W. H. Salter

William Henry Salter

1880-1969. Went to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Classical Scholarship in 1899, took a first class degree in 1901, turned to read Law, and was called to the Barin 1905. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1916, to become a member of its Council three years later. From 1920 to 1931, a very difficult financial period, he served as Honorary Treasurer; and from 1924 to 1948 he was Honorary Secretary. He was President from 1947 to 1948. He made many contributions to the SPR Journal and Proceedings, and published two admirable books, Ghosts and Apparitions (1938) and Zoar (1961).

From Zoar, or The Evidence for Psychical Research Concerning Survival
(1961, Sidgwick and Jackson, London).

Chapter 7: Ecstasy and Inspiration

- W. H. Salter -

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          THE PREVIOUS chapter was concerned with the particular form of mediumship that produces materialisations and other "physical" phenomena sometimes supposed to support the theory of survival in a quasi-material form. The mediumship with which the rest of this book will be concerned is of a different kind, which for want of a better term is often called "trance mediumship". The presence of trance is not the criterion. Many phenomena of "physical" mediumship are probably produced in genuine trance, while many "communications" are given in states not far removed from normal consciousness: this is particularly true of automatic writing. The phrase "trance mediumship" is however by now established in general use, and is less misleading than such an alternative as "clairvoyant mediumship". The characteristic of mediumship of this kind is the communication of messages purporting to come from the surviving minds of persons now dead. Occasionally such communications are combined with "physical" phenomena, but often, and in the case of mediums of the highest standard generally, they are not. Whether so combined or not the communications ought to be judged on their own merits, independently of the evidential value, if any, of physical phenomena occurring through the same mediumship.

People who encounter mediumship for the first time, whether at actual sittings or through printed reports of them, often doubtless think it a very queer business, and find themselves at a loss whether to regard it with belief or disgust. In discussing therefore this type of mediumship it may be helpful to start with a survey of various mental states which may at first sight seem to have little connection with each other or with mediumship. Some of these states are common and familiar: others in greater or less degree rare. They may or may not form part of the ordinary conscious life. For some, but not all of them a paranormal explanation seems required.

We may begin with a condition familiar to everyone, namely sleep. That our dreams are very largely shaped by internal conflicts and resistances, as taught by Freud and his followers, nobody who has examined his own dreams for any length of time will be disposed to doubt. The influence of the Freudian unconscious is extremely pervasive, but psychical research has shown in relation, for instance, to telepathy, that much goes on in the subconscious which will not fit into the canonical scheme of Freudianism (see above); Freud himself was prepared to accept telepathy, and would have made his acceptance public, had his followers allowed him to do so. Many sleepers have found on waking that problems that seemed to them insoluble overnight have somehow solved themselves without any conscious effort on their part. This however, although it suggests paranormal activity during sleep, does not clearly demonstrate it, nor indeed does it prove any subconscious activity at all. Possibly a solution had been almost reached by normal mental processes before sleep, but the final stage of grasping it had been frustrated by fatigue or by excessive concentration working through "the law of reversed effort", and with sleep the obstacles to success may just have vanished.

There are however instances in which the sleeper did not merely find the solution complete in his conscious mind on waking, but had it presented to him in a dream with that mixture of realism and symbolic imagery typical of dreams. Here is an example quoted from SPR Proc. XII, 13-17. An archaeologist, who was in 1893 preparing a report on some Babylonian finds for an American university, was puzzled by two small pieces of agate with fragmentary inscriptions. He thought the pieces had originally been part of finger rings, and while he could decipher some of the writing on one piece he could make nothing of the other. In his dream a Babylonian priest took him into the treasure house of a temple, and declared to him that these two pieces were not finger rings, but two sections of a cylinder which had been cut into three parts, and that the third section would not he found. The first two rings had served as ear-rings for the god Ninib. "If you will put the two together you will have confirmation of my words." On the next day he put the two pieces together, found that they fitted so as to form part of a cylinder, and that from the previously indecipherable inscriptions he could reconstruct a dedication to the god Ninib. As the dream had stated, it was impossible to make a complete cylinder out of the two fragments, and the piece needed for this was never found. All the information required for this solution was already possessed by the archaeologist before he fell asleep. His dream may therefore have been no more than a mechanism for presenting to his conscious mind a connection, already formed by his subconscious, between consciously known facts. If that view is correct, the priest in the dream would be his own subconscious dramatised.

Even more impressive are the instances of imaginative creation in dreams, of which Coleridge's fragmentary Kubla Khan is the most famous example. The latter part of this chapter will treat of creative imagination, but it may aid to a better understanding of what the poets have to say on that subject, if we now consider some curious psychological states of which accounts have been given by persons of more common clay. These states are generally known as "out-of-the-body" experiences, a description which, however clumsy, fairly explains itself. There are several examples on record, differing greatly as to the fullness of the experience, and the nature of its constituent parts, but having this feature in common, that a living person feels, and often seems to see, his real self separated for a time from his body, which he also "sees", as it were, from outside.

The most famous case is that of the American Dr. Wiltse, reported in SPR Proc. VIII, and also in Human Personality, Vol. II. The following is a summary of Dr. Wiltse's own account of his experience. In the yeas 1889 he seemed to himself, and also to the doctor attending him, about to die. He said goodbye to his family, composed his limbs, sank into unconsciousness, and passed about four hours without pulse or perceptible heart-beat. He then returned to a state of conscious existence within the body and "watched the interesting process of the separation of soul and "body". His "Ego", to use his own phrase, gradually detached itself from one part of the body after another, finally emerging from the head "like a soap-bubble attached to the bowl of a pipe", which broke loose from the body and fell to the floor, "where I slowly rose and expanded into the full stature of a man. I seemed to be translucent, of a bluish cast and perfectly naked", a fact which embarrassed him as he was aware of the presence of two ladies. His Ego somehow or other acquired clothes. Looking at the couch he had left he saw his body lying there just as he had Composed it. On leaving the house he walked a short way down the street, and later along a mountain road, which was blocked by three enormous rocks. Then a great dark cloud, with bolts of fire darting through it, stood over his head, and he was aware of a presence which he could not see, not seeming to be a form, but filling the cloud:

"like some vast intelligence.... Then from the right side and the left of the cloud a tongue of black vapour shot forth and rested lightly upon either side of my head, and as they touched me thoughts not my own entered into my brain."

The thoughts were to the effect that the rocks were the boundary between two worlds; once he passed them he could no more return into the body; he could not do so unless he believed his work in the body to he finished. After some hesitation he attempted to cross the boundary, but a small, densely black cloud moved towards him and he knew he was to be stopped: "... the cloud touched my face, and I knew no more. Without previous thought and without apparent effort on my part my eyes opened." He saw the cot on which he was lying and realised "in astonishment and disappointment" that he was in the body.

A rather more recent case is that contributed to the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1937 by Sir Auckland Geddes, and reviewed in the SPR Journal, Vol. XXX. Here again the percipient was a doctor, who was apparently dying. He relates that at no stage of the experience was his consciousness dimmed, but:

"I suddenly realised that my consciousness was separating from another consciousness, which was also me."

The Ego attached itself to one consciousness (A), while he recognised the B personality "as belonging to the body", showing signs of being a composite of "consciousnesses" from different parts of the body, and tending to disintegrate,

"while the A consciousness, which was now me, seemed to be altogether outside my body, which it could see."

From a source he did not know, but which he found himself calling his "mentor", he received information as to the problems of space and time. But a doctor hastily summoned made an injection which made his heart beat more strongly:

"I was drawn back and I was intensely annoyed because I was so interested... I came back into the body really angry ... and once I was back all the clarity of vision of anything and everything disappeared..."

In another case a Mr. "Kenwood", who had been suffering greatly from fatigue and anxiety as a result of tending his wife during an Illness, remembered in the morning an experience he had had during the night. The ceiling and roof seemed to disappear and he clearly saw a star:

"My Spirit left my body which I saw by my wife's in bed. I seemed to resemble the shape of a flame with a long silver thread attached to my earth body. I enjoyed what I can only liken to the Peace of God which passeth all understanding. I have never enjoyed such mental exhilaration before or since... The Star came nearer and in passing me assumed the head, neck and thorax of my father-in-law (deceased). He told me by impressing it on my mind that my wife would be all right. He shot down and I turned to see him enter my body..." (after a period without conscious memory) "My memory came back as I was shooting earthwards. Again I passed my father-in-law who impressed the thought on my mind 'Don't worry about her, she is quite all right'. I remember the cord getting very short, but I am unable to recall anything of the re-entry into my body."

The next day the wife's health was greatly improved. The case is reported in the SPR Journal, Vol. XXXIII.

This type of case, of which other examples are on record, prompts the question: Have we not proof here of an "astral body", capable of almost complete detachment from the "earth body" during life, capable of making contact with, though not of fully entering into, the spiritual world before death, and presumably therefore capable of continued existence after death and of complete entry into the world of the spirit then? There is indeed enough uniformity within this group of cases to show that they describe a genuine class of experience and are not a random assortment of oddities. Common to all the instances quoted is the sense (a) of existence in an entity not entirely out of touch with earthly affairs, but not dependent on the "earth body", (b) of this existence being preferable to earthly existence, so that in the Wiltse case there is "disappointment" and in the Geddes case "annoyance" at the return, while Mr. "Kenwood" had "never enjoyed such mental exhilaration before or since" as during his experience, and (c) of contact with some intelligence other than that of the percipient.

But the differences must not be overlooked. In the Wiltse case the external intelligence becomes almost a personal Deity, manifesting in dark clouds and lightning. In the Geddes case the "mentor" hardly emerges from abstraction. In Mr. "Kenwood's" experience a "star" becomes a dead relative. In each of the three instances there is strong element of symbolism, and this varies from case to case just as might be expected if we were to suppose the presentation to the conscious mind of several real but subjective adventures of the subconscious.

Many important observations on cases of this kind are to be found in Professor Whiteman's paper in Proc. 50, pp. 240-274, in which he analyses a number of experiences including several in which he was himself the percipient.

With these examples of one part of the personality feeling itself to be detached temporarily from another may be compared the experiences of men who in situations of difficulty and danger have had the reassuring sensation of the presence of a protective companion. An instance of this, not, I think, previously published, was that of a man who in early manhood roughed it in various parts of the world, particularly the back blocks of Australia, a country for which he had a great affection. Later he had a job as engineer in a still undeveloped part of Canada.

He reached his camp there one winter afternoon and decided to collect his mail, which he had not received for several days, from the post office, about two miles distant through the bush. By the time he had collected it, and was starting back, it was rapidly getting dark. He could hear wolves howling in the distance. He heard footsteps behind him and a voice which said, "Windy, cobber?". He pressed on and when he reached his quarters turned round to see who his companion was, and saw nobody. The next morning he went carefully over his track of the previous day, and saw one pair of footprints in the snow, his own, going and returning, and no more. The interesting point of this narrative is that the unseen companion of the Canadian wilds should talk Australian slang. The protector was doubtless a projection, externalised to his sense of hearing, of happy days in Australia, when the hardships may have been severe, but did not include the risk of being eaten by wolves in the snow.

The story, famous at one time, of "The Angels of Mons" was a pious fiction originating in a parish magazine. It incorporated sensational features, such as the production of panic among the horses of the enemy cavalry, that are without parallel in well-evidenced cases. After long enquiry only one man could be traced who claimed to have been an eye-witness, and his regimental records showed that he was in England at the time. But there are first-hand accounts from soldiers who took part in the famous retreat of weary men having collective illusions of seeing friendly troops covering their flanks when no such troops were there. (SPR Journal XVII, 106- 118).

Some of the characteristics of these experiences have curious parallels in the accounts which authors and artists have given of the process of imaginative creation. On this subject Rosamond Harding's An Anatomy of Inspiration (2nd Edn. Heffer, 1942) is most instructive. The reader of that book may be surprised to learn how great a number of authors, artists, musical composers and scientific discoverers have left it on record that their best work was done wholly or partially without conscious effort, and how great a variety of forms the feeling of inspiration may take. For my present purpose it will be sufficient to quote a few examples from well-known English authors.

Towards the end of his lecture The Name and Nature of Poetry (Cambridge University Press 1933) A. E. Housman describes the conditions that he found conducive to the writing of poetry, and the bodily sensations that he experienced when in the creative mood. He mentions that he has seldom written poetry unless he was rather out of health. When taking an afternoon walk, he says,

"afternoons are the least intellectual portion of my life ... there would flow into my mind, with a sudden and unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza at once, accompanied, not preceded, by a vague notion of the poem which they were destined to form part of... There would usually be a lull of an hour or so, then perhaps the spring would bubble up again... Sometimes the poem had to be taken in hand and completed by the brain, which was apt to be a matter of trouble and anxiety, involving trial and disappointment, and sometimes ending in failure."

Housman is clearly describing a process of subconscious activity, with no hint of inspiration from an external source. In fact he specially mentions the pit of the stomach as "the source of the suggestions thus proferred to the brain".

In R. L. Stevenson's Across the Plains there is A Chapter on Dreams, which tells us much more about the development of his creative powers. As a not very happy child he had typical anxiety dreams, but found that he had some control as to what he dreamt, and having developed a taste for the Georgian period of history,

"he masqueraded there in a three-cornered hat, and was much engaged with Jacobite conspiracy between the hour for bed and that for breakfast."

Later still, when he began to write fiction he found that "the little people who manage man's internal theatre", whom he also calls "Brownies", were willing to stage for him scenes which in his waking life he could work up into "printable and profitable tales". Thus, wishing to write a story round the theme of "man's double being", and unable after two days' racking his brains to think of a plot, he dreamt two scenes which became the nucleus of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All that came to him in his dreams he put to the Brownies' credit, but it always had to he worked over and completed in his waking hours. He thought however that the Brownies had "a hand in it even then". Speculating as to who the Brownies were, he points out their connection With himself and his training as a writer:

"only I think they have more talent, and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him (i.e. R.L.S.) a story piece by piece like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim."

If Stevenson's account of his childhood phantasies be compared with his description of his adult literary activities, the change towards "otherness" is noticeable. Is the change entirely verbal? The Brownies might be taken simply as his own conscious personification of his subconscious, or they might denote some entity that Stevenson felt to be external to himself, though accessible only through his subconscious. Stevenson was an early member of the SPR, and he has put all psychical researchers in his debt by relating so fully the development of his subconscious. The debt would be still greater if he had contrived to be a little more plainspoken.

Other authors have recorded that their characters have become so alive as to take the development of the story into their hands, and to hold conversations with them, as Dickens says Mrs. Gamp did with him. This seems to be an example of the tendency of the subconscious to project itself into some external and independent entity, a tendency not, of course, in this instance pushed to the point of complete acceptance of the projection. It is a big leap from Sarah Gamp and the Brownies to the transcendent Beings and Powers, with whom the poets claim to have been in communion.

I am about to quote several passages in which the poets assert that either in some ecstatic state, or in the course of inspiration, they have encountered some Being or Power which has seemed to them outside themselves. Considerations of space compel me to detach these passages ruthlessly from their context, but the damage thus done may perhaps be mitigated by printing all the passages consecutively, and reserving to a later stage all comparison between them and the accounts which have already been quoted of other experiences, such as those called "out-of-the-body".

I (a) "... Up led by thee [i.e. Urania]
Into the Heaven of Heavens I have presumed,
An earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air,
Thy tempering. With like safety guided down,
Return me to my native element ...
... yet not alone, while thou
Visitest my slumbers nightly, or when Morn
Purples, the East. Still govern thou my song,
Uranian ..."
          (Milton, P.L. VII, 12-16, 28-30)

(b) "If answerable style I can obtain
Of my celestial Patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse ...
... unless an age too late, or cold
Climate, or years, damp my intended wing
Depressed; and much they may if all be mine,
Not hers who brings it nightly to my car."
          (Milton, P.L. IX, 20-24, 44-47)

II (c) "Daughters of Beulah! Muses who inspire the Poet's Song
Record the journey of immortal Milton through your Realms.
... Come into my hand,
By your mild power descending down the nerves of my right arm,
From out the portals of my Brain ..."
          (Blake, Milton, Book I)

(b) "So first I saw him [i.e. 'Milton's shadow'] in the Zenith as a falling star
Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift:
And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, entered there:
But from my left foot a black cloud redounding spread over Europe." 
          (Blake, Milton, Book I)

(c) "Thirteen years ago I lost a brother, and with his spirit I converse daily and hourly in the Spirit, and see him in my remembrance, and in the regions of my imagination. I hear his advice, and even now write from his dictate."
          (Blake, Letter of 6th May, 1800)

(d) "In my Brain are studies and Chambers filled with books and pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of Eternity before my mortal life."
          (Blake, Letter of 21st Sept. 1800)

(e) "... for I have in these three years composed an immense number of verses on One Grand Theme, similar to Homer's Iliad or Milton's Paradise Lost... I have written this Poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without Premeditation and even against my Will; ..."
          (Blake, Letter of 25th April,1803)

III (a) "While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Thro' many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead,...
I was not heard - ...
Sudden thy* shadow fell on me;
I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!"
(Shelley, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty)

* The "Thou" is the "unseen Power" of Intellectual Beauty.

(b) "Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my heart?
'Tis Adonais calls! Oh, hasten thither
No more let Life divide what Death can join together"

"The Breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me ..."
          (Shelley, Adonais from Stanzas LIII and LV)

IV "So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touched me from the past,
And all at once it seemed at last
His living soul was flashed on mine,

"And mine in his was wound and whirl'd
About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught,
The deep pulsations of the world,

"Aeonian music measuring out,
The steps of Time - the shocks of Chance -
The blows of Death. At length my trance
Was cancelled, stricken through with doubt."
(Tennyson, In Memoriam XCV)*

* I quote the original version altered by Tennyson in later editions.

V "A Messenger of Hope comes every night to me,
And offers for short life, eternal liberty

"But first, a hush of peace - a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress, and fierce impatience ends;
Mute music soothes my breast, unuttered harmony,
That I could never dream, till Earth was lost to me.

"Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals,
My outward sense is gone, my inward spirit feels:
Its wings are almost free-its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulph, it stoops and dares the final bound.

"Oh! dreadful is the check - intense the agony -
When the car begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain."
          (Emily Bronte, The Prisoner)

That in all these passages the poets are recounting vivid experiences of their own will hardly be doubted, even in the case of The Prisoner, although the passage quoted from that poem is set in a fictional framework, susceptible none the less of a symbolic interpretation. No one would mistake the tone in which Milton and Shelley speak of the source of their inspiration or confuse their words with the conventional invocations of the Nine. Nor can it be doubted that the experiences described have a general resemblance one with another in spite of great differences on some points. In this latter respect the parallel with the "out-of-the-body experiences" is close, and when we come to analyse the drama of mediumship we shall find parallels there to both the classes of experience discussed in the present chapter. Common to both classes of experience is the sense of being in touch with some power which definitely is not the conscious mind of the poet, or percipient, as the case may be. The external powers sensed by the percipients were, it will be remembered, of many kinds, and so it is with the poets too. Emily Bronte's "Messenger of Hope" is as much an abstraction as the "mentor" of the Geddes case. Blake and "Kenwood" both speak of messages from a dead kinsman. Milton, in words suggestive of an actual out-of-the-body experience, speaks of Urania as sister to the Eternal Wisdom, and as such she is almost an aspect of Deity: Wiltse is admonished by a power with the traditional divine adjuncts of thunder and lightning. In Adonais and In Memoriam the power is, in some way, the soul of a dead man, and also, conjoined with it, the ultimate reality of the Universe.

To these sources of inspiration Blake adds his own antenatal memories for which the "out-of-the-body" experiences provide no parallel. One may however be found in the case of Hélène Smith, summarised in the next chapter, a case which lies on the boundary of dissociation and mediumship. The second passage quoted from Blake's Milton is of particular interest. The falling star there is reminiscent of the falling star in the Kenwood case, and the cloud of the same passage reminds us of Wiltse's cloud. Both in that passage of Blake and in the first passage quoted from the same poem the idea of a particular part of the body, hand or foot, being controlled by the external power suggests a connection with a phase of the Piper mediumship (see pp. 116-120 below), when her right hand and arm were, it is claimed, under a spirit-control different from that of the rest of her body. All these are doubtless details in themselves of no particular significance, but they may serve as clues to trace connections between mental states which at a first glance seem very different.

In the out-of-the-body experiences the sense of separation from the body seems to be due to bodily illness or extreme bodily fatigue, or, as in some cases I have not quoted, to a severe physical shock, such as concussion in an air raid or a hammering in a boxing match. It is to be noted that of the authors mentioned, Blake's eccentricity came at times near insanity, Coleridge was an opium addict, Shelley, Emily Bronte and Stevenson were all consumptives. Milton (P.L. 111, 1-55) definitely associates his inspiration with his blindness.

In view of the dream experiences mentioned at the beginning of this chapter-the dream of which Kubla Khan was a memory, the dream that solved the archaeologist's puzzle - it may be significant that Milton's inspiration came to him in sleep, or in the borderland state following on sleep ("dictates to me slumbering or when Morn purples the East"), and that it was at night that Tennyson fell into a trance and Emily Bronte was visited by the Messenger of Hope.

Is it possible by comparison of the points of agreement and difference between all the experiences described in this chapter, dreams, "out-of-the-body" cases, and states of inspiration and ecstasy as known to the poets, to form a picture of the subconscious at work that will be of use in the later stages of the enquiry? It should be borne in mind that a group of experiences which are substantially similar may appear very unlike each other when they emerge into consciousness, for either or both of two reasons, first that even in a well-defined group there are likely to be real differences of detail in the subconscious impression they create, and secondly that the subconscious draws on an extensive symbolic repertory in presenting them to the conscious mind. This complicates the problem, but I suggest, that the following factors are common to all the experiences:

(a) The partial or complete withdrawal of the mind from the pre-occupations of ordinary life. The withdrawal is slightest when, for example, Stevenson puts the finishing touches, with the Brownies' help, to work begun and fairly far advanced without conscious effort on his part. It is at its maximum when the sleeper on waking believes himself to have been presented with material complete, except for transcription. Cases of this latter kind raise the question whether there is during sleep subconscious, constructive mental activity, of which the waking consciousness retains at most a shadowy recollection, or whether in the borderland state following sleep constructive activity goes on with a pressure and at a speed which, when fully awake, we find hard to conceive. If Coleridge really had in his mind, when he started to write down Kubla Khan, not only the fragment that he has left us, but the complete poem of hundreds of lines which he believed himself to have dreamt, it is difficult to suppose that his creative power at the moment of waking could have composed the whole with such speed as to make him believe that all the work had been done during sleep.

(b) There is a sense of existence at a higher level during the experience, which may take the form of greater mental clarity, enhanced creative power or ecstasy, and a corresponding distaste, sometimes extreme, for the return to normal, conscious life. It is to be noted however that some very inferior authors and artists have felt the sense of inspiration as keenly as any of the great masters.

Perhaps the situation can best be explained by supposing that in all the instances cited in this chapter there is a temporary fusion of the conscious mind, when freed from the preoccupations of ordinary life, with the subconscious, a condition particularly likely to occur in the borderland state between sleep and waking. This was the state in which Urania dictated to Milton his "unpremeditated verse", and it may perhaps best be described in the words in which Milton calls on Celestial Light to "irradiate" his mind "through all her powers".

This comes very near to suggesting that when all these poets claim that they have been inspired by an external Being or Power, they have deluded themselves and have simply been drawing on their. subconscious. That is a nation one would not readily entertain even in the case of Stevenson's Brownies, if one held the view that the subconscious was nothing more than an inferior section of the mind, and that the whole personality was closed against all access to reality except through the conscious use of the five senses. But if the view is accepted, that the conscious mind has been specialised to deal with the everyday details of life, and that the subconscious has wider and more subtle powers of apprehension, there is nothing derogatory to the Brownies, or the Daughters of Beulah, or even to Urania herself in regarding them all as self-dramatisations of the subconscious.

In Chapter III it was suggested that in a crisis-apparition there was evidence of constructive work by the percipient's subconscious, elaborate perhaps in detail, but of short duration. In creative imagination, on the other hand, we have examples of subconscious constructive activity more complex, extending over years rather than seconds, and capable of producing works like Paradise Lost, famous alike for the architectural conception of the whole, and for elaboration of detail. But it must be the right subconscious, with a special association with the right person.

Even so it would be imprudent to speak of "merely the subconscious", since it is an important function of the subconscious to be something more than itself, by mediating between the particular conscious mind with which it is specially associated, and other minds with which it has less intimate and continuous contact. If the view of telepathy put forward in the preceding chapters is even approximately true, it is impossible to divide into completely water-tight compartments the subconscious activities of members of a pair or group of persons in telepathic relation with each other, although for many purposes some of these activities more closely concern one of the pair than the other or one member of the group than the rest, and may conveniently be referred to as his activities. In the crisis-apparitions it is the percipient's subconscious that has the best claim to be responsible for the constructive, dramatic work, but prompted by an external stimulus. The same principle may govern creative imagination.

Several of the experiences quoted on pp. 86-89 were in some degree mystical, as affirming contact with a superhuman reality, to which Tennyson applies the words, "that which is". It does not lie within the province of psychical research to venture any opinion as to the truth of such an affirmation, whether made by any of these poets, or more emphatically still by persons whom one associates with the name mystic. Only those who have had comparable experiences have a claim to be heard on this point. If, however, and so far as it is possible to apply ordinary standards to experiences from which the essential part as it would seem to them, the overwhelming vividness and certainty, has been left out, a scale could be drawn, at no point of which could a sharp division be made. At one end of this would be placed the authors who have felt that their best work came independently of their conscious effort, without any definite feeling as to how it came, and at the other the mystics who believe themselves to have been in touch with the One, however they name it. At various points in between would come the authors who have felt they have been conscious of the influence of some external source of power, which they proceed to personalise, but without the intensity of feeling or certainty experienced by the mystics. We are not justified in Putting any limit, any alte terminus haerens, on the power of the subconscious to apprehend what lies, or appears to lie, outside the individual mind, whether as regards the events, even the trivial events, of ordinary life, or whatever there is beyond flammantia moenia mundi.

NOTE: In Memoriam, Section XCV: in the edition of 1878 Tennyson's "conscience" induced him to change the words "His living soup, of the original edition to "The living soul", and "his" to "this" in the next line. He did not apparently wish, at that time at least, to be misunderstood as claiming that his trance-experience proved, as regards Arthur Hallam's continued personal existence, a reality independent of his own feeling. He made no alteration in the phrase "that which is", as this was consistent with his belief that he had several times been in touch with the Great Soul.

Transcendental experiences, as was said in Chapter Ill, start from normal life and return to it again. To express his awareness of this Tennyson uses a curious literary device. In the fourth stanza of this section, describing the setting of his lonely vigil, before the onset of the trance, he speaks of the knolls,

"where, couched at case
The white glimmered, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field."

And in the thirteenth stanza, after his trance had ended, he repeats the same words.

Emily Brontë's The Prisoner. A parallel to the experience described here may be found in the account given by Lucy Snowe of the beginning, development and end of her trance in Chapters XV and XVI of Charlotte Brontë's Villette. Writing to G. H. Lewes in a letter, quoted in The Brontë Story by Margaret Lane (p. 194), Charlotte Bronte writes:

"When authors write best, or at least when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master - which will have its own way... Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?"

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Contents | 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

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