"If man, then, shall attempt to sound and fathom the depths that lie
not without him, but within, analogy may surely warn him that the first
attempts of his rude psychoscopes to give precision and actuality to thought
will grope among 'beggarly elements'-will be concerned with things
grotesque, or trivial, or obscure. Yet here also one handsbreadth of reality
gives better footing than all the castles of our dream; here also by beginning
with the least things we shall best learn how great things may remain to
W. H. Myers, Introduction to Phantasms of the Living
I MUST not shirk a rather queer subject which yet
needs touching upon, though it bristles with theoretical difficulties; and that is the rationale of one of the most elementary
methods of ultra-normal communication, a method which many find practically the easiest to begin with.
It is possible to get communication of a kind, not by holding a
pencil in the fingers, but by placing the hand on a larger piece of wood not at all adapted for writing with. The movements are then
coarser, and the code more elementary; but in principle, when the procedure is analysed, it is seen not to be essentially different. It
may be more akin to semaphore-arm signalling or flag-wagging; but any device whereby mental activity can translate itself into
movements of matter will serve for subliminal as well as for conscious action; and messages by tilting of a table,
though crude and elementary, are not really so surprising or absurd as at first sight they seem. The tilts of a telegraphic operator's key are still
more restricted; but they serve. A pen or pencil is an inanimate piece of matter guided by the fingers. A planchette is a
mere piece of wood, and when touched it must be presumed to be guided by the muscles, -
though there is often an illusion, as with the twig of the dowser, that the inanimate object is moved directly, and not by muscular
intervention. So also we may assume that a table or other piece of furniture is tilted or moved by regular muscular force: certainly it
can only move at the expense of the energy of the medium or of people present. And yet in all these cases the substance of the
message may be foreign to the mind of anyone touching the instrument, and the guidance necessary for sense and relevance
need not be exercised by their own consciousness.
When a table or similar rough instrument is employed, the
ostensible communicators say that they feel more directly in touch with the sitters than when they operate through an
intermediary or 'control' on their side,- as they appear to find it necessary to do for actual speech or
writing,- and accordingly they find themselves able to give more private messages, and also
to reproduce names and technicalities with greater facility and precision. The process of spelling out words in this way is a slow
one, much slower than writing, and therefore the method labours under disadvantages, but it seems to possess advantages which
to some extent counterbalance them.
Whether it sounds credible or not, and it is certainly
surprising, I must testify that when a thing of any mobility is controlled in this more direct way, it is able to convey touches of
emotion and phases of intonation, so to speak, in a most successful manner. A telegraph key could hardly do it, its range of
movement is too restricted, it operates only in a discontinuous manner, by make and break; but a light table, under these
conditions, seems no longer inert, it behaves as if animated. For the time it is animated-somewhat perhaps as a violin or piano is
animated by a skilled musician and schooled to his will,- and the dramatic action thus attained is very remarkable. It can exhibit
hesitation, it can exhibit certainty; it can seek for information, it can convey it; it can apparently ponder before giving a reply; it
can welcome a new-comer; it can indicate joy or sorrow, fun or gravity; it can keep time with a song as if joining in the chorus; and,
most notable of all, it can exhibit affection in an unmistakable manner.
The hand of a writing medium can do these things too; and
that the whole body of a normal person can display these emotions is a commonplace. Yet they are all pieces of matter,
though some are more permanently animated than others. But all are animated temporarily,-not one of them
permanently,- and there appears to be no sharp line of demarcation. What we have to
realise is that matter in any form is able to act as agent to the soul, and that by aid of matter various emotions as well as intelligence
can be temporarily incarnated and displayed.
The extraction of elementary music from all manner of unlikely
objects-kitchen utensils, for instance, is a known stage-performance. The utilisation of unlikely objects for purposes of
communication, though it would not have been expected, may have to be included in the same general category.
With things made for the purpose, from a violin to the puppets
of a marionette show, we know that simple human passions can be shown and can be roused. With things made for quiet other
purposes it turns out that the same sort of possibility exists.
Table-tilting is an old and despised form of amusement,
known to many families and often wisely discarded; but with care and sobriety and seriousness even this can be used as a means of
communication; and the amount of mediumistic power necessary for this elementary form of psychic activity appears to be
distinctly less than would be required for more elaborate methods.
One thing it is necessary clearly to realise and admit, namely
that in all cases when an object is moved by direct contact of an operator's body, whether the instrument be a pencil or a piece of
wood, unconscious muscular guidance must be allowed for; and anything that comes through of a kind known to or suspected by
the operator must be discounted. Sometimes, however, the message comes in an unexpected and for the moment puzzling
form, and sometimes it conveys information unknown to him. It is by the content of the communication that its supernormal value
must be estimated.
There are many obvious disadvantages about a Table Sitting, especially
in the slowness of the communications and in the fact that the sitter has to do most of the talking; whereas when some personality is controlling a
medium, the sitters need say very little.
But, as said above, there are some communicators who object to a
control's presence, especially if they have anything private to say; and these often prefer the table because it seems to bring them more directly
into contact with the sitter, without an intermediary. They seem to ignore the presence of the medium on our side, notwithstanding the fact that, at a
table sitting, she is present in her own consciousness and is aware of what goes on; they appear to be satisfied with having dispensed with the medium
on their side. Moreover, it is in some cases found that information can be conveyed in a briefer and more direct manner, not having to be wrapped up
in roundabout phrases, that names can be given more easily, and direct questions answered better, through the table than through a control.
It must be remembered that under control every medium has some
peculiarities. Mrs. Leonard, for instance, is a very straightforward and honest medium, but not a particularly strong one. Accordingly anything like
conversation and free interchange of ideas is hardly possible, and direct questions seldom receive direct answers, when put to the communicator
I have known mediums much more powerful in this respect, so that free
conversation with one or two specially skilled communicators was quite possible, and interchange of ideas almost as easy as when the
communicator was in the flesh. But instances of that kind are hardly to be expected among
hard-worked professional mediums.
I shall not in this volume touch upon still more puzzling and
still more directly and peculiarly physical phenomena, such as are spoken of as 'direct voice, direct writing, and
materialisation. In these strange and, from one point of view, more advanced occurrences, though lower in another sense, inert matter appears
to be operated on without the direct intervention of physiological mechanism. And yet such mechanism must be in the
neighbourhood. I am inclined to think that these weird phenomena, when established, will be found to shade off into
those other methods that I have been speaking of, and that no complete theory of either can be given until more is known about
both. This is one of the facts which causes me to be undogmatic about the certainty that all movements, even under contact, are
initiated in the muscles. I only here hold up a warning against premature decision. The whole subject of psycho-physical interaction and activity requires attention in time and
place; but the ground is now more treacherous the pitfalls more numerous, and the territory to many minds comparatively
unattractive. Let it wait until long-range artillery has beaten down some of the entanglements, before organised forces are
summoned to advance.