Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 4

Chapter 17: Instances of Occurrences Prima Facie Indicative of Survival

1. Apparitions and hauntings | 2. "Out-of-the-body" experiences | 3. Materializations and other paranormal physical phenomena | 4. "Possessions" | 5. Memories, seemingly of earlier lives

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

1. Apparitions and hauntings

          APPARITIONS, some precognitions or retrocognitions, and also the so-called "projections" or "out-of-the-body" experiences, all putatively come under the technical psychological category of hallucinations, that is, of "abnormal misinterpretations of ideational experiences as perceptions ... in hallucination the error of perception goes so far as to suppose facts present to a sense which is actually receiving no relevant stimulation."(1)

(1) H. C. Warren: Dictionary of Psychology. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, 1934.

More explicitly, a hallucination is essentially a mental image - visual, auditory, tactual, or/and other - that has the vividness of a sensation and that, as usual in the case of sensations, is automatically taken to be perception of a physical object or event, although none such as perceived is actually stimulating the relevant sense organ(s). Ordinary dreams are the most common hallucinations: in them, physical objects seem to be perceived and, until one awakens, are not realized to have been physically non-existent. Hallucinations thus are not inherently pathological but only sometimes so (as, for example, in delirium tremens.)

To say that an experience is, or is only, a hallucination is, of course, not at all to account for its content or for its occurrence, but is merely to say, as made clear above, that the experience is not due to stimulation of the relevant sense organ(s) at the time by a physical object of the kind seemingly perceived. Nor does an experience's being a hallucination in the least dispose of the question whether the experience is veridical in the sense of being a true sign of some fact it appears to signify, e.g., of some crisis being faced by the person whose apparition is perceived; or of some future or past occurrence, as in precognition or retrocognition; or, as in "out-of-the-body" experiences, of actual observation of one's own body and of other things - extrasensorily but accurately - from a point distant in space from the body.

This is important to remember when a particular hallucination is more specifically characterized, perhaps, as oneiric, or as hypnagogic, or hypnopompic; or (as in the case of "out-of-the-body" experiences) as heautoscopic, etc.; for these adjectives are names only of sub-classes of hallucinations, not at all of causes or of processes that would account for the particular content of the hallucination, or dispose of the possibility of its being veridical in the sense stated above.

With these words of caution in mind we may now consider first some concrete instances of the putatively hallucinatory experiences commonly termed apparitions of the dead. I say "putatively" because the possibility must not be ruled out a priori that apparitions are material even if only tenuously so as compared with the "materializations" we shall consider later.

In Chapter II we had occasion to cite an exceptionally well attested case of the kind of paranormal occurrence generally regarded by those who witness it as most evidential of survival of the human personality, namely, "ghosts," or "apparitions of the dead."

The case was that of the numerous apparitions at the beginning of the 19th century of the form of the deceased Mrs. Butler in a Maine village, to which the Rev. Abraham Cummings (A. M. Brown University 1776) had proceeded in order to expose what he had assumed must be a hoax. He, however, was then himself met in a field by what he terms "the Spectre." His statement of this meeting reads: "Sometime in July 1806, in the evening I was informed by two persons that they had just seen the Spectre in the field. About ten minutes after, I went out, not to see a miracle, for I believed that they had been mistaken. Looking toward an eminence, twelve rods distance from the house, I saw there, as I supposed, one of the white rocks. This confirmed my opinion of their spectre, and I paid no more attention to it. Three minutes after, I accidentally looked in the same direction, and the white rock was in the air; its form a complete Globe, white with a tincture of red, like the damask rose, and its diameter about two feet. Fully satisfied that this was nothing ordinary, I went toward it for more accurate examination. While my eye was constantly upon it, I went on four or five steps, when it came to me from the distance of eleven rods, as quick as lightning, and instantly assumed a personal form with a female dress, but did not appear taller than a girl seven years old. While I looked upon her, I said in my mind, 'you are not tall enough for the woman who has so frequently appeared among us!' Immediately she grew up as large and as tall as I considered that woman to be. Now she appeared glorious. On her head was the representation of the sun diffusing the luminous, rectilinear rays every way to the ground. Through the rays I saw the personal form and the woman's dress."(2)

(2) Pp. 35-6 of the pamphlet, Immortality proved by the Testimony of Sense, Bath, Me. 1826.

In the pamphlet the Rev. Mr. Cummings reproduces some thirty affidavits which he had obtained at the time from persons who had seen or/and heard the Spectre; for the apparition spoke, and delivered discourses sometimes over an hour long. Some of the witnesses believed the apparition was from Satan, others from God. It presented itself sometimes "to one alone .... sometimes she appeared to two or three; then to five or six; then to ten or twelve; again to twenty; and once to more than forty witnesses. She appeared in several apartments of Mr. Blaisdel's house, and several times in the open field ... There, white as the light, she moved like a cloud above the ground in personal form and magnitude, and in the presence of more than forty people. She tarried with them till after daylight, and vanished" (p. 29). On one occasion, one of the men present, Capt. Butler, "put his hand upon it and it passed down through the apparition as through a body of light, in the view of six or seven witnesses" (p. 30). Several of the witnesses report, as does the Rev. Mr. Cummings, that the apparition begins as a formless small luminous cloud, which then grows and in a moment takes the form of the deceased Mrs. Butler. (This incidentally, was what occurred when; over fifty years ago in New York, the present writer witnessed in red light but not under test conditions a purported gradual materialization of a man's body.)

The prima facie evidence of survival provided by an apparition is greatest when it supplies information that was unknown to the percipent. Among a number of well attested reports of just this, two, which are so clear-cut that they have become classics in this field, may be cited briefly.

One is of the case of a travelling salesman, whose sister had died in 1867, and who in 1876 was in his hotel room at noon in St. Joseph, Mo. smoking a cigar and writing up the orders he had obtained: "I suddenly became conscious that some one was sitting on my left, with one arm resting on the table. Quick as a flash I turned and distinctly saw the form of my dead sister, and for a brief second or so looked her squarely in the face; and so sure was I that it was she, that I sprang forward in delight calling her by name, and, as I did so, the apparition instantly vanished ... I was near enough to touch her ... and noted her features, expression, and details of dress, etc. She appeared as alive."

He was so moved by the experience that he cut his trip short and returned to his home in St. Louis, where he related the occurrence to his parents, mentioning among other details of the apparition that on the right side of the girl's nose he had noticed a bright red scratch about three fourths of an inch long. "When I mentioned this," he states, "my mother rose trembling to her feet and nearly fainted away, and .... with tears streaming down her face, she exclaimed that I had indeed seen my sister, as no living mortal but herself was aware of that scratch, which she had accidentally made while doing some little act of kindness after my sister's death. She said she well remembered how pained she was to think she should have, unintentionally, marred the features of her dead daughter, and that unknown to all, she had carefully obliterated all traces of the slight scratch with the aid of powder, etc., and that she had never mentioned it to a human being from that day to this."(3)

(3) A full account of the case appears in Vol. VI: 17-20, S.P.R. Proceedings, 1889-90. It is reproduced in F. W. H. Myers Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, Vol. 11:27-30.

The other famous case - the Chaffin will case - concerns not a similarly waking vision, but one occurring as either a vivid dream, or in a state between waking and dreaming. The essential facts are as follows. On November 16, 1905, James L. Chaffin, a North Carolina farmer, made a will attested by two witnesses, in which he left his farm to his son Marshall, the third of his four sons; and nothing to the other three or to his wife. On January 16, 1919, however, he made a new will, not witnessed but legally valid because wholly in his own handwriting. In it, he stated first that it was being made after his reading of the 27th chapter of Genesis; and then that he wanted his property divided equally between his four children, and that they must take care of their mother. He then placed this holograph will at the 27th chapter of Genesis in a Bible that had belonged to his father, folding over the pages to enclose the will.

He died on September 7, 1921, without, so far as ascertainable, ever having mentioned to anybody the existence of the second will. The first will was not contested and was probated on the 24th of the same month by its beneficiary, Marshall Chaffin.

Some four years later, in June, 1925, the second son, James Pinkney Chaffin began to have very vivid dreams that his father appeared to him at his bedside, without speaking. Later that month, however, the father again appeared at the bedside, wearing a familiar black overcoat, and then spoke, saying "you will find my will in my overcoat pocket." In the morning, James looked for the overcoat, but was told by his mother that it had been given to his brother John, who lived twenty miles away. Some days later, James went to his brother's house, found the coat, and examined it. The inside lining of the inside pocket had been stitched together. On cutting the stitches, he found a little roll of paper on which, in his father's handwriting, were written only the words: "Read the 27th chapter of Genesis in my Daddie's old Bible." He then returned to his mother's house, accompanied by his daughter, by a neighbor, and by the neighbor's daughter. They had some trouble finding the old Bible, but when they finally did, and the neighbor opened it at the 27th chapter of Genesis, they found the second will. The testator's wife and James P. Chaffin's wife were also present at the time. The second will was admitted to probate in December of the same year.(4)

(4) Proc. of S.P.R., Vol. 36:517-24, 1927.

Hauntings are apparitions that recur and that seem to be connected with a place rather than intended for a particular witness. A famous, well-attested case is that of the Morton ghost. It is described by Miss R. C. Morton (pseudonym) in Vol. VIII, 1892, of the S.P.R. Proceedings, pp. 311/332, who at that time was a medical student and apparently viewed the occurrences without fear or nervousness but only with scientific curiosity. The case dates back to 1882.

Miss Morton states that, having one evening gone up to her room, she heard someone at the door, opened it, and saw in the passage the figure of a tall lady, dressed in black, whose face was hidden by a handkerchief held in her right hand. She descended the stairs and Miss Morton followed; but the small piece of candle she carried went out, and she returned to her room. The figure was seen again half a dozen times during the next two years by Miss Morton, once by her sister Mrs. K, once by the housemaid, and once by Miss Morton's brother and by a boy. After the first apparition, Miss Morton made it a practice to follow the figure downstairs into the drawing room. She spoke to the apparition but never got any reply; she cornered it several times in order to touch it, but it then simply disappeared. Its footsteps were audible and characteristic, and were heard by Miss Morton's three sisters and by the cook. Miss Morton stretched some threads across the stairs, but the figure passed right through them without detaching them. The figure was seen in the orchard by a neighbor as well as in the house by Miss Morton's sisters E. and M., by the cook, by the charwoman, and by a parlormaid, and by the gardener. But Miss Morton's father could not see it even when he was shown where it stood. The apparition was seen during the day as well as at night. In all about twenty people saw it, some of them many times; and some of them not having previously heard of the apparition or of the sounds. The figure was described in the same way by all. The apparitions continued to occur until 1889. The figure wore widow's cuffs, and corresponded to the description of a former tenant of the house, Mrs. S., whose life there had been unhappy.

The weight of apparitions as evidence of survival is decreased by the fact that there are numerous cases on record of apparitions of the living. Many of them are cited in Gurney, Myers, and Podmore's Phantasms of the Living(5). Like apparitions in general, they are most impressive when more than one of the percipient's senses is affected-for instance, touch and hearing, or touch and sight. Several such cases are described on pp. 446 ff. of the book just cited. One is that of a girl, reading at night in her room, who suddenly "felt" (heard?) some one come into the room but, looking, could see no one. Then, she writes, "I felt a kiss on my forehead - a lingering, loving pressure. I looked up without the least sensation of fear, and saw my lover standing behind my chair, stooping as if to kiss me again. His face was very white and inexpressibly sad. As I rose from my chair in great surprise, before I could speak, he had gone, how I do not know; I only know that, one moment I saw him, saw distinctly every feature of his face, saw the tall figure and broad shoulders as clearly as I ever saw them in my life, and the next moment there was no sign of him" (p. 447). A few days later, she heard that her lover had at the time been riding a vicious horse which, in order to unseat him, reared perfectly straight and pressed its back against a wall, with him between, making him lose consciousness - his last thought having been that he was dying and that he wanted to see his fiancée again before he died. It turned out, however, that only his hand had been severely injured, so that, for some days, he could not write to tell her what had occurred.

(5) In two vols. 1886. Abridged edition prepared by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick. One vol. 1918, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. London: E. P. Dutton and Co., New York.

Such cases of apparitions of the living, veridical in the sense stated earlier, are most plausibly accounted for as telepathically caused hallucinations since they cannot really be apparitions of the dead. If, however, they are considered together with the cases of "out-of-the-body" experience - so-called "projection of the double" - of which instances are cited in Sec. 2 of the present chapter, then what suggests itself is that what is seen in cases of apparitions - whether of the living or of the dead - is the "projected," i.e., externalized, "double" assumed to be possessed by man but to be normally collocated with the body. It is conjectured that at death the dislocation of it from the body is complete and permanent, whereas in apparitions of the living, the dislocation is temporary and incomplete in that a connection - the reported "silver thread" - remains between the externalized "double" and the body. If this should actually be the state of affairs, then apparitions would not really be visual hallucinations, but rather sights, fleeting but genuine, of something very tenuous though objectively present at the place where it is perceived.

In the way of this supposition, however, stands a fact to which we shall have occasion to return; namely that, since apparitions are seldom if ever naked, then their clothes too would have to be supposed to have an externalizable "double."

But even when telepathy is admitted to be a fact and is invoked, apparitions veridical in the sense stated remain very difficult to explain plausibly. How difficult will be appreciated by readers who may be interested to look up the seemingly farfetched explanations to which able thinkers have found themselves forced to have recourse when they have insisted on taking scrupulously into consideration all the facts on record.(6)

(6) Apparitions, by G. N. M. Tyrrell, with a preface by H. H. Price; Gerald Duckworth and Co. Ltd., revised edition, 1953; A Theory of apparitions, by W. F. Barrett, E. Gurney, and F. Podmore, Proc. S.P.R. Vol. 11:109-36; 1884. Six theories about appartions, by Homell Hart, Proc. S.P.R., 1955-56 pp. 153-239. For additional references on the subject of apparitions, see G. Zorab's Bibliography of Parapsychology, Parapsychology Found'n. Inc. New York 1957, pp. 27-8. Concerning Haunting, see H. H. Price's presidential address to the S.P.R.; Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XLV:307-343, 1938-39.

2. "Out-of-the-body" experiences

Let us turn next to the "out-of-the-body," experiences alluded to in the latter part of the preceding section, of which many cases have been reported. Those who have undergone the experience generally consider it impressive evidence that the human consciousness is separable in space from the human body and, it would therefore seem, can exist independently of the latter. That experience has variously been termed projection of "the double," "ESP projection," projection of the "astral body," "out-of-the-body" experience, and "bilocation." In the most striking form of it, the person concerned, having gone to sleep or being under anaesthesia, wakens to see his body inert on the bed and is able to observe it from the same variety of angles as he could the body of another. He is also able to observe the various objects in the room, and in some cases he perceives and is later able to describe persons who came into the room and went out before his body awoke. The thus temporarily excarnate observer may or may not find himself able to travel away from the vicinity of his sleeping body. In some of the cases when he does so and visits a distant place, he is reported to have been seen at that place at the time. These are the cases of "bilocation." A famous one is that of Alfonso de Liguori who in 1774 was at Arezzo, in prison, fasting. On awakening one morning, he stated that he had been at the bedside of the then dying Pope, Clement XIV; where, it turned out, he had been seen by those present.

For the sake of concreteness, a few of the many reports of out-of-the-body experience will now be cited.

Dr. E. Osty, in the May-June issue of the Revue Metapsychique for 1930, quotes a letter addressed by a gentleman named L. L. Hymans to Charles Richet, dated June 7, 1928, in which the former relates two such experiences: "The first time it was while in a dentist's chair. Under anaesthesia, I had the sensation of awaking and of finding myself floating in the upper part of the room, from where, with great astonishment, I watched the dentist working on my body, and the anaesthetist at his side. I saw my inanimate body as distinctly as any other object in the room ... The second time I was in a hotel in London. I awoke in the morning feeling unwell (I have a weak heart) and shortly thereafter I fainted. Greatly to my astonishment, I found myself in the upper part of the room, from where, with fear, I beheld my body inanimate in the bed with its eyes closed. I tried without success to reenter my body and concluded that I had died ... Certainly I had not lost either memory or self-consciousness. I could see my inanimate body like a separate object: I was able to look at my face. I was, however, unable to leave the room: I felt myself as it were chained, immobilized in the corner where I was. After an hour or two I heard a knock on the locked door several times, without being able to answer. Soon after, the hotel porter appeared on the fire escape. I saw him get into the room, look anxiously at my face, and open the door. The hotel manager and others then entered. A physician came in. I saw him shake his head after listening to my heart, and then insert a spoon between my lips. I then lost consciousness and awoke in the bed." In the same article, Dr. Osty cites the similar experiences of two other persons.

Dr. Ernesto Bozzano cites the case of a friend of his, the engineer Giuseppe Costa who, while asleep, so disturbed the kerosene lamp on his bedside table that it filled the room with dense, choking smoke. Signor Costa writes: "I had the clear and precise sensation of finding myself with only my thinking personality, in the middle of the room, completely separated from my body, which continued to lie on the bed ... I was seized with an inexpressible anguish from which I felt intuitively that I could only free myself by freeing my material body from that oppressive situation. I wanted therefore to pick up the lamp and open the window, but it was a material act that I could not accomplish ... Then I thought of my mother, who was sleeping in the next room ... It seemed to me that no effort of any kind was needed to cause her to approach my body. I saw her get hurriedly out of bed, run to her window and open it ... then leave her room, walk along the corridor, enter my room and approach my body gropingly and with staring eyes." He then awoke. He writes further: "My mother, questioned by me soon after the event, confirmed the fact that she had first opened her window as if she felt herself suffocating, before coming to my aid. Now the fact of my having seen this act of hers through the wall, while lying inanimate on the bed, entirely excludes the hypothesis of hallucination and nightmare ... I thus had the most evident proof that my soul had detached itself from my body during its material existence. I had, in fact, received proof of the existence of the soul and also of its immortality, since it was true that it had freed itself ... from the material envelope of the body, acting and thinking outside it."(7) In order to explain this case, however, telepathy plus clairvoyance would be enough.

(7) Quoted in Bozzano's Discarnate Influence in Human Life, pp. 112-15, from Giuseppe Costa's Di la della Vita, p. 18.

In some persons, out-of-the-body experience becomes voluntary. The best known account of the process involved is that of the late Sylvan Muldoon(8), whose description of his own experiences brought him numerous communications from strangers who had themselves had out-of-the-body experiences. Many of these are quoted by him in a later book,(9) including one which, some years before that book appeared, was related to the present writer by the person concerned, Miss Mary Ellen Frallic. Her "projection" experience occurred not during sleep or under anaesthesia, but while walking on the street. She gradually became conscious of rising higher and higher, up to the height of the second floor of the surrounding buildings, and then felt an urge to look back; whereupon she saw her body walking about one block behind. That body was apparently able to see "her" for she noticed the look of bewilderment on its face. Her consciousness of location then shifted a few times from that of the "double" to that of the body, and back, each being able to perceive the other. She then felt afraid, and immediately reentered her body.(10)

(8) The Projection of the Astral Body, David McKay Co. Philadelphia, 1929.
(9) The Phenomena of Astral Projection, by Sylvan Muldoon and Hereward Carrington, Rider and Co., London, 1951.
(10) Cf. op. cit. pp. 189-90.

Besides Muldoon's account of voluntary "projections," one of the most interesting is by a Frenchman who, under the pseudonym, Yram, wrote in 1926 a book entitled "The Physician of the Soul," which has since been translated under the title Practical Astral Projection. In it he describes twelve years of his own experimentation in conscious out-of-the-body experience. Another writer, Oliver Fox, in a book entitled Astral Projection, related his own experiences.(11)

(11) Rider and Co. London (no date) A number of interesting cases are quoted in some detail on pp. 220-29 of Dr. Raynor C. Johnson's The Imprisoned Splendour, Harper and Bros. New York, 1953. A bibliography of the subject is furnished on pp. 221-22 of Muldoon and Carrington's The Phenomena of Astral Projection.

In a number of cases, the projected "double" is reported to remain connected with the sleeping body by a "silver cord" which is extensible in various degrees. Persons who have had the out-of-the-body experience have usually assumed, as did the engineer Giuseppe Costa quoted above, that the spatial separation in it of the observing and thinking consciousness from the body on the bed means that the former is capable of existing and of functioning independently of the latter not only thus temporarily during "projection," but enduringly at death, which is then simply permanent, definitive projection when the "silver cord" snaps.

This conclusion, however, does not necessarily follow, for it tacitly assumes that the conscious "double" is what animates the body-normally in being collocated with it, but also, when dislocated from it, through connection with it by the "silver cord!' The fact, however, could equally be that the animation is in the converse direction, i.e., that death of the body entails death of the conscious "double" whether the latter be at the time dislocated from or collocated with the former.

Hence. out-of-the-body experience, however impressive to those who have it, and however it may tempt them to conclude that they then know that consciousness is not dependent on the living material body, does not really warrant this conclusion; but only the more modest one, which, of course, is arresting enough, that correct visual perception of physical events and objects, including perception of one's own body from a point distant in space from it, can occur, exceptionally, at times when the eyes are shut and the body asleep - this fact, of course, not being at all explained by labelling the occurrences of it "heautoscopic hallucinations" since, as pointed out earlier, what is paranormal, instead of merely abnormal, in certain hallucinations is that they are veridical in the same sense in which perceptions are so, even if not through the same mechanism.

3. Materializations and other paranormal physical phenomena

Among paranormal phenomena, certain physical ones -especially materializations and the so-called "direct voice" - are easily accepted by persons who witness them as evidence of survival. There are numerous reports, some of them circumstantial and made by careful and experienced observers, of the materialization of portions of human bodies - of hands, for example, which move and grasp and carry things; or of faces or even of entire bodies which act, speak, and breathe like ordinary living human bodies; and after a while dematerialize, suddenly or slowly.

Sir William Crookes, for instance, in an article he published in the Quarterly journal of Science(12) writes: "A beautifully formed small hand rose up from an opening in a dining table and gave me a flower; it appeared and then disappeared three times at intervals, affording me ample opportunity of satisfying myself that it was as real in appearance as my own. This occurred in the light in my own room, whilst I was holding the medium's hands and feet. On another occasion a small hand and arm, like a baby's, appeared playing about a lady who was sitting next to me. It then passed to me and patted my arm and pulled my coat several times. At another time a finger and thumb were seen to pick the petals from a flower in Mr. Home's button-hole and lay them in front of several persons who were sitting near him ... I have more than once seen, first an object move, then a luminous cloud appear to form about it, and lastly, the cloud condense into shape and become a perfectly-formed hand ... At the wrist, or arm, it becomes hazy, and fades off into a luminous cloud. To the touch the hand sometimes appears icy cold and dead, at other times warm and life-like, grasping my own with the firm pressure of an old friend. I have retained one of these hands in my own, firmly resolved not to let it escape. There was no struggle or effort made to get loose, but it gradually seemed to resolve itself into vapour and faded in that manner from my grasp."

(12) Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena called Spiritual during the years 1870-73. Reprinted with other articles by Crookes under the title Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, Two Worlds Pub'g. Co. 1926. The quotation is from pp. 102-3.

Among the materializations of entire bodies that have been reported, those of "Katie King," repeatedly observed by Sir William Crookes under his own conditions as well as by others, and measured, auscultated, tested and photographed by him Florence Cook being the medium-are probably the most famous and most carefully described.(13)

(13) Loc. cit. pp. 115-28.

The apparent materialization, in whole or in part, of human bodies and of their clothing and accoutrements, is supposed to depend on and to consist at least in part of a mysterious substance that emanates from the medium's body, and to which the name of "ectoplasm" has therefore been given. It seems able to exert or to conduct force. It is said to have various consistencies -sometimes vaporous, sometimes filmy like a veil, sometimes gelatinous, sometimes pasty like thick dough.

The latter was its consistency on the one occasion when in the house of a friend of mine I personally had an opportunity to see in good red light, to touch, and take ten flash light photographs of a substance emanating from the mouth of an entranced non-professional medium; which substance, whether or not it was "ectoplasm," did not behave, feel, or look as any other substance known to me could, I think, have done under the conditions that existed. It was coldish, about like steel. This made it seem moist, but it was dry and slightly rough like dough the surface of which had dried. Its consistency and weight were also dough-like. It was a string, of about pencil thickness, varying in length from some six to twelve feet. On other photographs, not taken by me, of the same medium, it has veil-like and rope-like forms.

Professor Charles Richet, who had many occasions to observe what appeared to be materializations, discusses at one point in his Thirty Years of Psychical Research(14) the possibilities of fraud in purported materializations and the precautions necessary to preclude it; and he concludes that, in the case of the best of the available reports of the phenomenon - a number of which he mentions - neither fraud nor illusion is a possible explanation: "When I recall the precautions that all of us have taken, not once, but twenty, a hundred, or even a thousand times, it is inconceivable that we should have been deceived on all these occasions."

(14) Collins and Sons, London, 1923, p. 460. English translation by Stanley De Brath, p. 467.

Concerning occurrences he personally observed under especially favorable conditions, he writes: "Sometimes these ectoplasms can be seen in process of organization; I have seen an almost rectilinear prolongation emerge from Eusapia's body, its termination acting like a living hand ... I have ... been able to see the first lineaments of materializations as they were formed. A kind of liquid or pasty jelly emerges from the mouth or the breast of Marthe which organizes itself by degrees, acquiring the shape of a face or a limb. Under very good conditions of visibility, I have seen this paste spread on my knee, and slowly take form so as to show the rudiment of the radius, the cubitus, or metacarpal bone whose increasing pressure I could feel on my knee."(15)

(15) Thirty Years of Psychical Research, Collins and Sons, London, 1923, p. 469.

The prima facie most impressive evidence there could be of the survival of a deceased friend or relative would be to see and touch his materialized, recognizable bodily form, which then speaks in his or her characteristic manner. This is what appeared to occur in my presence on an occasion three or four years ago when, during some two hours and in very good red light throughout, some eighteen fully material forms - some male, some female, some tall and some short, and sometimes two together - came out of and returned to the curtained cabinet I had inspected beforehand, in which a medium sat, and to which I had found no avenue of surreptitious access.

These material forms were apparently recognized as those of a deceased father, mother, or other relative by one or another of the fourteen or fifteen persons present; and some touching scenes occurred, in which the form of the deceased spoke with and caressed the living.

One of those forms called my name and, when I went up to her and asked who she was, she answered "Mother." She did not, however, speak, act, or in the least resemble my mother. This was no disappointment to me since I had gone there for purposes not of consolation but of observation. I would have felt fully rewarded if the conditions of observation had been such that I could have been quite sure that the material form I saw, that spoke to me and patted me on the head, was genuinely a materialization, no matter of whom or of what. Indeed, materialization of half a human body would, for my purpose, have been even more significant than materialization of an entire one.

I should add, however, that the friend who had taken me to that circle, who is a careful and critical observer, and who had been there a number of times before, told me that on the occasions when a material form that purported to be a materialization of his mother had come out of the cabinet and spoken to him, the form was sometimes recognizably like her, and sometimes not.

Apparitions and genuine materializations (if any) are alike in being visible, and usually in reproducing the appearance of a human body or of parts of one; and, in cases where at least the face is reproduced, sometimes in being recognizably like that of one particular person known to someone present. On the other hand. materializations are tangible whereas apparitions are not so.

The question then arises whether apparitions are incomplete materializations (a mist or haze is visible but not tangible, and yet is material,) or whether materializations are "complete" hallucinations, i.e., hallucinations not only of sight and of sound of voice or of footsteps, but also of the sense of touch and the others. As regards the second alternative, I can say only that if the form I saw which said it was my mother and which patted me on the head, was a hallucination - a hallucination "complete" in the sense just stated - then no difference remains between a complete hallucination on the one hand and, on the other, ordinary veridical perception of a physical object; for every further test of the physicality of the form seen and touched could then be alleged to be itself hallucinatory and the allegation of complete hallucination then automatically becomes completely vacuous.

On the other hand, cases are on record of apparitions of the living but, so far as I know, no good cases have been reported of materializations of the living in the sense that a living person was not merely seen and perhaps heard, but also tangibly present at a place distant from that of his body. In such cases of "bilocation" as that of Alphonse of Liguori, who, while in prison at Arezzo, was seen among the persons in attendance at the bedside of the then dying Pope Clement XIV in Rome, the testimony does not, I believe, include any statement that he was touched, while there, as well as seen.

But no matter whether we say that apparitions are incomplete materializations, or that materializations are complete hallucinations, a fact remains concerning both, that has bearing on the question whether they constitute evidence of survival after death. It is that both apparitions and materializations wear clothing of some sort; so that, as someone has put the point, "if ghosts have clothes, then clothes have ghosts." That is, if one says that the apparition or materialization is the deceased's surviving "spirit," temporarily become perceptible, then does not consistency require one to say that the familiar dress or coat or other accoutrement it wears had a spirit too, that has also survived? On the other hand, if one assumes that the clothing the apparition or materialization wears is materialization only of a memory image of the deceased's clothing, then would not consistency dictate the conclusion that the now temporarily perceptible parts of the deceased's body are materializations likewise only of a memory image of his appearance and behavior?

If one is fortunate enough to witness an apparition, or even better, a materialization where the materialized form duplicates the appearance of a deceased friend or relative, speaks and behaves as the latter did, and mentions facts of an intimate nature which few if any but the deceased and oneself knew, then the temptation may well be psychologically irresistible to believe that the deceased himself is with us again in temporarily materialized form, and therefore that he does indeed survive the death of the body that was his. The remarks made above, however, show that this interpretation of the experience, no matter how hard psychologically it then is to resist, is not the only one of which the experience admits, and is not necessarily the one most probably true.

On this point, some words of Richet - who as we have seen became certain that materializations do really occur - are worth quoting. Comparing the evidence for survival from mediumistic communications with that which materializations are thought to furnish, he writes: "The case of George Pelham [one of Mrs. Piper's best communicators], though there was no materialization, is vastly more evidential for survival than all the materializations yet known ... materializations, however perfect, cannot prove survival; the evidence that they sometimes seem to give is much less striking than that given by subjective metapsychics," i.e., chiefly, by mediumistic communications (p. 490). It is worth bearing in mind in this connection that in the star case of "Katie King," who claimed to have in life been Annie Owen Morgan, daughter of the buccaneer Sir Henry Owen Morgan, no evidence exists that such a woman did actually live. But unless she actually did, and died, the question whether "her" spirit survived death, and materialized as Katie King, becomes vacuous.

As regards the evidence for survival supposedly constituted by physical paranormal phenomena such as "poltergeist" occurrences, telekinesis, raps, levitation, "direct" voice' etc., H. F. Saltmarsh writes that "in order that events of this kind should have any value as evidence of survival they must possess some characteristic which will connect them with some deceased person. The bare fact that a material object is moved in a way we cannot account for by normal means does not afford any clue to the identity of the agent. All we could say in the most favourable circumstances would be that some unknown agency is involved and that that agency exhibits intelligence; we could not argue that it was, or even had been, human, still less that it was connected with some one particular person. Thus when any special characteristics which might connect them with a deceased person are absent, we can rule out physical phenomena as completely unevidential of survival. Where, however, the phenomena show some special characteristics which connect with some definite deceased person, any evidential value for survival rests entirely on those characteristics."(16)

(16) "Is Proof of Survival Possible?" Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XL: 106-7, Jan. 1932.

4. "Possessions"

Another sort of paranormal occurrence, some cases of which invite interpretation as evidence of survival, is that popularly known as "possession," i.e., prima facie possession of a person's body by a personality - whether devilish, divine, or merely human - radically different from his or her own. The most probably correct interpretation of the great majority of such cases is that the "possessing" personality is only a dissociated, normally repressed portion or aspect of the total personality of the individual concerned.

The case of the Rev. Ansel. Bourne, of Greene, R.I.,(17) the still more famous cases of the alternating personalities of Miss Beauchamp, reported by Dr. Morton Prince, and the Doris Fischer case described by Dr. Walter F. Prince,(18) would be examples of such temporary "possession." The survival interpretation has little or no plausibility as regards most such cases, but is less easy to dismiss in a few others, different from these in that the intruding personality gives more or less clear and abundant evidence of being that of one particular individual who had died some time before.

(17) Proc., Soc. for Psychical Research, Vol. VII, 1891-2: A Case of Double Consciousness, by Richard Hodgson, M. D. Pp. 221-57. It is commented upon by William James in Ch. X of his Principles of Psychology, 1905, pp. 390-3, who also cites a number of others.
(18) Morton Prince: The Dissociation of a Personality, London, Longmans Green, 1906; W. F. Prince: The Doris Case of Multiple Personality, Proc. A.S.P.R. Vols. IX and X, 1915, 1916; and in Vol. Xl, discussed by J. H. Hyslop.

About as impressive a case of this as any on record is that of the so-called Watseka Wonder. An account of it was first published in 1879 in the Religio-Philosophical Journal, and, in 1887, republished as a pamphlet, The Watseka Wonder, by the Religio-Philosophical Publishing House, Chicago. The sub-title is "A narrative of startling phenomena occurring in the case of Mary Lurancy Vennum." The author of the narrative was a medical man, Dr. E. Winchester Stevens (1822-1885), who had been consulted at the time in the case.

Two girls were concerned. One, Mary Roff, had died on July 5, 1865 at the age of 18. From an early age, she had had frequent "fits" becoming more violent with the years; she had complained of a "lump of pain in the head" (p. 10), to relieve which she had repeatedly bled herself; and she is stated to have been able, while "heavily blindfolded by critical intelligent, investigating gentlemen" to read readily books even when closed and letters even in envelopes, and to do other tasks normally requiring the use of the eyes (p. 11).

The other girl, Lurancy Vennum, was born on April 16, 1864 and was therefore a little over one year old at the time Mary Roff died. At the age of 13 in July 1877, Lurancy, who until then "had never been sick, save a light run of measles" (p. 3), complained of feeling queer, went into a fit including a cataleptic state lasting five hours. On subsequent similar occasions, while in trance, she conversed and described "angels" or "spirits" of persons who had died. She was believed insane and was examined by two local physicians. On January 31, 1878, Mr. Roff, who had heard of Lurancy's case and become interested in it, was allowed by her father to bring Dr. E. W. Stevens to observe her. On that occasion, she became apparently "possessed" by two alien personalities in turn-one a sullen, crabbed old hag, and the second a young man who said he had run away from home, got into trouble, and lost his life (pp. 5,6). Dr. Stevens then "magnetized" her and "was soon in full and free communication with the sane and happy mind of Lurancy Vennum herself" (p. 7). She described the "angels" about her and said that one of them wanted to come to her instead of the evil spirits mentioned above." On being asked if she knew who it was, she said: "Her name is Mary Roff" (p. 7). The next day, "Mr. Vennum called at the office of Mr. Roff and informed him that the girl claimed to be Mary Roff and wanted to go home ... 'She seems like a child real homesick, wanting to see her pa and ma and her brothers'" (p. 9).

Some days later, she was allowed to go and live with the Roffs. There, she "seemed perfectly happy and content, knowing every person and everything that Mary knew in her original body, twelve to twenty-five years ago, recognizing and calling by name those who were friends and neighbors of the family from 1852 to 1865, [i.e., during the 12 years preceding Lurancy's birth,] calling attention to scores, yes, hundreds of incidents that transpired during [Mary's] natural life" (p. 14). She recognized a head dress Mary used to wear; pointed to a collar, saying she had tatted it; remembered details of the journey of the family to Texas in 1857 [i.e., 7 years before Lurancy's birth]. On the other hand, she did not recognize any of the Vennum family nor their friends and neighbors, nor knew anything that had until then been known by Lurancy.

Lurancy's new life as Mary Roff lasted 3 months and 10 days. Then Lurancy's own personality returned to her body, and she went back to the Vennums, who reported her well in mind and body from then on. She eventually married and had children. Occasionally then, when Lurancy was visiting the Roffs, the Mary personality would come back for some little time.

What distinguishes this case from the more common ones of alternating personalities is, of course, that the personality that displaced Lurancy's was, by every test that could be applied, not a dissociated part of her own, but the personality and all the memories that had belonged to a particular 18 year old girl who had died at a time when Lurancy was but 14 months old; and that no way, consistent with Dr. Stevens' record of the facts, has been suggested in which Lurancy, during the 13 years of her life before her sojourn with the Roffs, could have obtained the extensive and detailed knowledge Mary had possessed, which Lurancy manifested during the sojourn. For the Vennums were away from Wateska for the first 7 years of Lurancy's life; and when they returned to Watseka, their acquaintance with the Roffs consisted only of one brief call of a few minutes by Mrs. Roff on Mrs. Vennum, and of a formal speaking acquaintance between the two men, until the time when Mr. Roff brought Dr. Stevens to the Vennums on account of Lurancy's insane behavior.

In commenting on various cases of seeming "possession" of a person's organism by a personality altogether different, William James notes that "many persons have found evidence conclusive to their minds that in some cases the control is really the departed spirit whom it pretends to be," but that "the phenomena shade off so gradually into cases where this is obviously absurd, that the presumption (quite apart from a priori 'scientific' prejudice) is great against its being true."(19) He then turns to the Watseka case just described, introducing it by the statement that it is "perhaps as extreme a case of 'possession' of the modem sort as one can find," but he makes no attempt to explain it.

(19) Principles of Psychology, New York. Henry Holt and Co., 1905. p. 396.

The only way that suggests itself, to avoid the conclusion that the Mary Roff personality which for fourteen weeks "possessed" Lurancy's organism was "really the departed spirit whom it pretended to be," is to have recourse to the method of orthodoxy, whose maxim is: "When you cannot explain all the facts according to accepted principles, then explain those you can and ignore the rest; or else deny them, distort them, or invent some that would help."

This procrustean method, of course, has a measure of validity, since errors of observation or of reporting do occur. Yet some facts turn out to be too stubborn to be disposed of plausibly by that method; and the present one would appear to be one of them, especially if the conclusion reached in Part Ill is accepted, that no impossibility either theoretical or empirical attaches to the supposition of survival of a human personality after death.

5. Memories, seemingly of earlier lives

Brief mention may be made at this point of another kind of occurrence, of which only a few cases at all impressive have been reported, but which, like those of the other kinds considered in the preceding sections, constitute prima facie evidence of survival. I refer to the cases where a person has definite apparent memories relating to a life he lived on earth before his present one, and where the facts and events he believes he remembers turn out to be capable of verification. If these should indeed be memories in the same literal sense as that in which each of us has memories of places he visited years before, of persons he met there, of incidents of his school days, and so on, then this would constitute proof not strictly that he will survive the death of his body but that he has survived that of the different body he remembers having had in an earlier life.

In Part V, we shall consider in some detail the particular form of possible life after death consisting of rebirth of the individual on earth. A number of the most circumstantial accounts of putative memories of an earlier life will be cited and the alternative interpretations to which they appear open will be examined.

Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter



Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

Home | Intro | News | Investigators | Articles | Experiments | Photographs | Theory | Library | Info | Books | Contact | Campaigns | Glossary | Search


Some parts The International Survivalist Society 2004