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CHAPTER XI. SPIRITISM AND MODERN SPIRITUALISM.
Whether what is known as Modern Spiritualism is true or false, it must have an equal influence on those who believe it to be true. As being, then, influential for good or for evil over the lives of thousands of people, its phenomena are deserving of most careful attention. For the same reason the analogous phenomena which have been from time to time observed among uncultured peoples are also worthy of study. There is little doubt that nearly everything which has been done by modern Spiritualists has been performed from time immemorial by the Shamans, or sorcery doctors, of the Turanian and allied tribes of the American and African Continents. The two great essentials required in either case are the existence of disembodied spirits and mediums through whom they can communicate with man. As to the former, it is doubtful whether there is any race of uncivilised men who are not firm believers in the existence of spirits or ghosts. In most cases, and probably in all originally, these are the spirits of dead men, who are thought, for a time at least, to wander about the scenes of their material life, and occasionally to make their presence known by sounds or by a visible appearance. So great is the dread of ghosts among234 many of such peoples that they will hardly venture out of their huts after dark, and when any person is compelled to do so he invariably carries a light, although he would not have the slightest difficulty in finding his way without its aid. Nor is the medium wanting among the uncivilised races. The most influential man in the tribe is the sorcery doctor, except where he is merely a tool in the hands of the chief, and all his influence is due to his supposed control over, or, at least, communication with, the denizens of the spirit world. By their aid he is able to bewitch his own enemies or those of the persons who seek the exercise of his natural power, and, on the other hand, to discover the origin of the disease under which the sick man is wasting away, and to remove it from him should the spirits be propitious. The sorcery doctor of an African tribe, like the Shaman of the Mongol, is in fact a very oracle through his supposed power of receiving communications from his immaterial assistants. Moreover, the means by which he becomes en rapport with the spirit world are exactly the same as those employed by the Spiritualist, although the mode in which the mediumistic condition is induced may often be very different. Whether arrived at by a process of mesmerism, or by means of a ceremony attended with great physical and mental excitement, or, on the other hand, induced by extreme exhaustion, or whether it is caused by a kind of intoxication, the condition required is one of trance. The most simple mode of attaining it is probably the self-mesmerism of the Zulus of Natal, an intense concentration and abstraction of the mind, giving the clairvoyant faculty.235 Canon Calloway states that this process of “inner divination” is commonly practised by herd boys for the purpose of finding cattle which have strayed; and it is even used as a means of escape by those who are threatened with destruction by a jealous chief.

This clairvoyant power, which is intimately connected with Spiritualism, is by some peoples ascribed to spirit communication. Thus, says Scheffer, among the Laplanders, “When the devil takes a liking to any person, in his infancy, he haunts him with several apparitions.... Those who are taken thus a second time see more visions and gain great knowledge. If they are seized a third time they arrive to the perfection of this art, and become so knowing, that without the drum (the magic drum which answers to the tambourine of the Mongol and the rattle of the American Indian), they can see things at the greatest distances, and are so possessed by the devil, that they see them even against their will.” Scheffer adds that on his complaining against a Lapp on account of his drum, the Lapp brought it to him, “and confessed with tears that, though he should part with it, and not make him another, he should have the same visions as formerly and he instanced the traveller himself, giving him “a true and particular relation” of whatever had happened to him in his journey to Lapland.” He complained, moreover, that “he knew not how to make use of his eyes, since the things altogether distant were presented to them.” According to Olaus Magnus, the Lapland Shaman236 “falls into an ecstacy and lies for a short time as if dead; in the meanwhile his companion takes great care that no gnat or other living creature touch him, for his soul is carried by some ill genius into a foreign country, from whence it is brought back, with a knife, ring, or some other token of his knowledge of what is done in those parts. After his rising up he relates all the circumstances belonging to the business that was inquired after.”

Among the special spiritualistic phenomena which are recognised among uncultured peoples are spirit-rapping, spirit-voices, and the cord-unloosening, which, when first exhibited, created in England so much astonishment. The last-named phenomenon is not unknown to the North American Indians, and is practised by the Greenlanders and by some of the Siberian Shamans. Thus, among the Samoyedes, “The Shaman places himself on the ground upon a dry reindeer skin. Then he allows himself to be firmly bound, hands and feet. The windows are closed, and the Shaman calls upon the spirits, when suddenly a noise is heard in the darkened room. Voices are heard within and outside the court; but upon the dry reindeer skin there is regular rhythmical beating. Bears growl, serpents hiss, and squirrels seem to jump about. At last the noise ceases. The windows are opened, and the Shaman enters the court free and unbound. No one doubts that the spirits have made the noise and set the Shaman free, and carried him secretly out of the court.”

We have here the noises, voices, and rope untying which are so common in spiritualistic séances. These find a still closer parallel in the curious rites of Greenland Shamanism, the object of which is to enable the spirits of the sorcerer to visit heaven or hell as occa237sion may require. The historian Crantz thus describes the ceremony:—

“First the devotee drums awhile, making all manner of distorted figures, by which he enervates his strength and works up his enthusiasm. Then he goes to the entry of the house, and there gets one of his pupils to tie his head between his legs, and his hands behind his back with a string; then all the lamps in the house must be put out and the windows shut up. For no one must see the interview between him and the spirit; no one must stir, not so much as to scratch his head, that the spirit may not be hindered, or rather that he may not be detected in his knavery.... After he has begun to sing, in which all the rest join with him, he begins to sigh and puff and foam with great perturbation and noise, and calls out for his spirit to come to him, and has often great trouble before he comes. But if the spirit is still deaf to his cries, and comes not, his soul flies away to fetch him. During this dereliction of his soul he is quiet, but, by-and-by, he returns again with shouts of joy—nay, with a certain rustling, so that a person who has been several times present assured me that it was exactly as if he heard several birds come flying, first over the house, and afterwards into it. But if the Torngak (or spirit) comes voluntarily, he remains without in the entry. There an Angekok (or magician) discourses with him about anything that the Greenlanders want to know. Two different voices are distinctly heard, one as without and one as within. The answer is always dark and intricate. The hearers interpret the meaning among themselves, but if they cannot agree238 in the solution, they beg the Torngak to give the Angekok a more explicit answer. Sometimes another comes who is not the usual Torngak, in which case neither the Angekok nor his company understand him.... But if this communication extends still further, he soars aloft with his Torngak on a long string to the realm of souls, where he is admitted to a short conference with the Angekut poglit, i.e., the fat or the famous wise ones, and learns there the fate of his sick patient, or even brings him back a new soul. Or else he descends to the goddess of hell, and sets the enchanted creatures free. But back he comes presently again, cries out terribly, and begins to beat his drum; for, in the meantime, he has found means to disengage himself from his bonds, at least, by the help of his scholars, and then, with the air of one quite jaded with his journey, tells a long story of all that he had seen and heard. Finally, he tunes up a song, and goes round, and imparts his benediction to all present by a touch. Then they light up the lamps, and see the poor Angekok wan, fatigued, and harassed, so that he can scarce speak.”

Except that the civilised medium attains to a state of trance without so much excitement, and does not, while in that state, take so distant a journey, the account given by Crantz would almost answer for a description of a spiritual séance. Most of the occasions in which the sorcerer is consulted would seem to be cases of sickness. Illness is usually supposed to be caused by the agency of spirits, who are annoyed at something having been done or omitted, and the mission of the sorcerer is to ascertain whether the sick239 man will live or die, and, if the former, what offering must be given to propitiate his tormentors. Among the Zulus, the diviners who eat impepo medicine answer, in a measure, to the Mongolian Shaman, although they do not profess to have intercourse with supernatural agents. This is reserved, apparently, for the diviners having familiar spirits. These people do nothing of themselves, sit quite still, and the answers to the questions put by inquirers are given by voices at a distance from them. Canon Calloway gives two curious instances of this mode of divining. In one of them a young child, belonging to a family from another kraal which had settled in a village of the Amahlongwa, was seized with convulsions, and some young men, its cousins, were sent to consult a woman who had familiar spirits. They found the woman at home, but it was not until they had waited a long time that a small voice proceeding from the roof of the hut saluted them. They were, of course, much surprised at being addressed from such a place, but soon a regular conversation was carried on between them and the voices, in the course of which the spirits minutely described the particulars connected with the child’s illness—a case of convulsions. They then told the young man that “the disease was not properly convulsions, but was occasioned by the ancestral spirits, because they did not approve of them living in their relative’s kraal, and that, on their return home, they were to sacrifice a goat (which was particularly described), and pour its gall over the child, giving it at the same time Itongo medicine.” This took place in the day time, and the woman did nothing but occa240sionally ask the spirits if they were speaking the truth. “The young men returned home,” says Calloway, “sacrificed the goat, poured the gall on the child, plucked for him Itongo medicine, and gave him the expressed juice to drink;” and the child had no return of the convulsions, and is still living. The statement that, during the interview, the woman did nothing but occasionally ask the spirits if they were speaking the truth, is somewhat suspicious, but, whatever the explanation of the case, one thing seems certain—the young men had not seen the woman before, as she lived on the coast, a day and a half’s journey from them. In the other instance referred to, the ultimate result was not so favourable, as the sickness was not removed, but it was attended with an incident by which we are again reminded of the phenomena of Spiritualism. The spirits promised to dig up and bring to the diviner the secret poison which they said was causing the sickness inquired about. At the time appointed for the poison to be exhibited the old people assembled in the diviner’s hut, and, after arranging themselves in a line at the request of the spirits, they soon heard, first one thing fall on the floor, and then another, until at length each person was told to take up what belonged to him and throw it into the running stream, when the disease would be carried away. On examining the things “some found their beads which they had lost long ago; some found earth bound up; others found pieces of some old garment; others shreds of something they had worn; all found something belonging to them.” In this case, also, the voices came from above; but among241 some peoples the spirit enters into the body of the diviner, in like manner as with spiritualistic mediums. This is so in China, where the spirit of the dead talks with the living through the male or female medium, as the case may be—and with all uncultured peoples, in fact, who look upon their priests, or sorcery doctors, as oracles.

There are two phenomena known to spiritualists which we can expect to find only among cultured peoples. One of these, the so-called spirit writing, has been practised by the Chinese probably from time immemorial, and is effected by means of a peculiarly-shaped pen held by two men and some sand. The presence of the spirit is shown by a slow movement of the point of the pen tracing characters in the sand. After writing a line or two on the sand the pen ceases to move, and the characters are transferred to paper. After this, if the response is unfinished, another line is written, and so on, until the pen entirely ceases its motion, which signifies that the spirit of the divinity has taken its departure from the pen. Like the spirit drawings of modern mediums, the meaning of the figures thus obtained is often very difficult to make out. The other phenomenon is the rising and floating in the air, in which Mr. Home was so great an adept. This in all ages has been the privilege of the saints, Asiatic or European, Buddhist or Christian, who have attained to a state of spiritual ecstacy.

At the beginning of this Essay it was said that, so long as the phenomena of Spiritualism are believed to be true, they have equal influence, whether true or false. On the other hand, it must not be thought242 that, because they are accepted as true by uncultured people, therefore they are false, as being merely due to fraud or superstition. To those even who believe in a spirit world, the question of spirit action in connection with the phenomena is one of the utmost difficulty; and a possible explanation may be suggested of the most remarkable of them, based on physical facts recorded by spiritualists themselves, without the necessity of seeking spirit agency. It has been noticed that the faces which appear at the openings of the cabinet in which the Spiritualist mediums sit are usually at first, if not ultimately, much like the mediums themselves, and yet it seems to be absolutely impossible, considering how they are secured, that such could be the case. It may, however, only be impossible under the ordinary conditions of physical life. If certain phenomena said to have been observed were so in reality, the apparent difficulty is removed. It has frequently been noticed that colouring matter placed on a spirit hand has afterwards been found on the hand or body of the medium. This has been established by experiments tried for the purpose. Further, it is stated that occasionally, when a light has been suddenly struck, a long hand and arm have been seen swiftly drawn in towards the medium. Moreover, the body itself of the medium, absurd as such a thing appears to be, has been seen to elongate, if we are to believe the statement of Mrs. Corner, made through the Spiritualist, in connection with the medium, Miss Cook. The familiar spirit of this medium has been seen rising from her body, and some Spiritualists believe that the243 spirits usually, if not always, rise out of their mediums. In the instance just mentioned the spirit was said to have been visibly connected with the medium by cloudy, faintly luminous threads.

If we accept these statements as true, most of the phenomena of Spiritualism are explainable without reference to the agency of spirits. They would show that the human body must contain within itself an inner form, be it material or immaterial, which, under proper conditions, is able to disengage itself either wholly or partly from its outer covering. The spirit hands which appear, and which are able to move heavy weights and convey them long distances through the air, would really be those of the medium. The faces and full length figures which show themselves, holding conversations, and allowing themselves to be touched, and even permitting their robes to be cut, become the faces and figures of the mediums. This view receives confirmation from the Spiritualist standpoint, from the fact (if such it be) that the “doubles” of well-known mediums have sometimes been recognised in the presence of the originals, and (seeing that Spiritualists believe the body to be capable of elongation) it is not inconsistent with what has been observed that the spirit figure is sometimes much taller than the medium. It is consistent, moreover, with the facts, that the distance from the medium within which the spirit figures can appear is limited, and that if the hands of the medium be held closely from the first, many of the manifestations cannot be produced. This point has been insisted upon as proof of imposture; but assuming, for the sake of244 argument, the truth of what is said as to the human “double,” it simply shows how intimately associated are the external covering and the inner form which has to become disengaged to show itself.

The more the subject is studied the more evident does it become that most of the phenomena in question are dependent solely on the medium himself. The evidence of Mrs. Everitt, given in the Spiritualist, seems to furnish the key to all such phenomena as that of the appearance of “Katie King.” Mrs. Everitt stated that, when entranced, she had seen her own body303 in a chair, and been struck with the circumstance; and she added, that in the case of such a temporary separation between the spirit and the body, these are united by a magnetic cord. We have only to imagine that when Mrs. Everitt was entranced, her spirit became visible to the persons at the séance, and we should have the exact phenomenon produced at Miss Cook’s séances. Moreover, the fact of the so-called spirit and the body of the medium being visible at the same time, which has been thought to prove that they are perfectly distinct persons, thus loses its apparent significance. If Mrs. Everitt’s spirit and the body which she saw belonged to the same person, so may the spirit seen at Miss Cook’s séances belong to Miss Cook herself; an inference which is supported by the fact, that when the former disappeared, it was absorbed into Miss Cook’s own organism. The magnetic cord which Mrs. Everitt referred to as uniting the spirit and body while these are temporarily separated245 exists also, so far as can be judged from the published reports of the séances of Katie and Miss Cook.

A remarkable confirmation of the above theory304 is given in a recent work by Col. Olcott, who, in 1874, at the Eddy homestead, in Vermont, U.S., witnessed the appearance of upwards of five hundred materialised figures, of the reality of which he was convinced, although they could be accounted for as proceeding from the medium himself, and not as due to the agency of departed spirits.305

While offering the above explanation of many of the most important phenomena vouched for by the advocates of Spiritualism, it is simply to show that such phenomena, according to the evidence of Spiritualists themselves, do not require the intervention of spirit agency, although this has an important bearing on the past history of mankind. Spiritism has a marvellous influence over the mind of uncultured man, and it has retained its influence almost unimpaired through most of the phases of human progress. A late French writer, after stating that superstition was supreme in the Roman Empire at the commencement of the Christian era, declares that magic was universally practised, with the object of acquiring, by means of “demons”—the spirits of the dead—power to benefit the person using it, or to injure those who were obnoxious to him. It is thus evident that the phenomena to which the modern term “Spiritualism” has been applied are of great interest to the Anthro246pologist, and, indeed, of the utmost importance for a right understanding of some of the chief problems with which he has to deal. They constitute an element in the life-history of past generations which cannot be left out of consideration when their mental and moral condition are being studied; and modern Spiritualism may, therefore, be studied with great advantage as a key to what is more properly called Spiritism. Not that the former can be considered as an instance of “survival,” in the proper sense of this phrase. Apart from such isolated instances as that of Swedenborg, Spiritualism is of quite recent introduction, and it appears to have had no direct connection with its earlier prototype. It is worthy of note, however, that it sprang up among the people who have long been in contact with primitive tribes, over whom Spiritism has always had a powerful influence. It is possible that intermixture of Indian blood with that of the European settlers in North America may have had something to do with the appearance of Spiritualism, which would thus be an example of intellectual reversion, analogous to the physical divergence to the Indian type which has by some writers been ascribed to the descendants of those settlers. Or the former may be merely a resemblance, instead of a reversion, dependent on the change in the physical organism. In either case, it is somewhat remarkable that many of the so-called “spirits,” which operate through Spiritualist mediums, claim to have had an American (Indian) origin.




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