Perception with and without the Imagery of Sense
IN CHAPTER II we noted that spontaneous cases of telepathy frequently reach the
consciousness of the percipient in the form of hallucinatory sense-pictures,
which represent the gist of a telepathic message in more or less symbolical
form. The 'pillow' case(1) was an example, where the telepathic intimation of
the death of a friend reached the percipient in the form of a message apparently
written on half a sheet of notepaper, and lying on the pillow. The notepaper and
its message were created, visual sense-imagery, for which some stratum of the
percipient's personality must have been responsible. At the same time, it was
pointed out that all the five senses could be subject to similar hallucinatory
treatment, creation of such imagery being evidently possible on demand. Further
illustrative cases were quoted.
(1) p. 24.
In his book, Phantasms of the Living, Gurney had long ago given a
discussion to this question, saying that, 'all that is veridical in it [the
telepathic apparition] is packed into the telepathic impulse in the form of "a
nucleus of a deferred impression"; the embodiment is the percipient's own
creation.' These are Lord Balfour's words, and he adds, 'In the main I do not
dissent from this view.'
In Chapter X we saw that the creation of sense-imagery was by no means confined
to states of the self which might be described as 'supernormal,' but that in
normal and everyday perception, what appear to be the qualities of physical
objects are really the qualities of our own private 'sense-data,' causally
linked with an independent world in some obscure and roundabout fashion which we
do not understand, and not simply and directly as we invariably believe.
Moreover, many self-suggested illusions produce sense-imagery indistinguishable
from that which we call 'normal,' and believe to be simply veridical, and these
blend with the latter with perfect ease. There was also the curious example,
mentioned in Chapter X, of Mrs. Verrall's attempt to recognize playing-cards by
the sense of touch. When the attempt began to be successful, the fact of contact
gave direct rise to visual imagery. Again, in the phenomenon of eidetic imagery,
the normal act of perception was, as it were, prolonged after the perceived
object had been removed. All these facts go to show that experiences which we
believe to be descriptive of an outer world originate within ourselves to a far
greater extent than we are wont to believe.
When we turn to the states of consciousness associated with trance, we find that
an extraordinary wealth of sense-imagery accompanies it. It will be remembered
that, in the account of the A. V. B. case given in Chapter XIII, Feda gave a
description of Daisy's father, the purporting communicator, as follows(2):
(2) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxx. pp. 526-7.
M. R. H. - Would he like to give any message to Daisy
R. - He wants to give a description first; he's got a square forehead, and it
looks to Feda as though the hair receded on the temples, or else that he brushes
it back very much. He wears a soft sort of hat; Feda doesn't think it's a cap
with a peak, it looks like a hat with a brim, and the brim seems to be turned up
more on one side than the other. He's showing a suit that he thinks Daisy would
recognize; it's a sort of browny coloured suit, and has what looks like a check
pattern, but it's a mixed-up pattern, not a decided check, and there seem to be
other shades in it as well as brown.
Actually, Daisy did recognize the 'soft sort of hat,' which had been known as
'the old hat,' and the browny-coloured suit as well. But the point is that,
after the communicator is stated to be going to give a description of himself,
Feda describes a figure which is evidently the communicator as present to her
visual sense. And this figure is altered to exhibit any feature desired, first
the square forehead and receding hair; then the old hat, evidently being worn.
Then the brown suit. The communicator must therefore have the power of
transmitting ideas to Feda which take on the form for her of something very like
visual perception. At other times the senseimagery is auditory, as in the
reception of names, for example, in Feda's attempts to get hold of the word 'Sporkish.'
Also in Mrs. Willett's struggle with the word 'Deucalion' above, when the
communicator says to her, 'The sound is DEW.' Or the imagery may be tactual, as
in Feda's description of the Baranca del Anavingo, where she said that the lava
road felt like' walking on cinders.' Feda also said on at least one occasion
that the communicators could make her feel a thing as hot or cold g exactly as
if she felt it with her fingers,' and added, 'you know how hypnotized people can
be made to feel like that.'
This comparison with hypnosis is, I think, highly significant. It brings home to
us the fact that in all trance and supernormal experiences we are dealing with
sense-situations which have been created within, wherever the influence to
create may have come from. The Willett trance further confirms this.
In a D. I. on March 5, 1912, Gurney W says:
"... Inspiration may be from within, but it may be from Without. Oh, he says,
Every moment I gave to the study of hypnotic states and post-hypnotic states I
feel was among the best spent of all my time.
(G. W. B. Yes, Gurney, those were splendid papers of yours.)
Oh, he says, It's not only what I learnt then, but what I've been able to apply
here. For instance: Say, using the words in their rough way, that a mutual
selection is made-mutually from her mind and mine. It's possible for me to
suggest I to her subliminal that at a given time such and such an idea shall, as
it were, be recovered out of the sediment - and come to the top...' Gurney had,
actually, during his lifetime done a good deal of work on hypnotism and written
much about it.
During some sittings with Mrs. Leonard in 1917, Mrs. Salter obtained from Feda a
very good description of her father, Dr. A. W. Verrall, who died in 1912. In the
first sitting he was described as having a beard. In the second sitting Feda
says: 'The mouth is a bit large, the lips are pink, not red. The chin is more
rounded' - statements which are inconsistent with a description of a bearded
face. Mrs. Salter says:
'Now this description, in which the communicator's face is apparently viewed
sometimes from the front, sometimes in profile ... is on the whole distinctly
good, but it contains details which seem to imply that the man described is
beardless, the size and colour of the mouth, the shape of the chin. It is
impossible to suppose that any one who was describing in detail a man visibly
present could be mistaken as to whether or no he had a beard. Against the
interpretation that Feda is seeing my father as a quite young man, clean shaven,
is first her own statement that he is "towards middle life, hardly that," and
secondly the fact that at the sitting of January 29, 1917, the man afterwards
identified with my father is stated to be bearded. My own interpretation of what
occurred is that Feda was not really "seeing" anything, but that on this, as on
other occasions, she was receiving a series of mental impressions which she
translated into visual terms. Her statements that my father had a rather large
mouth and a face not rounded but too broad to be oval, are in fact correct, as
early photographs show.'
In fact, the sense-imagery is private to Feda, created in or by her, in
correspondence with ideas which she receives in non-sensuous terms.
At a sitting on January 29, 1917, Mrs. Salter received from Feda a description
of her mother, Mrs. Verrall, who had died in the preceding year, in which
several of the features described were correct as witnessed by a photograph. But
Feda added several details which were not true, such as that Mrs. Verrall wore
'a made bodice,' 'bands at the wrists,' and an 'oval brooch with a gold rim.'
Mrs. Salter comments:
'The general inference which I should draw from the above extract is that a
certain amount of veridical information about my mother was woven by Feda into
an imaginary picture of an elderly widow, based on preconceived ideas of the
appearance such a picture might be expected to present. The "bands at the wrist"
are presumably widow's bands, which my mother never wore. She was, in fact, a
widow at the time the photograph was taken'(3).
(3) 'Some Incidents occurring at Sittings
with Mrs. Leonard which may throw Light on their Modus Operandi,' by Mrs. W. H.
Salter, Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxxix. pp. 306 ff.
There is no doubt that Feda 'gags' to a certain extent when doubtful, sometimes
adding points which are really inferences drawn by herself. But in view of the
curious way in which her information takes sensuous shape, she may not always be
aware that she is doing so. It is interesting to reflect that, in such a case as
this, recorded by Mrs. Salter, some of the correct constituent features in the
picture which Feda drew of Mrs. Verrall evidently came from a source external to
Feda, while others came from Feda's own imagination. Yet the items from the two
sources, when translated into sense-imagery, blend into a single picture in such
a way as to be indistinguishable from one another. This would seem to go far to
show that all the sense-imagery, including that which is veridical and expresses
true information coming from an external source, is of Feda's own creation. The
imagined idea and the telepathically received idea would seem to set in
operation the same sensory mechanism, so that sense-items from the two sources
arise in the same manner and blend into an indistinguishable whole.
Statements by Feda about Life in Another World. - In the control type of trance,
though not in the Willett trance, the communicators are usually reported as
representing the scenes and events of the so-called 'spirit' world in terms
which are almost the exact equivalents of scenes and events in this world. It is
certainly startling when such a communicator as A. V. B., having correctly
described through Feda the things she used to do in this world, goes on to state
that she does them still.
In the sitting of October 2, 1916, Feda describes A. V. B. as with a brown,
sleek horse looking over her shoulder(4). At a later sitting, she says that A.
V. B. has her arm round his neck, that A. V. B. is keeping the horse for M. R.
H., that she has been learning to ride in her present state of existence, that
there are plenty of horses that love to be exercised, and that the ground is so
springy. Miss Radcliffe Hall quotes these passages as evidence of A. V. B.'s
memory of the incidents of her earthly life, for they were true in that respect
- A. V. B. was a poor horse-woman; M. R. H. possessed a hunter, and so on. But
obviously they constitute a puzzle, in that they are interspersed with very good
veridical material, which the communicator shows intelligence in selecting, and
are proffered without any suggestion that either the control or the communicator
expect the sitters to find them surprising.
(4) On a Series of Sittings with Mrs.
Osborne Leonard,' Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxx. pp. 361-2.
Another passage of a similar kind occurs when Feda is describing A. V. B.'s
fondness for playing and singing to her guitar. (A. V. B. in life had actually
been an extremely expert performer on the guitar.)
'Feda says: "And now she's showing Feda something that you can pull strings to,
she's going tum, tum, tum." (Here Feda gives an exact imitation of the sound of
notes picked on a guitar, imitating with her hand the plucking of the strings.)
"Mrs. Twonnie" (Feda's name for M. R. H.) "she's plucking them." M. R. H.
answers: "That's splendid, you are making the exact noise." Feda says: "She's
making the noise, and Feda can always imitate what she can do, she says it does
make your fingers sore too... She says, do you know, she sees them in the spirit
world plucking those string things and singing softly to them."'
At six separate sittings, Feda represents A. V. B. as enjoying bathing, of which
she used to be very fond. Feda states that she now has a bathing-pool in her
garden, and that she had had a bathe just before one of the sittings. She also
states through Feda that the dog Billy, before referred to, is with her now.
Feda's descriptions of happenings, which, she states, are now taking place in
the other world, are indistinguishable from her descriptions of what are
evidently (like the brown suit) the ideas or memories of the communicators,
thrown into perceptual form. There is nothing to suggest that what is happening
is in any way different in the two cases. When Feda states that she sees them in
the 'spirit-world' plucking guitars and singing softly to them, is not this A.
V. B.'s memory decked out in Feda's sense-imagery with some embellishments?
On the other hand, if Feda is entirely responsible for the transference of
earthly scenes and occupations to the other world, why does not such a clear
communicator as A. V. B. correct Feda's statements when she assumes control
herself, as Dr. Verrall. afterwards corrected Feda's mis-description of him as
being without a beard?(5) On the contrary, Feda purports to be quoting A.V.B.'s
own words when she says: 'Then I bathe; you know, don't you, that I always loved
that part of it.' These things strongly suggest that A. V. B., at least while
communicating, is subject to sense-experiences of the same kind as Feda's, and
accepts them us veridical.
(5) p. 268.
Perhaps we do not realize how copious and compelling this sense-imagery must be
for minds in states other than that which we regard as 'normal.' The following
extract from a sitting held on February 24, 1922, with Mrs. Brittain by Mrs. and
Miss Dawson-Smith is worth quoting(6). The communicator was ostensibly Mrs.
Dawson-Smith's son, Frank, who had been killed in the War. As the medium was
beginning to come out of trance, she suddenly interjected: 'Have you a St.
Bernard dog? There's a big one standing by you. It died of distemper. It is with
Frank, he found it waiting for him.' The sitter's note on this is as follows:
(6) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxxvi. pp. 307-8.
'That is a brief paragraph and not written entire because we thought the sitting
was over and Belle had gone. We had put our pencils and notebooks away and sat
quietly waiting for the medium to wake. What followed was this: Mrs. Brittain
opened her eyes and suddenly stared over my shoulder, looking startled and
alarmed. I was sitting in a low chair facing her. She said with a gasp, "Oh I
don't growl like that - oh, how dreadful!" Then she grew calmer and said, "Have
you a St. Bernard dog? It is a big one. He died of distemper." My daughter at
once said, "No, we haven't a St. Bernard. Our dog is an Airedale." Mrs. Brittain
instantly said, "You never saw him; it was long before you were born. The dog is
standing by your mother-he loves her and is very jealous of everybody who goes
'This was all perfectly correct. We had a St. Bernard, and he died of distemper
when my boy was four months old. The dog was devoted to me and to my baby
(Frank) but would not allow anybody to come near us.
Here information must have been telepathically acquired, either from the sitters
or from the communicator, about the existence of the St. Bernard, about his
having died of distemper before Miss Dawson-Smith was born, and about his
fondness for her mother and his jealousy. But some element in Mrs. Brittain's
personality embodies these facts, or most of them, in the form of a sense-image
of the dog - one might almost call it a cinematograph 'talkie' of the
dog-growling in so vivid and life-like a way, that the awakening Mrs. Brittain
is for a moment almost terrified by it. The idea suggested by incidents such as
these is that somewhere below the conscious level of the personality, there is a
mechanism which is capable of producing all kinds of sense-imagery with such
pervasiveness and completeness as to persuade the experient of the literal
reality of the persons or objects which it represents. A striking instance is
recorded in Mrs. Willett's case, which is worth quoting in full:
Perception and Sense-Imagery in the Willett Phenomena. - On December 17, 1913,
Mrs. Willett, in a state more or less akin to her customary trance, but which
Lord Balfour considers to have presented some differences from the ordinary D.
I., dictated a contemporary experience:(7)
(7) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xliii. p. 60.
'It's a picture - a picture that I love and often see. Marble pillars everywhere
- a most heavenly scene. A company of mensmall company, discussing everything in
heaven and earth, and really reaching the heights of reason - almost unconscious
of their visible surroundings. It is a sort of parable of life.
'There was such intercourse of the human mind going on in that room, and I know
it so well I almost fancy I must have been there, though it happened a long time
'Fred uses the expression somewhere - a small company of like-minded men. That's
how those men were; and, you know, they never die. (Here I asked for the
dictation to be a little slower.) Oh, I wish I could say it quickly, because
it's all floating past me.
'There's a poem of Matthew Arnold's about Christ, that whenever the feet of
mercy move up and down where poverty is, Christ is actually present in them now.
'Oh, how I wish I could tell what I know. You know, to ordinary people those men
who sat talking there long ago are just historical figures, interesting from a
hundred points of view, but dead men. Do you know, there's nothing dead in
greatness, because there can't be, because all greatness is an emanation from
the changeless Absolute. That's why I know these people as if they were alive
to-day. I know them much better than many of the people I live with-especially
the older man, the Master. He had disciples, you know, and whenever- What I said
about that Matthew Arnold poem was because I wanted to say that what was true of
Christ is true of the man I'm speaking about.
'Oh, do you know that Knowledge isn't the greatest faculty of the human mind.
There's a deeper faculty, deriving its - something or other, I missed
that-through a more central zone. It's Intuition. It's in Intuition that the
Soul acts most freely, and it's by Intuition that it best demonstrates its
freedom. There's something about that in Paracelsus. Paracelsus is a great
'What a long way I've got from my picture that I like to look at, or rather from
my room where I choose to walk. The meal is for the most part over, and there's
a sort of hush of the spirit; because in that quick interchange of thought new
ideas have arisen, and the man that they all look up to, he's borne very far
aloft on the wings of the Spirit. And suddenly on the quiet of it all there
bursts the sound of revelling coming nearer and nearer - flute-players!
(ecstatically). Oh, is it Bacchus and his crew? Anyhow there's something rather
Bacchanalian about it. They're getting nearer and nearer, and they're hammering
on the door, and then in they come. My people are all disturbed, and there's
great toasting. They take it all in very good part, and they revel away. There
are wreaths of flowers, and cups passing, loud jokes. And then, do you know, by
degrees some of the crowd melt away, and some of the people go to sleep. And
then the whole thing ends up with such a majestic thing, I think; just that one
figure, when the interruption is over, he stays there, like some great beacon
shining out above the clouds, walking on the heights of thought; and the
absolute silence reigns, and there he sits.
'Do you know that man's as real to me as if I could touch him! He's an ugly man,
only I feel he's sublimely great. You know I've not got to be tied up always to
myself. I can get up and walk about in other worlds; and I very often like to
walk through the room where that scene took place.
'Have you ever seen the shadow of the Parthenon? Oh! (Pause.) It's all very
beautiful there. Do you know Edmund would have been very happy in that world. It
was the sort of world he wanted, and he strayed into such a hideous age.
(A disturbing noise occurred, which upset Mrs. Willet.)
Oh !-oh !-oh! (Pause.)
I've quite lost the thread, I've quite lost the thread.
(A further noise occurred, and Mrs. Willett resumed in writing.)
I've lost the thread. It's all gone. I was so happy I was seeing visions and I
did not ever want to leave. Fred was with me, F. W. H. M. I also saw Henry
Sidgwick, he had a white beard.
'Do you know who the young man was I only just caught sight of him for a moment.
'HOW NOTHING time is
'All human experience is One. We are no shadows nor do we pursue shadows.
Pilgrims in Eternity
'We few we few we happy band of BROTHERS.'
On this Lord Balfour notes:
'During the greater part of this sitting Mrs. Willett, although not in a
condition of trance, was certainly further removed than usual from a normal
state of consciousness. On my showing her, about an hour later, the part which I
had taken down from dictation, she said, "I haven't the faintest recollection of
all this, nor do I know what it means." I then told her that it described a
famous scene in Plato's Symposium, to which allusion had already been made in
another script of hers, nearly three years ago ... The word Symposium, however,
seemed to convey no meaning to her, though I reminded her that she must have
seen it in Mrs. Verrall's account ... of the attempt to reproduce Myers's
It is a remarkable fact that states of consciousness, which, to outward
appearance, are not so very far removed from the normal, may yet be completely
amnesic. Whether we choose to say that Mrs. Willett was here in trance, or even
whether she is in trance during her D. L's seems to be a matter of choice in
terminology. What we call 'normal' consciousness is really a fluctuation about a
mean condition with every one, and with a few individuals the extremes of
fluctuation are greater. It is these extreme fluctuations which open the door to
the study of so-called 'psychical' phenomena.
In the above passage there are several literary allusions, as for example,
'Bacchus and his crew,' which appears to refer to a verse in Keats's Endymion;
'What shadows we are and what shadows we pursue,' occurred in a famous speech of
Burke's; and the final quotation, of course, is from Henry V.
It cannot be said in this case, that we are taking the unverified word of a
trance-personality. Mrs. Willett herself experiences the Symposium scene. She
has not even undergone a very profound mental readjustment, yet her new world is
extremely real to her. 'Do you know that man's as real to me as if I could touch
him!' And again, 'I know them much better than many of the people I live with.'
The idea, therefore, suggests itself that in the A. V. B. case quoted above, the
communicator may be living in a world of self-created sense-imagery, something
like this of the Symposium scene, but which contains horses, bathing-pools, and
guitars. If we feel inclined to say: How can any sane, well-balanced, and
critically-minded individual live in such a state of illusion without being
aware of it? let us reflect for a moment on our own condition in this present
world. We, also, are living in a world of sense-imagery. Of course we feel
inclined to say that we live in a world of real objects; not in a world of
illusions. But let us reflect on the very important considerations touched on in
Chapter X, where several reasons were given for supposing that the world of
normal sense-perception is in reality a world of appearance, though correlated
in some way which we do not understand with a reality which is not ourselves.
Not a world of subjective illusion, but still, in a very real sense, more a
human construct than a presentation of the intrinsic character of reality.
Suppose that the sense-imagery of trance-communicators (self-created like our
own), were correlated with independent reality in some looser and more flexible
fashion than is the case with us; would not this give us some inkling into the
possibility of life in other finite worlds? The world of experience would be a
function of the percipient's personality. But is not this true of our own
present world? We might further suppose that in temporary or unstable states of
personality (as in the somewhat arbitrary complex which constitutes a
communicator), the sense-imagery would tend to be unstable and wild: and that in
proportion as the personal complex became more stable the sense-imagery would
become more self-consistent, and its appearance of independence more convincing.
Mrs. Willett's sense-experiences are by no means confined to the visual and,
auditory senses. In deep trance, D. L, on February 28, 1914, the following
' ... Somebody said something about Father Cam walking arm in arm with the
Canongate. What does that mean? Oh! (Sniffs.) What a delicious scent! No rosebud
yet by dew empearled...'
'"Father Cam," and "The Canongate," walking arm in arm symbolizes the
co-operation of the two friends Verrall and Butcher (Cambridge and Edinburgh).
The automatist is wondering what the meaning can possibly be, when suddenly she
stops and sniffs. She is smelling something, declares it to be delicious, and
finally recognizes it as the scent of roses.' The rose, for a personal reason,
was symbolical of S. H. Butcher, and this was readily understood by his friends,
but Mrs. Willett was quite ignorant of it. But the point is here the
hallucination of the sense of smell.
Physical feelings and pain, telepathically transmitted to Mrs. Willett, also
invoke in her the appropriate imagery. In the stage of awakening from trance on
May 11, 1912, Mrs. Willett had been speaking of a communicator, known as The
Dark Young man; then she said:
'Oh! I fell down, I fell down. Oh I my head, my head, my head. Oh, oh, oh.
(Groans.) Oh, oh, oh, I bumped my head. oh, it's all here (putting her hands to
her head below and behind the ears).
'(Pause: heavy breathing.) Oh, 1 wish my head would get empty.'
Lord Balfour notes All this was so dramatically uttered that for the moment I
thought Mrs. Willett had really hurt her head. Apparently, however, it was only
the idea of the Dark Young Man's fall and consequent injury passing into a
sympathetic feeling so strong that the automatist imagines it to have happened
Is There Such a Thing as Supernormal Sense-Imagery? - The most obvious criticism
of the idea here suggested, that in abnormal or supernormal states of
consciousness, self-created sense-imagery could form a realistic world linked in
some more or less distant way with an external reality, is that in all these
states the imagery described is of our own normal type. It might be said that we
are here dealing with hallucinations, which clothe different types of fantasy,
but that all are drawn from a remembered stock of sense-imagery, ultimately
derived from the normal senses of this present world. This is very likely true,
especially in intermediate and unstable states of consciousness, and certainly
true in dreams. But is it always true? Are the descriptions of scenes given by
trance-personalities sometimes translations made for our benefit into our
sense-imagery from imagery of a very different kind? I will quote some further
examples from Mrs. Willett, relevant to this point:
In the D. I. of February 18, 1909, occurs the following:
About 11.30 to-day ... I began to feel that very restless feeling ... At 11.45 I
sat down, close to a cheerful window, with a feeling of "heavy" impression that
F. was waiting. I felt as if it were somebody else's impatience.
'The first words that came to my mind were Myers yes now take a sheet of
paper-only for notes no script but make notes of what I say" I enclose the notes
I made ...
'The whole conversation ended by F. saying he did not want to tire me, and so
"farewell." I just got a flash of an impression of E. G. wanting to make a joke
and F. not letting him - but it is all very dim that, I am clear up to
On February 1, 1910, occurs:
'Gurney it is quite a short script I want to write Myers says a note made re D.
I. of Friday may give rise to ... inaccurate deductions ... Myers wishes the
record AMMENDED (sic) by a note
Myers yes let me go on...
Mrs. Willett notes: "During all this script I felt very muddled and confused.
The writing came in bits. Just before the [name Myers] I got a sense of F. being
there and then of his brushing E. G. away and starting off the script himself
with great impatience and in a very peremptory mood."'
Note the dual aspect of these passages: (i) Mrs. Willett herself feels restless,
impatient, etc., but (ii) she also refers these emotions to their sources. In
other words, her experiences are in some way cognitive. The suggestion is, I
think, that something akin to sense-imagery enters into these cases, but imagery
of a different kind from anything which we experience in normal life-imagery
which cannot be directly turned into terms of normal thought-imagery which
immediately conveys knowledge of somebody in the state of wanting to make a
joke, of being in a peremptory mood, etc.
Mrs. Willett wrote in a letter to Mrs. Verrall on September 27, 1909:
'I got no impression of appearance, only character, and in some way voice or
pronunciation (though this doesn't mean that my ears hear, you know!). That is
always so in D. I. [i.e. in silent D. I.] I don't feel a sense of "seeing," but
an intense sense of personality, like a blind person perhaps might have-and of
inflections, such as amusement or emotion on the part of the speaker. If you
asked me how I know when E. G. is speaking and not F. W. H. M., 1 can't exactly
define, except that to me it would be impossible to be in doubt one instant -
and with E. G. I often know he is there a second or two before he speaks ... I
then sometimes speak first ... To me, by now, there isn't anything strange in D.
L's except when I try to explain anything about them; then I realize suddenly
they are unusual! But otherwise it gives me no more sense of oddness to be
talking to these invisible people than it does to be talking to my son, for
instance. But I don't think I mentally visualize any sort of "appearance" with
regard to them - it is as "minds" and
"characters" that they are to me, and yet not at all intangible or
This subjective light thrown on the nature of the trance processes by the
experient herself is of the very highest value. Another most interesting example
occurred when the communicator, Gurney W, [E. G.], attempted to throw his memory
of himself as he was when living on to the sensitive's mind, so that she might
pass on the description of it to Sir Oliver Lodge. It seems to be intended to
illustrate the process for his benefit. The date was September 24, 1910:
'[Mrs. W.] E. G. is talking.
E. G. Don't feel oppressed. You're going to do well. (To O.J. L.) I want you to
see the passage of thought, not ocular or aural. Mediums. (To Mrs. W.) Now come,
how does it seem to you now? Answer out loud. What he says, do you often say?
Well, say it to Lodge.
Mrs. W. I see what he wants. I'm to tell you what I feel, my thoughts. He's very
very near. I feel him just there (in front near face). I can only think of those
words, they come running in my head: 'Nearer he is than breathing, closer than
hands and feet.' I'm all as if I was in the light. I'm not seeing with my eyes
(eyes closed all the time), but it feels as if he was holding both my hands and
looking down at me. I'm not seeing his face by - I'm feeling it there. It's
always got that look of having known pain. And he says to me, go over it just as
it strikes you. I think it's the eyes, the lids are so -
E.G. Stop a moment, and tell Lodge the thought ... I'm throwing in the
recollection of what I took my bodily semblance to be, incarnate; see how she
catches it. How dangerous analogies are, and yet you could get something by
thinking of a magic-lantern slide. Dependence on the vividness of my
recollection; it's a calling up on my part, a conscious effort, not involuntary.
Lodge, are you seeing?
E. G. Go on.
Mrs. W. I see the lids drooping over the eyes, and how very restful they are to
see, like something strong, something that makes me not afraid. Very sad, and
yet at the back of that sadness something else; strength and something else.
Next thing I think about, it seems, the delicate backward sweep of the nostrils
and the mouth, not quite straight, but oh, how humorous it can look. Not with
the eyes, this sight.
E. G. Go on, go down.
Mrs. W. And it's a, yes, how thin his face is; then the ears rather low on the
head, and how the chin balances all the face, and such -
E. G. Yes, it was my chiefest attitude to life, that compassion. Mrs. W. And
E. G. Yes, say it out loud, that's what I want Lodge to know. Mrs. W. It's what
I feel, I feel it's good to be here.'
Lord Balfour says:
'Evidently what we have here is an attempt to illustrate the telepathic
transmission of a memory-image from the communicator to the percipient. The
impression is without doubt meant to be understood as a deliberately
communicated impression involving not only intention on the part of the agent
Again, when Dr. Butcher introduced himself to Mrs. Willett as 'Henry Butcher's
ghost'(8), she felt his personality, including his 'piercing glance,' with no
suggestion that there was sense-imagery of the normal kind. Take this in
conjunction with, 'Not with the eyes, this sight,' just mentioned, and it looks
very much as though Mrs. Willett, in her nonnormal states of consciousness,
experiences an entirely unfamiliar kind of sense-imagery which conveys, not only
features of character, such as 'sweetness and strength,' but also those features
we call 'physical.' I suggest that in this direct way she was acquiring
knowledge of Gurney's appearance and that she was translating this knowledge
into visual senseimagery in her description. It does not follow that sensitives
in non-normal states experience only normal sense-imagery; but it does follow
that they must translate their experiences into such normal imagery if we are to
(8) p. 257
Telepathic Possession. - In connexion with the theory of telepathy, it has been
pointed out that there is no need to suppose that the actual experience of the
agent is ever shared by the percipient(9). In cases of thought-transference it
may always be supposed that the mechanism of telepathic action is such as to
cause the percipient to undergo an experience of his own which is similar to the
agent's but not identical with it. In this way the privacy of experiences would
be maintained. It might be said that to share an experience with another mind is
an impossibility, because it would dissolve the distinction between one mind and
(9) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xliii. pp. 397-438.
I will conclude the present chapter by quoting three cases which have a
significant bearing on this question and which Lord Balfour classes as instances
of 'Telepathic Possession,' or of telepathy leading up to it.
In the waking stage of a D. I. on February 7, 1915, Mrs. Willett said:
'I've seen this room before, but I can't remember where it is. (Points to a
water-colour picture representing the Firth of Forth and the coast of East
Lothian, seen from some point in Fife.) I'm not accustomed to the view from that
side, I generally see it from the other side. Why has that man painted it from
behind to fore, so to speak? Do you see what I mean? He's stood in the wrong
place stupid idiot! You see, why I like my view best is because I'm accustomed
to it, and I've seen it all my life from the other side. It makes me quite giddy
seeing it the wrong way about. You can't reverse pictures so that they stay
right, can you? I'm looking at it where I generally stand; and that's what's
bothering me, you see. (Gets up and goes to the fireplace.) That's where I used
to stand-just about there. (Points with finger to the spot.)'
The Dark Young Man had been the communicator who, ostensibly, had just departed
as the waking stage came on, and a footnote is here added, saying: 'The point
indicated was on the southern side of the Firth of Forth, and might quite well
represent the position of the Dark Young Man's Scottish home. The automatist
herself had no personal knowledge of the neighbourhood.' In his remarks about
this incident, Lord Balfour remarks:
'The personality of the automatist appears to merge so completely into that of
the communicator as to lead one to suspect the latter of a desire to give a
practical illustration of that reciprocal interweaving of two minds which he had
described earlier in the D. I., and which, without being "possession" in full
sense of the term, may yet reproduce some of the characteristics of
"possession." I regard it, in fact, as an illustration of what I call telepathic
One sees, too, how difficult it is to discuss telepathy on the assumption that
it is a mode of communication between two atomically distinct selves. The nature
of the self is the central problem in psychical research, bound up with which is
the nature of telepathy, and it is evident that we have to learn to form ideas
which will fit the facts, and not to force the facts into our preconceived
ideas. For instance, in a further portion of the script dealing with the
transferred pain of the Dark Young Man's fall, occurs the following:
'Oh, I feel so giddy, I'm tumbling down. (Rests her head on the table.) I can't
remember who I am. I know I'm somebody; and I'm coming together, you know, and
the bits don't fit.'
And on October 31, 1908, the day after Myers had claimed to have succeeded in
getting into Mrs. Willett's mentality, the latter notes to her script:
'I had had other confused dreams the previous night, as well as an intensely
vivid impression of Fred's presence. I can only describe it by saying I felt
myself so blending with him as almost to seem to become him.'
Note also the script above referred to in which Mrs. Willett says: 'It was as if
barriers were swept away and 1 and they became one.'
In the waking stage of the trance-script of April 19, 1918, Mrs. Willett said:
'Oh! (pause) Fred, Fred. So strange to be somebody else. To feel somebody's
heart beating inside, and some one else's mind inside your mind. And there isn't
any time or place, and either you're loosed or they're entered, and you all of a
sudden know everything that ever was. You understand everything. It's like every
single thing and time and thought and everything brought down to one point...'
Compare above also' How nothing time is.'
It is clear that if this is telepathy, it is a very different kind of thing from
the simple thought-transference of the early experiments. The evidence leads us
on to cases like these which suggest a sharing of experience, and even a sharing
of selfhood, which we cannot understand. It is reminiscent of religious mystical
experience. The same thing inspired Tennyson's poem, 'In Memoriam,' and
particularly the verse beginning with the words, 'The living soul was flashed on
mine.' Theories of telepathy must take these facts into account, as well as the
In the next chapter we will go on to consider briefly the light which these
trance-phenomena throw on the nature of personality.
Source: "Science and Psychical Phenomena" by G. N.
M. Tyrrell (New York: University Books, 1961).