there an answering voice from the void,
Or vain and worthless my passionate prayer?
Are all my hopes for ever destroyed
In blackness of darkness, depth of despair?
- F. W. H. Myers
LET US now enquire what further experimental evidence is afforded by psychical
research for survival after death. No candid student of the evidence, so
carefully sifted in recent years, can (in my opinion) resist the conclusion that
there exists an unseen world of intelligent beings, some of whom, as the
succeeding chapters will show, have striven to prove, with more or less success,
that they once lived on earth. It would seem as if the mode in which the
manifestation of these unseen intelligences takes place varies from time to
time. At one period hauntings and poltergeists appear to be most frequent, at
another apparitions, at another super-normal physical phenomena, such as were
discussed in the earlier chapters; at the present time automatic writing appears
to be the most common.
is interesting to note that automatic writing is also one of the oldest recorded
forms of super-normal communication. More than 2,000 years ago it was mentioned
by a Hebrew seer as follows: "All this the Lord made me to understand in
writing with His hand upon me."(1) Automatic messages may take place either
by the automatist passively holding a pencil on a sheet of paper, or by the
planchette, or by the "ouija board." In this last method an indicator,
- which may be a small board shaped like a planchette, or any other contrivance,
- is lightly touched by the automatist's fingers and after a time it moves more
or less swiftly to the different letters of the alphabet which are printed on a
board below or arranged on a table.
I. Chronicles xxviii. 9.
these modes of communication have the objection that the automatist, even when
absolutely above suspicion, may unconsciously guide the pencil or indicator;
hence the necessity for a critical examination of the evidence so obtained and
of the contents of the messages themselves.(1) In the first place can the
communications made through trustworthy automatists or mediums, be reasonably
accounted for by thought-transference from those who are sitting with the
medium, or telepathy from other living persons who may know some of the facts
that are automatically written?
The reader will bear in mind that the unseen intelligence may be, and probably
is in some cases, only the subliminal of the medium.
explanation has indeed been held by some investigators; but even assuming the
fact of thought-transference, of which many automatic messages afford an
interesting confirmation, that only helps us a little further; clairvoyance may
occur, far-seeing as well as far-feeling. Then there is often a curious
reflection of the prevailing sentiment of the community, "As if"
(Professor James remarks), "the subconscious self was peculiarly
susceptible to a certain stratum of the Zeit-Geist." "It is conceivable,"
as Mr. Myers remarks:
that thought transference and clairvoyance may be pushed to the point of a
sort of terrene omniscience; so that to a man's unconscious self some
phantasmal picture should he open of all that men are doing or have done. All
this might be, but before such a hypothesis as this could come within the
range of discussion by men of science there must be a change of mental
attitude so fundamental that no argument at present could tell for much
in the scale."
it may be urged that the revival of lapsed memories, and of some of the many
unconscious impressions made on our personality, may afford an explanation more
in harmony with our present state of knowledge and the scientific views of
today. This uprush of past impressions would come as a revelation to the
subject, unrecognisable as belonging to his own past experience, and therefore
regarded as no part of his own personality, but looked at merely with the
curiosity and fainter interest that attaches to the "not me."
Moreover, the series of unfamiliar nervous discharges, accompanying the
emergence of new sensations and ideas from previously dormant nerve centres,
would appear as foreign to the automatist as the reproduction of one's voice in
the phonograph, or the reflection of one's face in a mirror, if heard or seen
for the first time. The sensation of "otherness" thus produced would
give rise to the feeling of another Ego usurping the body, hence the
"control"(1) would be designated by some familiar or chance name other
than the subject's own, or by a name that appeared to fit the ideas expressed.
See P. 242 for definition of this term.
is this explanation sufficient? It may be a vera causa, but does it
account for all the facts that are definitely known about double
consciousness and about these automatic and trance communications? Regarding the
latter, I know that it certainly does not. Whilst it disposes of,
perhaps, the bulk of the messages usually attributed to disembodied spirits or
Satanic agency, it does not cover all the ground. The late Hon. A. Aksakof - a
distinguished Russian savant - whose opinion, formed after a painstaking
and life-long study of the whole subject, is deserving of the highest respect of
scientific men as well as of Spiritualists - points out, (and the evidence he
adduces fully bears out his statement,) that the unconscious self of the medium
cannot explain all the facts, but that an external and invisible agency
is occasionally and unmistakably indicated. The opinion of the Russian savant
is corroborated by the experience of other investigators; for instance, I will
cite two distinguished and most competent authorities, who have made a careful
study of this part of our subject.
his textbook on "Psychology," the late Professor W. James, of Harvard,
writes (p. 214):
am however, persuaded by abundant acquaintance with the trances of one medium
that the "control" may be altogether different from any possible
waking self of the person. In the case I have in mind it professes to be a
certain departed French doctor, and is, I am convinced, acquainted with facts
about the circumstances, and the living and dead relatives and acquaintances,
of numberless sitters whom the medium never met before, and of whom she has
never heard the names... I am persuaded that a serious study of these
trance-phenomena is one of the greatest needs of psychology."
W. James not only speaks with authority as an eminent psychologist, but he has
had unusual opportunities for a careful investigation of the case of the well
known medium Mrs. Piper, to whom he here refers, and he reiterates, - in a
letter to Mr. Myers, published in the "Proceedings of the Society for
Psychical Research," Vol. VI., p. 658, - that:
feel as absolutely certain as I am of any personal fact in the world that she
knows things in her trances which she cannot possibly have heard in her waking
Oliver Lodge, F.R.S., the other witness I will cite, has also made a prolonged
study of Mrs. Piper, and he fully endorses Professor James' opinion; he says:
Piper's trance personality is undoubtedly (I use the word in the strongest
sense) aware of much to which she has no kind of ordinarily recognised clue,
and of which she, in her ordinary state, knows nothing. But how does she get
is the question we have to face, and for this purpose what we have to do is to
collect truth-telling, veridical, messages, and critically examine
whether their contents were known to the deceased person and not known to
the medium, or automatist, nor to the sitters. This is now being done, and has
for many years past been done, by careful and skilled investigators connected
with the English and American Societies for Psychical Research. The result has
confirmed the opinion I have long held, and expressed in my book A New World
of Thought (published many years ago), in the following sentences, which
is in my opinion evidence of occasional communications from those who have once
lived on earth - not as satisfactory as one would wish, and never a complete
revelation of their personality, but in general affording the same trivial and
fragmentary presentation that we have in our own dreams. But the messages are
more than the incoherent mutterings of a man in his sleep. Behind them there is
the same evidence of a combining and reasoning power as we have in our own
normal self-consciousness; evidence of an unseen personality, with an
intelligence and character of its own entirely distinct from that of the
subject's normal self.(1) It has been held by some investigators that this
person is only part of the personality of the medium, the transcendental Ego of
the unconscious self; but, if so, it is, I am convinced, during trance in touch
with those who have once lived on earth, evidence of some extra-terrene
communicator certainly exists, unsatisfactory and dream-like though the
communication often is. As Professor (now Sir Oliver) Lodge has pointed out
concerning Mrs. Piper when her "control" is asked as to the source of
See the remarkable cases quoted by Mr. Myers in "Proceedings S.P.R.,"
Vol. VI, P. 341 et seq.
herself, when in the trance state, asserts that she," i.e., her
"control," or that part of her which calls itself Dr. Phinuit,
"gets it by conversing with the deceased friends and relatives of people
present... but even when the voice changes and messages come apparently from
these very people themselves, it does not follow that they themselves are
necessarily aware of the fact, nor need their conscious mind (if they have any)
have anything to do with the process."(1)
"Proceedings S. P. R.," Vol. X, pp. 15 and 17.
opinion Sir Oliver Lodge expressed in 1894, but the wider experience we have
gained in more recent years, especially the evidence of "cross
correspondence" (to which I will refer in a moment), has led all serious
students of psychical research to the conviction that there is a conscious and
designed effort on the part of the unseen communicators to convince us of their
survival after death.
fact the communications appear to fall into two groups, with an indefinite line
of demarcation between them. In one group, the cause appears to be the operation
of hidden powers that lie wrapped up in our present human personality, and which
the peculiar organisation of the medium renders manifest; in the other group the
cause appears to be the operation of the same powers, controlled by unseen
personalities, who have once lived on earth, or claim to have done so.
is to say, the unconscious mind of the medium is the instrument from
which in the former case and through which in the latter the messages
come. We must not, however, conclude that these latter are in every case
extra-terrene in their origin, for a telepathic influence from living and
distant persons may sometimes be their cause: as, for instance, in the
well-known case of Rev. P. H. and Mrs. Newnham, where Mrs. Newnham's hand
automatically wrote answers to questions previously written down by her husband,
and of the purport of which her conscious self was wholly ignorant. This shows
how necessary it is to submit all "spiritualistic" communications to
the most rigorous scrutiny before deciding on their probable origin.
Question of Identity
full knowledge of all these points before they passed from earth, both Mr.
Frederick Myers and Dr. Hodgson were convinced, from their own personal enquiry,
that these automatic communications established the fact of survival after
death. Since these pioneers in psychical research entered the unseen world, they
themselves appear to have specially directed many of the communications, so as
to avoid possible telepathy from those on earth, or the emergence of a
sub-conscious memory on the part of the medium. This they have done by making
evident the presence of a combining and reasoning intelligence, apart from and
beyond that of the automatist. The significance of the more recent
communications - through Mrs. Piper, the late Mrs. Verrall, and several other
automatists - which contain what have been called
"cross-correspondences" - is precisely this, that they seem
inexplicable except on the recognition that some intelligence, which certainly
is not the conscious intelligence of any incarnate mind, has planned, co-ordinated
and directed them.
intricacy and elaboration of these incidents makes them difficult to deal with
in a work like this. But it is impossible to pass them by altogether, and an
illustration will be given later on. They evince not only the presence of
intelligent and selective direction, but also in some cases they contain fresh
and impressive evidence indicative of the identity of the intelligence at work.
In the last two chapters of my little book on "Psychical Research,"
in the Home University series, I have given several instances of these
"cross-correspondences," and to these chapters the reader is referred.
It is however very difficult to compress into a brief narrative the substance of
this evidence, and its cogency can only be felt by a careful perusal of the
lengthy papers by Miss Johnson and others published in the "Proceedings of
the Society for Psychical Research."
enormous difficulty of verifying the identity of the intelligence with that of
the deceased person it professes to be, is vastly increased when the claimant is
invisible, when "personation" seems to be a common practice, when
telepathy is admitted, and when the evidence is of a fitful and fragmentary
character. Even in the law-courts we have protracted trials, such as the
Tichborne case, when the sole question at issue is the identity of a particular
claimant. If the identity of the intelligence which communicates through
the medium with a person who has once lived on earth can be established, even in
a single instance, all other questions sink into comparative insignificance.
Those, however, who will take the trouble critically to examine the ample
records of the communications made through the mediumship of Mrs. Piper, which
have been published, will find that it needs a great deal of ingenuity and a
great many hypotheses to get rid of the inference that we are here, in several
instances, actually in touch with the veritable persons who assert they have
once lived on earth, and whom we know to have done so. This inference is, of
course, a matter of individual judgment, in which no doubt each person's mental
bias will come into play, be he as judicial as he will.
we find a striking illustration that our knowledge of each other is to a large
extent incommunicable to other persons. Those who have had repeated
sittings with Piper and other genuine mediums for automatic writing or speaking
have been convinced of the survival of friends who have passed from earth. On
the other hand, those who have not had such opportunities, but have laboriously
read the evidence that has been published, may feel its weight and value, though
they may not attain the confident conclusion reached by the investigators
themselves. The reason is that we know one another not by any verbal testimony
of our identity but by an instant recognition, either from appearance or
familiar traits of speech or action. If a long absent friend, whom we may have
thought dead, is at the other end of a telephone line, and through loss of voice
unable to speak to us except through an intermediary, how difficult it would be
for him to prove his identity. To do this he would not talk about current
events, but cite trivial incidents in his past life which he hoped we might
remember. This experiment with the telephone has actually been made, one person
trying to identify himself to another at the other end of the line.
Dr. Hodgson and others have pointed out, the best proof of identity is to be
found in accurate references to incidents of a simple nature, which might be
recalled by the sitter but are unknown to the medium or to the public generally.
And so we notice that in the messages which purport to come from a deceased
friend, trivial incidents are recalled, which are likely to have been unknown to
any but the sitter. Such communications may seem silly and worthless to the
general reader of the record, but they often carry conviction to the person
receiving them. Illustrations of this will be given in the succeeding chapters.
now come to another interesting point: if in automatic writing the hand of the
automatist is controlled and guided by some discarnate spirit we should expect
to find, and we do sometimes find, words written in a language unknown to the
writer.(1) Still more striking would be the evidence of supernormal guidance if
very young children, as yet unable to write in their normal state, could
occasionally have intelligible automatic writing coming through them. This, of
course, involves the possession of psychic power by such children, and therefore
the instances are likely to be rare.
My friend Mr. W. B. Yeats informs me that he has received, not through a
professional medium, the most conclusive evidence of this. Words were given in
various languages, e.g., Italian, Greek and Latin, known to the controls but
utterly unknown to the medium. See also "Proceedings S.P.R.," Vols.
XIII. P. 337; XX. P. 30.
is however some trustworthy evidence of this kind. Mr. Myers in Human
Personality (Vol. II., P. 484 et. seq.) gives a couple of cases which are
well attested, wherein children, who had not been taught writing and could not
write a word in their normal state, were found to write intelligible words
automatically. One was a child nearly five years old who had not learned a
single letter of her alphabet, the other a child just four years of age who had
no knowledge whatever of writing. This latter case was investigated by Dr.
Hodgson, who inspected the writings, which were made with a pencil held between
the middle fingers of the child's left hand. Mr. Myers adds: "I have seen a
tracing of the last written phrase 'Your Aunt Emma.' It is a free scrawl,
resembling the planchette writing of an adult rather than the first effort of a
child." The child had an Aunt Emma who had died some years before, and the
child herself died soon after this unexpected message had come through her hand.
The parents it may be added were not spiritualists, and the mother testifies
that their child "had not been taught the alphabet, nor how to hold a
evidence of the super-normal source of these automatic messages will be given in
the next chapter; it is obviously of paramount importance to establish the fact
of this super-normal source before entering upon the discussion of the contents
of the messages themselves.
article above was taken from Barrett's "On the Threshold of the
Unseen." Published by Kegan Paul in 1918.