William Stainton Moses

William Stainton Moses

          A REMARKABLE British medium and religious teacher. His father was headmaster of the Grammar School of Donnington, near Lincoln. In 1852 the family moved to Bedford to give young Moses the advantage of an education at Bedford College. In his schooldays he occasionally walked in his sleep, and on one occasion in this state he went down to the sitting room and wrote an essay on a subject which had worried him on the previous evening, and then returned to bed without waking. It was the best essay of the class. No other incidents of a psychic nature of his early years is recorded. He gained a scholarship at Exeter College, Oxford. Owing to a breakdown in his health he interrupted his studies, travelled for some time and spent six months in a monastery on Mount Athos. When he recovered his health he returned to Oxford, took his degree of M.A. and was ordained as a Minister of the Church of England by Bishop Wilberforce. He began his ministry at Kirk Maughold, near Ramsey, in the Isle of Man, at the age of 24. He gained the esteem and love of his parishioners. On the occasion of an outbreak of small-pox he helped to nurse and bury a man whose malady was so violent that it was very difficult to find anybody to approach him. His literary activity for Punch and the Saturday Review began at this time.

After four years he exchanged his curacy with that of St. George's, Douglas, Isle of Man. In 1869 he fell seriously ill. He called in for medical aid Dr. Stanhope Templeman Speer. As a convalescent he spent some time in his house. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. In 1870 he took a curacy somewhere in Dorsetshire. Illness again interfered with his parish work and he never took it up again. For seven years he was the tutor of Dr. Speer's son. In 1871 he was offered a mastership in University College School, London. This office he filled until 1889 when failing health made him resign. He lived for three more years, suffered greatly from gout, influenza and nervous prostration. According to Frank Podmore he also fell a victim to the drink habit. He died in September, 1892.

The period of his life between 1872 and 1881 is marked by an inflow of transcendental powers and a consequent religious revolution which completely demolished his narrow orthodoxy and dogmatism. He distrusted spiritualism and considered all its phenomena spurious. Of Lord Adare's book on D. D. Home he said that it was the dreariest twaddle he ever came across. Dale Owen's Debatable Land made a deeper impression.

On Mrs. Speer's persuasion he agreed to have a closer look into the matter and attended his first sťance with Miss Lottie Fowler on April 2, 1872. After much nonsense he received a striking description of the spirit presence of a friend who died in the North of England. Charles Williams was the next medium he went to see. A sťance with D. D. Home and sittings in many private circles followed. In about six months he became convinced of the existence of discarnate spirits and of their power to communicate. Soon he showed signs of great psychic powers himself. In 1872, five months after his introduction to Spiritualism, he had his first experience of levitation. The physical phenomena continued with gradually lessening frequency until 1881.

They were of extremely varied nature. The power was often so enormous that it kept the room in constant vibration. Serjeant Cox describes in his What am I? the swaying and rocking in daylight of an old-fashioned, six-feet-wide and nine-feet-long mahogany table which required the strength of two strong men to be moved an inch. The presence of Stainton Moses was responsible for the table's extraordinary behaviour. When he and Stainton Moses held their hands over it it lifted first on one then on the other side.

When Stainton Moses was levitated for the third time he was thrown on to the table, and from that position on to an adjacent sofa. In spite of the considerable distance and the magnitude of the force he was in no way hurt.

Objects left in Stainton Moses' bedroom were often found arranged in the shape of a cross.

Apports were frequent phenomena. They were usually objects from a different part of the house, invariably small, coming mysteriously through closed doors or walls and thrown upon the table from a direction mostly over Stainton Moses' head. Sometimes their origin was unknown. Ivory crosses, corals, pearls, precious stones, the latter expressly for Stainton Moses, were also brought from unknown sources.

Psychic lights of greatly varying shapes and intensity were frequently observed. They were most striking when the medium was in trance. They were not always equally seen by all the sitters, never lit up their surroundings and could pass through solid objects, for instance, rise from the floor through the table top.

Scents were produced in abundance, the most common being musk, verbena, new mown hay, and one unfamiliar odour, which was told to be spirit scent. Sometimes breezes heavy with perfumes swept around the circle.

Without any musical instruments in the room a great variety of musical sounds contributed to his sitters' entertainment. There were many instances of direct writing, demonstration of the passage of matter through matter, of direct voice and of materialisations which, however, did not progress beyond luminous hands or columns of light vaguely suggesting human forms.

The habitual circle of Stainton Moses was very small. Dr. and Mrs. Stanhope Speer and frequently Mr. F. W. Percival were generally the only witnesses of the phenomena. Serjeant Cox, W. H. Harrison, Dr. Thompson, Mrs. Garratt, Miss Birkett and Sir William Crookes were occasional sitters. As a rule, the invisible communicators strongly resented the introduction of strangers. The physical phenomena in themselves were of secondary importance. They were produced in evidence of the supernormal power of the communicators to convince Moses and the sitters of their claims.

"That they were not produced fraudulently by Dr. Speer or other sitters," writes Frederic Myers in SPR Proc. Vol. IX., "I regard as proved both by moral considerations and by the fact that they were constantly reported as occurring when Mr. Moses was alone. That Mr. Moses should have himself fraudulently produced them I regard as both morally and physically incredible. That he should have prepared and produced them in a state of trance I regard both as physically incredible and also as entirely inconsistent with the tenor both of his own reports and those of his friends. I therefore regard the reported phenomena as having actually occurred in a genuinely supernormal manner."

The character and integrity of William Stainton Moses was so high that Andrew Lang was forced to warn the advocates of fraud that "the choice is between a moral and physical miracle." Frank Podmore is almost the only critic who preferred to believe in a moral miracle rather than in a physical one.

The famous automatic scripts of Stainton Moses are known from his books Spirit Teachings and Spirit Identity and from full sťance accounts which he commenced to publish in Light in 1892. The scripts began in 1872 and lasted until 1883, gradually dying out from 1877. They fill 24 notebooks. Except the third which was lost later, they have been preserved by the London Spiritualist Alliance where both the originals and typed copies are accessible to students. They are completed by four books of records of physical phenomena and three books of retrospect and summary. In his will Moses entrusted the manuscripts to two friends: C. C. Massey and Alaric A. Watts. They handed them to Myers who published an exhaustive analysis in SPR Proc. Vol. IX and XI.

The automatic messages were almost wholly written by Mr. Moses' own hand, while he was in a normal waking state. They are interspersed with a few words of direct writing. The tone of the spirits towards him is habitually courteous and respectful. But occasionally they have some criticism which pierces to the quick. This explains why he was unwilling to allow the inspection of his books during his lifetime. Indeed, there are indications that there may have been a still more private book into which very intimate messages were entered. This book must have been destroyed.

The scripts are in the form of a dialogue. The identity of the communicators was not revealed by Moses in his lifetime. Neither did Myers disclose it. They were made public in a comparatively recent book The Controls of Stainton Moses, by A. W. Trethewy. Considering the illustrious biblical and historical names which the communicators bore, Stainton Moses' reluctance was wise. He would have met with scorn. Moreover, for a long time, he himself was sceptical, indeed, at first shocked and was often reproved for suspicion and want of faith in the scripts. He was the charge of an organised band of 49 spirits. Their leader called himself Imperator. For some time he manifested through an amanuensis only, later wrote himself, signing his name with a cross. He spoke directly for the first time on December 19, 1892, but appeared to Moses' clairvoyant vision at an early stage. He claimed to have influenced the medium's career during the whole of his lifetime and said that in turn he was directed by Preceptor in the background. Preceptor himself communed with Jesus.

The identity of the communicators was only gradually disclosed and Stainton Moses was much exercised as to whether the personalities of the band were symbolical or real. They asserted that a missionary effort to uplift the human race was being made in the spirit realms and as Stainton Moses had the rarest mediumistic gifts and his personality furnished extraordinary opportunity he was selected as the channel of these communications. Like Imperator and Preceptor every member of the Band had an assumed name at first. The Biblical characters were eight in number. They were, as revealed later: Malachias (Imperator), Elijah (Preceptor), Haggai (The Prophet), Daniel (Vates), Ezekiel, St. John the Baptist (Theologus). The ancient philosophers and sages number fourteen. They were Solon, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Athenodorus (Doctor), Hippolytus (Rector), Plotinus (Prudens), Alexander Achillini (Philosophus), Algazzali or Ghazali (Mentor), Kabbila, Chom, Said, Roophal, Magus.

It was not until Book XIV of the communications was written that Stainton Moses became satisfied of the identity of his controls. In his introduction to Spirit Teachings he wrote:

"The name of God was always written in capitals, and slowly and, as it seemed, reverentially. The subject matter was always of a pure and elevated character, much of it being of personal application, intended for my own guidance and direction. I may say that throughout the whole of these written communications, extending in unbroken continuity to the year 1880, there is no flippant message, no attempt at jest, no vulgarity or incongruity, no false or misleading statement, so far as I know or could discover; nothing incompatible with the avowed object, again and again repeated, of instruction, enlightenment and guidance by spirits fitted for the task. Judged as I should wish to be judged myself, they were what they pretended to be. Their words were words of sincerity and of sober, serious purpose."

Later, when the phenomena lost strength he was again assailed by doubts and showed hesitation. It is obviously impossible to prove the identity of ancient spirits. Imperator's answer to this objection was that statements incapable of proof should be accepted as true on the ground that others which could be tested had been verified.

For such evidential purposes many modern spirits were admitted for communication. In several cases satisfactory proofs of identity were obtained. Imperator's statement was therefore logical. It should also be noted that each of the communicators had his distinctive way of announcing his presence. If, in the case of modern spirits, the handwriting did not agree with the characters employed while on earth, in direct scripts the communication showed the same features as the one which was automatically received.

As to the contents of the communications, Stainton Moses was well aware of the possible role which his own mind might play. He wrote:

"It is an interesting subject for speculation whether my own thoughts entered into the subject matter of the communications. I took extraordinary pains to prevent any such admixture. At first the writing was slow, and it was necessary for me to follow it with my eye, but even then the thoughts were not my thoughts. Very soon the messages assumed a character of which I had no doubt whatever that the thought was opposed to my own. But I cultivated the power of occupying my mind with other things during the time that the writing was going on, and was able to read an abstruse book and follow out a line of close reasoning while the message was written with unbroken regularity. Messages so written extended over many pages, and in their course there is no correction, no fault in composition and often a sustained vigour and beauty of style."

These precautions do not exclude the free working possibility of the subconscious mind. This possibility is borne out by posthumous messages emanating from Stainton Moses and fairly well establishing his identity, according to which he made mistakes in the scripts on certain points.

The life and activity of Stainton Moses left a deep impression on spiritualism. He took a leading part in several organisations. From 1884 until his death he was president of the London Spiritualist Alliance. The phenomena reported in his mediumship served as a partial inducement for the foundation of the SPR. He was on its council. Owing to the treatment which William Eglinton received he resigned his membership and censured the SPR for its unduly critical attitude. He edited Light, contributed many articles on spiritualism to Human Nature and other periodicals and published, under the pen name of "M.A. Oxon" the following books: Spirit Identity, 1879; Psychography, 1882; Spirit Teachings, 1883; and Higher Aspects of Spiritualism, 1880.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



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