Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Materialisation and Exposures (S356: 1882)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed in the 7 October 1882 issue of the spiritualist magazine Light. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with:

    [[p. 447]] Sir,--Allow me to say a few words on an aspect of this question which none of your numerous correspondents have dwelt upon sufficiently, but which appears to me to lie at the very root of any sound judgment on the matter.

    It seems to be admitted by Spiritualists generally that there is such a thing as genuine materialisation, by which is meant the appearance of visible and tangible human forms, in the presence of a medium, which are yet not ordinary human beings; and that this is the case when such forms are witnessed by several persons at once, the medium being at the same time visible, or when the body of the medium can be felt, or, still more clearly, when these forms are seen to come into being and to vanish away again in proximity to the medium. Hundreds of Spiritualists have witnessed some of these phenomena, as I have myself. They have occurred with a considerable number of different mediums, under the most varied and rigid test conditions; and with none, perhaps, more frequently, for a longer period, and testified by more trustworthy witnesses, than with Miss Wood.

    But with most of these mediums, similar forms in all respects to those just referred to also appear under less perfect test conditions, that is, when the medium is concealed from view, and usually fastened in some way supposed to prevent the possibility of voluntary or involuntary personation. In some of these cases what appears a good test is obtained by the form being palpably larger or smaller than the medium, sometimes confirmed by exact measurement; or by the medium being found in a state of trance and in his or her usual dress a few seconds after the white-robed and, perhaps, bare-footed form had disappeared in the cabinet. Yet in none of these cases, usually deemed quite satisfactory, have we any proof that the form was separate from the medium, because it is known to all investigators that mediums can be loosed from any bonds or from clothing, and re-introduced into them, and that the medium's body can be transfigured and made to assume a totally distinct aspect, and much larger or smaller dimensions, than those natural to it. The elongation of Mr. Home, and the American medium (Mrs. __ ), whose body was found to be absent from the cabinet in which her clothes remained, while forms of men, women, and children successively came out of it, will occur to the memory of all acquainted with Spiritual literature.

    Now in all these phenomena conditions determine the nature and character of the manifestations; when the conditions are highly favourable forms can be produced apart from the medium; when less favourable they can only be produced by releasing and transfiguring the medium; and the latter is in many cases only one degree less marvellous than the former. Of this latter class I have seen very many examples with several different mediums, tested either by close examination of the countenance, by seeing the medium a few seconds after the form had retired, by accurate measurement of the form and of the medium, or by a rigid search of the medium's body and surroundings immediately after the séance, when no particle of the copious draperies and headdresses of the forms which had appeared could be found; yet I think it not only possible, but highly probable, that in some or all of these cases the form was the medium, transfigured, under conditions which rendered it a marvellous exhibition of super-human agency.

    Now if in any of these latter cases the form had been violently seized and found to be the medium, free from bonds and divested of a portion of his or her clothing, that fact would not in any degree have affected the genuineness of the phenomenon as regards the medium; but if this had been done before the tests above enumerated had been applied the opportunity of getting such tests would have been lost, and an undeserved stigma thrown upon an innocent person. But we may go further than this, and maintain on substantial grounds the extreme probability that if a form is seized which is really distinct from the medium, yet the result may be that the form and the medium will be forcibly brought together, and a false impression conveyed that the form was the medium.

    For what do we know of this most stupendous phenomenon of a more or less solid, visible form being produced, except the constant conditions under which it appears and the uniform statements of the agencies who produce it? Whenever the form is seen in process of formation it grows, or seems to grow, out of the body of the medium or in close proximity to it. To depart, it goes back to the medium. A common phenomenon is the temporary return of the form to the medium "to gain strength." A well attested phenomenon is, that marks made on the form or injuries done to it appear on the body of the medium. In the case of Dr. Monck, food taken by the form reappeared in the mouth of the medium, visibly to several witnesses altogether above suspicion. The weight of these forms fluctuates greatly, and there is some evidence to shew that the weight of the medium is simultaneously diminished. These facts all prove a most intimate and real connection between the form and the medium, a connection utterly beyond the powers of our material science to understand; and what applies to the matter of the forms seems to apply equally to the matter of the drapery in which the forms usually appear. We are told, also, that the forms are produced mainly from the body or aura of the medium, and that they must return to it or injury will result. And this is so likely in itself, and so accordant with all the facts we can observe, that we are bound to accept it, at least till we know more of the matter.

    Yet those who think the reality of materialisation can be tested by seizing the form and keeping it away from the medium, must ignore all these considerations, and believe, apparently, in the teeth of all the evidence, that the forms are real independent entities, who come from some other world, who have no connection whatever with the medium (except as somehow helping them to come to us), and who can be kept by force away from the medium for our examination and amusement! And, what is to me more strange still, a considerable number of advanced Spiritualists, including many who are looked up to as teachers of the unenlightened, adopt this improbable and unfounded hypothesis, and cry out with horror at the immoral imposture, either of the medium or of the beings who produce the phenomena.

    It is my deliberate conviction--accepting the reality of these phenomena as witnessed personally and as narrated by a crowd of competent observers, and deducing from them the obvious and close material and spiritual connection of the form and medium--that the fact of a person seizing the form and finding the medium, is not and cannot be a proof of fraud, but is, in all probability, the natural and inevitable effect of trying to keep apart two beings who are really one, and who cannot be rudely interfered with without danger to the human body, whose abnormal organisation supplies the material for the temporary materialisation of these marvellous existences. If this were only one out of many alternative deductions from the facts and teachings before us it would be both cruel and unwise to choose always the least favourable interpretation, and as a consequence of doing so to attach the stigma of imposture on persons who have for many years borne a good character, and who are known to be true and powerful mediums. But when, as I maintain, this hypothesis is the only one which the facts directly support, it follows, that the only "exposure" made is of the incapacity of experimenters who deal with the greatest mysteries of an unknown universe as if they were mere questions of terrestrial mechanics.

    So far as I remember, every medium for materialisation, however perfectly their powers may have been tested, however good their character, has been subjected to accusations of fraud on somewhat similar grounds to those now alleged against Miss Wood. The fact that whenever a form has been seized it has been found, after a struggle of some moments' duration, to merge into the medium, lends additional support to the view here advanced, since on the mere doctrine of chances there ought to have been, by this time, at least, one genuine form seized, if such a capture is possible. I have shewn reasons for thinking it not possible, and I believe that, even where the medium and form have been seen separate, a forcible seizure would result in their speedy amalgamation.

    I feel sure that many who have studied these phenomena most closely will be satisfied that my views are in harmony with the facts taken in their entirety; and I have thought it now opportune to explain my reasons for them (however briefly and inadequately), because, if accepted, they will afford the best antidote to the crude notion that "seizing" a materialised form can ever test its genuineness. --Alfred R. Wallace.

    P.S.--I will add one word more of practical suggestion. It has been asserted by one of your most eminent and esteemed correspondents, that "not one person in fifty can tie a woman so that she cannot get out of the bonds by normal means, if she is a practised trickster." This I entirely dispute. There are three portions of the body from which a close band cannot possibly be slipped--the neck, the wrist, and the ankle. Tie a tape firmly and closely round a woman's waist, knot it hard [[p. 448]] behind over a piece of card, and seal it to the card, then carry the ends either to a chair, or any other piece of furniture, and tie and seal again, and though the person will be not the least inconvenienced and the hands free, no trickster in the world can escape from the tape, and then replace herself in it again, even if she were in the light instead of being in darkness. If, under these conditions, a form appears, and afterwards the medium is found secured as at first, we have positive proof of superhuman power. We have no proof that the form was not the medium; that we can only get by seeing or feeling the two simultaneously; but the above simple mode of tying is absolute security against the bugbear of trickery by genuine mediums. --A.R.W.

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