IT IS no part of my argument to suggest that the scripts of the SPR group must be paranormal because forty or fifty years ago they proclaimed a project which we can all see ripening to fulfillment. As to whether the project is nearer fulfilment now than it was when first proclaimed there would be sharp differences of opinion. The very existence of the project must be accepted, if at all, on the word of the Communicators. All that I am concerned to do is to explain and illustrate the manner in which the project is announced in the scripts and to draw some inferences from it.
It will be remembered that at her sitting of 12th May 1908 Mrs. Piper, asked to explain the words "We are seven", spoken at an earlier sitting, declared, 'Ye
were seven in the distance as a matter of fact". This statement is supported by the scripts of Mrs. Verrall, Mrs. Holland, H.V., Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Wilson all of whom refer to the activities of a group of seven. Some of the seven are mentioned by name, others referred to by symbols which, if not understood at the time by the automatist concerned, were found by later enquiry to have a special appropriateness to one of the communicating group. The group itself is symbolised collectively by the seven traditional colours of the rainbow, the seven notes of the scale, the seven petals of a flower of some variety that cannot be identified, and so on.
The group consisted of four men and three women. Three of the men were the three principal founders of the
SPR, Henry Sidgwick, Frederic Myers, and Edmund Gurney. Mrs. Verrall knew them all personally. Myers was also known personally to Mrs. Willett, who was related to him by marriage, to H.V., and to Mrs. Piper. All the automatists knew something, and most of them a great deal, about the Founders' work in psychical research. There would therefore have been no point in referring to any of them by symbols such as those used to denote the other Communicators, and they are identified in the scripts by their names or initials.
The other four members of the communicating group were Francis Maitland Balfour, Mary Catherine Lyttelton, Octavia Laura Tennant, and Annie Eliza Marshall of Hallsteads (see p. 167 above) whom Myers called Phyllis in his autobiographical fragment.
Of these four F. M. Balfour is the only one mentioned by name in any of the scripts, his full name being given in two early scripts of Mrs. Verrall's. She knew him both as the brother of Mrs. Sidgwick and as her husband's contemporary at Trinity, Cambridge. He was a distinguished biologist, who made a special study of embryology and the evolution of fishes. To aid in his studies he kept a fishing-boat at Dunbar. He was killed in an Alpine accident in 1882. Unlike other members of his family, he never during his life showed any interest in psychical research. Besides the overt mentions of his name, there are numerous symbolic references to him connected with his first name, Francis, his studies of fish life and his death in the Alps, and it is through these symbols, and not through his real name (though this is given) that the scripts indicate his work as a member of the group.
Mary Catherine Lyttelton was probably known by name to Mrs. Verrall who was a neighbour of her brother Arthur Lyttelton, when he was Master of Selwyn. She died as a young unmarried woman on Palm Sunday, 1875. There were unusual circumstances connected with her last illness, her burial and the action taken to perpetuate her memory which were known to very few persons but are alluded to in the scripts of several of the automatists at first cryptically, but with more definiteness in Mrs. Willett's scripts of 1912. A full account of her and the scripts relating to her may be found in Lady Balfour's paper on "The Palm Sunday Case" in
Proc. 52. The symbols by which the scripts indicate her include references to these circumstances, to both her Christian names, to the crest and coat-of-arms of her family, and to a portrait of her holding a candle.
Octavia Laura Tennant was the first wife of Alfred Lyttelton and died in 1886 soon after the birth of her only child, The first cryptic references to her are to be found in the early scripts of Mrs. Verrall in which, in obscure Latin, allusion is made to the memorial tablet - a peacock on a laurel tree - designed for her by Burne-Jones. Mrs. Verrall had most probably heard of her, and had possibly heard of this memorial, but did not recognise the reference to her or it in her automatic writing. Mrs. Holland, a relative of Burne-Jones, certainly knew the whole story.
For Annie Eliza Marshall, who died in 1876, Myers had formed a deep attachment, which influenced his whole outlook on life. When Mrs. Verrall began writing automatically she knew that Myers had been deeply in love with a woman long since dead, whose first Christian name she also knew. She did not know what had been her surname either before or after marriage, nor the circumstances in which Myers met her, nor the name "Phyllis" by which he called her in his unpublished writings. This name Myers took from Vergil's Seventh Ecologue, lines 59 and 63, the latter of which begins
Phyllis amat corylos, Phyllis loves the hazels. The hazel is accordingly an appropriate symbol for her. After the opening in December 1904 of Myers's "posthumous" envelope, Mrs. Verrall learnt her full name and other facts relating to her. She had already given cryptically in her scripts her maiden surname and, as mentioned on p. 168, a description of her home, Hallsteads.
At this point a sceptic might reasonably say that he would reserve his criticism of the alleged scheme and of the symbolism in which it is set out until he had been given further particulars of the scheme and examples of the symbols as used in the scripts, but that with regard to any claim for paranormal knowledge in Mrs. Verrall's scripts either as to circumstances connected with Mary Catherine Lyttelton or with Phyllis he would like to know what reason there is for invoking anything other than subconscious memory. As regards Mary Catherine Lyttelton, whose cryptic appearance in her scripts Mrs. Verrall never of herself recognised, some of the circumstances referred to in her scripts were known to so few as to make it most improbable that she had ever heard of them. It was not until further reference of a more explicit kind had been made to them in Mrs. Willett's scripts written between 1912 and 1916 that the investigators, after close enquiry, both learnt all the facts and could understand allusions in Mrs. Verrall's scripts made ten years or more earlier: see Lady Balfour's paper. The facts themselves were so curious that if she had ever had normal knowledge of them, she would almost certainly have recognised her fairly frequent references to them.
In the case of Phyllis, Myers's reticence on this part of his lift makes it unlikely that he ever gave Mrs. Verrall any particulars of it, close as their friendship was, and the argument from nonrecognition is even more cogent here, as Mrs. Verrall began writing automatically with the possibility of communications from him in view, and was intensely interested in everything that related to his inner life. The Phyllis references began to appear within a few weeks of her first script. Nor is it plausible in my view to attribute to latent memory the occurrence in the first of all her scripts, that of 5th March 1901, of a polyglot, cryptic quotation, meaningless to her conscious mind, of words in a sonnet by Myers which to the best of her recollection she had never seen before its publication in October 1904 in the posthumous book
Fragments of Prose and Poetry; see Proc. XXIV, 162.
The group of seven Communicators had several internal links; Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney as founders of the
SPR; Sidgwick F. M. Balfour, Mary Catherine Lyttelton and Octavia Laura Tennant, as all belonging by birth or marriage to the Balfour or Lyttelton families, between which a close friendship existed; Myers and Phyllis by their mutual love. Knowledge however of their personal histories would not give any rational grounds for inferring that they would all be associated in the plan set out in the scripts, or indeed in any common venture.
And in fact the scripts expressly disclaim any suggestion that a small group like this, drawn from one social stratum in one country, was undertaking a project of the scale and importance indicated. The plan, they say, was made before any of the Communicators died, and there were many more in it than the automatists knew. Inadequate as this group of seven obviously was to bear the whole responsibility of the plan, they had some special qualifications for being its prophets. Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney were well aware of the stage the problem of survival had reached at the end of the nineteenth century, and of the points at which the evidence fell short of cogency. All seven were by reason of family links and friendships established during their lives, in a position to get a hearing through two such other groups as the
SPR automatists and their interpreters.
From the beginning of her scripts in March 1901 until the opening of the Myers "posthumous" envelope in December 1904, Mrs. Verrall was the most important, and for most of the time the only automatist. Her purpose was to give Myers an opportunity of communicating, and whether or not this may be regarded as accomplished, she, or the script-intelligence working through her, had in these years specified a communicating group of seven, some mentioned by name and some by symbolic allusions not recognised by her at the time but clear enough in retrospect when the clues were forthcoming.
Mrs. Holland and H.V. began writing in 1903, and the second stage of the time-table starts then, lasting until the Willett scripts of 1912. The main feature of this period is the production of cross-correspondences in which, at various times, Mrs. Verrall, Mrs. Holland, H.V., Mrs. Piper, Mrs. Willett and some minor automatists took part. These, for the reasons given in Chapter XIII, provided a new form of evidence for survival, At the same time, and mainly through them, the purpose of the Communicators, only outlined during the previous stage, is clearly set out and is linked with the Communicators both individually and as a group.
The third stage may be regarded as lasting from the spring of 1912 until the winter of 1922, when Piddington read a paper entitled "Forecasts in Scripts concerning the War", published the next year in
Proc. XXXIII. The main features of this period were, (1) Mrs. Willett's scripts from 19 12 on, which put in the hands of the investigators clues to cryptic personal references in the scripts of the earlier automatists; (2) the increasing definiteness in the scripts, particularly those of Mrs. Lyttelton, of predictions of the coming War of 1914 as one of the sacrifices necessary to the achievement of a better world order, (3) the entry into the group of automatists of Mrs. Stuart Wilson, whose scripts have a special interest due to her almost complete personal detachment from the other members of the group. With the elucidation through Mrs. Willett of obscure allusions in the earlier scripts, there was little point in continuing the cross-correspondences. They accordingly fade out, the last one of significance being "The Master Builder", the nucleus of which consists of two scripts of H.V. and one of Mrs. Lyttelton's written between 5th December 1918 and 2nd January 1919: see
Proc. XXXVI, 477-505. The problem of design which was raised by the cross-correspondences recurs in Mrs. Willett's "literary puzzles", such as the "Statius" and "Ear of Dionysius" cases, but in a rather different form as only one automatist was concerned: see
Proc. XXVII and XXIX.
During the final period, from the end of 1922 on, the principal automatists were Mrs. Willett, H.V. and Mrs. Wilson. Neither of the two latter had any knowledge, while they were themselves writing scripts, of the crucial Willett scripts of 1912. H.V. was informed of them in 1933, when they caused her intense surprise, but Mrs. Wilson died, in 1956, without ever being told of them. During this period nothing much remained for the scripts to do beyond confirming and emphasising points they had already made.
To return to the first stage of script activity, references to Rome, and to the (retrospective) prophecies of the Pax Romana in the
Aeneid are to he found in very early Verrall scripts, where they continued for a long time. Mrs. Verrall knew well both the
Aeneid and Myers's enthusiasm for it, and may very likely have read his poem,
The Implicit Promise of Immortality, published in 1882. In it Myers adapts to his own ends Vergil's famous line,
Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem (Aen. 1.33), writing "So hard a matter was the birth of Man". And, again, in his Presidential Address (1900) he speaks of "the mighty struggle
humanam condere gentem". The Aeneid is to him an allegory of human evolution, a labour continuing through all the ages.
When however Mrs. Verrall in her scripts quotes the Aeneid, as she often does, it is to illustrate a different ideal, not a process of gradual evolution over an indefinite period of time, but a practical policy to be worked for in her own age, an international order embodying all that was best in the Pax Augusta, in particular a peaceful order. For this purpose she combines the line
Tantae molis, etc. with another line from the same book of the Aeneid: Romanos, rerum dominos gentemque togatam (I. 282), the toga being the distinctive garb of peace.
This conjunction did not however occur till early in the following year (1902). In the meantime it is to be noted that her 3rd and 4th scripts make two quotations from the second book of the
Aeneid in which is told the fall of Troy, a disaster without which there would have been no Rome. In the 4th script, of the 9th March 1901, embedded in an apparently meaningless context, are the words
quantum mutatus ab illo applied by Vergil (Aen. 11, 274) to the ghost of Hector when he hands to Aeneas the sacred fire from the Trojan shrine. This passage in Vergil is the central part of the peroration of
Human Personality, published nearly two years later, and the last line of that book is a quotation in the original Latin of another line (I. 297) from the same passage. The 6th and 7th of her scripts (13th and 14th March 1901) refer to Aeneas's visit to the future site of Rome as told in the eighth book of the
More important perhaps than these is the phrase "Diodma gave the clue" in her script of 31st May 1901. As she says in her report on her early scripts in
Proc. XX, p. 31:
"When in May 1901 there was an allusion in my script to Diotima, I knew that she was the one woman in the Platonic dialogues, and that she was introduced in the
Symposium" (a dialogue she had not then read). "I knew that the subject of the speeches in that dialogue was Love... I looked the passage up to see what Diotima said, and how far it could be described as a 'clue'."
She took the point of reference to be Diotima's assertion that Love was neither a god nor a man but a great spirit, and that all intercourse between God and men was through spirits, one of these being Love. The rest of Diotima's speech does not seem to have impressed her at the time, and she did not study the dialogue more closely until November 1902.
In Human Personality, published early in 1903, much the longest quotation made by Myers from any author (reports of cases of course excepted) is his adaptation and abridgement (pp. 113-115 of Volume I) of part of Jowett's translation of the Symposium. The passage that had impressed Mrs. Verrall is not quoted there; though it is alluded to in a later portion of Myers's book. Myers does however quote the passage in which Diotima speaks of the union of the "godlike man" and the "noble and
well-nurtured soul" whom he has sought, and of their being "bound by a far closer bond than that of earthly children, since the children which are born to them are fairer and more immortal far": she instances "Homer's offspring", and "the children of Solon, whom we call Father of our Laws". Mrs. Verrall presumably read this part of Diotima's discourse in 1901, but, it would seem, without taking particular note of it, so far at least as concerned her conscious mind.
But the topic of "children of the spirit", as one may call it, was not long in making its appearance in her scripts, and that in a curious way. Between the 18th September and the 20th December 1901, she wrote twenty-four scripts in fourteen of which there is
either emphasis on words formed from the root gen-, or on references to the four members of the communicating group other than the three founders of the S.P.R.. F. M. Balfour is mentioned by name: Octavia Laura Tennant's memorial is alluded to: Mary Catherine Lyttelton is referred to by the palm, a frequent symbol relating to her death on Palm Sunday, and by other symbols too: Phyllis by five names (Haslemere, Hazelrigg, etc.) suggesting the hazel which is a frequent symbol of her
(Phyllis amat corylos). From the root gen- come, in Greek, Latin and other languages which borrow from them, words such as
gens (race or people) and also words meaning "to beget'.
In Mrs. Verrall's script of 21st December 1901 the gen-group of words and some personal symbols are combined(1).
(1) When quoting scripts I Put in square brackets the literary sources of important phrases and notes on their significance, with translations of some of them.
"Marigold and cockle-shells [the first name of Mary Catherine Lyttelton and the three shells, more strictly scallop shells, of the family shield]. Find the key for the lock and keep it close. Spatula [palm-leaf, another reference to her]. Do not forget the word it is
gens togata [Aeneid I, 282] and another short word..."
Gens togata is repeated later in the script.
In the next script but one, that of 4th January 1902, occurs this passage:
"Heseltine is the reference - Look it up. Francis Hezeltine
[F. M. Balfour's first name combined with two of the Hazel - names, which have no meaning except as cryptic allusions to Phyllis]. Devornik was in the last. Devoniac is better [probably an allusion to the evolution of fishes in the Devonian era, and so to F. M. Balfour]. [Drawings of two fishes, one a flat fish] a fish or a counter.... Tell Hodgson the words in gen that is nearly right
*** [Begetting] is important not Genesis."
The phrase "a fish or a counter" perhaps combines an F. M. Balfour symbol with a reference to Aristophanes' discourse in the
Symposium, which plays an important part in the scripts, but one too complicated to explain here.
In three scripts written between 13th January and 3rd February 1902 the topic of
gens togata is emphasised and elaborated, thus:
January. "Three Latin words can she not write them? would give the clue Quid fremuerunt gentes?
[Psalm II, I] Gentes seems right. Gens togata rapit..."
29th January. '... gentile no gentes gens togata vocat Romam Romanam condere gentem [Combination of
Aen. 1, 33 and 272] Gens togata manet ['The people that wears the toga remains' or 'endures'] ..."
3rd February. "Gennata no Gens nata togae [the race born to the toga] those are the three words there is more-But the other words are the test
Gens nata togae. In inverted commas single thus 'Gens nata togae'."
gens togata comes from the Aeneid, gens nata togae has I think, no warrant in Vergil but is an invention of the
script-intelligence. I have no doubt that the whole series of scripts from the 18th September 1901 to the 3rd February 1902 is an elaborate weaving together of the lines quoted from the First Book of the
Aeneid and the claim of Diotima as to "children of the spirit" in the Symposium. But just as the script-intelligence brings back to earth the foundation of Rome from the nebulous allegory to which Myers had relegated it, so in the scripts "the children of the spirit" are not laws or constitutions but children of flesh and blood to be born and nurtured in the ideal of a world-order of peace which they will help to establish.
They are "children of the spirit" because, so the scripts claim, their birth, character and destiny are influenced by those responsible for the plan, particularly by the Seven Communicators making use of the embryological knowledge of F. M. Balfour and the psychological studies of Edmund Gurney, "psychological eugenics", as Mrs. Willett calls it. At the risk of tedium I repeat that I am concerned only with the development of the plan as the various automatists set it out in their scripts, and not to claim that the plan actually exists, and certainly not to claim that it is bound to succeed. The mere notion of "psychological eugenics" will doubtless seem absurd to many, but as a notion, without regard to any supposed actual instance, it does not seem so to me.
The plan, as already said, is to establish a
world-order of peace, and though the Pax Romana is a convenient type, because of the abundance of literary allusions to it, as an ideal it is inadequate. It was not world-wide, and it rested on armed force, the imposition of the habit of peace by battling down the proud (see
Aen. VI, 853). In a script of 29th April 1907 Mrs. Verrall writes:
"Victor in poesy Victor in Romance and Lord of Human Tears [Tennyson
To Victor Hugo; 'poesy' should be 'drama'] ... pro patria is written on a circle not I think a ring. But I mean a wider thing, a universal country, the mother of us all [Galatians IV, 26 'But Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all']
"Not 'O fair city of Cecrops'
"But Oh fair city of God [Marcus Aurelius Meditations, Bk. IV]
"That gives one clue - I have long wanted to say that - I tried before I spoke of Athens [=the city of Cecrops'] but you did not complete Golden City of God. The city of Cecrops is violet and hoary [Swinburne,
Erechtheus] look back at that. The Universal City is all colours and no colour but best described as a golden GLEAM."
Towards the end of his short poem Tennyson says
"England France all man to be
Will make one people ere man's race be run."
It was Marcus Aurelius who said "As I am Marcus, my country is Rome; as I am a man, the whole world". "Jerusalem that is above" is not, I think, just an equivalent for the New Jerusalem of
Revelations but an existing state of freedom contrasted with the bondage of the Law. This script combines references to Rome, Athens and Jerusalem, the three sources of our civilisation, and to England, France and "all man to be". "All colours and no colour" is another way of expressing the idea of the colours of the rainbow united in a single light. It may be significant that the colours here are not limited to seven, implying that others besides the group of seven communicators are furthering the plan.
To return to the subject of "children of the spirit", which is developed very fully in the scripts of several of the automatists, paticularly Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Stuart Wilson, I will merely quote as illustrations a few scripts of the earlier automatists, two being scripts of Mrs. Verrall, and two others, written independently and within three days of each other, by Mrs. Holland and H.V.
Mrs. Verrall's script of 6th September 1902 has in an apparently irrelevant context the single word "Gaetan" and her script of 26th May 1904 has
"The Ring and the Book. Pompilia's grave is described - read that - and find the words
there - five words together. The child mother."
In Book VII of Browning's poem Pompilia says she gave her child the name Gaetano, after a newly canonised saint, because the five saints after whom she had been named had done so little for her. The second script would not by itself have suggested any allusion to the birth of children, but the
two scripts, the only scripts of Mrs. Verrall referring to Pompilia or her child, obviously do. It is characteristic of the script intelligence to introduce a topic in this unobtrusive way. Gaetano reckons as a child of the spirit, being as his mother says, "born of love not hate". His father, Count Guido, who hated Pompilia and murdered her, had, she says, no part in him. Her true love, in the spiritual sense, was the priest who did his best to rescue her from 'Count Guido's clutches. It is perhaps significant that the script of 26th May 1904 was written on an anniversary of the birth of Mary Catherine Lyttelton, as she is in all the scripts particularly associated with the birth topic.
Mrs. Holland's script of 3rd November 1909 has a passage which provides an interesting example of the cryptic methods of the script-intelligence. It runs as follows, after references to "the nuthatch", the crest of the Feildings, and to their family motto; "Eugene - the Paladin. The people who sat in darkness" [Matthew IV, 6].
On the surface this script looks, and was probably intended by the script-intelligence to look, as a jocular reference to
sťances held in the dark, particularly to Everard Feilding's investigation of the famous medium Eusapia Palladino,
in which he had recently reported to the SPR (Proc. XXIII) for in Feilding's research Mrs. Holland took a keen but sceptical interest. But is Eugene just a bad shot at Eusapia, the surname Palladino suggesting Paladin in the sense of a warrior prince, such as the famous Prince Eugene? The only other place in Holland script in which the word Eugene occurs is in her script of 13th June 1906, which should be read in conjunction with the scripts of 6th and 20th June which precede and follow it. The first part of the script of the 6th is about "a friend who was killed on the mountain", "a scholar - a student", and it ends with mention of "a thin crust of snow on the glacier", an ice-axe, ropes and the name "Franz". The script of the 13th begins
"I see your icey ramparts drawn
Between the sleepers and the dawn
"The last sunset was the beautiful one.
What of Eugene?"
And it later refers to spiked boots. That of the 20th has a single word that is relevant "Gringelwald"
(sic), probably an allusion to Myers's poem "On a Grave at Grindelwald", describing a death in the high Alps. Although F. M. Balfour's fatal accident did not occur near Grindelwald nor near the other Alpine centres Mrs. Holland mentions, the name "Franz" and some other details strongly suggest that it is to this that her scripts point. She had no conscious recollection of having heard of F. M. Balfour, but may have read a printed account of his death. If the Alpine allusions in these scripts relate to him, the obvious intention is to combine references to him as mountaineer and as geneticist. In that case Eugene in the script of 3rd November 1909 presumably relates to Eugenics also and implies F. M. Balfour's research in that subject. It is to be noted that, while the quotation from Matthew IV, 6, has not in itself or by its context there any reference to the birth of children, the opening verses of the ninth chapter of Isaiah, from which it is taken with a slight change ("sat" for "walked"), is very definitely a birth reference: see v.6.
Two days later, 5th November 1909, H.V. writes
"The ship and the stars twin stars-safe comes the ship to harbour [Macaulay, Battle of Lake Regillus, slightly misquoted] ... out of the deep my child [Tennyson,
De Profundis, written on the birth of his son Hallam] you wrote of that before the spinning top [Dante,
Paradiso, especially Canto XII]. The harmony of the spheres, harmony of colour and
sound - seven sounds and seven colours."
Part of this script has already been quoted and discussed in Chapter XII in connection with the Sevens cross-correspondence. It will be noted that the part beginning "the spinning top" follows immediately on the reference to
De Profundis. The Great Twin Brethren here, as always in the scripts, mean supernormal guidance and protection.
Mrs. Verrall published a report on her early scripts in 1906 (Proc. XX) and from then on numerous other reports on the scripts of the
SPR group were published. From the quotations of scripts made in those papers readers of
Proceedings, including of course the automatists, gained a growing knowledge of scripts, and of the topics discussed. To the best of my knowledge nothing whatever was said in the
Proceedings or in any other publication about "children of the spirit" before 1951(1), when the
Journal of the American SPR published a resume of a talk on scripts which H.V. had given that Society, with special reference to the treatment of this subject in the scripts of Mrs. Verrall and Mrs. Wilson.
(1) In her report on her automatic writings in Proceedings vol. XX (1906) Mrs. Verrall refers to her scripts of 6th September 1902 and 26th May 1904 without any mention of
"Children of the spirit" are frequently alluded to both in Mrs. Willett's and Mrs. Wilson's scripts. The interpreters had however shown Mrs. Willett in 1909 and 1910 many of Mrs. Verrall's, H.V.'s and Mrs. Holland's scripts. This was a marked departure from their usual practice but was made deliberately on what they considered imperative instructions in some of the scripts.
Mrs. Wilson's scripts, it will be remembered, began in 1915 when she responded to an appeal made by the
SPR for persons willing to take part in experiments in telepathy. She thus got into touch with H.V. and became very friendly with her. While for several years after 1915 H.V. received her scripts, she did not see those of H.V. or any of the other automatists, except as and when they were published in
SPR. Proceedings. Apart from H.V. she never knew personally any of the other automatists.
She must be credited with knowledge of all the cross-correspondences previously discussed in
Proceedings including the Ave Roma Immortalis and Sevens cases described in Chapter XIII. The subjects of these do indeed reappear in her scripts, as will be seen from the first one that I shall quote, but for the most part the connection between her and the other automatists is made through matters which had not been made public, such as the symbols appropriate to various members of the communicating group, and the topic of "children of the spirit".
References by Mrs. Wilson to the three Founders of the SPR individually are few, and rather doubtful: had they been more frequent they would have had little point in view of her normal knowledge. She also thought she knew the story of Phyllis, though in fact the account she had heard was most inaccurate, but her supposed knowledge may account for the absence of references to Phyllis in her scripts. To the other Communicators, Mary Catherine Lyttelton, Octavia Laura Tennant and, particularly, F. M. Balfour, symbolic allusions in her script are numerous.
Here is the Wilson script of 22nd July 1917:
"One of the triumphal arches in Rome. The Roman Forum
- Something buried there. That something I think was the instruments and utensils used in the sacrificial rites... I might almost as well say 'The Lays of Ancient Rome' and leave it at that for the rest of the experiment. To particularise ... [references to Virginia, Curtius, Scaevola and Horatius] The Tiber with St. Angelo on the far side, and an impression that the seven branch candlesticks a golden lamp and other treasure lie at the bottom of the river at this point... [references to Lucretia and to the Nativity] I had a dream later on that three men who sometimes seem to he talking to me about the experiments were regretting that I knew no Greek. I can't describe them except that the principal one has a kindly, rather whimsically gay manner."
Mrs. Wilson's "scripts" are contemporary records of scenes visualised by her while preparing for sleep. The experience often includes the hearing of words and phrases, but actual quotations are uncommon. The scene described in this script appears to be based on a novel by Hawthorne known as
Transformation (and also as The Marble Faun) but it plainly combines the two topics of the Rome and Sevens cross-correspondences. In view of her knowledge of
Proceedings that conjunction is not in itself significant. But there are several points which strike me as interesting; first the emphasis laid on the sacrifices necessary to achieve the greatness of Rome. The scripts of all the automatists stress the sacrifices without which the new world-order, of which Rome is a type, cannot be won, but nothing could be found in the reports in
Proceedings published before the date of this script, or indeed before Piddington's paper in
Proceedings XXXIII (1923), to suggest that the scripts were concerned with this idea.
"The seven branch candlesticks" as one of the numerous references to candies in scripts all relating to Mary Catherine Lyttelton (see p. 188 above) here as elsewhere point to her as a member of the communicating group of seven. The three men who regretted that Mrs. Wilson knew no Greek are perhaps Sidgwick, Myers and Gurney, who were all classical scholars; if so, the "principal one" must be meant for Gurney, in whom whimsicality was a notable characteristic. This is one of the very few references in Wilson scripts to the three Founders.
The frequency of allusions in Mrs. Wilson's scripts to "children of the spirit" may be partly attributed to her regret that she had no children of her own. The allusions take many forms. She begins one of her first scripts (20th May 1915) with a reference to Pompilia.
"I found myself thinking of the part [i.e. of The Ring and the Book] where the Pope sums up the case, and especially of lines that run something like this." [The Pope is apostrophising Pompilia]
"'Give one good moment to the tired old man
Weary with finding all his world amiss'
"I know that is not a correct quotation, but I can get no nearer.'
Gaetano is not mentioned here, and there would be no case for taking this as a birth-reference, were it not for the two scripts of Mrs. Verrall's relating to Pompilia and her child.
Her script of 19th August 1915 runs:
" ... A woman holding a baby in her lap and to her left a semicircle of bowed figures in great blue cloaks, their faces quite hidden by their hoods. I got the idea that they were old women and perhaps stood for the Fates or rather the Sibyls." [In the original the words "the Fates or rather" are struck through.]
Later passages in the script refer to "a turks head", alluding probably to the Moor's head which is the Cobham (Lyttelton) crest, and to Catherine Cornaro, one of the symbols of Mary Catherine Lyttelton. It is unnecessary to elaborate the appropriateness of both Fates and Sibyls to children of destiny: see for example
Catullus LXIV, 320-383, and Vergil's Fourth Eclogue.
A long script of 1st March 1916 begins with the mention of a dream of which on waking Mrs. Wilson remembered one word "Sibyl". After reference to several other topics it continues:
"St. Francis of Assisi in his monk's robe. Laurels covered with snow, and the words 'There is always snow on their laurels'. The next picture, of a family group, grandparents, father, mother, young aunts and uncles, standing a little way off, looking with awe rather than affection, at a baby in a cradle, struck me as a realisation that the little creature, who will someday rank among the saints, is not altogether their own, but in some sort a changeling. [After further development of the changeling-saint theme.] For them the laurels, but laurels covered with snow."
St. Francis, and the seraph from whom his Order was styled "The Seraphic Order", appear frequently in Wilson script, especially in connection with the birth of children, which would be a surprising conjunction if the Saint did not typify his namesake F. M. Balfour. Laurels have a dual reference in scripts generally. Their primary relation is to Octavia Laura Tennant, and I take it that when the phrase "snow on their laurels" first occurs in this script, the allusion is to her and her death soon after giving birth to her only child. But when the phrase recurs after the scene with a baby in a cradle, I think it has a secondary reference to the death of another small child, Daphne, of whom Mrs. Wilson had never heard, but concerning whom much is said in the scripts of other automatists.
Another long script, of 25th November 1918, begins with the word "Eleusis", passes on to the Shunammite's son, and a little later runs as follows:
"Mermaids and tritons in a sea cave [two tritons are the supporters of the Cobham (Lyttelton) shield]. A poem of Lowell's, of which I am very fond, called An Ember Picture I found myself quoting from it
"'As we drove away in the darkness
The candle she held at the door ... etc.
[Later the script reverts to Eleusis and] "attempts at the myth of Demeter. She lays the infant Triptolemus in the fire
The mention of mermaids and tritons would be appropriate both to Mary Catherine Lyttelton and to Octavia Laura Tennant, who became a Lyttelton by marriage. The quotation from Lowell brings in the candle, one of the most frequent symbols of Mary Catherine Lyttelton. Both the son and Triptolemus may be regarded as children of the spirit. The birth of the former was predicted to his incredulous mother, whose husband was old, by Elisha, who years later restored him to life (II Kings, iv, 14-37). The story of Demeter and the babe she placed in the fire is told in the Homeric Hymn in her honour. The goddess suckled him and placed him by night in the fire, that he might be deathless and ageless. But his mother watched her and interfered, so he missed immortality but won lasting glory as Demeter's nursling. Triptolemus is the name of the child in some versions of the story, though not in the Homeric Hymn.
To return to the Franciscan allusions, here are two scripts:
19th March 1916
"All sorts of glass retorts, tubes, wheels (I especially noticed a sort of double wheel like this) [drawing]. In fact the belongings of a laboratory... Some of the receptacles were full of a clear liquid full of shining bubbles... It ended, as far as I am concerned, in a most beautiful radiant seraph's head in a large test tube."
3rd June 1917
" ... A bright iridescent object, like a soap bubble, or a crystal, and forming in it something like the face of a golden-haired child, with wings.
"St. Francis's Seraph with the wings crossed over its face."
The idea common to both these scripts is the production of infant seraphs in a laboratory, and after what has been said of Francis Balfour's work as geneticist, and the birth of "children of the spirit", should need no further explanation.
A leading idea of the scripts is the supersession of a world resting on force and cruelty by a humaner order of things. Two examples have already been given, in the Wilson scripts of 19th August 1915 and 1st March 1916, of a babe gazed on by a circle of elders. Yet a third example of such a scene is to be found in a long script of 24th March 19 16, of which this is an extract:
"The Aurora Borealis. The light took the form of gigantic warriors leaning on their great two-handed swords and watching something intently. The expression, awe-inspiring, describes the feeling they gave me. I think they were the old Norse Gods. In front of them the Christ Child lying in a little manger and radiating a more golden light."
The symbolic meaning of this is obvious. The rest of the script, continuing the general idea, introduces, with some items not easy to interpret, references to Vikings, and two processions, one of the great conquerors, Alexander, Napoleon, etc., passing through swathes of dead men, and then one of children.
That the scripts of the SPR group of automatists are the largest and most complex of all connected pieces of material that have been studied by psychical researchers is plain from the space they occupy in many volumes of
Proceedings from 1906 to 1938, nearly 3,000 pages. Even so, many of the scripts produced by this group have never been printed by the
SPR, and many important aspects of them never discussed in the Society's publications. This and the foregoing chapter are meant to be a brief abstract of the scripts, published and unpublished, and to draw attention to various points which seem to be of importance but to have been either deliberately omitted from previous discussions, for reasons that seemed imperative at the time, or not so emphasised as to put the whole situation clearly before the reader. This attempt to put shortly the essential points of the scripts may strike some readers as too involved for easy understanding, but in fact they have been treated with great leniency. A little has been said about fishes, and candles, and hazels, but nothing about bridges, or lighthouses, or Excalibur, or Mulciber, or the Mayflower or Hair in a Temple or a score of other heterogeneous symbols. They have not been asked to pursue the ramifications of references to the
Symposium, on which one of the interpreting group wrote a commentary running to 270 pages of typescript.
These two chapters, in which I have made extensive use of the immense industry and acumen of Alice Johnson, G. W. Balfour and Piddington, should make it clear that the cross-correspondences are neither self-contained literary puzzles, nor yet a tangle of literary puzzles connected with each other, but unconnected with the affairs of life; that on the contrary they are an integral part of a most elaborate design, the high lights, so to speak, of a picture, helping to emphasise the unity of it, and to show that the design could not be attributed to any single automatist. The design sets out a scheme for the creation of a peaceful world-order, of which the Pax Romana is an imperfect archetype, to be promoted by a great body of discarnate intelligences, of which seven specified Communicators are members and prophets, and to be achieved by the creation of a race of "children of the spirit", and through great disasters like World Wars, which are to be regarded as sacrifices to that end. (The scripts speak of wars in the plural, and of personal sacrifices as well.)
The cross-correspondences described in Chapter XIII all fit into this scheme. This is obvious as regards the
Ave Roma Immortalis and Sevens cases. It is true also of the Earthly Paradise allusions, so curiously grafted on to the Sevens case. The pageant which Dante there sees is a symbolic representation of the long history of Rome in its dual aspect of Empire and Church. But it is a habit of the script-intelligence, to make one literary allusion serve as a link between several topics, and here the meeting of Dante and Beatrice brings in, together with the topic of Rome, the topics of the reunion of lovers, and of discarnate guidance, all three being important in the scheme of the scripts. It would be possible, at the cost of a long digression, to show how other notable cases already mentioned, such as the One-Horse Dawn and the Master Builder, have their places in the scheme.
The argument put forward rests on the interpretation of a mass of symbols, giving that word a wide meaning. This is notoriously a hazardous business. There are, it must be frankly admitted, considerable portions of the scripts for which no interpretation has been found, or only one so far-fetched as to lack plausibility. Some of these may eventually prove susceptible of a reasonable interpretation. Others probably consist of associations in the automatist's subconscious, irrelevant in themselves but leading on to a significant point to be reached later. Some may be mere padding. Their presence does not invalidate the interpretation of the parts for which meanings have been found, provided there is no inconsistency in the meanings placed on them.
The symbolism of the scripts covers both persons and topics. The personal symbols are not difficult to interpret when once the name, event or whatever it is that gives the clue, has been grasped. Till then, they may elude the understanding both of the automatist in whose script they appear and of any would-be interpreter, as was shown by the allusions to Mary Catherine Lyttelton in Mrs. Verrall's scripts as far back as 1901, and in Mrs. Holland's and H.V.'s scripts, all of which seemed meaningless until Mrs. Willett's Scripts of 1912. That this course of concealment and subsequent revelation was deliberately pursued by the script-intelligence I have no doubt.
The symbolism relating to topics is sometimes very obscure. But it is often plain enough. Nobody who took the trouble to look up the sources of the quotations in Mrs. Verrall's script of 29th April 1907, as she did at the time, could fail to grasp its intention. Nor is there any ambiguity in the idea underlying the three scenes in Mrs. Wilson's scripts of Sibyls, awe-struck relatives, and Norse gods, all gazing on a child. Taken as a whole, the scripts use the same symbols to refer to the same persons and the same topics, and in the main draw the same connections between persons and topics. But each automatist paints the picture in her own way, and some of the group draw a much closer connection between some of the persons and some of the topics than the others do. This difference does not however affect the scripts I have quoted or the interpretation put upon them. Anyone interested in the technique of interpreting a mass of symbolic and allusive writings produced by several automatists should read Piddington's introduction to his paper in
The mere mention of symbols nowadays rouses mutterings of "Oh, yes, Freud of course". That the general scheme of the scripts, a world-order based on peace, responded to the conscious and subconscious wishes of a group of women all brought up in the idealist climate of the last century, cannot be doubted, nor that subsidiary but important parts of the scheme made a special appeal to particular members of the group, as the idea of "children of the spirit" seems to have appealed to Mrs. Wilson. But as a very persistent dreamer, always on the look out for, and often detecting, Freudian symbolism in my own dreams, I see no reason to suppose that symbols of that sort are specially frequent or important in the scripts.
All the automatists, apart from Mrs. Piper whose educational standard was modest, were above the average in knowledge of English literature and interest in it. This would include knowledge of English versions of Classical literature and legend, and the references to Greece and Rome to be found in Mrs. Holland's and Mrs. Wilson's scripts imply no greater knowledge than could have been obtained in this way. Mrs. Verrall's and H.V.'s scripts show a great familiarity with the Classics, as might have been expected: more surprising perhaps are the grammatical lapses of which their subconscious minds were often guilty. Mrs. Piper's references to the Classics sometimes seem to imply more learning than can easily be attributed to her normal powers. The wealth of classical allusions made by Mrs. Willett in the "Ear of Dionysius"
(Proc. XXIX) is hard to explain on any normal hypothesis, but that most interesting case stands outside the general scheme of the scripts.
Paranormal knowledge of definite, verifiable facts may, I think, be found in the scripts of Mrs. Verrall, Mrs. Holland, H.V., and Mrs. Willett. So far as concerns the scheme of the scripts as it has been discussed, the most striking instances of allusions in the scripts to facts of which normally acquired knowledge cannot be attributed to the automatists are those relating cryptically to Phyllis and Mary Catherine Lyttelton by Mrs. Verrall, while she was the sole automatist, and the more explicit references to Mary Catherine Lyttelton in Mrs. Willett's scripts from 1912 to 1916. Facts not normally known to Mrs. Holland or H.V. are referred to in their scripts in the usual cryptic way, but they concern matters which, though related to the general scheme of the scripts, have been left undiscussed in this chapter for fear of overburdening it.
It has been argued that there is a consistent scheme set out in the scripts of the
SPR group of automatists over about thirty years from 1901 to 1930, comprising both a Story of past events and a Plan for the future. The scheme is really there, and not an invention of the perfervid ingenuity of the interpreters, for it rests on careful documentation, painstaking research into facts, and commonsense handling of symbols and allusions. The intricacy combined with the consistency of the scheme shows that it was not fortuitous. Common association of ideas among the automatists, and the spread of knowledge of each others scripts through publication in the
Proceedings of the Society, and through correspondence and conversation between them, are doubtless contributing factors, but inadequate as an explanation of the whole affair. They do not account for paranormal references appearing independently in the scripts of several members. Incidentally the spread of information by normal means was never uncontrolled nor unrecorded, and allowance for it was made when the scripts came to be interpreted. In default of any sufficiently normal explanation, a paranormal one must he sought, and if one can be found harmonious with the probable explanations of other paranormal occurrences, so much the better.
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