet incarnate. Even under the best of conditions for communication which I am supposing for the nonce to be possible - it may well be that the aptitude for communicating clearly may be as rare as the gifts that make a great artist, or a great mathematician, or a great philosopher. Again, it may well be that, owing to the change connected with death itself, the 'spirit' may at first be much confused, and such confusion may last for a long time; and even after the 'spirit' has become accustomed to its new environment, it is not an unreasonable supposition that if it came into some such relation to another living human organism as it once maintained with its own former organism, it would find itself confused by that relation. The state might be like that of awaking from a prolonged period of unconsciousness into strange surroundings. If my own ordinary body could be preserved in its present state, and I could absent myself from it for days or months or years, and continue my existence under another set of conditions altogether, and if I could then return to my own body, it might well be that I should be very confused and incoherent at first in my manifestations by means of it. How much more would this be the case were I to return to
another human body. I might be troubled with various forms of aphasia and agraphia, might be particularly liable to failures of inhibition, might find the conditions oppressive and exhausting, and my state of mind would probably be of an automatic and dreamlike character. Now, the communicators through Mrs Piper's trance exhibit precisely the kind of confusion and incoherence which it seems to me we have some reason
a prori to expect if they are actually what they claim to be.'
Yet even this very difficulty and fragmentariness of communication ought in the end to be for us full of an instruction of its own. There is ground for belief that we are here actually witnessing the central mystery of human life, unrolling itself under novel conditions, and open to closer observation than ever before. We are seeing a mind use a brain. The human brain is in its last analysis an arrangement of matter expressly adapted to being acted upon by a spirit; but so long as the accustomed spirit acts upon it the working is generally too smooth to allow us a glimpse of the mechanism.
Now, however, we can watch an unaccustomed spirit, new to the instrument, installing itself and feeling its way.
Among the cases of trance discussed in this chapter, we find intimately interwoven with the phenomena of possession many instances of its correlative, - ecstasy. Mrs Piper's fragmentary utterances and visions during her passage from trance to waking life, - utterances and visions that fade away and leave no remembrance in her waking self; Stainton Moses' occasional visions, his journeys in the 'spirit world' which he recorded on returning to his ordinary consciousness; Home's entrancement and converse with the various controls whose messages he gave; - all these suggest actual excursions of the incarnate spirit from its organism. The theoretical importance of these spiritual excursions is, of course, very great. It is, indeed, so great that most men will hesitate to accept a thesis which carries us straight into the inmost sanctuary of mysticism; which preaches 'a precursory entrance into the most holy place, as by divine transportation'.
Yet I think that this belief, although extreme, is not, at the point to which our evidence has carried us, in any real way improbable. To put the matter briefly, if a spirit from outside can enter the organism, the spirit from inside can go out, can change its centre of perception and action, in a way less complete and irrevocable than the change of death. Ecstasy would thus be simply the complementary or correlative aspect of spirit-control. Such a change need not be a
spatial change, any more than there need be any spatial change for the spirit which invades the deserted organism. Nay, further: if the incarnate spirit can in this manner change its centre of perception in response (so to say) to a discarnate spirit's invasion of the organism, there is no obvious reason why it should not do so on other occasions as well. We are already familiar with 'travelling clairvoyance', a spirit's change of centre of perception among the scenes of the material world. May there not be an extension of travelling clairvoyance to the spiritual world? a spontaneous transfer of the centre of perception into that region from whence discarnate spirits seem now to be able, on their side, to communicate with growing freedom?
The high possibilities that lie before us should be grasped once for all, in order that the dignity of the quest may help to carry the inquirer through many disappointments, deceptions, delays. But he must remember that this inquiry must be extended over many generations; nor must he allow himself to be persuaded that there are byways to mastery. I will not say that there cannot possibly be any such thing as occult wisdom, or dominion over the secrets of nature ascetically or magically acquired. But I will say that every claim of this kind which my colleagues or I have been able to examine has proved deserving of complete mistrust; and that we have no confidence here any more than elsewhere in any methods except the open, candid, straightforward methods which the spirit of modern science