Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 11

Now, the physics of the next world must be very different from the physics of this world, seeing that the next world is not material, or at least that its matter is excessively subtle. How then should the shape we men have in this world persist in the next?

Now, if we have an astral body which accompanies our Ego in the next world, and if that astral body consists of a fluid similar to what we suppose ether to be, or identical with that ether, this fluid must be matter in some form, though matter obviously subject to quite other laws than those of our world of palpable substance. Moreover, there is no proof that the soul is not the resultant of the organic forces of this astral body. If this astral body, as is probable, in its turn suffers disintegration, there is no proof that the soul survives this second disaggregation. If all these suppositions were proved, the old problem concerning the nature of the soul would have been carried back a stage, but it would not have been solved.

But, as things are, this is, perhaps, to carry speculation too far. Let us curb our ambition and ask George Pelham what are the sensations felt immediately after death. Everything was dark, he says; by degrees consciousness returned and he awoke to a new life. "I could not distinguish anything at first.[63] Darkest hours just before dawn, you know that, Jim. I was puzzled, confused." This is probable enough. If things are thus, death must be a sort of birth into another world, and it is easy to understand that the soul which has been just born into that new world cannot see or comprehend much in it till some time after such birth.

James Howard remarked to George Pelham that he must have been surprised to find himself still living, to which George Pelham replied, "Perfectly so. Greatly surprised. I did not believe in a future life. It was beyond my reasoning powers. Now it is as clear to me as daylight." Elsewhere he says that when he found that he actually lived again he jumped for joy.

This joy is comprehensible enough; those of us who are resigned to the prospect of annihilation are few. The thought that death is annihilation makes us, against all principles of logic, shiver to the very marrow.

Such a feeling perhaps points to a revolt of the soul within that knows itself immortal and cannot without a shiver of fear face the idea of non-existence, an idea in opposition to its very nature.

With the impressions of George Pelham may be compared those of another communicator called Frederick Atkin Morton, who had passed into the next world in quite a different way. This Morton had lately started a newspaper; anxiety, overwork, and perhaps other causes made him lose his reason. His insanity lasted but a short time; in one of its attacks he shot himself in the head and was killed on the spot. The first time that he tried to communicate, his remarks showed great incoherence;--no matter for surprise if Dr Hodgson's observations on this subject are recalled. But his thoughts soon became clear, and at the second sitting his communications were definite enough. This is how he relates to his brother Dick his impressions about his own death. He does not speak of suicide, an action which he probably committed without full consciousness of what he was doing, but at the end of the sitting Mrs Piper's hand wrote the word "Pistol." Death had been due to a pistol shot.[64] "When on Sunday," he says, "I began to lose my mental equilibrium, then suddenly I realised nothing and nobody." In answer to the question as to what his next experience was he goes on: "I found I was in this world. I did not know for the moment where I was only I felt strange and freer; my head was light in weight, also my body ... my thoughts began to clear when I observed I had departed from my material body. Ever since then I have been trying to reach you, Dick. I saw a light and many faces beckoning me on and trying to comfort me, showing and assuring me I should soon be all right, and almost instantly I found I was. Then I called for you and tried to tell you all about where and how I was, and, with one exception, this is the only chance I have had.

Now you see I am taking advantage of the opportunity."

After the question of how a man passes into the next world, the most interesting one to us is how he feels when he gets there. Generally speaking, the reports are satisfactory. One of Professor Hyslop's uncles, though he seems to have had a happy life here, says to his nephew, among other things,[65] "I would not return for all I ever owned--music, flowers, walks, drives, pleasures of all kinds, books and everything." Another communicator, John Hart, the first sitter to whom George Pelham appeared, said on his own first appearance, "Our world is the abode of Peace and Plenty." If this is the case, what a pleasant surprise awaits us, for in this world we have not much experience of Peace and Plenty. But I fear that John Hart has exaggerated; every day the Reaper's sickle casts from this world into the other such elements of discord, not to reckon those who must long ago have been there, that I wonder what means are taken to prevent their creating a disturbance.

However this may be, if when we leave this world we pass into another, let us hope that the new world will be a better place than the old one, or else we shall have every reason to regret that death is not annihilation.

But George Pelham, in his turn, assures us that we do not lose by the change. He died, it will be remembered, at the age of thirty-two. When Dr Hodgson asked him whether he had not gone too soon, he replied with emphasis, "No, Hodgson, no, not too soon."

If, however, spirits are happy, more or less happy, according to the spiritualists, as they are more or less developed--and there seems nothing inadmissible in this theory--we must suppose that their happiness is not purely contemplative. One could soon have enough of such happiness as that. They are active; they are, as we are, occupied, though we cannot understand wherein their occupation consists. That this is so is affirmed and reaffirmed in the sittings, and we might assume it, even if the spirits did not assert it. George Pelham says to his friend, James Howard, that he will have an occupation soon.[66] The first time that I read this statement, in a review which only reproduced a short fragment and in no way gave the real effect of these sittings, I remember that the impression produced on me was very disagreeable. How unsophisticated, I thought, must these so-called investigators be not to see that such a phrase as that cannot come from a spirit; it bears too clearly the stamp of earth!

Since then reflection has made me admit that spirits might very well also have their occupations; the next world, if it exists, must be a sphere of fresh activity. Work is the universal law. When George Pelham was asked in what consisted the occupations of spirits, he replied that they were like the noblest occupations of men, and consisted in helping others to advance. This reply will doubtless not satisfy those who are actuated only by an idle curiosity, but it contains a profound philosophic truth. If our varied occupations upon earth are regarded from a somewhat superior point of view, it will be seen that their ultimate end is nothing else than the perfection of mankind. Those of us who have evolved furthest realise this, and the rest do not; the case must be the same in the next world, though George Pelham does not say so. All our efforts and exertions are regarded with indifference by nature who has no use for them, but the necessities of life make men feel that they are brothers, and oblige them to polish one another, like the stones of the beach rolled to and fro by the waves and rounded and polished by rubbing one against another. Willingly or not, consciously or unconsciously, we force one another to advance and to improve in all respects. The world has been, I think with justice, compared to a crucible in which souls are purified by pain and work and prepared for higher ends. I should not like to go as far as Schopenhauer and say that it is a mere penal settlement.

A celebrated English medium, William Stainton Moses, in a book well known to spiritualist readers, _Spirit Teachings_, developed, or rather allowed his spirit-guides to develop, the theory that souls leave this earth taking with them all their desires and all their evil passions.

Having no body in the next world to enable them to gratify these desires they are subjected to a veritable punishment of Tantalus. Thereupon they endeavour to satisfy their material passions at least, if I may so say, vicariously; they urge on incarnate men, all unaware, to abandon themselves to these vices and passions. They incite the gambler to play, the drunkard to drink; in a word, they push, as far as in them lies, every vicious man to the bottom of the abyss created by his own vice; crime and debauchery intoxicate them and fill them with joy. Further developed and noble souls, in spite of all their efforts, are unable to conjure away the influence of the undeveloped and evil souls. In a word, we have here the old fable of demons and angels arranged to suit the doctrines of modern spiritualism. It is indeed the old fable with a difference; demons desire the perdition of man from jealousy, because being themselves eternally condemned they wish to drag down with them as many souls as possible; the evil souls of Stainton Moses desire the perdition of man to gratify their own bad inclinations. Demons are spirits, wicked indeed, but yet spirits, whereas the evil souls of Stainton Moses are only miserable ghosts driven mad by love of matter.

Certainly everything is possible, as Professor Flournoy says, but this theory is somewhat astonishing, for it seems to make the inhabitants of the next world gravitate round our miserable earth, and is like the old astronomical theory that placed our little globe in the centre of the universe. If there be another world, it is hard to believe that its inhabitants spend the greater part of their time in attending to us, some of them to harm us and the rest to do us good.

Professor William Romaine Newbold, in a sitting which took place on June 19, 1895, asked George Pelham what we ought to think of this theory of Stainton Moses.[67]

Professor Newbold.--"Does the soul carry with it into its new life all its passions and animal appetites?"

George Pelham.--"Oh, no, indeed, not at all. Why, my good friend and scholar, you would have this world of ours a decidedly material one if it were so."

Professor Newbold.--"The writings of Stainton Moses claimed that the soul carried with it all its passions and appetites, and was very slowly purified of them."

George Pelham.--"It is all untrue."

Professor Newbold.--"And that the souls of the bad hover over the earth goading sinners on to their own destruction."

George Pelham.--"Not so. Not at all so. I claim to understand this, and it is emphatically not so. Sinners are sinners only in one life."

The result of this denial of Moses's doctrine was that George Pelham was asked to find Stainton Moses and beg him to come himself and communicate. Here is a fragment of conversation between Professor Newbold and the discarnate Stainton Moses.

Professor Newbold.--"You taught that evil spirits tempt sinners to their own destruction?"

W. S. Moses.--"I have found out differently since I came over here. This particular statement given me by my friends as their medium when I was in the body is not true."[68]

Professor Newbold.--"Your second statement was that the soul carries its passions and appetites with it."

W. S. Moses.--"Material passions. Untrue. It is not so. I believed that we had every desire after reaching this life as when in the body, but I find that we leave all such behind; in other words, evil thoughts die with the body."

So on this point the teaching of George Pelham differs from that of Stainton Moses. But, says Professor Newbold, for the most part they agree pretty well.

Now when we reach this other world it is certain that we shall at first be completely at a loss there, as all that we here regard as indispensable conditions of existence will there be lacking. Spirits say that they do not perceive matter which is for them as if non-existent, whereas here present-day science asserts that outside matter moved by force there is nothing. It would be strange if the science of to-morrow were to prove that matter is only a sort of temporary illusion of mind.

Here we conceive nothing outside space and time, whereas spirits seem to have but confused notions of space and time. Such, in the first place, is the view which they constantly assert; and, in the next place, if they are asked, for example, how long it is since they died they are generally unable to say. In their communications again, they often relate as occurring in the present actions that have taken place long ago. I have said already that George Pelham has often been asked to go and see what certain absent persons are doing and to return and report it; he has generally been successful, but he has sometimes made the curious mistake of taking the past for the present. Here is an illustration. He is told to go and see what Mrs Howard, absent at the time, was doing; he returns and reports. Dr Hodgson writes to ask Mrs Howard what she was doing at the time of the sitting, and hears from her in reply that she did none of the things reported on the day of the sitting, but that she had done them all in the course of the afternoon and evening of the preceding day.[69] It seems likely that George Pelham had read the thoughts of Mrs Howard, and in his inability to appreciate time had taken the past for the present.

The same sort of thing seems to occur in the case of space. Phinuit, to oblige Professor Newbold, goes to find Stainton Moses. Phinuit says that he inhabits a great sphere, and that Stainton Moses lives in a very distant part of this sphere. But in spite of this he brings him back almost at once. When the medium is presented with objects likely to attract the so-called spirits with whom the sitters are anxious to communicate, these spirits for the most part arrive at once, no matter where they may have died; John Hart, who died at Naples, communicates two days afterwards at Boston. But it is hardly to be presumed that the spirits are there waiting for us. If their appearance can be hastened or delayed by sympathy or antipathy, on the other hand what we call distance seems not to disturb them in the least; and yet we are perpetually finding in the communications such phrases as, "Every day I am getting further from you," "Now I am very far away from you." But such phrases are probably not to be interpreted literally. The spirits go further from us as they make progress in the spiritual world and doubtless also as the things of this world occupy less and less place in their recollections.

The spirits see us but they do not see our bodies, since they do not perceive matter. They see the spirit within us but it appears to them more or less obscure, as long as it is within the body. "It is by the spiritual part of your being that I see you," says George Pelham, "that I am able to follow you and to tell you from time to time what you are doing."

And what do they think of our life upon earth? Here is a quotation from George Pelham which will tell us:[70] "Remember we always shall have our friends in the dream life, _i.e._, your life so to speak, which will attract us for ever and ever, and so long as we have any friends sleeping in the material world; you to us are more like as we understand sleep, you look shut up as one in prison."

Professor Hyslop had a sister who died as a very young child; she sends a short message to her brother saying that he dreams while she lives and that she sends him her love.

Our life then would seem to be but a sleep accompanied by dreams which are sometimes terrible nightmares. If this be so we can but hope for dawn and waking, and wish soon to hear the crowing of the cock which will put to flight the phantoms of the night. Happy should we be if we had a certainty that it would be so!

This reminds me of a fine passage in a Spanish poet, which I cannot refrain from quoting: "To live is to dream; experience teaches that man dreams what he is till the moment of awakening. The king dreams that he is a king and passes his days in the error, giving orders and disposing of life and property. The rich man dreams the wealth that is the cause of his anxiety; the poor man dreams the poverty and need from which he suffers. I too dream that I am here laden with chains, and in by-gone days I dreamt that I was happy. Our dreams are but dreams within a dream."

So our world may be compared with the cave of which Plato speaks in the Seventh Book of the _Republic_. In the conversation between Dr Hodgson and George Pelham, when George Pelham promised that if he were the first to die and if he found that he had another life he would do all that he could to prove its existence, they referred to the old Platonic myth. In the communications of the so-called George Pelham allusion was made to the allegory, and that justifies me in briefly recalling it.

Plato imagines prisoners who from their birth have been enchained in a dark cave in such a way that they are not able either to move or to turn their heads, and can only look straight in front of them. Behind and above the captives a great fire burns, and between the fire and the captives men pass to and fro carrying in their hands vessels, statues, images of animals and plants, and many other objects. The shadows of these men and of the objects that they carry are thrown upon that wall of the cavern which is opposite to the captives, who thus know nothing of the external world but these shadows which they take to be realities, and they spend their time discussing the shadows, naming them and classifying them.

One of the captives is carried off from the gloomy place and transported into the external world. At first the light dazzles him and he can distinguish nothing. But by degrees, as time goes on, his sight adapts itself to its surroundings and he learns to look upon the stars and moon, and the sun itself. When he has been brought back into the cave and again sits beside his companions, he takes part in their discussions and tries to make them understand that what they take for realities are only shadows. But they, confident in the results of their lengthy reflections on the subject, laugh him to scorn. The same thing would happen to a soul which had dwelt for a time in the world of spirit and had been brought back into the world of matter.

When Plato's captive is brought back into the cave, his eyes, no longer used to half-darkness, can distinguish nothing for some time; if he is questioned about the shadows of the passing objects he does not see them, and his answers are full of confusion. Perhaps something like this happens to the discarnate spirits who try to manifest themselves to us by borrowing the organism of a medium. Such at least is the suggestion of George Pelham; in that way he would explain the incoherence, the confusion, the false statements made by many of the communicating spirits:[71] "For us to get into communication with you, we have to enter into your sphere, as one like yourself asleep. This is just why we make mistakes as you call them, or get confused and muddled so to put it. I am not less intelligent now. But there are many difficulties. I am far clearer on all points than I was, shut up in the body. 'Don't view me with a critic's eye, but pass my imperfections by.'"

George Pelham also tells us how we may summon the spirits of those with whom we desire to communicate. The thoughts of his friends reach him; if he is to come and make himself manifest his friends must think of him.

He adds that, so far from the communications being injurious to the communicating spirits or the sitters, they are positively to be desired.

On one occasion Dr Hodgson asked what became of the medium during the trance.[72]

George Pelham.--"She passes out as your ethereal goes out when you sleep."

Dr Hodgson.--"Well, do you see that there is a conflict, because the brain substance is, so to speak, saturated with her tendencies of thought?"

George Pelham.--"No, not that, but the solid substance called brain--it is difficult to control it simply because it is material; her mind leaves the brain empty as it were, and I myself, or other spiritual mind or thought, take the empty brain, and there is where and when the conflict arises."

All this is very unintelligible in the present condition of our knowledge. But here is another passage even less intelligible and one which in its _navete_ almost suggests that the speaker is playing with us. George Pelham says to his friend James Howard at the first sitting at which James Howard was present:[73] "Your voice, Jim, I can distinguish with your accent and articulation, but it sounds like a big brass drum. Mine would sound to you like the faintest whisper."

J. Howard.--"Our conversation, then, is something like telephoning?"

George Pelham.--"Yes."

J. Howard.--"By long-distance telephone."

George Pelham laughs.

Understand who may! Are these only analogies? One does not know what to think. Another difficult thing to understand is the "weakness" which the spirits complain that they feel, especially towards the end of the sittings. George Pelham actually says that we must not demand from spirits just what they have not got, namely, strength. If the spirits mean that the medium's "light" grows weak and no longer provides them with the unknown something that they require in order to communicate, why do they not express themselves more clearly?

It will perhaps be thought that I have dwelt a little too long on what I have called the philosophy of George Pelham. I have thought it best to do so, and there is no harm done so long as I leave it to my readers to believe as much as they like.

Chapter end

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