Huddersfield Chronicle (29/Dec/1894) - Spiritualism and Science

The following is a transcription of a historic newspaper article and may contain occasional errors. If the article was published prior to 1 June 1957, then the text is likely in the Public Domain.


(From Our Correspondent "Cid.")

Not only is Spiritualism fully and implicitly believed by many of the lower and middle classes, but also by rich and well-educated men. I met one of the latter not long ago who was well up in most subjects, and could talk eloquently and most interestedly for hours on them. He had a winning and persuasive address, was a most likeable man, filled in the art of discussion, and could bring great force and intellectual acumen to bear on the matter dealt with. His pet subject was Spiritualism, and there was no mistaking his convictions and zeal on its behalf. For a quarter of a century it had been his chief and daily study. At the first he strongly resisted it, and debated its conclusions. After a time, however, he began to enquire more closely into its manifestations, until at last he became an ardent convert, and from that day he had not wished to change his belief, and felt fully assured that he should die a Spiritualist. He had never lost an opportunity of hearing, seeing, and conversing with others of a like belief, and in every way endeavouring to extend and strengthen his knowledge. The more he knew of it the more vast it seemed, and even now he felt only on the threshold of the science. He of course claimed it to be a science. He talked fascinatingly about spiritual life, voices through mediums, direct voices, clairvoyance, prophecy, table-rapping, the moving of articles of furniture without visible means, of matter passing through matter, the bringing of flowers and gems to sight in tangible forms, the diagnosis and the healing of diseases, spirit forms, seeing clairvoyantly, of doubles or wraiths, spirit photography, materialisations of hands and feet, forms of persons materialised, and asserted with assurance that he had produced these, or been present when they were produced or manifested, on many occasions. He spoke particularly strong on the identity of the materialised forms of departed friends. Of course he utterly failed to satisfy me. I questioned him so closely that he considered that, in a query contest, I should take first prize, with honours. Still I did not interrogate him with a view to entrap or puzzle him, but to gain information, and, if possible, discover how to get the results he said Spiritualists secured. I did not gain any tangible knowledge, however, though I never doubted that he fully believed he and others could get manifestations. I told him distinctly that scientific research would be able to answer all the phases of Spiritualism, if they were openly shown and truthfully produced without the reservation of darkness and conditions which gave mediums full opportunities for trickery and deceit. This put him on his mettle, and he promised me many things in the shape of materialisations under conditions that were to me very ridiculous. I told him this, and that I had heard a gentleman in Huddersfield repeatedly offer £100 to any Spiritualist who would, or could, produce him any object spiritually materialised. I told him that scientific men were generally very anxious to demonstrate openly and above board their manifestations, discoveries, or conclusions, and if Spiritualists would do the same I had no doubt some discovered or discoverable law of nature would fully explain their professed communications from the spirit world. Seeing that my remarks were upsetting his equilibrium I let him have his own way, deftly encouraging him to tell me more. This he readily proceeded to do. He told me he had seen numerous instances of direct writing from the spirits, but admitted that the replies or communications were often couched in general terms, though some were very direct and precise. Some mediums were wonderfully good at writing, and from what he had seen of it he preferred direct writing. He greatly interested me when he spoke of clairvoyants, and if what he said were true and clearly demonstrable it was certainly marvellous. Such could see living people when far away, could read their thoughts, and hold communications with the dead, whose spirits, he said, hover around like guardian angels day and night. In fact, he had one of these, which acted as a protector, warning him of danger and evils. In his case it was a Fiji Islander, but ha knew scores of others who had the disembodied spirits of the dead of various nationalities as their attendants. As Spiritualists seldom know the language of their watchful spirits, they had to obtain mediums to act as interpreters. He showed me several messages so received and told me of others. They were all couched in vague, general terms, after examining which I felt more sceptical than ever. I did not interrupt him with a remark to that effect, as I had determined to let him have his own way unquestioned. I led him to the diagnosis of disease, pointing out that if that could be done it would be a great boon to mankind, and Spiritualism would at once become the chief religious belief of the world. He replied that he had cured people by simply laying his hands on them, and he knew several Spiritualists who had cured hundreds. Physicians frequently consulted clairvoyants that they might have their patients’ complaints diagnosed. I expressed surprise at this, but he reiterated his statements, though he withheld names, as such physicians were ashamed to make the results of their cases public. He knew many of both sexes, who were strong physical healing mediums, and who had cured many cases of lumbago, rheumatism, sciatica, gout, headache, pains in the side and between the shoulders, earache, and even toothache, which he enumerated as glibly as if he were reading quack testimonials. All these had been cured simply by the laying on of hands. To do this, however, it took much power, or rather virtue, from the sitters, and especially the medium, often completely exhausting them. Of course he swallowed spirit photography bodily, or rather spiritually, apologising for the paucity of results, because the thing was in its infancy as yet, but when they got Spiritualists who were mediumistic photographers, and who had sufficient wealth, time, and patience to devote to it, there was a great future for the photographing of spirits. Although the Spiritualists could obtain many kinds of manifestations the chief aim of their research was to produce forms wholly materialised, the spirits of human beings wholly clothed with flesh just as they wore in life. They could see them in their spiritualistic forms already, but how to materialise them was not yet fully discovered. They were quickly approaching this, but to get materialisations a large portion of matter, or vital force, had to pass from the circle of sitters to the medium, and a still greater force from the medium. When this was indulged in too much it greatly injured both the sitters and the mediums. He further told me that he daily talked with spirits, mentioning some of the most eminent personages lately dead, and said he had received messages from them to those still living. Some of his deceased family visited him frequently and freely conversed with him. He had had thousands of visions, so many, indeed, that if he never saw another his belief in Spiritualism was so confirmed that nothing would make him forsake it now. From what he knew of the spirit-world he looked forward to death, or rather release from the body, with calm pleasure, as his attendant spirit had told him that his destiny would be perfect peace, contentment, and the fullest joy. He felt sure the world would yet accept his faith as the only panacea for the troubles and anxieties of life, because it assured all believers of a blessed certainty of endless peace. On further questioning him, he failed to give me tangible proof of all this, and my smile of incredulity convinced him that I had nothing about my nature that would make a medium, and, I suppose, he would look upon me as a materialised form without any spiritual hope. We parted good friends.

Of course, as a Christian, I am a Spiritualist, but what a glorious Spiritualism that is compared with table-rapping, spirit hands and feet, pale-faced sitters with hands joined in a circle in a dark room manipulating with an old chair or other piece of furniture, clairvoyants’ misty prophecies, closed-eyed inspirational mediumistic childishness, psycographics’ shady tricks, vague generalisations, forehead claspings, eye shadings, tremblings, shocks, and face twitchings, the contracting of the habit of awe and dim expectancy, and thus becoming an easy victim to the tricks of cunning rogues, and the giving up of one’s reason to a blind and morbid faith, a prey to the whims of the imagination and the fetish of supposed inarticulate disembodiments! The Christian Spiritualist will not let sentiment or inordinate imagination blind him or let it run away with his reason, because he looks upon the body as the temple of his spirit, and his mind and conscience as the guides and arbiters between right and wrong. Right and truth with him are glorious heritages. With him wrong can at once be atoned, blotted out, and forgotten. He keeps his body, mind, and soul in unison with each other, refusing by his freedom of will to be a heart Christian to the exclusion of being a head Christian. He feels that his highest attribute is his reason, and that as his mind develops into maturity, and his soul exerts its full consciousness, he accepts them as being designedly inseparable for the complete consummation of a perfect body and a perfect soul. He sees in the Founder of his faith a perfect ideal, and that though, owing to the natural law and the circumscribed conditions of his earthly environment, faith is requisite, revelation a necessity, and inspiration paramount, he is never expected to step beyond reason and provable conscious truth. He has no need to wait in dim, trembling expectancy for manifestations night or day. He sees them at every step, and notes them on either hand, in the marvellously small or infinitely great. He sees no possibility of a man who looks into the heavens and faintly grasps the immensity of space being vain or irreverent. As the mind develops and the intelligence broadens and deepens, he sees there is less and less likelihood of concluding that all he sees, or knows, or imagines is the result of chance or the fortuitous arrangement of material or protoplastic atoms. As his perception is brightened and heightened, and his conceptive imagination longs to burst his natural environment, he is completely held in wholesome check by reason and the imperative necessities of natural laws, and thus sees that there are natural and spiritual bounds beyond which the evident Designer of his earthly and preparatory conditions refuses to let him go. To him humility before his Creator is not so much the result of fear or unworthiness as a fuller conception of Omnipotence, of the majesty of the Infinite, the grandeur of the creation of the universe, and the limitless possibilities of future revelation. Instead, however, of his humility holding him in fear and trembling it assists him to more fully comprehend his relationship to his Maker and his sonship begot of the birthright of his soul.

From a scientific point of view I also believe in the existence of an immaterial or spirit world, from which influences, not fully perceptible to our present senses, extend through conscious life, and probably affect the operations of our souls. There is, doubtless, a consciousness, an imponderable essence, which affects all natures, some more perceptibly than others. This, however, to the enquiring scientist acts as a spur to the thought that the causes which produce it are amenable to some law or laws not yet understood, but which are awaiting discovery or revelation in the immediate or distant future, as a reward to the intellect of developing mind. As to the laying-on of hands and the diagnosis and possible cure of disease, there is certainly an explanation of this kind of faith-cure. These supposed spiritualistic miracles are reducible to fixed laws and to cause and effect. The imagination, which is a creative power, is a natural effect of a definite cause, and when strongly excited may not only cure but kill. It perceivably acts like a lightning flash on a part or the whole organism, exalting the nervous force to a pitch of ecstasy that makes one’s burden of pain or even of years roll off, at once, or for a longer or shorter period. Thousands of persons are kept invalids by imagination who can only be cured by its sudden change or diversion. Such persons are nervous and highly strung, and are weak in will power, but who, on the influence of a stronger will being directed towards or upon them, have their imaginations excited, and this acts as a creative power by strengthening their wills and concentrating their thoughts. It is, however, as ridiculous to say, or even think, that faith will renew a completely diseased organ, as it would be to say it could replace a lost leg, but nervous complaints, when the physical organs are comparatively sound, can be assuaged or removed by a strong will operating on a weaker one, or even by the weak will within itself being roused by fear, excitement, or imaginary hope. This is the recuperative force of a natural law, and not the result of the power exerted by the laying-on of hands of a super-subtle or ignorant Spiritualist. As with the imagination-cure, so with thought-reading or thought-transference. Thought is clearly a distinct form of energy. The laws of this energy are far from being thoroughly understood, but as a silent influence is perceived or passes from one person to another in a company, so a similar influence evidently operates on persons far apart. The near approach of a friend or acquaintance is often perceived by the subtle influence of thought, long before such person is actually seen, the cause of this possibly and probably being harmony of perception between minds on a similar principle to the effect produced by the striking of a note on a stringed instrument, the sound of which is taken up by another string of a similar pitch some distance away. We can, however, at once perceive that this is reducible to a definite law, awaiting a fuller and clearer exposition than has yet been attained. The intensity and amount of cognition can already be perceived, and it is plain that one brain can inductively act upon another. With respect to spirit photography we are already able, by means of the camera, to obtain the shape and full’ outline of bodies that our unaided eyes must ever fail to see. But if these objects are imperceptible to our eyes it does not follow that they are imperceptible to our brain or consciousness, or that their phenomena are not explainable by known natural law. Astronomers are now photographing stars that we shall never see, even with the aid of our present marvellously powerful telescopes. As with the outer universe so with the inner or microscopic, we now know that there is an infinitely small as well as an infinitely great. Had these instruments been discovered and placed in the hands of the most advanced thinkers of a thousand years ago they would have been considered miracles, beyond the comprehension of known natural law. And so with present-day photography. It is advancing to a wonderful degree, almost beyond comprehension. It can grasp, or rather collect, rays of light to such an extent that even in our intellectual age it appears a miracle. As with sight so with our other senses. Touch, the mother of all the senses, is a marvellous operation, not only susceptible to the influence of heat, but even to light and other imponderable forces of nature. The highly sensitive optic nerves are but nerves of the skin, whose molecules once could vibrate only in consonance with the large waves of heat, whereas by a gradual modification of the skin and nerves the molecules have become attuned to the shorter waves of light. This was a mystery once, but patient research, from the effect, found the cause. The sense of hearing is equally as wonderful. Apart from our own great range of collecting sound, we can readily perceive that the lower creation with their finer organisms are able both to see and hear what man’s organs fail to focus or comprehend. What seems white to us in all probability presents a wonderful division of colours to the eyes of insects or other animate nature. The microscopic stringed instrument within the human ear contains a number of fibres corresponding with the number of musical notes which we can comprehend, from the highest to the lowest. As, therefore, the limit of the range of hearing is not the same in all persons, it is reasonable to suppose that there may be minute gradations in the scale of sounds perceived by the strings in the ears of insects or the smaller animal creation. In fact, I have seen it stated that even the growth of vegetation may be heard and the first elements of matter perceived by them. The revelations of the telephone, if they had been made 2,000 years ago, would have raised the man who understood the laws which govern and produce them into a demi god or supernatural entity, and would have appeared to the uninformed or even the intelligent the same as our discoveries now appear to uncivilised peoples. There is no need for fear in the comprehension of these marvellous miracles, nor is there any necessity to turn down the light of day or night to obtain these manifestations. The senses of smell and taste are also miraculous manifestations, each capable of assisting the brain of man to reason to logical conclusions a provable law for all the conditions of life.

(To be continued.)