Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 16


Difficulties and objections--The identity of Imperator--Vision at a distance--Triviality of the messages--Spiritualist Philosophy--Life in the other world.

Up till now I have said a great deal of evil of telepathy. I believe that I have demonstrated, not that the theory is false, but that it is an unlikely explanation of the facts. Shall we say, then, that the spiritualistic hypothesis, the only reasonable one after the dismissal of telepathy, can be accepted without difficulty and without objections?

Not at all. Many objections, more or less serious, are still made to the spiritualistic hypothesis. To my mind there is only one that is serious; I will speak of it in conclusion. Many of the others are raised by persons who have a merely superficial acquaintance with the problem; their arguments are more polemical than scientific.

To begin with, some of them want to know why the controls, Imperator, Doctor, Rector, Prudens, conceal themselves under these pseudonyms. If they are, as they say, disincarnated spirits, who formerly lived in bodies, why do they not say who they were? Does not their silence on this point indicate that they are only secondary personalities of the medium?

This objection is not very serious. In the first place, the controls told Stainton Moses their names. If they do not wish these names revealed, it is without doubt for excellent reasons, which it is not difficult to imagine. There is every indication that these controls belonged to a generation considerably remote from ours; their language, the turn of their minds, and some of their assertions, all point to this. If they were well-known men, and had revealed their names, the critics would merely see a reason the more for crying fraud. They would say, "The medium has read all that, and repeats it to us in hypnosis."

If, on the other hand, they were obscure persons, and had given information about their lives, the information would be unverifiable.

And then the sceptics would cry on the spot, "Folly; these are the inventions of the medium's secondary personality." The controls may have still other reasons for not revealing themselves to us. This life, when once it has been left behind, may seem to the spirit to be a more or less painful nightmare. There is nothing astonishing in the fact that he does not care to recall to others the part he played in this nightmare, even if the part were a distinguished one. We ourselves know nothing but this life; we do not admit that there is any other. Therefore we all wish to shine in it like meteors, if possible. Possibly disincarnated spirits, seeing things from a higher point of view, think otherwise. In short, the controls, Imperator, Rector, Doctor and Prudens, may refrain from speaking of their former life simply because they are wise. Would it not have been wiser of Phinuit to hold his tongue than to tell us a mass of improbabilities?

Amongst those who study these phenomena there are many who see in the triviality of the greater part of the messages a strong presumption against the spiritualist hypothesis. Some of these messages are signed, it is true, by illustrious names--though that is not the case with Mrs Piper. But this regrettable fact may be variously explained. In the first place, there may be rogues, charlatans and fools on both sides, since it is probable that the soul passes from this world to the other just as it is, and that, if it progresses at all, it progresses slowly.

How many individuals see in spiritualism only a means of putting forward their wretched personalities or of exploiting their contemporaries! Such persons would not shrink from representing their lucubrations as communications from the next world; they would sign them with the most august of names if to do so would further their designs. Finally, it is not even necessary to suppose that these messages are due to dishonesty; the number of mystifiers may be at least as great on the other side as on this; a sort of law of affinity which seems to rule the world of spirits may cause these lower beings to be attracted by uncultured mediums, while the great spirits are repelled by them. It would be these larvae of the other world who give the messages which disconcert when they do not scandalise us. But the man of science should not be rebuffed by these messages which, in spite of their contents, are important, if they result in irresistible proof of the fact that there exist outside of us and around us intelligent beings resembling ourselves.

But when we are dealing with developed spirits, who have begun by giving proofs of their identity, it is not true that the messages are always trivial. They often contain ideas of much breadth of view and elevation.

The form is generally defective, but those who have studied Mrs Piper's phenomena will be indulgent to the form, and sometimes even to the matter. The spirit in contact with the medium's organism suffers, as I have said several times, from a kind of delirium; besides which the organism only responds to his efforts imperfectly. "My dear friends,"

says George Pelham, "do not look at me too critically; to try to transmit your thoughts through the organism of a medium is like trying to crawl through a hollow log." In short, the difficulties are enormous.

It may very well be that great spirits have really been the authors of very poor messages. It has happened to each of us to make poetical or other compositions in our dreams which we have thought admirable; we say in delight, "What a pity I shall not be able to remember that when I wake!" But sometimes we do remember, and then we smile with contempt at what had delighted us during sleep. Now the communicators constantly repeat that they are dreaming while they are in the atmosphere of the medium. "Everything seems so clear to me," says Robert Hyslop to his son, "and when I try to tell you, James, I cannot."

These considerations prove that we must not hasten to conclude, with Professor Flournoy, that if there is a future life it is one of wretched degeneration, one more misery added to all the others which overwhelm us in this miserable universe.

No; as Professor James says, in this world we live only at the surface of our being; if death is not annihilation, then it is an awakening. It does not follow that the life of the other world is not higher and more intense than this, because communication with it is difficult.

Another serious objection to the spiritualist hypothesis is the philosophy with which certain too eager persons have connected it.

Spiritualism, which should at present be but the mere beginning of a science, is, according to them, already a philosophy for which the universe holds no secrets. How should such puny creatures as ourselves hope to solve the problems of the universe by _a priori_ reasoning? All that we can reasonably hope, is to wrench from nature some of the secrets nearest to us, surrounding ourselves with a thousand precautions in order not grossly to deceive ourselves.

I rank the spiritualistic philosophy with other philosophies. Perhaps some of its dicta proceed from spirits, if spirits exist, but the system as a whole most surely does not. But then, it will be said, the people who have elaborated this philosophy must have been impostors. No, not inevitably; I will even venture to say that imposture is unlikely. The key to the mystery may be found in other characteristics of humanity.

The most formidable obstacle to the admission of the spiritualist hypothesis is in the messages which tend to represent the other world, in which, it appears, matter is not perceived, and space and time are unknown, as being all the same a servile copy of this, or a sketch of it. If Phinuit or another control is asked to describe a communicator, the description is generally given with exactness, and is the same there as it was here; sometimes the communicator even goes so far as to wear the same clothes, made of the same material. But these descriptions are without importance, as it may be replied that the communicators or controls give these details purely to prove identity. However, I know of no message in which the communicator has been frank enough to say, "Of course you may suppose that the form I have here is not the same as I had in your world." Or again, "The idea of form differs totally in our world and in yours; I cannot make you understand what that idea is here, so it is of no use to question me." Unfortunately neither communicators nor controls speak thus; they all say or allow it to be supposed that the human form is the same in both worlds.

But when action and events in that world are represented as being the same as in this, then our credulity cries out in remonstrance. That a deceased doctor should tell us that he continues to visit his patients, a painter that he continues to daub canvas, is more than we can admit.

But, it may be explained, the doctor and the painter are temporarily delirious; they do not know what they are saying. Unfortunately these passages are too numerous to be always attributed to delirium. Certain communicators say, with all the gravity in the world, and when they seem in full possession of themselves, that they breathe, live in houses, listen to lectures, and that a deceased child is beginning to learn to read. This is an enormous difficulty, I repeat. I point it out without trying to solve it; I am unable to offer a plausible explanation.

Professor Hyslop has tried, but I do not think he has succeeded.


The medium's return to normal life--Speeches made while the medium seems to hover between the two worlds.

In Mrs Piper's case, the moments which precede the actual quitting of the trance offer, at least at present, a special interest. I think it well therefore to dwell on this point a little. To avoid endless circumlocutions, I shall speak as if the spiritualistic hypothesis were proved. Indeed, whatever the future fate of this hypothesis may be, and in spite of the serious objection spoken of in the last chapter, it is, I believe, the only one that can be reasonably adopted for the moment.

When the sitting is over and the automatic writing has ceased, Mrs Piper begins to return gradually to her normal state. She then utters with more or less distinctness some apparently disconnected phrases which it is sometimes difficult to catch. She is like a person talking in sleep.

Dr Hodgson and Professor Hyslop have collected as many of these broken sentences as they could, keeping them separately under a different heading from the record of the rest of the sitting proper. At the end, Mrs Piper often asks this odd question, "Did you hear my head snap?" And after her head is supposed to have snapped she looks round her in apparent astonishment and alarm, and then all is over, she no longer remembers what she has said or written during the trance.

We shall see that these scraps of phrase are less incoherent than they seem, and that it is worth while to collect them. Very often when numerous unsuccessful efforts have been made to recall a proper name during the sitting, Mrs Piper pronounces it when coming out of the trance; when she is re-entering her body, the communicator or communicators repeat the name to her insistently, and make great efforts to cause her to remember and pronounce it as she comes out of the trance. I have already quoted an example of this. M. Paul Bourget asked the name of the town in which the artist he was communicating with had killed herself. The name did not come, but Mrs Piper pronounced it as she was leaving the trance--_Venice_. Mr Robert Hyslop's name was given in the same way the first time, but accompanied by very significant scraps of speech as follows. Mrs Piper first tried to pronounce the name, then she said _Hyslop_, and went on,--

"I am he.[86] Tell him I am his father. I--Good-bye, sir. I shouldn't take him away that way. Oh, dear. Do you see the man with the cross[87]

shut out everybody? Did you see the light? What made the man's hair all fall off?"

Dr Hodgson asks, "What man?"

Mrs Piper.--"That elderly gentleman that was trying to tell me something, but it wouldn't come."

At a first glance this passage seems mere incoherence, but all the portions of sentences have a very clear meaning when they are examined together with the events of the sitting. They are, as it seems, commissions with which the medium is charged as she is returning into her organism, or they are observations made among themselves by the spirits present, which the medium automatically repeats, or they are the observations and questions of the medium herself. All that Mrs Piper says on coming out of the trance belongs to one of these three categories.

In the passage quoted, the words, "I am he. Tell him that I am his father," are a commission with which the medium is charged by Mr Robert Hyslop. Mrs Piper takes leave of Robert Hyslop with the formula, "Good-bye, sir." The phrases which follow, "Oh, dear. I shouldn't take him away that way. Do you see the man with the cross shut out everybody?" are the remarks of spirits repeated automatically, or Mrs Piper's own remarks on Imperator, who, seeing the light exhausted, imperiously sends off everybody, including Mr Robert Hyslop himself, in spite of his desire to remain with his son. Imperator must even have used some force, to justify the observation, "I should not take him away that way." The final phrases are always Mrs Piper's own questions and remarks: When she says, "Did you see the light?" she alludes without doubt to the light of the other world, invisible to us. The other sentences are clear enough, when we remember that Mr Robert Hyslop was entirely bald. There are utterances like these, only apparently incoherent on coming out of all the trances; but they vary in length.

The last words, if I am not mistaken, always come from Mrs Piper herself, which is logically to be expected, since she gradually loses the memory of the world she has just quitted, up to the definite moment of waking, marked by the so-called snap in her head.

These speeches on coming out of trance constitute, in our eyes, one more argument against the hypothesis of telepathy and secondary personalities, because there is no trace of simulation. To suppose simulation would be to accord to telepathy too much skill in the arts of deceit.

These speeches bring into the foreground the question: "What becomes of the medium's spirit during the trance, if there is a spirit?" The controls say that it leaves the organism and remains in the company of the group of communicating spirits.

"But then," it will be said, "if she lives for the time being in the other world, why does she not relate her impressions when she wakes?"

We must not forget that for spirits our life is a sleep, and that we are only conscious of what we acquire through the medium of our five senses.

When the spirit is again plunged into the prison of the body, after having left it for a time, it goes to sleep once more and forgets all; it recommences living the fragmentary life which is all that the five senses permit. The complete absence of memory in the medium when awake is no more astonishing than the same phenomenon in a subject coming out of hypnosis, during which he may have talked, and even done much.

Besides, during the short instants when Mrs Piper is as if suspended between two worlds, she still has a vague recollection of what she has just heard; the fragments of sentences she utters bear sufficient witness to this. She rarely fails to shed a few tears, and to say, "I want to stop here, I don't want to go back to the dark world!" Here is a characteristic passage, as an example. Mrs Piper, coming out of the trance, begins to weep and murmur, "I do not want to go back to the darkness.... Oh, it is, it is, it must be the window ... but I want to know.... I want to know where they are all gone[88].... It is funny ...

I forgot that I was alive.... Yes, Mr Hodgson, I forgot.... I was going to tell you something, but I have forgotten what it was.... You see, when my head snaps, I forget what I was going to say.... It must be night. Oh, dear! I feel so weak.... Is that my handkerchief?"

On other occasions she uses an odd figure of speech. "You see Rector turns round a dark board and says that's your world--and he turns round the other side and that's light, and he says that's his world. I don't want to go back to the dark world."

Another time she says, quite at the end, "Is that my body? how it pricks!"

It appears that Imperator, before sending her back to the "dark world,"

prays for her, and she sometimes repeats fragments of the prayers automatically.

"Is that a blessing? Say it."[89]

"Father be and abide with thee for evermore."

"Servus Dei--I don't know."

"I have all these to look out for. I leave thee well."

"Go and do the duties before thee."

"Blessings on thy head."

"The light shall cease."

Chapter end

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