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

What Are Phantasms, and Why Do
They Appear? (S434: 1891)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: In this work Wallace criticizes the theory that apparition sightings are the product of telepathy. Printed in the Arena of February 1891. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with:

    [[p. 257]] The theories which have been suggested by the more prominent members of the Society for Psychical Research in order to explain the phenomena of phantasms or apparitions of various kinds, are all founded on telepathy, or thought-transference, the facts of which have been demonstrated by a long series of experiments. It is found that many persons are more or less sensitive to the thoughts or will-powers of others, and are able to reproduce, more or less closely, any definite mental images sought to be conveyed to them. It is urged that those who experience phantasmal sights or sounds are a kind of thought-readers, and are so powerfully affected by the thoughts of friends who are in certain excitable mental states or physical crises, especially at periods of imminent danger or when at the point of death, as to externalize those thoughts in visual or auditory hallucinations either in the waking state or as unusually vivid dreams.

    This telepathic theory is held to receive strong support, and in fact to be almost proved, by the curious phenomena of the doubles, or phantasms, of living persons being seen by certain sensitive friends, when those persons strongly will that they shall be so seen. Such are the cases of a friend appearing to Mr. Stainton Moses at a time when this friend had fixed his thoughts upon him before going to bed; and those of Mr. B__ who several times appeared in the night to [[p. 258]] two ladies, on occasions when he went to sleep with the express wish and intention of appearing to them.1 There are, however, difficulties in these cases. The supposed agent does not usually decide exactly how he will appear or what he will do. In one case Mr. B__ appeared, not to the ladies he was thinking of, but a married sister, hardly known to him, who happened to be occupying their room. This lady saw the phantasm in the passage, going from one room to the other, at a time when the agent wished to be in the house; and again, the same night, at a time when he wished to be in the front bedroom, and on this occasion the phantasm came to her bedside and took hold of her hair, and then of her hand, gazing intently into it. Now it is an assumption hardly warranted by the facts, that the mere wish or determination to be in a certain part of a house at a certain time could cause a phantasm to appear to a person who happened unexpectedly to be there, and cause that phantasm to perform, or appear to perform, certain acts which do not appear to have been willed by the supposed agent. This is certainly not telepathy in the usually accepted sense; it is not the transference of a thought to an individual, but the production of what seems to be an objective phantasm in a definite locality. It is altogether inconceivable, that a mere wish could produce such a phantasm, unless, indeed, we suppose the spirit of the sleeper to leave the body in order to go to the desired place, and that it possesses the power to render itself visible to anyone who happens to be there. Let us then see whether there are any other facts concerning doubles which may throw some light on this question.

    Mr. Fryer, of Bath, England, heard his name distinctly called in the voice of a brother who had been some days absent from home. At the same moment, as near as could be ascertained, the brother missed his footing and fell on a railway platform, calling out his brother's name as he fell.2 Similar in character is the case of Mrs. Severn, who, while in bed one morning, felt a violent blow on her lip so real that she put her handkerchief to it, expecting to find it bleeding. At the same time Mr. Severn, caught by a squall in a boat, received a violent blow on the same part of his mouth from the tiller. In the first case, Mr. Fryer's brother had no [[p. 259]] conscious wish to be heard by him; and in the other case, Mr. Severn certainly did not wish his wife to feel the blow, but, on the contrary, was extremely anxious to conceal from her that he had had a blow at all.3 In both these cases, if the supposed agents had anything to do with the actual production of the phantasmal voice and sensation, it was by some unconscious or automatic process. But the experimental evidence for telepathy shows it to be produced by the conscious and active will-power of the agent or agents, and would therefore prove, if anything, that in both these cases there was some third party who was really the agent in willing and producing the telepathic effect. This is rendered still more probable by other cases of "doubles" and of warnings, of which the following is one of the most remarkable.

    Mr. Algernon Joy, an engineer employed on the Penarth Docks, at Cardiff, South Wales, was walking in a country lane near the town, absorbed in a calculation connected with the Docks, when he was attacked and knocked down by two young colliers. His thoughts were then immediately directed to the possible cause of the attack, to the possibility of identifying the men, and to informing the police. He is positive that for about half an hour previous to the attack and for an hour or two after it, there was no connection whatever, direct or indirect, between his thoughts and a friend in London. Yet at almost the precise moment of the assault, this friend recognized Mr. Joy's footstep in the street, behind him, then turned and saw Mr. Joy "as distinctly as ever he saw him in his life," saw he looked distressed, asked what was the matter, and received the answer, "Go home, old fellow, I've been hurt." All this was communicated in a letter from the friend which crossed one from Mr. Joy, giving an account of the accident.4 In this case, whether the "double" was an audible and visual veridical hallucination, or an objective phantasm, it could not have been produced without some adequate cause. To assert that Mr. Joy was himself the unconscious cause cannot be looked upon as an explanation, or as in any way helping us to a comprehension of how such things can happen. We imperatively need a producing agent, some intellectual being having both the will and the power to produce such a veridical phantasm.

    [[p. 260]] The next case still more clearly demands an agent other than that of any of the parties immediately concerned. Mr. F. Morgan, of Bristol, a young man who lived with his mother, was attending a lecture in which he was much interested. On entering the lecture room he saw a friend, with whom he determined to walk home after the lecture. About the middle of the lecture he noticed a door at the side of the platform farthest from the entrance to the hall, and he suddenly, without knowing why, got up and walked half the length of the hall to see if the door would open. He turned the handle, entered, and closed the door behind him, finding himself in the dark under the platform. Noticing a glimmer of light he went towards it, got into a passage which led again into the hall, the end of which he crossed to the entrance door, without any thought of the lecture which was still going on, or of the friend with whom he had meant to return, and then walked home quietly, without any excitement or impression of any kind, and quite unconscious till long after that he had done anything unusual. When he got home, however, he found that the house next to his was on fire and his mother in great alarm. He instantly removed his mother to a place of safety, and then had two or three hours' struggle with the flames. The adjoining house was burnt down, and his own was in great danger, and was slightly damaged.

    Mr. Morgan states that his character is such that had he felt any impression that there was a fire, or that his mother was in danger, he should probably have shaken it off as mere fancy and refused to obey it. His mother simply wished for his presence, but exerted no will-power towards him. What agency, then, was it that acted upon his mental organization, at first apparently through simple curiosity, in such a strange yet effectual way, bringing him home so promptly, and yet without his feeling that he was in any way being influenced or guided in his actions, which seemed to himself to be perfectly voluntary and normal? We cannot avoid seeing in this case the continuous exercise of some mental influence, guided by accurate knowledge of the character of the individual and of his special surroundings at the moment, and directed with such care and judgment as to avoid exciting in him that antagonism which would have been fatal to the object aimed at. We see then that, even confining ourselves to undoubted [[p. 261]] phantasms of the living, or to impressions not connected with death, the facts are totally inexplicable on any theory of telepathy between living persons, but clearly point to the agency of preter-human intelligences--in other words, of spirits. The prejudice against such a conception is enormous, but the work of the Psychical Research Society has, it is to be hoped, somewhat undermined it. They have established, beyond further dispute for all who study the evidence, that veridical phantasms of the dead do exist; and the evidence itself--not ignorant or even scientific prejudice--must decide whether these phantasms which, as we have seen in my last article [i.e., S430], are often objective, are the work of men or of spirits.

    Before adducing further evidence on this point, it will be well to consider briefly, the extraordinary theory of the "second self" or "unconscious ego," which is appealed to by many modern writers as a substitute for spirit agency when that of the normal human being is plainly inadequate. This theory is founded on the phenomena of dreams, of clairvoyance, and of duplex personality, and has been elaborately expounded by Du Prel in two volumes 8vo, translated by Mr. C. C. Massey. As an example of the kind of facts this theory is held to explain, we may refer to the experiments of the Rev. P. H. Newnham and Mrs. Newnham with planchette. The experiments were conducted by Mrs. N__ sitting at a low table with her hand on the planchette, while Mr. N__ sat with his back towards her at another table eight feet distant. Mr. N__ wrote questions on paper, and instantly, sometimes simultaneously, the planchette under Mrs. N__'s hand wrote the answers. Experiments were carried on for eight months, during which time three hundred and nine questions and answers were recorded. All kinds of questions were asked, and the answers were always pertinent to the questions though often evasions rather than direct answers. Great numbers of the answers did not correspond with the opinions or expectations of either Mr. or Mrs. N__, and were sometimes beyond their knowledge. To convince an incredulous visitor, Mr. N__ went with him into the hall, where he, the visitor, wrote down the question, "What is the Christian name of my eldest sister?" Mr. N__ saw the question but did not know the name, yet on returning to the study they found that planchette had already written "Mina," the family abbreviation of Wilhelmina, which was [[p. 262]] the correct name. Mr. N__ is a Free Mason, and asked many questions as to the Masonic ritual of which Mrs. N__ knew nothing. The answers were partly correct and partly incorrect, sometimes quite original, as when a prayer used at the advancement of a Mark Master Mason was asked for, and a very admirable prayer instantly written out, using Masonic terms, but, Mr. N__ says, quite unlike the actual prayer he was thinking of, and also unlike any prayer used by Masons or known to Mr. N__. It was in fact, as Mr. N__ says, "a formula composed by some intelligence totally distinct from the conscious intelligence of either of the persons engaged in the experiment."

    Now all this, and a great deal more equally remarkable, is imputed to the agency of Mrs. Newnham's "unconscious self," a second independent, intelligent personality of which Mrs. Newnham herself knows nothing except when it "emerges" under special conditions, such as those here described. In the same way Du Prel explains all the phenomena of clairvoyance, of premonitions, of apparent possession, and of the innumerable cases in which sensitives exhibit knowledge of facts which in their normal state they do not possess, and have had no possible means of acquiring.

    But is this so-called explanation any real explanation, or anything more than a juggle of words which creates more difficulties that it solves? The conception of such a double personality in each of us, a second self which in most cases remains unknown to us all our lives, which is said to live an independent mental life, to have means of acquiring knowledge our normal self does not possess, to exhibit all the characteristics of a distinct individuality with a different character from our own is surely a conception more ponderously difficult, more truly supernatural than that of a spirit-world, composed of beings who have lived, and learned, and suffered on earth, and whose mental nature still subsists after its separation from the earthly body. We shall find, too, that this latter theory explains all the facts simply and directly, that it is in accordance with all the evidence, and that in an overwhelming majority of cases, it is the explanation given by the communicating intelligences themselves. On the "second self" theory, we have to suppose that this recondite but worser half of ourselves, while possessing some knowledge we have not, does not know that it is part of us, or if it knows, is a [[p. 263]] persistent liar, for in most cases it adopts a distinct name, and persists in speaking of us, its better half, in the third person.

    But there is yet another, and I think a more fundamental objection to this view, in the impossibility of conceiving how, or why, this second-self was developed in us under the law of survival of the fittest. The theory is upheld to avoid recourse to any "spiritual" explanation of phenomena, "spirit" being the last thing our modern men of science "will give in to."5 But if so--if there is no spiritual nature in man that survives the earthly body, if man is but a highly intellectual animal developed from a lower animal form under the law of the survival of the fittest, how did this "second-self," this "unconscious ego," come into existence? Have the mollusk and the reptile, the dog and the ape, "unconscious egos"? And if so, why? And what use are they to these creatures, so that they might have been developed by means of the struggle for existence? Darwin detected no sign of such "second-selves" either in animals or men; and if they do not pertain to animals but do pertain to men, then we are involved in the same difficulty that is so often urged against spiritualists, that we require some break in the law of continuous development, and some exertion of a higher power to create and bring into the human organism this strange and useless "unconscious ego"--useless except to puzzle us with insoluble problems, and make our whole nature and existence seem more mysterious than ever. Of course this unconscious ego is supposed to die with the conscious man, for if not, we are introduced to a new and gratuitous difficulty, of the relation of these two intelligences and characters, distinct yet bound indissolubly together, in the after life.

    Finding, therefore, that the theory of duplex personality creates more difficulties than it solves, while the facts it proposes to explain can be dealt with far more thoroughly on the spiritual hypothesis, let us pass on to consider the further evidence we possess for the agency of the spirits of the dead, or of some other preter-human intelligences.

    We will first consider the case of Mrs. Menneer, who dreamed twice the same night, that she saw her headless brother standing at the foot of the bed with his head lying on a coffin [[p. 264]] by his side. She did not at the time know where her brother, Mr. Wellington, was, except that he was abroad. He was, however, at Sarawak, with Sir James Brooke, and was killed during the Chinese insurrection there, in a brave attempt to defend Mrs. Middleton and her children. Being taken for the Rajah's son, his head was cut off and carried away in triumph, his body being burned with the Rajah's house. The date of the dream coincided approximately with that of the death.6 Now in this case it is almost certain that the head was cut off after death, since these Chinese were not trained soldiers, but gold miners, who would strike, and stab, and cut with any weapons they possessed, but could certainly not kill a European on his defence by cutting off his head at a blow. The impression on the sister's brain must, therefore, have been made either by the dead brother, or by some other intelligence, probably the latter, as it was clearly a symbolic picture, the head resting on the coffin showing that the head alone was recovered and buried. In a published letter of Sir James Brooke's he says--"Poor Wellington's remains were likewise consumed, his head borne off in triumph, alone attesting his previous murder."

    Another case recorded in the same volume, is still more clear against the theory of telepathy between living persons. Mrs. Storie, of Edinburgh, living at the time in Hobart Town, Tasmania, one night dreamed a strange, confused dream, like a series of dissolving views. She saw her twin brother sitting in the open air, in the moonlight, sideways, on a raised place. Then he lifted his arm saying, "The train, the train!" Something struck him, he fell down fainting, a large dark object came by with a swish. Then she saw a railway compartment, in which sat a gentleman she knew, Rev. Mr. Johnstone. Then she saw her brother again. He put his right hand over his face as if in grief. Then a voice, not his voice, telling her he was going away. The same night her brother was killed by a train, having sat down to rest on the side of the track and fallen asleep. The details in the dream, of which the above is a bare abstract, were almost exactly as in the event, and the Mr. Johnstone of the dream was in the train that killed her brother. Now this last mentioned fact could not have been known to the dead man during life, and the [[p. 265]] dream-picture of the event must, therefore, have been due to the telepathic power of the dead man, or of some spirit-friend acquainted with the facts, and wishing to give a proof of spirit-life.

    Take next the case of the Glasgow manufacturer settled in London, who dreams that one of his workmen in Glasgow, whom he had befriended as a lad, but with whom he had not had any direct relations for many years, comes to speak to him, begging him not to believe what he is accused of doing. On being asked what it is, he repeats three times, emphatically, "Ye'll sune ken." The dreamer also notices that the man has a remarkable appearance, bluish pale with great drops of sweat on his face. On awaking, his wife brings him a letter from his manager in Glasgow, telling him that this man, Robert Mackenzie, has committed suicide by drinking aqua fortis. The symptoms of poisoning by aqua fortis are those observed in the dream figure.7 Here the man had died two days before the dream, which was just in time to correct the false impression of suicide that would have been produced by the letter. The whole of the features and details of the dream are such as could hardly have been due to any other agent than the dead workman himself, who was anxious that a master who had been kind to him when a lad, should not be led to credit the false accusation against him.

    Dreams giving the details of funerals at a distance are not uncommon. As an example we have one in which Mr. Stainton Moses was invited to the funeral of a friend in Lincolnshire, but could not go. About the time of the funeral, however, he fell into a trance, and appeared to be at the ceremony, and on again becoming conscious, wrote down all the details, describing the clergyman, who was not the one who had been expected to officiate, the churchyard, which was at a distance in Northamptonshire, with a particular tree near the grave. He then sent this description to a friend who had been present, and who wrote back in astonishment as to how he could have obtained the details.8 This may be said to be mere clairvoyance; but clairvoyance is a term that explains nothing, and is quite as mysterious and unintelligible if supposed to occur without the intervention of disembodied intelligences as if with their help. These cases [[p. 266]] also merge into others which are of a symbolical nature, and which clairvoyance of actual scenes at a distance cannot explain. A well-attested case of this kind is the following:

    Philip Weld, a student at a Catholic College, was drowned in the river at Ware, Hertfordshire, in the year 1846. About the same hour as the accident, the young man's father and sister, while walking on the turnpike road near Southampton, saw him standing on the causeway with another young man in a black robe. The sister said, "Look, papa, there is Philip." Mr. Weld replied, "It is Philip indeed, but he has the look of an angel." They went on to embrace him, but before reaching him a laboring man seemed to walk through the figures, and then with a smile both figures vanished. The President of the College, Dr. Cox, went immediately to Southampton, to break the sad news to the father, but before he could speak, Mr. Weld told him what he had seen, and said he knew his son was dead. A few weeks afterwards, Mr. Weld visited the Jesuit College of Stonyhurst in Lancashire, and in the guest-room saw a picture of the very same young man he had seen with his son, similarly dressed, and in the same attitude, and beneath the picture was inscribed "St. Stanislaus Kotska," a saint of the Jesuit order who had been chosen by Philip for his patron saint at his confirmation.9

    Now, here is a case in which phantasms of the son and of another person appear to two relatives, and the presence of the unknown person was eminently calculated, when his identity was discovered, to relieve the father's mind of all fear for his son's future happiness. It is hardly possible to have a clearer case of a true phantasm of the dead, not necessarily produced either by the dead son or the Jesuit saint, but most probably by them, or by some other spirit friend who had the power to produce such phantasms, and so relieve the anxiety of both father and sister. It is not conceivable that any living person's telepathic action could have produced such phantasms in two percipients, the only possible agent being the President of the College, who did not recognize by Mr. Weld's description, the dark-robed young man who appeared with his son.

    This introduces a feature rather common in phantasms of [[p. 267]] the dead: some indication of happiness, something to take away any feeling of gloom or sorrow. Thus, a young man is drowned by the foundering of the La Plata telegraphic ship in December, 1874; and, just before the news arrived, his brother in London dreamed that he was at a magnificent fête, in a spacious garden with illuminated fountains and groups of gentlemen and ladies, when he met his brother in evening dress, and "the very image of buoyant health." He was surprised, and said: "Hallo! D__, how are you here?" His brother shook hands with him and said: "Did you not know I have been wrecked again?" The next morning the news of the loss of the ship was in the papers.10 Here, whether the phantasm was caused by the dead man himself, or by some other being, it was apparently intended to show that the deceased was as cheerful and well off after death as during life.

    So, when the voice of Miss Gambier Parry was heard twelve hours after her death by her former governess, Sister Bertha, at the House of Mercy, Bovey Tracey, Devonshire, it said, "in the brightest and most cheerful tone, 'I am here with you.'" And on being asked, "Who are you?" the voice replied, "You mustn't know yet."11

    And again, when a gentleman going to the dining-room for an evening smoke, sees his sister-in-law, he says: "Maggie suddenly appeared, dressed in white, with a most heavenly expression on her face. She fixed her eyes on me, walked round the room, and disappeared through the door that leads into the garden."12 This was the day after her death. Yet one more instance: Mr. J. G. Kenlemaus, when in Paris, was awoke one morning by the voice of a favorite little son of five years old, whom he had left quite well in London. He also saw his face in the centre of a bright opaque white mass, his eyes bright, his mouth smiling. The voice heard was that of extreme delight, such as only a happy child can utter. Yet the child had then just died.13 Whose telepathic influence caused this phantasm of this happy, smiling child to appear to the father? Surely no living person, but rather some spirit friend or guardian wishing to show that the [[p. 268]] joyousness of life still remained with the child, though its earthly body was cold and still.

    Another characteristic feature of many of these dreams or waking phantasms is that they often occur, not at the moment of death but just before the news of the death reaches the percipient, or there is some other characteristic feature that seems especially calculated to cause a deep impression, and give a lasting conviction of spiritual existence. Several cases of this kind are given or referred to in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Pt. XV., pp. 30, 31). A most extraordinary example is that of Mr. F. G., of Boston, then of St. Louis, Mo., who, when in St. Joseph, Mo., fully occupied with business, saw a phantasm of his only sister, who had been dead nine years. It was at noonday while he was writing, and she appeared close to him and perfectly life-like, so that for a moment he thought it was really herself, and called her by her name. He saw every detail of her dress and appearance, and particularly noticed a bright red line or scratch on the right hand side of her face. The vision so impressed him that he took the next train home, and told what he had seen to his father and mother. His father was inclined to ridicule him for his belief in its being anything supernatural, but when he mentioned the scratch on the face his mother nearly fainted, and told them with tears in her eyes, that she had herself made that scratch accidentally, after her daughter's death, but had carefully hidden it with powder, and that no living person but herself knew of it. A few weeks after, the mother died happy in her belief that she would rejoin her daughter in a better world.14 Here we can clearly see an important purpose in the appearance of the phantasm, to give comfort to a mother about to die, in the assurance that her beloved daughter, though mourned as dead, was still alive.

    A case which illustrates both of the characteristics just alluded to, is that of the Rev. C. C. Wambey of Salisbury, England, who, one Sunday evening, was walking on the downs, engaged in composing a congratulatory letter to a very dear friend so that he might have it on his birthday, when he heard a voice saying, "What, write to a dead man; write to a dead man!" No one was near him, and he tried to [[p. 269]] think it was an illusion, and went on with his composition, when again he heard the voice saying more loudly than before, "What, write to a dead man; write to a dead man?" He now understood the meaning of the voice, but, nevertheless, sent the letter, and in reply received the expected intelligence that his friend was dead. Surely, in this case no living agent could have produced this auditory phantasm, which was strikingly calculated to impress the recipient with the idea that his friend was, though dead as regards the earthly life, in reality very much alive, while the spice of banter in the words would tend to show that death was by no means a melancholy event to the subject of it.

    In view of the examples now given of phantasms appearing for a very definite purpose, and being in most cases perfectly adapted to produce the desired effect--examples which could be very largely increased from the rich storehouse of the publications of the Society for Psychical Research--the theory put forth by Mr. Myers,a that phantasms of the dead are so vague and purposeless as to suggest mere "dead men's dreams" telepathically communicated to the living, seems to me a most extraordinary one. No doubt the range of these phenomena is very great, and in some cases there may be no purpose in the appearance so far as the percipient is concerned. But these are certainly not typical or by any means the best attested or the most numerous; and it seems to me to be a proof of the weakness of the telepathic theory that almost all the cases I have adduced, and many more of like import, have been passed by almost or quite unnoticed by those who support that view.

    We have one more class of evidence to notice,--that of premonitions. These are of all kinds from those announcing very trivial events, to such as foretell accidents or death. They are not so frequent as other phantasms, but some of them are thoroughly well attested, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are realities, and that they are due, generally speaking, to the same agencies as objective veridical phantasms. One or two examples may be given.

    A striking case is that of Mrs. Morrison, who was living in the Province of Wellesley, Malay Peninsula, in 1878, and one morning, when awake, heard a voice distinctly say, "If there is darkness at the eleventh hour, there will be death." On starting up in bed the same words were slowly and [[p. 270]] deliberately repeated. A week afterwards her little girl was taken seriously ill, and some days later, after a week of cloudless weather, a storm came on one morning, a few minutes before eleven, and the sky became black with clouds. At one o'clock the same day the child died.15 The unusual character of the warning renders this case a very remarkable one.

    In another case, Miss R. F. Curtis, of London, dreams that she sees a lady in black who passes her, and is then seen lying on the road, with a crowd of people round her. Some think she is dead, some that she is not dead; and on asking her name, the dreamer is told she is Mrs. C__, a friend living on Clapham Common, who had not been heard of for some time. In the morning Miss Curtis tells her sister of her dream; and about a week afterwards, they hear that the day after the dream, Mrs. C__ had stumbled over a high curb-stone, and had fallen on the road very much hurt.

    Still more extraordinary is the case of the Yorkshire vicar, who, when a young man of nineteen, was at Invercargill, in New Zealand, and there met a man he knew as a sailor on the ship he had come out in, and agreed to go with him and several others on an excursion to the island of Ruapuke, to stay a day or two for fishing and shooting. They were to start at four the next morning, in order to cross the bar with the high tide, and they agreed to call the vicar in time. He went to bed early with the fullest intention to go with them, and with no doubt or hesitation in his mind. The thing was settled. On his way upstairs to bed he seemed to hear a voice saying, "Don't go with those men." There was no one near, but he asked, "Why not?" The voice, which seemed inside of him, said with emphasis, "You are not to go"; and on further question these words were repeated. Then he asked, "How can I help it? They will call me up." And, most distinctly and emphatically, the same voice said, "You must bolt your door." When he got to the room, he found there was a strong bolt to the door, which he had not remembered. At first he determined he would go, as he was accustomed to take his own way at all hazards. But he felt staggered, and had a feeling of mysterious peril, and after much hesitation finally bolted the door, and went to sleep. In the morning about three he was called, the door violently shaken and [[p. 271]] kicked but though awake he did not speak, and finally the men went away cursing and shouting. About nine o'clock he went down to breakfast, and was at once asked if he had heard what had happened, and was then told that the boat with the party for Ruapuke had been upset on the bar, and every one of them drowned. Some of the bodies were washed up on the beach that day, and the others a day or two later, and he adds: "If I had been with them, I must have perished beyond a doubt."

    Now what are we to say of this determined, warning voice that insisted on being heard and attended to? Who and what was the being that foresaw the catastrophe that was to happen, and saved the one that it could save? Du Prel would say that it was the second self, the unconscious ego, that produced this inner voice; but, as we have shown, this purely hypothetical explanation is both unintelligible and inconceivable, and explains nothing, since the suggested cause has not been proved to exist, nor can it be shown how the knowledge exhibited had been acquired. But phantasms of the dead, manifesting themselves in a way to prove their identity, or exhibiting knowledge which neither the percipient nor any conceivable living agent possesses, afford strong proof that the so-called dead still live, and are able in various ways to influence their friends in earth-life. We will, therefore, briefly summarize the evidence now adduced, and see how the spiritualistic theory gives a consistent and intelligible explanation of it.

    It is evident that any general theory of phantasms must deal also with the various cases of "doubles," or undoubted phantasms of the living. The few examples of apparent voluntary production of these by a living person have been supposed to prove the actual production by them, or by their unconscious egos; but the difficulties in the way of this view have been already pointed out. In many cases there is no exercise of will, sometimes not even a thought directed to the place or person where, or to whom, the phantasm appears; and it is altogether irrational to ascribe the production of so marvellous an effect as, for example, a perfectly life-like phantasm of two persons, a carriage, and a horse, visible to three persons at different points of its progress through space (as described in my first article [i.e., S430]), to an agent who is totally unconscious of any agency in the matter. What is termed the agent, that [[p. 272]] is the person whose "double" is produced, may be a condition towards the production of the phantasm without being the cause. I write a telegram to a friend a thousand miles away, and that friend receives my message in an hour or two. But the possibility of sending the message does not reside in me, but in a whole series of contributory agencies from the earliest inventors of the telegraph, down to the clerks who transmit and receive the message.

    The clue to a true explanation of these very puzzling "doubles," as of all the other varied phenomena of phantasms and hauntings is, I believe, afforded by the following passage by one of the most thoughtful and experienced of modern spiritualists, Dr. Eugene Crowell:--

I have frequently consulted my spirit friends upon this question, and have invariably been told by them that a spirit while in mortal form cannot for an instant leave it; were it to do so, death would at once ensue; and, that the appearance of one's self at another place from that in which the body at the moment is, is simply a personation by another spirit, who thus often accomplishes a purpose desired by his mortal friend, or some other useful purpose is accomplished by the personation. I am informed, and believe, that in cases of trance, where the subjects have supposed that their spirits have left their bodies, and visited the spheres, their minds have been psychologically impressed with views representing spiritual scenes, objects, and sounds, and many times these impressions are so apparently real and truthful that the reality itself barely exceeds these representations of it, but these are all subjective impressions, not actual experiences.16

    Accepting, then, as proved by the various classes of phantasms and the information conveyed by them, that the spirits of the so-called dead still live, and that some of them can, under special conditions, and in various ways, make their existence known to us, or influence us unconsciously to ourselves, let us see what reasonable explanation we can give of the cause and purpose of these phenomena.

    In every case that passes beyond simple transference of a thought from one living person to another, it seems probable that other intelligences co-operate. There is much evidence to show that the continued association of spirits with mortals [[p. 273]] is in many cases beneficial or pleasurable to the former, and if we remember the number of very commonplace people who are daily and yearly dying around us, we shall have a sufficient explanation of those trivial and commonplace yet veridical dreams and impressions which at first sight seem so unintelligible. The production of these dreams, impressions, and phantasms, may be a pleasurable exercise of the lower spiritual faculties, as agreeable to some spirits as billiards, chemical experiments, or practical jokes are to some mortals.

    Many hauntings, on the other hand, seem to show one mode of the inevitable punishment of crime in the spirit world. The criminal is drawn by remorse or by some indefinable attraction, to haunt the place of his crime, and to continually reproduce or act over some incidents connected with it. It is true that the victim appears in haunted houses, as often as the criminal, but it does not at all follow that the victim is always there, unless he or she was a participator in the crime, or continued to indulge feelings of revenge against the actual criminal.

    Again, if there be a spiritual world, if those whose existence on earth has come to an end still live, what is more natural than that many spirits should be distressed at the disbelief, or doubt, or misconception, that so widely prevail, with respect to a future life, and should use whatever power they possess to convince us of our error. What more natural than that they should wish, whenever possible, to give some message to their friends, if only to assure them that death is not the end, that they still live, and are not unhappy. Many facts seem to show us that the beautiful idea of guardian spirits is not a mere dream, but a frequent, perhaps universal reality. Thus will be explained the demon of Socrates, which always warned him against danger, and the various forms of advice, information, or premonition which so many persons receive. The numerous cases in which messages are given from those recently dead, in order to do some trivial act of justice or of kindness, are surely what we should expect; while the fact that although indications are frequently given of a crime having been committed, it is but rarely that the criminal is denounced, indicates, either that the feeling of revenge does not long persist, or that earthly modes of punishment are not approved of by the denizens of the spirit world.

    The powers of communication of spirits with us, and ours of [[p. 274]] receiving their communications, vary greatly. Some of us can only be influenced by ideas or impressions, which we think are altogether the product of our own minds. Others can be so strongly acted on that they feel an inexplicable emotion, leading to action beneficial to themselves or to others. In some cases, warning or information can be given through dreams, in others by waking vision. Some spirits have the power of producing visual, others audible hallucinations to certain persons. More rarely, and needing more special conditions, they can produce phantasms, which are audible or visible to all who may be present--real entities which give off light or sound waves, and thus act upon our senses like living beings or material objects. Still more rarely these phantasms are tangible as well as visual--real though temporary living forms, capable of acting like human beings, and of exerting considerable force on ordinary matter.

    If we look upon these phenomena not as anything supernatural, but as the perfectly natural and orderly exercise of the faculties and powers of spiritual beings for the purpose of communicating with those still in the physical body, we shall find every objection answered, and every difficulty disappear. Nothing is more common than objections to the triviality or the partiality of the communications alleged to be from spirits. But the most trivial message or act, if such that no living person could have given or performed it, may give proof of the existence of other intelligences around us. And the partiality often displayed, one person being warned and saved, while others are left to die, is but an indication of the limited power of spirits to act upon us, combined with the limited receptivity of spirit influence on our part. In conclusion, I submit, that the brief review now given of the various classes of phantasms of the living and of the dead, demonstrates the inadequacy of all the explanations in which telepathy between living persons, or the agency of the unconscious ego are exclusively concerned, since these explanations are only capable of dealing with a small proportion of the cases that actually occur. Furthermore, I urge, that nothing less fundamental and far-reaching than the agency of disembodied intelligences acting in co-operation with our own powers of thought-transference and spiritual insight, can afford a rational and intelligible explanation of the whole range of the phenomena.

Notes Appearing in the Original Work

1Phantasms of the Living, Vol. I., pp. 103-108. [[on p. 258]]

2Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Vol. I., p. 134. [[on p. 258]]

3Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Vol. VI., p. 128. [[on p. 259]]

4Phantasms of the Living, Vol. II., p. 524. [[on p. 259]]

5This was Sir David Brewster's expression after witnessing Home's phenomena. See Home's "Incidents of my Life," Appendix, p. 245. [[on p. 263]]

6Phantasms of the Living, Vol. I., p. 365. [[on p. 264]]

7Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Part VIII., pp. 95-98. [[on p. 265]]

8Harrison's "Spirits before our Eyes," p. 148. [[on p. 265]]

9Harrison's "Spirits before our Eyes," p. 116, extracted from "Glimpses of the Supernatural," by the Rev. F. G. Lee. [[on p. 266]]

10Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Part XIV., p. 456. [[on p. 267]]

11Phantasms of the Living, Vol. I., p. 522. [[on p. 267]]

12Phantasms of the Living, Vol. II., p. 702. [[on p. 267]]

13Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Vol. I., p. 126. [[on p. 267]]

14Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Part XV., pp. 17, 18. [[on p. 268]]

15Proc. Soc. Ps. Res., Part XIII., p. 305. [[on p. 270]]

16Primitive Christianity and Modern Spiritualism, Vol. II., p. 109. [[on p. 272]]

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Editor's Note

aFrederic Myers (1843-1901), English writer and early investigator of psychical phenomena.

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