IT IS indeed a sharp descent from the empyreal air of the poet to the "Gorgons and Hydras and Chimeras dire" of the psychiatrist, creatures that are now so familiar to the public through films and novels that some justification may seem to be needed for inviting the reader to bestow further attention upon them here The reason for doing so is that cases of "split personality" some times show curious parallels with some of the incidents of medium ship, and are sometimes reported to be accompanied by the production of paranormal phenomena both of the "physical" and "mental" types. These aspects of dissociation have therefore a special significance for psychical research. There are other aspects which raise many problems, psychological and physiological, which lie outside the scope of this discussion.
I will first summarise a case reported in SPR Proc. VI1 221- 257. In 1826 there was born in New York a boy called Ansel Bourne, who was trained as a carpenter and carried on that trade until 1857. In his youth he was religious, but became in course of time a convinced atheist, and developed feelings of enmity for the Minister who lived next door. In August of that year he had a severe illness, aggravated by a sunstroke, and broke down several times on attempting to resume work. On the 28th October he had a strong internal feeling that he ought to go to "Meeting" at the Chapel, but "his spirit rose up in decided and bitter opposition, and he said within himself 'I would rather he struck deaf and dumb for ever than to go there'." A few minutes later he lost sight, hearing and speech; he became perfectly helpless, but his mind remained quite clear, and he retained the sense of touch. Twenty-six hours later his sight was perfectly restored, and he wrote on a slate asking the Minister for forgiveness. He also asked, by writing, for a prayer-meeting to be held in his house, and attended the Chapel several times, being still deaf and dumb. On Sunday, 15th November, he wrote on a slate a long message, which the Minister read to the congregation. He then ascended the pulpit. In an instant his hearing and speech were completely restored. A fortnight later he had a vision, in consequence of which he became an evangelist. At first he travelled a great deal but as the result of his wife's disapproval of his frequent absences from home he confined his activities to his own neighbourhood. This troubled him and weighed on his conscience and may have contributed to the second great crisis of his life.
On 17th January, 1887, he went from his home to Providence, R.I., to draw money to pay for a farm he was buying. He stabled his horse, drew several hundred dollars from the bank, paid various bills, and started to visit a sister living in that town. He never reached his sister's house, or took away his horse.
About 1st February, 1887, there arrived in Norristown, Pa., a man who rented a stare-room there, living in half of it and using the other half as a small toy and sweet shop. He went by the name of A. J. Brown. There was nothing peculiar in his behaviour, which was quiet and respectable, and he attended the Methodist Church regularly. On the I 5th March, about five in the morning, he heard an explosion like a gun shot, and woke to find himself in a strange bed in a town he did not recognise. The last thing he could remember was visiting Providence. He was amazed to learn from a neighbour that he was in Norristown and that eight weeks had elapsed since he left home. A nephew from Providence came over, settled up his business affairs and took him back to Rhode Island. A few years later he was hypnotised and in trance gave an account of his doings and travels between the 17th January and the 1st February, which was substantially verified by enquiry at the places where he said he had stayed
This case shows dissociation in a very simple form. In neither of the two crises of Ansel Bourne's life was there any change Of character. In the first crisis there was temporary loss of control Of several bodily functions-sight, hearing, speech-and abrupt change of opinion, but no loss of personal identity or of memory. In the second crisis there was loss of identity, change of Occupation, and loss of memory for almost, not quite, everything belonging to his life before the 17th January, and for everything that had happened between then and the 1st February. Memory of the earlier life returned spontaneously in March: memory of the interval between 17th January and 1st February was tapped under hypnosis.
The Beauchamp case, known by name at least to most readers, was more complex. Miss Beauchamp of Boston, Mass., came to Dr. Morton Prince for treatment in 1898, when she was
twenty-three years old, and his report of the case, The Dissociation of a Personality (Longmans), is a document of absorbing interest. At the age of 13, Miss Beauchamp, a sensitive child much given to day-dreaming, had a severe shock with disastrous results on her mental stability. Her mother, whom she idolised, gave birth to a baby, and while the mother was seriously ill, Miss Beauchamp was given the baby to hold. It died in her arms, and her mother died soon after. Miss Beauchamp herself became "delirious", as the doctors put it, a word probably implying dissociation. A few years later she began to train as a hospital nurse and in 1893, while being trained, underwent a second shock, followed by a longer spell of dissociation, from which she was still suffering when she came under Prince's care.
When Prince first knew her, she was, in his words, "a 'neurasthenic' of a pronounced type", suffering greatly from headaches, insomnia, bodily pains and other troubles. She was well-educated and religious and had strong literary tastes, but she was morbidly conscientious and reticent. It was only after treatment had proceeded for some time that Prince learnt of the shock she had had in 1893. In his book Prince gave the name BI to the personality with which he thus became acquainted. Prince treated BI by hypnotic suggestion, and found that when out of the hypnotic state she had no memory of what took place within it. To the hypnotised BI he gave the name BII. The treatment given produced a marked, though temporary, improvement in appetite, vigour and general bodily health.
But after a few weeks' treatment the patient, while in hypnosis, first denied making certain statements which had been made during a previous period of hypnosis, and then admitted having made them. On a later occasion, not long after, the hypnotised patient spoke of herself as she was in her waking state, as "She". In the hypnotic state she persisted in saying "no" when Prince said "You are 'She'", and gave as her reason for the denial "Because 'she' does not know the same things as I do." This new personality BII later adopted for herself the name "Sally", by which she has become deservedly famous.
Sally at first manifested herself only when BI had been hypnotised, but soon BI found herself being governed in her waking life by impulses alien to her own character, telling fibs, for example. Then one day in June, 1898, when BI was daydreaming, Sally made her take both hands and rub her eyes. So Sally "got her eyes open", and was in her own words "on top of the heap at last". She was able to control the body for hours at a time. BI would fade out, and then come to, perhaps with a lighted cigarette in her hand: she detested smoking. She would find that she had unaccountably "lost" several hours, and that the interval had been employed by Sally, who was insusceptible to fatigue, in taking the body a long walk which left it, when BI returned, dog-tired, or in writing indiscreet letters, which BI had to disown. Sally in fact enjoyed tormenting BI, who was an easy victim.
But she met a tougher antagonist when in 1899 BIV appeared. There were then three personalities, BI, Sally and BIV controlling the body turn and turn about, as well as the BII of the hypnotic state. Each of the three had a different temperament. Each had also her own stream of memory and consciousness, and Sally claimed to have access to the memories of the other two. None of them, however, was capable of maintaining a normal, healthy existence for any length of time continuously. BI was an
ultra-sensitive and conscientious adult. BIV was also adult, but self-reliant and self-assertive, with tastes that in general were exactly the opposite of Bl's. Sally had all the spontaneity and mischievousness of a child of twelve or thirteen. There were very large gaps in BI's memory, especially of things that had happened since the hospital episode in 1893: she had no knowledge of what occurred while either Sally or BIV were uppermost. BIV had no clear memory of things that happened between the hospital episode and her own emergence in 1899, but she came to acquire a good deal of knowledge of that period partly by inference from what she heard, partly from things coming hazily and unconsciously into her mind, and partly by "deliberate" effort of recollection. Sally claimed to remember everything that had happened since early infancy, both before and after the hospital episode, and whether she, BI or BIV were uppermost. She also knew Bl's
thoughts, but not at first BIV's, and this lack of knowledge prevented her being able to bully BIV as she had bullied Bl.
Eventually by a process of suggestion Prince achieved a synthesis of BI and BIV which he calls "the Real Miss Beauchamp". This meant "squeezing" Sally, who at first strongly objected, but came to acquiesce in the process and even to further it. One is glad to learn that in the final product the more engaging of Sally's characteristics, so regrettably lacking in the other two personalities, were not wholly destroyed.
Among all the psychological subtleties carefully analysed by Prince the status of Sally is the one most important for an understanding of mediumship. Treatment of the kind applied by Prince tends perhaps in the early stages to emphasise any dissociations that may have arisen spontaneously, and may even go so far as to initiate others, but he was doubtless right in repudiating suggestions that Sally was no more than an artifact of his own creation. Her childishness was that of temperament rather than of intelligence. She had all the spontaneous gaiety varied with fractiousness of a lively child, and was very shrewd in the way children often are. But on occasion she would also show a power of sustained thinking, and a gift for expressing her trains of thought which seem to me exceptional even among clever children. It is reasonable to suppose that the two severe emotional shocks experienced by Miss Beauchamp during her adolescence, first at the time of her mother's death and then at the time of the episode at the hospital, prevented her personality developing in a balanced way as a whole. If however Prince was right in regarding Sally as a "co-conscious" entity, i.e. one capable of growth and development within the subconscious, that might account for the comparatively mature side that Sally sometimes showed.
On one occasion BIV tried talking to Sally and asking her questions which, after some resistance, Sally answered in writing. To the question, "Who are you?" Sally replied "A Spirit", but this answer need not be taken too seriously as representing Sally's real views of herself. For some reason Prince heads the Chapter (XXII) in which this episode is narrated "Sally plays the medium", but the only foundation for this assertion is that Sally disclosed matters unknown to BIV. It is desirable to make this point plain, as in the other cases of multiple personality now to be mentioned a very much closer approximation to mediumship can be found.
For instance in the Doris Fischer case, reported in the Proc. of the American
SPR 1915, 1916 and reviewed in SPR Proc. Vol. XXIX, where the subject was a girl who had had a very severe shock in early childhood, there were several personalities bearing a general resemblance to the Beauchamp family group. When in 1909, at the age of twenty-one, she came in touch with the eminent American psychical researcher, Walter Prince(1), her mother had been dead for more than two years and her drunken father had used her as a household drudge, underfeeding and overworking her. Three personalities were then in joint occupation of the body, "Real Doris" who since the mother's death had only achieved conscious existence for a few minutes at a time, "Sick Doris", "morbidly the slave of duty and lacking in humour", and Margaret who was child-like in her limitations and enjoyed tormenting Sick Doris. In 1911 Walter Prince discovered a fourth personality, which only manifested when Margaret was asleep, and so became known as "Sleeping Margaret": she had a mature mind and helped Walter Prince with advice in the treatment of the case.
(1) No relation of Morton Prince.
By suggestion and persuasion, without hypnosis, Walter Prince succeeded in eliminating first Sick Doris and then Margaret, leaving Real Doris as the only personality active during waking hours, with Sleeping Margaret still uppermost during sleep. Walter Prince was puzzled as to Sleeping Margaret's nature and origin, matters on which she was reticent. Relying on her apparent immunity to the influence of suggestion, he put it to her that she was a spirit. This she repeatedly denied, but qualified her denials with ambiguous statements. It was eventually decided that Doris should have sittings with a medium, and when this had
been arranged Sleeping Margaret wrote (see SPR Proc. XXIX p. 394),
"I am a spirit, so called by people who live on earth. I do not know whether I have a name or not. I only know that I was sent by someone higher to guard
Doris when she was three years old."
Then she said,
"There, you may believe as much of that as you like."
Doris Fischer was later on adopted by Walter and Mrs. Prince as their daughter and was known as Theodosia Prince. While she was a member of their household, occurrences of an ostensibly paranormal kind took place in three houses where they lived. They were observed by Walter Prince and formed the subject of a report by him to the Boston
SPR of which he was the Executive Officer, under the title "The Psychic in the House'' (Boston
SPR Proc. Vol. I, 1926). Some of the occurrences were raps and other auditory phenomena, as to the paranormality of which Walter Prince, a man with a highly critical mind but suffering from deafness, may possibly have been mistaken. But there were also crystal visions seen by Miss Prince relating to past events in the three houses, some of which were confirmed by previous occupants, and these, in Walter Prince's view, could only with extreme improbability be assigned to her normally acquired knowledge.
A still closer approach to mediumship appears in "the Watseka Wonder". In 1871 there were living at Watseka, Illinois, two families named Vennum and Roff: for a few months in that year they lived near each other, but nothing more than a slight acquaintance grew between them during that time. After that the Vennums moved to the other end of the city. They had a daughter named Lurancy, born in 1864 at a place about seven miles from Watseka. Later in that year they moved into another State, and they made various other moves before settling in Watseka in 1871. The Roffs had settled in Watseka in 1859. They had a daughter, Mary, born in 1846, who died in Watseka in 1865, when Lurancy Vennum was about a year and a half old. Mary Roff had suffered from periods of insanity.
As a small child Lurancy was healthy, but in 1877 when she was thirteen, she began having fits or trances, sometimes several times a day, and these continued until the end of January 1878. In the trances she had ecstatic visions of heaven and angels, and of people who had died, including a small brother and sister. On the 31st January 1878 the Roffs persuaded the Vennums to call in a Dr. Stevens, who was a stranger to them. He found Lurancy looking like an "old hag", sullen and refusing to speak with anyone except himself. In his presence she had a fit which he relieved by hypnotising her. When she became calm, she said that she had been controlled by evil spirits, and he suggested she should find a better Control. She then mentioned the name of Mary Roff who, she said, wanted to come.
Mary's father said that his daughter had been in heaven for twelve years, but that he and his wife would be glad to have her come. He told Lurancy that Mary had been used to the same conditions as she herself, and Lurancy said that Mary would take the place of the previous evil Controls.
The next day Vennum told Roff that Lurancy claimed to be Mary and was "homesick". She remained with the Vennums for several days, being well-behaved, but not knowing the family, and "constantly pleading to go home", i.e. to the Roff household. On the 11th February she was sent by the Vennums to the house of the Roffs where she met the Roff family in a most affectionate way. Being asked how long she would stay, she said, "The angels will let me stay till some time in May", and she in fact stayed with them till the 21st May, 1878. During this period she was a happy member of the Roff family. She occasionally went into trance, and talked with angels and other spirits, but her physical health greatly improved.
She readily recognised all the members of the Roff family and their friends, calling them by the pet-names Mary had used, and calling a lady, who had re-married since Mary's death, by her previous name. She remembered various incidents, some of then, trivial, occurring during Mary's life. She seemed also to have paranormal knowledge of contemporary events. Thus she announced one afternoon that her "brother", Frank Roff, then apparently in good health, would be taken seriously ill that
night as happened. She then demanded that Dr. Stevens should be sent for, and declared that he would be found at a certain house. Tills was not where the Roffs believed him to be, but they sent there and found him.
On the 19th May, 1878, Lurancy for a time resumed full possession of her own body, and recognised her brother, Henry Vennum. On the 21st she took a formal farewell of the Roff family and their friends, and was escorted to her father's office by a married Roff daughter. On arriving at the Vennum's home she recognised all the Vennum family, and was perfectly happy with them. When Dr. Stevens called the next day he had to be introduced as a stranger. She lived with the Vennums until 1882 when she married a farmer, and two years later moved further West. Until this move the Roffs continued to see her, and she would give them long messages from Mary. Her health remained good.
The case was reported by Dr. Stevens in the Religio-Philosophical Journal for 1879, and Hodgson, the investigator of the Ansel Bourne case, contributed to the same paper a report of a visit paid by him to Watseka in 1890, when he cross-examined several of the principal witnesses. He failed however to get a reply to letters sent by him to Lurancy herself. Some years later Hodgson reported the case to the
SPR: see Journal X pp. 98-104.
It may be doubted whether as "Mary Roff", Lurancy ever showed paranormal knowledge. Although there had never been intimate friendship between the two families before 1878, the Roffs and Vennums had lived in the same town for nearly seven years, and for a short time had been close neighbours. No one can say with certainty how much gossip Lurancy may not have heard about the Roffs, and particularly about their daughter Mary, whose illness had been much discussed locally. Dr. Stevens's report is generally accepted as an accurate account of what came under his own observation, but he had had no special training in testing evidence of supposedly paranormal events, and Hodgson, who had had the requisite training, came on the scene too late to clear up the doubts on this point. His personal opinion, however, was that the case belonged "in its main manifestations to the spiritistic category", meaning presumably by "main manifestations" the incidents connected with the Mary Roff Control. He evidently considered that through that Control paranormal powers were displayed. On neither point did he win the support of all his colleagues on the Society's Council. The important point however for the present purpose is that the case started as one of pathological dissociation and was at first marked by the appearance of Controls, such as those that confronted Dr. Stevens when he was called in, who gave no evidence of an existence independent of Lurancy. Whatever view therefore be taken of the Mary Roff Control, the case can properly be cited as an example of a secondary personality dramatised as a group of spirits of the dead.
The cases so far cited in this chapter happen all to have occurred in the United States. Parallel instances could have been quoted from British and Continental sources. The last case to be quoted, which differs in various ways from the preceding ones, is from Switzerland.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century there was living at Geneva a young woman who held with success a responsible business position. She was healthy in body and mind, and her curious psychic experiences do not seem either to have been caused by her state of health, or yet to have affected it in any way. She gave sittings, without accepting payment, to a circle of friends. Professor Flournoy of Geneva University attended these sittings, made a study of her case and reported on it in a book the English translation of which is called
From India to the Planet Mars. In this book she is given the pseudonym
The psychic experiences of Hélène's adult life had their roots in incidents of her childhood. Although both her parents were Protestants, she was for some reason baptised in a Catholic Church. This circumstance, when she learnt of it, lent colour to a fantasy of a very common type, that there was some mystery about her birth, and that she was really someone different from, and of course superior to, the middle-class young woman she seemed to her neighbours to be. Then at the age of ten, when returning one day from school, she was attacked by a dog, from which she was rescued by a man, apparently a member of a religious order, wearing a brown robe. This incident caused a great shock to her. She had during childhood recurrent visions and other experiences, which led on to her taking part in séances.
Her first Control claimed to be Victor Hugo, but a rival soon appeared who gave the name of Leopold. At a sitting in February, 1893, Leopold pulled away the chair on which
Hélène was about to sit. For the most part however he was friendly to her, and she felt that at various times in her normal life he had helped and protected her. He claimed, during one of her trances, to have been the man in the brown robe who had rescued her from the dog. When in her normal condition however she knew that her rescuer had been a living man of her own time, while Leopold established himself in her belief as the eighteenth-century wonder-worker Cagliostro. If Leopold was Cagliostro, then Hélène must have been his wife, but on learning doubts as to the historicity of that lady, she became convinced she was the re-incarnation of Marie Antoinette. In October 1894 she learnt that she was also a reincarnation of a medieval Indian princess, Simandini, whose husband had been re-born as Prof. Flournoy. Under the guidance of Leopold she visited the planet Mars, learnt the language, and on her return to earth described and drew pictures of the inhabitants, their houses and the scenery, so that in addition to previous existences on earth, she was in her latest incarnation an inhabitant both of earth and Mars. Some of the Martians were old friends, such as the magician Astane, formerly the Indian magician Kanga.
The various characters of this elaborate drama could be evoked at séances, but they would also intervene on their own initiative, as it were. Thus
Hélène would begin to write a letter in her ordinary handwriting and Leopold would complete it in his handwriting, which, incidentally, bore no resemblance to that of the historic Cagliostro. The Marie Antoinette Control would do much the same.
The Martian language, as written by Hélène, reproduced with surprising accuracy some of the grammatical and syntactical peculiarities of her native French. Her reminiscences of her Indian pre-existence, both so far as they coincided with historical fact, and on points where they were at variance with it, kept close to the statements to be found in an old history of India written in French.
Hélène, whose bona fides was above suspicion, had no conscious recollection of having read the book, but copies of it were accessible in Genevan public libraries. Her Martian language was rather more elaborate and coherent than the language which children often invent to puzzle their elders, but may reasonably be taken as a highly developed specimen of that class. The Simandini and Made Antoinette Controls seem to be both examples of the self-magnifying fantasy based on the supposed Mystery of her birth, aided so far as regards the Indian episode, by subconscious memory of the history book mentioned above.
In three points the case of Hélène Smith differs strikingly from those of Miss Beauchamp, Doris Fischer and Lurancy Vennum. For the whole period when she was under observation her general health, mental and physical, was good, and she was able to take an active and useful part in life. Her mediumship was fully developed. The principal personalities of the drama were all herself as transplanted from another planet, or from other ages on this planet, and the subordinate roles were filled by Genevan friends or acquaintances slightly disguised.
The incident of the dog which attacked her left permanent traces both on Hélène's conscious and subconscious mind, on the former as a horror of dogs in general, on the latter in the
production of the triad of wonder-workers, Leopold, Kanga, Astane, the first identified by her with her actual protector from the dog. But before he had established himself in a beneficent role, Leopold, by pulling the chair from under
Hélène, showed that he was not free from the tendency to annoy, common among secondary personalities, even if he never showed the persistent hostility to her that Sally showed to BI and BIV. The shock of the dog incident did not however shatter
Hélène's personality. This may have been one of the reasons for the reincarnationist form that the mediumship took. A
Hélène transplanted to nineteenth-century Geneva from medieval India or eighteenth-century France or the planet Mars was still
Hélène, despite all changes of name, place and time.
But there may have been other reasons. In the English-speaking countries reincarnationist doctrine has, up to the present, affected spiritualism much less than elsewhere, probably because modern spiritualism was born a hundred years ago in the United States as one among many varieties of more or less Christian belief then flourishing or developing there. In most Latin countries on the other hand opposition to spiritualism by the dominant religion was from the start absolute, and the spiritualist movement was not tied to traditional Christian views of the life after death. As a natural consequence reincarnation, which has throughout the ages been part and parcel of many religious and philosophical systems, has found it comparatively easy to gain adherence in Latin countries, even among non-Catholic communities such as the Geneva of sixty years ago.
The cases discussed in this chapter may naturally raise a doubt whether human personality is not so mutable and fragmentary as to make it absurd to suppose that it could conceivably survive the death of the body. If there is survival, is it Sally who is destined to survive, or BI or BIV or the Miss Beauchamp created (or was it reconstructed?) by Morton Prince's professional skill? This difficulty has been familiar to all who have combined the study of dissociation with that of paranormal phenomena. Myers, for example, in
Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, a book whose title shows the conclusion to which his argument is directed, after discussing fully in his first five chapters cases of the kind quoted in this chapter and the preceding one, and much other matter indicative of the complexities of personality as well, writes as follows in the opening paragraph of his sixth chapter:
"Our view of the subliminal self must pass in this chapter through a profound transition. The glimpses which we have till now obtained of it have shown it as something incidental, subordinate, fragmentary. But henceforth it will gradually assume the character of something persistent, principal, unitary; appearing at last as the deepest and most permanent representative of man's true being."
Myers did not live to complete his book, a fact which may perhaps account for the inconsistencies in his views of the subliminal which his critics have pointed out.
Among these critics was (Gerald) Lord Balfour, who was very familiar with the literature of alternating and multiple personalities. In his Presidential address
(SPR Proc. XIX) Balfour put forward the view that the human organism was "polypsychic", that is to say that it consisted, so far as its psychical elements were concerned, of centres linked together by telepathy, one of the psychical centres being the controlling self. This view he elaborated in his study of Mrs. Willett's mediumship in
SPR Proc. Vol. XLIII. Although his view differed so widely from that of Myers, it is well known that lie believed no less strongly in survival.
An argument has sometimes been based on cases of dual or multiple personality that, if two or more "minds" (or whatever word is preferred) are specially connected with one body, each with different memories, temperaments, capacities, they cannot
all be conditioned by the body which they share. One, or possibly both or all of them, must therefore be self-subsistent in life, and might well so continue after the death of the body. If so, the same would be true of all "minds", including those of persons whose psychological make up was normal.
Modern psychological research has however, I understand, reduced the status of secondary personalities to that of moods of the principal partner. If that is so, the argument for survival from split personalities can no longer be maintained. It was always a two-edged argument, as the passage just quoted from Myers shows, and its disappearance is not one that believers in survival have any cause to regret.
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