FOR those who approach the question of Spiritualism from thestandpoint of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other enthusiasticbelievers in the New Revelation, it must be a little difficult toexplain why any effective intervention of the spirit world in humanaffairs should have been so long delayed. We are told that many ofthese intelligences who passed on thousands of years ago aresupremely wise, that it is their main concern to guide and upliftmankind, and that only through this channel can the people be rescuedfrom the dogmatic fictions of the churches on the one hand and theblank hopelessness of materialism on the other.
Yet it was not until 1848 that intercourse with the realm of shadeswas opened up. For all practical purposes before that time theoracles were dumb. The delay was not due to the lack of suitablecommunicators. "Pheneas," the special control of Sir Arthur ConanDoyle's family, claims to have died "thousands of years ago" and tohave lived at Ur before the time of Abraham. "Imperator," thedominant partner of the Stainton Moses band, declared himself to beidentical with the prophet Malachi (c. 460 B.C.).
We have then to suppose that these and a crowd of other beneficentspirits were in effect impotent to convey any message to mankinduntil two uneducated little girls in the hamlet of Hydesville,U.S.A., showed them the way to a solution by imitating the strangeknockings which were heard in the haunted house their parentsoccupied. By these knockings a means of communication was firstestablished just a hundred years ago. It is difficult to reconcilethe idea of exalted spirits remaining, for untold centuries,powerless to make their influence felt, with the claim that to thesesame spirits we must look for any guidance which can contribute tothe world's regeneration. Still, Conan Doyle, J. Arthur Findlay, anda crowd of others too numerous to catalogue here are satisfied thatthere is no hope for the religious future of the race outside thepractice of Spiritualism.
Be this as it may, no one can dispute the fact that modernSpiritualism only dates from the year 1848. Both in America and inEngland the anniversary from time to time has been commemorated withgreat solemnity. On one such occasion, at the Queen's Hall, London(March 31, 1920), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told a crowded audience thatthey were there that evening "to celebrate the seventy-secondanniversary of what Spiritualists considered to be the greatest eventwhich had occurred in the world for two thousand years." In Americathe frame house in which the Fox family lived has been taken down andbuilt up elsewhere. It now bears the inscription: "Spiritualismoriginated in this house, March 31, 1848."
There is no satisfactory evidence to prove that the two childmediums, Maggie and Katie Fox, through whom the communication withthe spirit world by means of rappings first took its rise, wereeither vicious or fraudulent at the beginning of their career. On thecontrary, many men of high character who were interested in thephenomena--it may be sufficient to name the statesman Horace
Greeley, and the Catholic publicist Orestes A. Brownson--spoke of themduring those early years with sincere regard and sympathy. Thereseems no adequate ground for charging them with any imposture. Theknockings and the table movements which soon came to be producedthrough other mediums as well, all over the country, cannot all beexplained by mere trickery. Investigators like Father C. M. deHeredia, S.J., in recent years who, following in the track of Houdinithe conjuror, began by denouncing all the manifestations asfraudulent, have found themselves compelled to modify their view.
But while, as I hold, we may admit that the Fox sisters were genuinemediums and that very remarkable and inexplicable phenomena were wontto occur in their presence, there can be no possible question thatthese two wonder-workers, who for thirty years and more wereacclaimed as the founders of Spiritualism, both came to a very sadend. It is on record that the first message of guidance which theyreceived from the spirits in 1848 was to the following effect:
"You must proclaim these truths to the world. This is the dawning ofa new era, and you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you doyou. duty, God will protect you and good spirits will watch overyou."
Maggie and Katie Fox did not fail to devote their energies to thepropagation of Spiritualism, but the promise of protection wasillusory; at any rate it led to no result. On October 21, 1888, thetwo sisters, who some time previously had contracted habits ofintemperance, were persuaded--it may be were bribed, though I know nodirect evidence of this--to attend an anti-Spiritualist meeting in oneof the large halls in New York. There Maggie, in the presence of hersister, read aloud a short statement, in the course of which shedeclared: "I am here tonight as one of the founders of Spiritualismto denounce it as absolute falsehood . . . the most wicked
blasphemyknown to the world." This was followed by
what purported to be ademonstration that the medium
by cracking her toe or ankle-joints wasable to produce raps which could be heard all over the room.
That the scene occurred as described may be learnt from all thecontemporary newspapers of New York and is perforce admitted by themost zealous advocates of the cult. They urge, however, that a yearlater Maggie, in the presence of witnesses, formally retracted allthat she had said. This also is indisputable, but such contradictorydeclarations are equally worthless as evidence. The sisters at thattime were so far the victims of the craving for drink that all senseof moral responsibility was lost. Within a few years both were dead.When Maggie, the last survivor, was nearing her end, an Americannewspaper described her as "an object of charity, a mental andphysical wreck, whose appetite is only for intoxicating liquors" andadded: "The lips that utter little else now than profanity oncepromulgated the doctrine of a new religion which still numbers itstens of thousands of enthusiastic believers."
A few weeks later we find the editor of a leading EnglishSpiritualist journal improving the occasion in such terms as these:
"Here we have a wonderful twofold spiritual spectacle--we have a womangiving spiritual manifestations to others, while within herself sheis spiritually lost and misdirected. All moral sense and control ofmind and desire were gone.... But when the medium makes a trade of itand puffs the thing up as a commodity for sale, then farewell to allthat might elevate or instruct in the subject.... Under suchcircumstances, and with drunkenness, sensuality, and moral abasementof all kinds added, is it any wonder that this kind of thing hascovered the cause with scandals and left a heap of festering corpsesalong the course of these forty-five years?"
When a responsible representative of the movement used such language,can we fail to ask ourselves whether that contact with the spiritworld which is alleged to have come about through the agency of thetwo Fox children has been for good or rather for evil?
It is no part of the contention of this essay that the phenomenacommonly associated with Spiritualism must, when genuine, benecessarily of diabolic origin. The problem presented by thesemanifestations is extremely complicated, and in my judgmentinvestigation will have to be carried on for many years--it may be forcenturies--before it will be possible to pronounce confidently uponthe nature of the strange occurrences of which we haveincontrovertible evidence. But the tragic history of the Fox sistersmust surely cast the gravest suspicion upon the wisdom, thebeneficent purpose, and the promises of those supposed intelligences,whatever they may be, which purport to communicate from the otherside.
Already in 1852 the Rev. Adin Ballou, a man of very sober judgment,was assured, as he believed, by his dead son that by Spiritualism theworld was about to be transformed into a new Eden. "Father," the boyurged, "be patient, watch, and wait. Another century cannot
commencebefore this great change will be wrought." No
one, again, can beblind to the impression conveyed by
Sir Oliver Lodge's book Raymondthat a
stupendous effect is to be produced in the world by
Spiritualism--and that very soon. Thus, to take one instance, on March3, 1916, Raymond, communicating at a Mrs. Leonard's seance, told
hisfather: "Mr. Myers [i.e., the famous F. W. H.
Myers, the psychicresearcher who died in 1901] says
that in ten years from now theworld will be a
different place. He says that about fifty percent of
the civilized portion of the globe will be either Spiritualists orcoming into it." The ten years spoken of are now long past, but thechange predicted has not taken place. The "New Revelation" has notjustified itself except as a new revelation of the readiness withwhich men are deceived and are carried about by every wind ofdoctrine. How can we expect guidance or the regeneration of mankindfrom powers that have shown themselves both blind to foresee thefuture and impotent to protect their own chosen instruments, eventhose who are honored as the founders of the new cult, from the mostignoble ruin?
Dangers of spiritualism
The Catholic Church has always condemned any attempt to holdcommunication of set purpose with the spirits of the dead. The OldTestament speaks in terms which cannot be mistaken (see, for example,Deut. 18:1012), and the very striking incident in the Acts of theApostles (ch. 16), concerning "the girl with the pythonical spiritwho brought to her masters much gain by divining," teaches us thatthe attitude of strict moralists had not changed since the coming ofour Lord. Though the girl had spoken no falsehood of Paul and Silas,but rather had seemed to further their work by proclaiming that"these men are the servants of the most high God," Paul took it amissand commanded the spirit to go out of her.
The language used seems to imply that the control which spoke throughthe lips of this divineress or medium was an evil spirit. Whetherthese biblical precedents were responsible or not, it is certain thatmost Christian teachers throughout the intervening centuries havebeen disposed to treat all occult powers which savored of necromancyas diabolic in their origin. It is only of recent years, sincehypnotism and its strange manifestations have become familiar, thattheologians have realized that such faculties as telepathy andclairvoyance may possibly be natural gifts, abnormal and hithertounrecognized because until lately no serious attention was ever paidto them.
On the other hand, it must in fairness be admitted that both earlierand recent accounts of what purport to be hauntings or obsessionsoriginating in the spirit world provide plenty of excuse forbelieving that the agencies concerned are often malicious, deceptive,and altogether evil. Even if we hesitate to accept the descriptionspenned early in the last century by the Catholic statesman Gorres, orthe Lutheran physician Justin Kerner, such modern psychic researchersas Mrs. Travers Smith (Hester Dowden) and Mr. Hereward Carringtonmake it clear that unpleasant and even horrible experiences are aptto be encountered not only by the rash and heedless, but also bypracticed investigators. To take one instance, Mrs. Osborne Leonard,who figures so prominently in Raymond, bears the highest reputationas a medium, both for her personal character and for the reliabilityof her spirit messages. But she has made no secret of an alarmingepisode which occurred on one occasion when she took part with twofriends in an attempt to obtain materializations at an impromptuseance. In a room which was not perfectly dark she saw an arm coveredwith hair stretched out towards the throat of her companion, Nelly.
Mrs. Leonard was trying to frame a word of warning in such terms asnot to startle her, when the girl "jumped up with a piercing shriek,knocked over her chair and rushed blindly for the door, which sheshook violently, forgetting in her terror that it was locked." Shehad felt the grasp upon her throat which a rent in the blind hadenabled the friend beside her to discern visually. Even if we explainthe incident as no more than a case of overwrought nerves, thepossibility of such experiences goes far to illustrate thereasonableness of the biblical veto on dabbling in the occult.
But though many Catholics incline to the belief that all the genuinephenomena of Spiritualism are the work of demons, it cannot bemaintained that this is a part of the Church's official teaching. Thedistinguished Dominican Pere Mainage, a Professor of the InstitutCatholique de Paris, has pointed out that up to the present theattitude of ecclesiastical authority in these matters may be summedup in three directive principles: (1) the Church has not pronouncedupon the essential nature of Spiritualistic phenomena; (2) the Churchforbids the general body of the faithful to take any part inSpiritualistic practices; and (3) in the manifestations which occurthe Church suspects that diabolic agencies may per accidensintervene.
Although a decree of the Holy Office in 1898 explicitly forbade thepractice of automatic writing in which the psychic allows his hand tobe guided to take down messages, the content of which is independentof his volition, and although a similar decree in 1917 condemned anyparticipation in Spiritualistic seances, even though suchparticipation was limited to mere presence as an onlooker, still itwould be too much to say that the Church had set her face against allsuch investigations of phenomena as are commonly included under theterm psychic research.
To genuine students who are well grounded in theological principlesand sufficiently versed in psychology to deal with thesemanifestations in a scientific spirit, permission may be accorded toexperiment with a medium and attend seances. The attitude of Catholicauthority in the matter is based upon the matured conviction that forthe ill- instructed, the idly curious, and the emotional, who are forthe most part the very people upon whom the occult exercises thestrongest attraction, any contact with the intelligences whichpurport to communicate from the other world can only be disquietingand morally, if not physically, dangerous.
Even Spiritualists of the more sober type readily admit the need ofgreat caution on the part of the inexperienced. Mr. W. StaintonMoses, at first a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England andafterwards a member of the teaching staff of University College,London, wrote several works which have more than once been reprintedby the London Spiritualist Alliance as classical handbooks for theguidance of believers. He was the first editor of <Light>, and was
apowerful medium for physical phenomena as well as an
But Stainton Moses was haunted by the dread of personation on thepart of the spirits who purported to communicate. He seems never tohave been entirely satisfied that he could trust even the chosen"Imperator" band of controls. Over and over again he reminds hisreaders that "the foes of God and man, enemies of goodness, ministersof evil," are striving to get into contact with those who are livingon earth. He does not call these evil beings devils, because in hisview they are the souls of men once on earth that have been "low intaste and impure in habit," souls which are "not changed save in theaccident of being freed from the body," but which have "bandedthemselves together under the leadership of intelligence still moreevil."
He urges that, "unfortunately for us, the spirits which are leastprogressive, least developed, least spiritual, and most material andearthly, hover round the confines" and are most eager to seekcommunication. Such language from a recognized adept of highauthority in the cult goes far to justify the attitude of the HolySee and the Catholic clergy. Spiritualists can hardly be surprisedthat the Catholic Church, having good reason to believe that theevocation of the spirits of the dead throughout the ages has producednothing but evil, refuses resolutely to countenance any attempt atcommunication with the other world. The psychic movement in our dayincludes, no doubt, a certain proportion of honest and seriousinquirers after truth, but the majority of those who crowd to thetrance addresses of mediums like Mrs. Meurig Morris, who attend"message services" and organize domestic seance circles, and notleast of all those who are thrilled by the numberless printed volumesof conversations with the dead taken down in automatic writing, areunbalanced, gullible. and badly in need of protection.
It being admitted that the lowest types of spirits are the most eagerto make contact with the earth and that the idle people who areparticularly curious about the occult are also the most credulous anduncritical, the Church is thoroughly justified in forbidding her ownsubjects to put themselves needlessly in harm's way. Her sweepingprohibition may entail some hardship upon genuine students, but thegood of the greater number of the faithful has the first title to herconsideration. She does not act with precipitation. Spiritualism
hadexisted for half a century, and full proof had
been given of itsharmful results, before the first
explicit decree condemningautomatic writing was
published by the Holy See in 1898.
What is more, no student of the Spiritualistic movement can fail toobserve that there has been for many years a steady trend in adirection hostile to Christianity and contemptuous of every form ofreligious dogma. The antagonism to revelation and the churches hasbeen greatly intensified during recent years. It comes out stronglyin the various writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and in such aSpiritualist newspaper as The Two Worlds, published in Manchester.But it has recently reached a climax in Mr. J. Arthur Findlay's book,The Rock of Truth (1933) which, as the pages of Light and
otherjournals bear witness, has seriously shocked a
considerable sectionof his fellow believers. Suffice
it to say that this writer is anavowed disciple of
the late J. M. Robertson, author of PaganChrists
and other similar works, and that he treats all such
doctrines as the Trinity, the Fall of man, the Atonement, everlastingpunishment, etc., as patent absurdities which can only be a subjectfor ridicule. While the later and constructive section of the volumeis very involved and makes heavy reading, the earlier portion withits sensational attack on the clergy and its unscrupulous travesty ofChristian history is much more likely to hold the attention of thenot very erudite public who take Mr. Findlay for an oracle.
Much of the abuse of the teaching of the churches purports to havebeen communicated by exalted spirits in the etheric world. It is, forexample, the Doyle control, Pheneas, who rails against "theologicalegotism and power and pride" and who proclaims that "Christ's guidinghand to happiness has been twisted by priestcraft till it pointed tohell. The Church which prates of him thus is his worst enemy." Ifthese attacks were based upon a discussion of the historical evidencethe mischief would be less serious, but they purport to be theutterances of supremely wise beings in the world beyond who, havinglong been emancipated from the conventions and superstitions of earthlife, speak with a serenity and breadth of view unattainable by anyliving teacher.
Such communications are apt to be taken at their own valuationbecause they do at times exhibit a strange supernormal knowledge oftrivial facts which can be verified. On the other hand, there isnearly always a considerable amount of incorrect informationassociated with the true, though these aberrations are forgotten inthe wonder that something unknown has been revealed, seemingly fromthe skies. As Bacon says, "Men mark when they hit, but never markwhen they miss." The Church has every reason to protect her subjectsfrom pseudo-revelations of this kind, which offer no guarantee oftruth and which, for the most part, openly attack the deposit offaith of which she is the appointed custodian.
It should also be noted that many intelligent people who are quitesatisfied of the reality of mediumistic faculty and who, on the otherhand, are not influenced by any religious scruples, are by no meansdisposed to encourage communications with the spirit world. HoraceGreeley and Lloyd Garrison, the editor of The Liberator, both ofwhom in early days had much to do with the Fox sisters, were of thisclass.
The late Lord Dunraven, who, as Lord Adare, had had unrivaledopportunities of studying the subject, living as he did for a year ormore in almost daily companionship with the great medium D. D. Home,gave up the pursuit because he found it led him nowhere. He was notsatisfied as to the identity of those who purported to communicatefrom the other side and moreover, he adds: "I observed that somedevotees were inclined to dangerous extremes and became so muchpossessed by the idea of spiritual guidance in the everyday affairsof life as to undermine their self dependence and to weaken theirwill power."
Sir H. Rider Haggard, the novelist, after relating his personalexperience with a medium for physical phenomena, which he could onlyattribute to some unknown force, concludes with the words: "Whatevermay be the true explanation, on one point I am quite sure, that thewhole business is mischievous and to be discouraged. Bearing in mindits effect upon my own nerves, never would I allow any young personover whom I had control to attend a seance." Haggard was not arecluse or a crank. A considerable part of his life was spentknocking about in South Africa and in many other parts of the world.
The fraudulent side
To discuss this aspect of the subject at any length would serve nogood purpose, but it certainly cannot be passed over in silence. WhenMr. James Burns, in 1893, wrote that the moral depravity of mediumshad "covered the cause with scandals and left a heap of festeringcorpses along the course of these forty-five years," he was not usingstronger language than that employed by Dr. Sexton, Mr. AndrewLeighton, the medium Home, Mr. S. Carter Hall, and many otherrepresentative Spiritualists. With the exception of Home there ishardly a prominent medium for psychical manifestations against whom agood case has not been made out that he or she, at least on certainoccasions, had recourse to unscrupulous trickery. There is no roomfor doubt that the famous Eusapia Palladino in many instances fakedher phenomena. "Dr." Monck, Slade, Eglinton, the Holmeses, and ascore of others were caught red-handed.
More recently we have had the remarkable case of Mrs. Duncan, whounquestionably enjoyed a great reputation in many Spiritualisticcircles. This last example is interesting both from the completenessof the exposure and the nature of the fraud itself. Mrs. Duncan atthese seances used to appear, in a relatively good light, covered toher feet with what seemed to be a flowing sheet of white material.
The onlookers saw it, as they thought, extruded from the mouth orother facial orifices. This was supposed to be ectoplasm, and itsometimes showed a little face (a picture) embedded in its texture.Investigation however proved beyond doubt that this enveloping sheetwas nothing but a roll of very thin cheese-cloth or butter-muslin,which had been swallowed by the medium and regurgitated.
So again the medium Valiantine, whose supernormal exploits have beenglorified beyond measure by Mr. H. Dennis Bradley in his widely readbooks Towards the Stars and The Wisdom of the Gods, was
later oncaught out by Mr. Bradley himself in a
flagrant piece of imposture.Valiantine had professed
to produce an imprint of the thumb of LordDewar, then
(February, 1931) recently deceased. In the course of a
dark seance the imprint was made, sure enough, upon the smoked paperprepared for the purpose, but it proved to be an impression, not ofLord Dewar's thumb, but of Valiantine's big toe. The identity wasestablished with certainty by finger-print experts, whose credit
cannot be disputed.
In the matter of psychic photography which has occasioned so muchcontroversy, and which, for over 70 years, has been brought forwardagain and again as supplying tangible proof of an agency which couldnot be of this world, there has been a hardly less surprisingexposure and retractation. Of all the mediums for photographic"extras," the most famous in recent times was the late Mr. W. Hope,of Crewe. Dozens of books appeal to the negatives of spirit facesobtained in his presence as completely decisive, and in particularConan Doyle, in his Case for Spirit Photography, stakes everythingon Hope's results. Many expert photographers vouched for theirgenuineness and, in particular, Mr. Fred Barlow, the Secretary of theSociety for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, contributed both apreface and an important chapter to Doyle's volume.
This was in 1922. Some years later, however, Mr. Barlow, who as apractical expert always retained a keen interest in the problem, wasled, owing to the discoveries made and the confession of fraudobtained in the case of another psychic photographer, to conceivesuspicions regarding Hope himself. After following up the clue andapplying, in conjunction with Major Rampling Rose, certain rigoroustests, he came to the conclusion that his earlier belief in theintegrity of the Crewe circle had been unwarranted. In a papercontributed to the Proceedings of the Society for PsychicalResearch the whole case against Hope is set out in detail. It isconclusive, but based on too many converging lines of proof to besummarized here. It would seem that most of the "extras" must havebeen obtained by a tiny picture attached to a small flash light which
Hope kept in his pocket or secreted in the hollow of his hand.
Altogether it is impossible to doubt that an enormous amount oftrickery and fraud has been mixed up with Spiritualism from the verybeginning. Even Doyle, in the volume of essays published a week ortwo before his death, owns that, in America particularly, things wereworse than he had previously thought possible. Though nothing butignorance, he remarks, can suppose that there are no real mediums,"at the same time the States, and in a lesser degree our own people,do need stern supervision." "I admit," he adds, "that I underratedthe corruption in the States." It is then, perhaps, not unnaturalthat many intelligent people, whose normal attitude to the marvelousis one of healthy skepticism, should from the universal prevalence oftrickery be led to infer that nothing is genuine in the phenomena ofSpiritualism. This view has found acceptance among many earnestCatholics, both clergy and laity, especially in the United States. Tothe present writer the objections to this "nothing but trickery"hypothesis seem even more serious than those which beset what Mr. J.Arthur Hill has called "the wholesale devil theory," espoused by thelate Mr. Godfrey Raupert, Father Blackmore, and the majority ofContinental ecclesiastics.
It is often taken for granted that a medium who has once beendetected in imposture may be assumed to produce all his phenomenafraudulently. This is an extreme view which seems to be contradictedby evidence that cannot be lightly dismissed. The well- known EusapiaPalladino is said to have habitually taken advantage of anycarelessness on the part of those who controlled her limbs in orderwith a free hand or foot to play any childish trick which would causea sensation in the dim light of the seance room.
Nevertheless the testimony of dozens of experienced investigators,the flash-light photographs revealing levitated objects in contactwith no human support, and above all the detailed report of theNaples sittings with Messrs. Feilding, Carrington, and Baggallydemonstrated that Eusapia undoubtedly did on occasion exhibitextraordinary powers. It is even possible that the medium who tricksis not always consciously fraudulent. He or she is often entrancedand inthat hypnotic condition may be
peculiarly susceptible to thesuggestion latent in the
minds of the sitters that some particulardeception is
about to be attempted. Their minds are intent on this
thought, and the battery of suggestion becomes so strong that themedium, in spite of herself, does the very thing which they havementally pictured her doing.
Again, we know nothing about the nature or dispositions of the"spirits" who are supposed to be the agents of these phenomena.Certain records would even suggest that they may deliberately promptsome fraudulent device which results in the undoing of the medium.There is nothing to forbid our thinking that among them are evilspirits animated by a malicious purpose, though, on the other hand,some of the communicating intelligences appear truthful and kindly. Asuggestion has been made that they may be souls of the unbaptized,who died in infancy or without any sufficient knowledge of God, andwhom Catholics believe to enjoy some sort of natural beatitude in"limbo."
It is certainly curious that so large a proportion of those controlswho seem somewhat more trustworthy than the rest profess to beIndians, calling themselves by such names as "Red Cloud," "WhiteFeather," etc. There is not much likelihood that the beings who borethese names ever received baptism. But the fact is that we knownothing about the agencies who purport to communicate. Thesubconsciousness of the medium is no doubt responsible for by far thelarger part of the messages received, but there is a residue which itis very hard to account for except as coming from some intelligencewhich is external to the world in which we live.
If Spiritualism has the merit of upholding the belief that man is notpurely material and that a future life awaits him, the conditions ofwhich are in a measure dependent upon his conduct here upon earth, itmust be confessed that there is very little else to set to itscredit. Catholic teaching recognizes one divine revelation which itis the appointed office of the Church, in dependence upon the livingvoice of the Supreme Pontiff, to maintain inviolate. For thisSpiritualism substitutes as many revelations as there are mediums orrather controls, all these communications being open to suspicionand, as the briefest examination shows, abounding in contradictionsabout matters most vital.
Largely as a consequence of the disagreements in the guidance thusreceived, hardly any two Spiritualists hold the same views, and, fromits earliest beginnings down to the present time, the movement hasentirely lacked cohesion. Such energizing force as it possesses seemsto be due partly to that curiosity about the occult which leadspeople to consult palmists and to purchase Old Moore's Almanack,partly to a pathetic desire of the bereaved to obtain tidings ofthose who are dear to them, the tragedies of the War having clearlyexercised a great stimulus in promoting the vogue of this form ofrelief.
Unfortunately the comfort which Spiritualism offers in such cases isentirely dependent upon one indispensable condition, the possibilityof identification. But those who believe that they have got intocontact with their dear ones, that they have received messages fromthem or have even heard their voice and recognized their features,are building on very insecure foundations. It is admitted thatpersonation is constantly attempted. We know little of the agencieswhich purport to communicate, but we do know that for some freakishpurpose or other they constantly pretend to be what they are not. Itis also a generally received tenet among Spiritualists that thedeparted are free to return to earth, to witness, though invisiblethemselves, anything which is being done even in the utmost secrecy.There is, on this supposition, no trivial incident in our past liveswhich may not be known and published abroad in that spirit world ofwhich Conan Doyle and the automatists profess to tell us so much.
It is impossible, therefore, for any spirit to give any convincingproof of his identity. Incidents which on earth were known to himalone may be public property on the other side. The tones of thevoice or tricks of expression which are reproduced in a "direct-voice"
sitting cannot proceed from the larynx which has long sincecrumbled to dust. However effected, the voice is a counterfeit, andwho will say that it is only the spirit of the departed which canbuild up the vocal chords so as to yield a perfect imitation?Similarly when Conan Doyle assures us that at a seance he has seenhis son as clearly as he ever saw him in life, we may be sure thatthe features he beheld were not the features as they then lay buriedbeneath the soil. So here again we are led to ask how thesimulacrum which he recognized afforded any proof that the poor
ladwho had perished stood there himself beside him.
Finally the wholeatmosphere of the seance room is
repellent, and even the process ofautomatic writing,
with its frequent inanities and platitudes andobvious
fictions, characterizes such communications as mainly theproduct of subconscious, and often morbid auto-suggestion.
"There is very little that is spiritual in Spiritualism," wroteFriedrich von Hugel, and as G. K. Chesterton happily remarks "you donot expect to hear the voice of God calling from a coal cellar." Mr.Findlay, Mr. Oaten, and their followers who have made short work ofthe Trinity do at the same time profess to hold that "the Universe isgoverned by Mind, commonly called God." What sort of "Mind" is it,one wonders, which has planned that a handful of men, sitting forhours in the dark, playing gramophone records or making discordantattempts at song in order to "stimulate vibrations," shall beprivileged to evoke those momentous communications from the ethericworld which will uplift the whole human race to a moral eminencenever attained before? Spiritualism, so far, has certainly not beenassociated with progress. No new fact has come to light through thissource which has added to the world's knowledge or has led it to seekhigher ideals. Its history reminds us, on the contrary, of what Paulwrote to Timothy: "But the Spirit plainly saith that in after timessome will fall away from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spiritsand the teachings of demons, through the impostures of those whospeak falsely, men seared in their own conscience" (1 Tim. 4:1- 2). +
Herbert Thurston, S. J. (1856-1939) was considered by many theepitome of a Jesuit scholar. Three of his books were on psychicalphenomena. This essay is extracted from an introductory booklettitled Spiritualism.
This article was taken from the March 1995 issue of "This Rock,"published by Catholic Answers