Part 3 out of 7
modern evidence, by the world-wide prevalence of crystal-gazing in the
ethnographic region. But the discovery of this prevalence had not been
made, to my knowledge, before modern instances induced me to notice the
circumstances, sporadically recorded in books of travel.
The phenomena are certainly of a kind to encourage the savage theory of
the wandering soul. How else, thinkers would say, can the seer visit the
distant place or person, and correctly describe men and scenes which, in
the body, he never saw? Or they would encourage the Polynesian belief
that the 'spirit' of the thing or person looked for is suspended by a god
over the water, crystal, blood, ink, or whatever it may be. Thus, to
anthropologists, the discovery of crystal-gazing as a thing widely
diffused and still flourishing ought to be grateful, however much they
may blame my childish credulity. I may add that I have no ground to
suppose that crystal-gazing will ever be of practical service to the
police or to persons who have lost articles of portable property. But I
have no objection to experiments being made at Scotland Yard.
[Footnote 1: Information, with a photograph of the stones, from a
correspondent in West Maitland, Australia.]
[Footnote 2: _Report Ethnol. Bureau_, 1887-88, p. 460; vol. ii. p. 69.
Captain Bourke's volume on _The Medicine Men of the Apaches_ may also be
[Footnote 3: Fitzroy, _Adventure_, vol. ii. p. 389.]
[Footnote 4: _L'Histoire de la grand Ile Madagascar_, par le Sieur de
Flacourt. Paris, 1661, ch. 76. Veue de deux Navires de France predite par
les Negres, avant que l'on en peust scavoir des Nouvelles, &c.]
[Footnote 5: _Religion of the Amazulu_, p. 341.]
[Footnote 6: _J.A.I_., November 1894, p. 155. Ryckov is cited; _Zhurnal_,
[Footnote 7: _Rites and Laws of the Yncas_, Christoval de Molina, p. 12.]
[Footnote 8: See Miss X's article, S.P.R. _Proceedings_, v. 486.]
[Footnote 9: Op. cit. v. 505.]
[Footnote 10: If any reader wishes to make experiments, he, or she, should
not be astonished if the first crystal figure represents 'the sheeted
dead,' or a person ill in bed. For some reason, or no reason, this is
rather a usual prelude, signifying nothing.]
[Footnote 11: Sunday afternoon. It is not implied that the pictures on
Friday were prophetic. Probably Miss Rose saw what Miss Angus had seen by
aid of 'suggestion.']
[Footnote 12: Miss Angus could not be sure of the colour of the hair.]
[Footnote 13: The position was such that Miss Angus could not see the face
of the lady.]
[Footnote 14: I saw the photographs.]
[Footnote 15: I have been shown the letter of January 20, which confirmed
the evidence of the crystal pictures. The camp was formed for official
purposes in which Mr. Clifton was concerned. A letter of February 9
[Footnote 16: The incident of the feet occurred at 4.30 to 7.30 P.M. The
crystal picture was about 10 P.M.]
[Footnote 17: Miss Angus had only within the week made the acquaintance of
Mrs. Cockburn and the Bissetts. Of these relations of theirs at a distance
she had no knowledge.]
[Footnote 18: I have seen a photograph of this gentleman, Major Hamilton,
which tallies with the full description given by Miss Angus, as reported
by Mrs. Bissett. All the proper names here, as throughout, are altered.
This account I wrote from the verbal statement of Mrs. Bissett. It
was then read and corroborated by herself, Mr. Bissett, Mr. Cochburn,
Mrs. Cockburn, and Miss Angus, who added dates and signatures.]
[Footnote 19: The letters attesting each of these experiments are in my
possession. The real names are in no case given in this account, by my own
desire, but (with permission of the persona concerned) can be communicated
[Footnote 20: The faculty of seeing 'fancy pictures' in the glass is
far from uncommon. I have only met with three other persons besides
Miss Angus, two of them men, who had any success in 'telepathic'
crystal-gazing. In correcting 'revises' (March 16), I leant that the
brother of Mr. Pembroke (p. 105) wrote from Cairo on January 27. The
'scry' of January 23 represented his ship in the Suez Canal. He was, as
his letter shows, in quarantine at Suez, at Moses's Wells, from January 25
to January 26. Major Hamilton (pp. 109, 110), on the other hand, left
Bombay, indeed, but not by sea, as in the crystal-picture. See Appendix C.
Mr. Starr, an American critic, adds Cherokees, Aztecs, and Tonkaways to
the ranks of crystal gazers.]
ANTHROPOLOGY AND HALLUCINATIONS
We have been examining cases, savage or civilised, in which knowledge is
believed to be acquired through no known channel of sense. All such
instances among savages, whether of the nature of clairvoyance simple,
or by aid of gazing in a smooth surface, or in dreams, or in trance, or
through second sight, would confirm if they did not originate the belief
in the separable soul. The soul, if it is to visit distant places and
collect information, must leave the body, it would be argued, and must so
far be capable of leading an independent life. Perhaps we ought next to
study cases of 'possession,' when knowledge is supposed to be conveyed by
an alien soul, ghost, spirit, or god, taking up its abode in a man, and
speaking out of his lips. But it seems better first to consider the
alleged super-normal phenomena which may have led the savage reasoner to
believe that _he_ was not the only owner of a separable soul: that other
people were equally gifted.
The sense, as of separation, which a savage dreamer or seer would feel
after a dream or vision in which he visited remote places, would satisfy
him that _his_ soul, at least, was volatile. But some experience of what
he would take to be visits from the spirits of others, would be needed
before he recognised that other men, as well as he, had the faculty of
sending their souls a journeying.
Now, ordinary dreams, in which the dreamer seemed to see persons who were
really remote; would supply to the savage reasoner a certain amount of
affirmative evidence. It is part of Mr. Tylor's contention that savages
(like some children) are subject to the difficulty which most of us may
have occasionally felt in deciding 'Did this really happen, or did I dream
it?' Thus, ordinary dreams would offer to the early thinker some
evidence that other men's souls could visit his, as he believes that his
can visit them.
But men, we may assume, were not, at the assumed stage of thought, so
besotted as not to take a great practical distinction between sleeping
and waking experience on the whole. As has been shown, the distinction
is made by the lowest savages of our acquaintance. One clear _waking_
hallucination, on the other hand, of the presence of a person really
absent, could not but tell more with the early philosopher than a score of
dreams, for to be easily forgotten is of the essence of a dream. Savages,
indeed, oddly enough, have hit on our theory, 'dreams go by contraries.'
Dr. Callaway illustrates this for the Zulus, and Mr. Scott for the
Mang'anza. Thus they _do_ discriminate between sleeping and waking. We
must therefore examine _waking_ hallucinations in the field of actual
experience, and on such recent evidence as may be accessible. If these
hallucinations agree, in a certain ratio, beyond what fortuitous
coincidence can explain, with real but unknown events, then such
hallucinations would greatly strengthen, in the mind of an early
thinker, the savage theory that a man at a distance may, voluntarily or
involuntarily, project his spirit on a journey, and be seen where he is
When Mr. Tylor wrote his book, the study of the occasional waking
hallucinations of the sane and healthy was in its infancy. Much, indeed,
had been written about hallucinations, but these were mainly the chronic
false perceptions of maniacs, of drunkards, and of persons in bad
health such as Nicolai and Mrs. A. The hallucinations of persons of
genius--Jeanne d'Arc, Luther, Socrates, Pascal, were by some attributed
to lunacy in these famous people. Scarcely any writers before Mr. Galton
had recognised the occurrence of hallucinations once in a life, perhaps,
among healthy, sober, and mentally sound people. If these were known to
occur, they were dismissed as dreams of an unconscious sleep. This is
still practically the hypothesis of Dr. Parish, as we shall see later.
But in the last twenty years the infrequent hallucinations of the sane
have been recognised by Mr. Galton, and discussed by Professor James,
Mr. Gurney, Dr. Parish, and many other writers.
Two results have followed. First, 'ghosts' are shown to be, when not
illusions caused by mistaking one object for another, then hallucinations.
As these most frequently represent a living person who is not present, by
parity of reason the appearance of a dead person is on the same level, is
not a space-filling 'ghost,' but merely an hallucination. Such an
appearance can, _prima facie_, suggest no reasonable inference as to the
continued existence of the dead. On the other hand, the new studies have
raised the perhaps insoluble question, 'Do not hallucinations of the sane,
representing the living, coincide more frequently than mere luck can
account for, with the death or other crisis of the person apparently
seen?' If this could be proved, then there would seem to be a causal
_nexus_, a relation of cause and effect between the hallucination and the
coincident crisis. That connection would be provisionally explained by
some not understood action of the mind or brain of the person in the
crisis, on that of the person who has the hallucination. This is no new
idea; only the name, Telepathy, is modern. Of course, if all this were
accepted, it would be the next step to ask whether hallucinations
representing the dead show any signs of being caused by some action on the
side of the departed. That is a topic on which the little that we have to
say must be said later.
In the meantime the reader who has persevered so far is apt to go no
further. The prejudice against 'wraiths' and 'ghosts' is very strong; but,
then, our innocent phantasms are neither (as we understand their nature)
ghosts nor wraiths. Kant broke the edges of his metaphysical tools
against, not these phantasms, but the logically inconceivable entities
which were at once material and non-material, at once 'spiritual' and
'space-filling.' There is no such difficulty about hallucinations, which,
whatever else may be said about them, are familiar facts of experience.
The only real objections are the statements that hallucinations are
always _morbid_ (which is no longer the universal belief of physiologists
and psychologists), and that the alleged coincidences of a phantasm of a
person with the unknown death of that person at a distance are 'pure
flukes.' That is the question to which we recur later.
In the meantime, the defenders of the theory, that there is some not
understood connection of cause and effect between the death or other
crisis at one end and the perception representing the person affected by
the crisis at the other end, point out that such hallucinations, or other
effects on the percipient, exist in a regular rising scale of potency and
perceptibility. Suppose that 'A's' death in Yorkshire is to affect the
consciousness of 'B' in Surrey before he knows anything about the fact
(suppose it for the sake of argument), then the effect may take place
(1) on 'B's' emotions, producing a vague _malaise_ and gloom; (2) on his
motor nerves, urging him to some act; (3) or may translate itself into his
senses, as a touch felt, a voice heard, a figure seen; or (4) may render
itself as a phrase or an idea.
Of these, (1) the emotional effect is, of course, the vaguest. We may all
have had a sudden fit of gloom which we could not explain. People rarely
act on such impressions, and, when they do, are often wrong. Thus a
friend of my own was suddenly so overwhelmed, at golf, with inexplicable
misery (though winning his match) that he apologised to his opponent and
walked home from the ninth hole. Nothing was wrong at home. Probably some
real ground of apprehension had obscurely occurred to his mind and
expressed itself in his emotion.
But one may illustrate what did look like a coincidence by the experience
of the same friend. He inhabited, as a young married man, a flat in a
house belonging to an acquaintance. The hall was covered by a kind of
glass roof, over part of its extent. He was staying in the country
with his wife, and as they travelled home the lady was beset with an
irresistible conviction that something terrible had occurred, _not_ to her
children. On reaching their house they found that one of their maids had
fallen through the glass roof and killed herself. They also learned that
the girl's sister had arrived at the house, immediately after the
accident, explaining that she was driven to come by a sense that something
dreadful had happened. The lawyer, too, who represented the owner of the
house, had appeared, unsummoned, from a conviction, which he could not
resist, that for some reason unknown he was wanted there. Here, then,
was not an hallucination, but an emotional effect simultaneously reaching
the consciousness of three persons, and coinciding with an unknown
Cases in which a person feels urged to an act (2) are also recorded.
Indeed, the lawyer's in our anecdote is such an instance. Not to trouble
ourselves (3) with 'voices,' hallucinations of sight, coinciding with a
distant unknown crisis, are traced from a mere feeling that somebody is in
the room, followed by a _mental_, or _mind's eye_ picture of a person
dying at a distance, up to a kind of 'vision' of a person or scene, and so
on to hallucinations appealing, at once, to touch, sight, and hearing. As
some hundreds of these narratives of coincidental hallucinations in every
degree have been collected from witnesses at first hand, often personally
known, and usually personally cross-questioned, by the student, it is
difficult to deny that there is a _prima facie_ case for inquiry.
There is here no question of 'spirits,' with all their physical and
metaphysical difficulties. Nor is there any desire to shirk the fact that
many 'presentiments' and hallucinations of the sane coincide with no
ascertainable fact. We only provisionally posit the possibility of an
influence, in its nature unknown, of one mind on another at a distance,
such influence translating itself into an hallucination. An inquiry into
this subject, in the ethnographic and modern fields, may be new but
involves no 'superstition.'
We now return to Mr. Tylor, who treats of hallucinations among other
experiences which led early savage thinkers to believe in ghosts or
separable souls, the origin of religion.
As to the causes of hallucinations in general, Mr. Tylor has something to
say, but it is nothing systematic. 'Sickness, exhaustion, and excitement'
cause savages to behold 'human spectres,' in 'the objective reality' of
which they believe. But if an educated modern, not sick, nor exhausted,
nor excited, has an hallucination of a friend's presence, he, too,
believes that it is 'objective,' is his friend in flesh and blood, till
he finds out his mistake, by examination or reflection. As Professor
William James remarks, in his 'Principles of Psychology,' such solitary
hallucinations of the sane and healthy, once in a life-time, are difficult
to account for, and are by no means rare. 'Sometimes,' Mr. Tylor observes,
'the phantom has the characteristic quality of not being visible to all of
an assembled company,' and he adds 'to assert or imply that they are
visible sometimes, and to some persons, but not always, or to everyone,
is to lay down an explanation of facts which is not, indeed, our usual
modern explanation, but which is a perfectly rational and intelligible
product of early science.'
It is, indeed, nor has later science produced any rational and
intelligible explanation of collective hallucinations, shared by several
persons at once, and perhaps not perceived by others who are present. Mr.
Tylor, it is true, asserts that 'in civilised countries a rumour of some
one having seen a phantom is enough to bring a sight of it to others whose
minds are in a properly receptive state.' But this is arguing in a circle;
What is 'a properly receptive state'? If illness, overwork, 'expectant
attention,' make 'a properly receptive state,' I should have seen several
phantoms in several 'haunted houses.' But the only thing of the sort I
ever saw occurred when I was thinking of nothing less, when I was in good
health, and when I did not know (nor did I learn till long after) that it
was the right and usual phantom to see. Mr. Podmore remarks that various
members of the Psychical Society have sojourned in various 'haunted
houses,' 'some of them in a state of expectancy and nervous excitement,'
which never caused them to see phantoms, for they saw none.
Mr. Tylor treats of waking hallucinations in much the same manner as he
deals with 'travelling clairvoyance.' He does not study them 'in the field
of experience.' He is not concerned with the truth of the facts, important
as we think it would be, but with his theory that hallucinations, among
other causes, would naturally give rise to the belief in spirits, and thus
to the early philosophy of Animism. Now, certainly, the hallucination of a
person's presence, say at the moment of his death at a distance, would
suggest to a savage that something of the dying man's, something
symbolised in the word 'shadow,' or 'breath' _(spiritus)_, had come to say
farewell. The modern 'spiritualistic' theory, again, that the dead man's
'spirit' is actually present to the percipient, in space, corresponds to,
and is derived from, the animistic philosophy of the savage. But we may
believe in such 'death-wraiths,' or hallucinatory appearances of
the dying, without being either savages or spiritualists. We may
believe without pretending to explain, or we may advance the theory of
'Telepathy,' Hegel's 'magical tie,' according to which the distant wind
somehow impresses itself, in a more or less perfect hallucination, on the
mind of the person who perceives the wraith. If this be so, or even if no
explanation be offered, the truth of the stories of coincidental
apparitions becomes important, as pointing to a new region of psychical
inquiry. Then the evidence of savages as to hallucinations of their own,
coincident with the death of their absent friends, will confirm,
_quantum valeat_, the evidence of many modern observers in all ranks of
life, and all degrees of culture, from Lord Brougham to an old nurse.
As to hallucinations coincident with the death of the person apparently
seen, Mr. Tylor says: 'Narratives of this class I can here only specify
without arguing on them, they are abundantly in circulation.' Now, the
modern hallucinations themselves can scarcely, perhaps, be called
'survivals from savagery,' though the opinion that an hallucination of a
person must be his 'spirit' is really such a survival. It is with that
opinion, with Animism in its hallucinatory origins, that Mr. Tylor is
concerned, not with the hallucinations themselves or with the evidence
for their veridical existence.
Mr. Tylor gives three anecdotes, narrated to him, in two cases, by the
seers, of phantasms of the living beheld by them (and in one case by a
companion also) when the real person was dying at a distance. He adds: 'My
own view is that nothing but dreams and visions could have ever put into
men's minds such an idea as that of souls being ethereal images of
bodies.' The idea may be perfectly erroneous; but if the occurrence
of such coincidental appearances as Mr. Tylor tells us about could be
shown to be too frequent for mere chance to produce, then there would be
a presumption in favour of some unknown faculties in our nature--a proper
theme for anthropology.
The hallucinations of which we hear most are those in which it person
sees the phantom of another person, who, unknown to him, is in or near
the hour of death. Mr. Tylor, in addition to his three instances in
civilised life, alludes to one in savage life, with references to other
cases. We turn to his savage instance, offering it at full length from
'Among the Maoris' (says Mr. Shortland) 'it is always ominous to see the
figure of an absent person. If the figure is very shadowy, and its face is
not seen, death, although he may ere long be expected, has not seized his
prey. If the face of the absent person is seen, the omen forewarns the
beholder that he is already dead.'
The following statement is from the month of an eyewitness:
'A party of natives left their village, with the intention of being
absent some time, on a pig-hunting expedition. One night, while they
were seated in the open air around a blazing fire, the figure of a
relative who had been left ill at home was seen to approach. The
apparition appeared to two of the party only, and vanished immediately
on their making an exclamation of surprise. When they returned to the
village they inquired for the sick man, and then learnt that he had
died about the time he was said to have been seen.'
I now give Maori cases, communicated to me by Mr. Tregear, F.R.G.S.,
author of a 'Maori Comparative Dictionary.'
A very intelligent Maori chief said to me, 'I have seen but two ghosts.
I was a boy at school in Auckland, and one morning was asleep in bed
when I found myself aroused by some one shaking me by the shoulder. I
looked up, and saw bending over me the well-known form of my uncle, whom
I supposed to be at the Bay of Islands. I spoke to him, but the form
became dim and vanished. The next mail brought me the news of his
death. Years passed away, and I saw no ghost or spirit--not even when
my father and mother died, and I was absent in each case. Then one day I
was sitting reading, when a dark shadow fell across my book. I looked
up, and saw a man standing between me and the window. His back was
turned towards me. I saw from his figure that he was a Maori, and I
called out to him, "Oh friend!" He turned round, and I saw my other
uncle, Ihaka. The form faded away as the other had done. I had not
expected to hear of my uncle's death, for I had seen him hale and strong
a few hours before. However, he had gone into the house of a missionary,
and he (with several white people) was poisoned by eating of a pie made
from tinned meat, the tin having been opened and the meat left in it all
night. That is all I myself had seen of spirits.'
One more Maori example may be offered:
From Mr. Francis Dart Fenton, formerly in the Native Department of the
Government, Auckland, New Zealand. He gave the account in writing to his
friend, Captain J.H. Crosse, of Monkstown, Cork, from whom we received
it. In 1852, when the incident occurred, Mr. Fenton was 'engaged in
forming a settlement on the banks of the Waikato.'
'March 25, 1860
'Two sawyers, Frank Philps and Jack Mulholland, were engaged cutting
timber for the Rev. R. Maunsell at the mouth of the Awaroa creek--a very
lonely place, a vast swamp, no people within miles of them. As usual,
they had a Maori with them to assist in felling trees. He came from
Tihorewam, a village on the other side of the river, about six miles
off. As Frank and the native were cross-cutting a tree, the native
stopped suddenly, and said, "What are you come for?" looking in the
direction of Frank. Frank replied, "What do you mean?" He said, "I am
not speaking to you; I am speaking to my brother." Frank said, "Where is
he?" The native replied, "Behind you. What do you want?" (to the other
Maori), Frank looked round and saw nobody. The native no longer saw
anyone, but bid down the saw and said, "I shall go across the river; my
brother is dead."
'Frank laughed at him, and reminded him that be had left him quite well
on Sunday (five days before), and there had been no communication since.
The Maori spoke no more, but got into his canoe and pulled across. When
he arrived at the landing-place, he met people coming to fetch him. His
brother had just died. I knew him well.'
In answer to inquiries as to his authority for this narrative, Mr. Fenton
'December 18, 1883.
'I knew all the parties concerned well, and it is quite true, _valeat
quantum_, as the lawyers say. Incidents of this sort are not infrequent
among the Maoris.
_'Late Chief Judge, Native Law-Court of N.Z.'_
Here is a somewhat analogous example from Tierra del Fuego:
'Jemmy Button was very superstitious' (says Admiral Fitzroy, speaking of
a Fuegian brought to England). 'While at sea, on board the "Beagle," he
said one morning to Mr. Bynoe that in the night some man came to the
side of his hammock and whispered in his ear that his father was dead.
He fully believed that such was the case,' and he was perfectly
right.... 'He reminded Bennett of the dream.'
Mr. Darwin also mentions this case, a coincidental auditory hallucination.
I have found no other savage cases quite to the point. This is,
undeniably, 'a puir show for Kirkintilloch,' a meagre collection of savage
death-wraiths, but it may be so meagre by reason of want of research, or
of lack of records, travellers usually pooh-poohing the benighted
superstitions of the heathen, or fearing to seem superstitious if they
chronicle instances. However few the instances, they are, undeniably,
exact parallels to those recorded in civilised life.
In filling up the lacuna in Mr. Tylor's anthropological work, in asking
questions as to the proportion between phantasms of the living which
coincide with a crisis in the experience of the person seen, and those
which do not, it is obviously necessary to reject all evidence of people
who were ill, or anxious, or overworked, or in poignant grief at the time
of the hallucination. It will be seen later that neither grief nor amatory
passion (dominating the association of our ideas as they do) beget many
phantasms. Our business, however, is with the false perceptions of persons
trustworthy, as far as we know, sane, healthy, not usually visionary, and
in an unperturbed state of mind.
There remains a normal cause of subjective hallucinations, expectancy.
This appears to be a real cause of hallucination or, at least, of
illusion. Waiting for the sound of a carriage you may bear it often before
it comes, you taking other sounds for that which you desire. Again, in an
inquiry embracing 17,000 people, the S.P.R. collected thirteen cases of an
hallucinatory appearance of one person to another who was _expecting_ his
arrival. Once more, it is very conceivable that a trifle, the accidental
opening of a door, a noise of a familiar kind in an unfamiliar place, may
touch the brain into originating an hallucination of a person passing
through the door, or of the place where the sound now heard used once to
be familiar. Expectancy, again, and nervousness, might doubtless cause an
hallucination to a person who felt uncomfortable in a house with a name to
be 'haunted,' though, as we have seen, the effect is far less common than
the cause. All these sorts of causes are undoubtedly more apt to be
prevalent among superstitious savages than among educated Europeans.
And it stands to reason that savages, where one man 'thinks he sees
something,' will be readier than we are to think they 'see something' too.
Yet collective hallucinations, which are shared by several persons at
once, are especially puzzling. Even if they occur when all are in a
strained condition of expectancy, it is odd that all see them in _the same
way_. Examples will occur later. When there is no excitement, the
mystery is increased. We may note that, among the expectant multitudes who
looked on while Bernadette was viewing the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes, not
one person, however superstitious or hysterical, pretended to share the
vision. Again, only one person, and he on doubtful evidence, is asserted
to have shared, once, the visions of Jeanne d'Arc. In both cases all the
conditions said to produce collective hallucination were present in the
highest degree. Yet no collective hallucination occurred.
Narratives about hallucinations coincident with a death, narratives well
attested, are abundant in modern times, so abundant that one need only
refer the curious to Messrs. Gurney and Myers's two large volumes,
'Phantasms of the Living,' and to the S.P.R 'Report of Census of
Hallucinations' (1894). Mr. Tylor says: 'The spiritualistic theory
specially insists on cases of apparitions, where the person's death
corresponds more or less nearly with the time when some friend perceives
his phantom.' But visionaries, he remarks truly, often see phantoms of
living persons when nothing occurs. That is the case, and the question
arises whether more such phantoms are viewed (_not_ by 'visionaries')
in connection with the death or other crisis of the person whose
hallucinatory appearance is perceived, than ought to occur, if there be no
connection of some unknown cause between deaths and appearances. As Mr.
Tylor observes, 'Man, as yet in a low intellectual condition, came to
associate in thought those things which he found by experience to be
connected in fact.' Did early man, then, find _in experience_ that
apparitions of his friends were 'connected in fact' with their deaths?
And, if so, was that discovered connection in fact the origin of his
belief that an hallucinatory appearance of an absent person sometimes
announced his death?
That the belief exists in New Zealand we saw, and find confirmed by this
instance, one of 'many such relations,' says the author. A Maori chief was
long absent on the war-path. One day he entered his wife's hut, and sat
mute by the hearth. She ran to bring witnesses, but on her return the
phantasm was no longer visible. The woman soon afterwards married again.
Her husband then returned in perfect health, and pardoned the lady, as
she had acted on what, to a Maori mind, seemed good legal evidence of
his decease. Of course, even if she fabled, the story is evidence to the
existence of the belief.
What, then, is the cause of the belief that a phantom of a man is a token
of his death? On the theory of savage philosophy, as explained by Mr.
Tylor himself, a man's soul may leave his body and become visible to
others, not at death only, but on many other occasions, in dream, trance,
lethargy. All these are much more frequent conditions, in every man's
career, than the fact of dying. Why, then, is the phantasm supposed by
savages to announce death? Is it because, in a sufficient ratio of cases
to provoke remark, early man has found the appearance and the death to be
'things connected in fact'?
I give an instance in which the philosophy of savages would lead them
_not_ to connect a phantasm of a living man with his death.
The Woi Worung, an Australian tribe, hold that 'the Murup [wraith] of an
individual could be sent from him by magic, as, for instance, when a
hunter incautiously went to sleep when out hunting.' In this case the
hunter is exposed to the magic of his enemies. But the Murup, or detached
soul, would be visible to people at a distance when its owner is only
asleep--according to the savage philosophy. Why, then, when the wraith is
seen, is the owner believed to be dying? Are the things bound to be
'connected in fact'?
As is well known, the Society for Psychical Research has attempted a
little census, for the purpose of discovering whether hallucinations
representing persons at a distance coincided, within twelve hours, with
their deaths, in a larger ratio than the laws of chance allow as possible.
If it be so, the Maori might have some ground for his theory that such
hallucinations betoken a decease. I do not believe that any such census
can enable us to reach an affirmative conclusion which science will
accept. In spite of all precautions taken, all warnings before, and
'allowances' made later, collectors of evidence will 'select' affirmative
cases already known, or (which is equally fatal) will be suspected of
doing so. Again, illusions of memory, increasing the closeness of the
coincidence, will come in--or it will be easy to say that they came in.
'Allowances' for them will not be accepted.
Once more, 17,000 cases, though a larger number than is usual in
biological inquiries, are decidedly not enough for a popular argument on
probabilities; a million, it will be said, would not be too many.
Finally, granting honesty, accurate memory, and non-selection (none of
which will be granted by opponents), it is easy to say that odd things
_must_ occur, and that the large proportion of affirmative answers as to
coincidental hallucinations is just a specimen of these odd things.
Other objections are put forward by teachers of popular science who have
not examined--or, having examined, misreport--the results of the Census in
detail. I may give an example of their method.
Mr. Edward Clodd is the author of several handbooks of science--'The Story
of Creation,' 'A Manual of Evolution,' and others. Now, in a signed review
of a book, a critique published in 'The Sketch' (October 13, 1897), Mr.
Clodd wrote about the Census: 'Thousands of persons were asked whether
they had ever seen apparitions, and out of these some hundreds, mostly
unintelligent foreigners, replied in the affirmative. Some eight or ten of
the number--envied mortals--had seen "angels," but the majority,
like the American in the mongoose story, had seen only "snakes."...
In weighing evidence we have to take into account the competency as
well as the integrity of the witnesses.' Mr. Clodd has most frankly and
good-humouredly acknowledged the erroneousness of his remark. Otherwise we
might ask: Does Mr. Clodd prefer to be considered not 'competent' or not
'veracious'? He cannot be both on this occasion, for his signed and
published remarks were absolutely inaccurate. First, thousands of persons
were _not_ asked 'whether they had seen apparitions.' They were asked:
'Have you ever, when believing yourself to be perfectly awake, had a vivid
impression of seeing, or being touched by a living being or inanimate
object, or of hearing a voice; which impression, so far as you could
discover, was not due to any external physical cause?' Secondly, it is not
the fact that 'some hundreds, _mostly unintelligent foreigners,_ replied
in the affirmative.' Of English-speaking men and women, 1,499 answered the
question quoted above in the affirmative. Of foreigners (naturally
'unintelligent'), 185 returned affirmative answers. Thirdly, when Mr.
Clodd says, 'The majority had seen only "snakes,"' it is not easy to know
what precise sense 'snakes' bears in the terminology of popular science.
If Mr. Clodd means, by 'snakes,' fantastic hallucinations of animals,
these amounted to 25, as against 830 representing human forms of persons
recognised, unrecognised, living or dead. But, if by 'snakes' Mr. Clodd
means purely subjective hallucinations, not known to coincide with any
event--and this _is_ his meaning--his statement agrees with that of the
Census. His observations, of course, were purely accidental errors.
The number of hallucinations representing living or dying recognised
persons in the answers received, was 352. Of first-hand cases, in which
coincidence of the hallucination with the death of the person apparently
seen was affirmed, there were 80, of which 26 are given.
The non-coincidental hallucinations were multiplied by four, to allow for
forgetfulness of 'misses.' The results being compared, it was decided that
the hallucinations collected coincided with death 440 more often than
ought to be the case by the law of probabilities. Therefore there was
proof, or presumption, in favour of some relation of cause and effect
between A's death and B's hallucination.
If we were to attack the opinion of the Committee on Hallucinations, that
'Between deaths and apparitions of the dying a connection exists which is
not due to chance alone,' the assault should be made not only on the
method, but on the details. The events were never of very recent, and
often were of remote occurrence. The remoteness was less than it seems,
however, as the questions were often answered several years before the
publication of the Report (1894). There was scarcely any documentary
evidence, any note or letter written between the hallucination and the
arrival of news of the death. Such letters, the evidence alleged, had in
some cases existed, but had been lost, burnt, eaten by white ants, or
written on a sheet of blotting paper or the whitewashed wall of a barrack
room. If I may judge by my own lifelong success in mislaying, losing, and
casually destroying papers, from cheques to notes made for literary
purposes, from interesting letters of friends to the manuscripts of
novelists, or if I may judge by Sir Walter Scott's triumphs of the same
kind, I should not think much of the disappearance of documentary evidence
to death-wraiths. Nobody supposed, when these notes were written, that
Science would ask for their production; and even if people had guessed at
this, it is human to lose or destroy old papers.
The remoteness of the occurrences is more remarkable, for, if these things
happen, why were so few recent cases discovered? Again, the seers were
sometimes under anxiety, though such cases were excluded from the final
computation: they frequently knew that the person seen was in bad health:
they were often very familiar with his personal aspect. Now what are
called 'subjective hallucinations,' non-coincidental hallucinations,
usually represent persons very familiar to us, persons much in our minds.
I know seven cases in which such hallucinations occurred. 1, 2, of husband
to wife; 3, son to mother; 4, Brother to sister; 5, sister to sister;
6, cousin (living in the same house) to cousin; 7, friend (living a mile
away) to two friends. In no case was there a death-coincidence. Only in
case 4 was there any kind of coincidence, the brother having intended to
do (unknown to the sister) what he was seen doing--driving in a dog-cart
with a lady. But he had _not_ driven. We cannot, of course, _prove_ that
these seven cases were _not_ telepathic, but there is no proof that they
were. Now most of the coincidental cases, on which the Committee relied as
their choicest examples, represented persons familiarly known to the
seers. This looks as if they were casual; but, of course, if telepathy
does exist, it is most likely (as Hegel says) to exist between kinsfolk
The dates might be fresher!
In case 1, percipient knew that his aunt in England (he being in
Australia) was not very well. No anxiety.
2. Casual acquaintance. No anxiety. Case of accident or suicide.
3. Acquaintance who feared to die in childbed, and did. Percipient not
much interested, nor at all anxious.
4. Father in England to son in India. No anxiety.
5. Uncle to niece. Sudden death. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.
6. Brother-in-law to sister-in-law, and her maid. No anxiety reported.
7. Father to son. No anxiety reported. _Russian_.
8. Friend to friend. No knowledge of illness or anxiety reported.
9. Grandmother to grandson. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.
10. Casual acquaintance, to seven people, and apparently to a dog. Illness
11. Step-brother to step-brother. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.
12. Friend to friend. No anxiety or knowledge of illness.
13. Casual acquaintance. No anxiety.
14. Aunt to nephew and to his wife. Illness known. No anxiety.
15. Sister to brother. Illness known. No anxiety.
16. Father to daughter. No knowledge of illness. No anxiety.
17. Father to son. Much anxiety. (Uncounted.)
18. Sister to sister. Illness known. 'No immediate danger' surmised.
19. Father to son. Much anxiety. _Russian._ (Uncounted.)
20. Friend to friend. Illness known. Percipient had been nursing patient.
_Brazilian._ (Very bad case!)
21 Friend to friend. Illness known. No anxiety.
22. Brother to brother. Illness known. No anxiety.
23. Grandfather to grand-daughter. Illness known. No pressing anxiety.
24. Grandfather to grandson. Illness known. No anxiety.
25. Father's _hand._ Illness chronic. No anxiety. Percipient a daughter.
20. Husband to wife. Anxiety in time of war.
27. Brother to sister. Slightly anxious from receiving no letter.
28. Friend to friend. No anxiety.
Anxiety is only reported, or to be surmised, in two or three cases. In a
dozen the existence of illness was known.
It may therefore be argued, adversely, that in the selected coincidental
hallucinations, the persons seen were in the class most usually beheld in
non-coincidental and, probably, purely subjective hallucinations
representing real persons; also, that knowledge of their illness, even
when no anxiety existed, kept them in some cases before the mind; also,
that several cases are foreign, and that 'most foreigners are fools.' On
the other hand, affection, familiarity, and knowledge of illness had _not_
produced hallucinations even in the case of these percipients, till
within the twelve hours (often much less) of the event of death.
It would have been desirable, of course, to publish all the
_non_-coincidental cases, and show how far, in these not _veridical_
cases, the recognised phantasms were those of kindred, dear friends, known
to be ill, and subjects of anxiety.
The Census, in fact, does contain a chapter on 'Mental and Nervous
Conditions in connection with Hallucinations,' such as anxiety, grief,
and overwork. Do these produce, or probably produce, many empty
hallucinations _not_ coincident with death or any great crisis? If they
do, then all cases in which a coincidental hallucination occurred
to a person in anxiety, or overstrained, will seem to be, probably,
fortuitous coincidences like the others. All percipients, of all sorts
of hallucinations, hits or misses, were asked if they were in grief or
anxiety. Now, out of 1,622 cases of hallucination of all known kinds
(coincidental or not), mental strain was reported in 220 instances; of
which 131 were cases of grief about known deaths or anxiety. These mental
conditions, therefore, occur only in twelve per cent. of the instances. On
the whole, it does not seem fair to argue that anxiety produces so much
hallucination that it will account by itself for those which we have
analysed as coincidental.
The impression left on my own mind by the Census does pretty closely agree
with that of its authors. Fairly well persuaded of the possibility of
telepathy, on other grounds, and even inclined to believe that it does
produce coincidental hallucinations, the evidence of the Census, by
itself, would not convince me nor its authors. We want better records; we
want documentary evidence recording cases before the arrival of news of
the coincidence. Memories are very adaptive. The authors, however, made a
gallant effort, at the cost of much labour, and largely allowed for all
I am, personally, illogical enough to agree with Kant, and to be more
convinced by the cumulative weight of the hundreds of cases in 'Phantasms
of the Living,' in other sources, in my own circle of acquaintance, and
even by the coincident traditions of European and savage peoples, than by
the statistics of the Census. The whole mass, Census and all, is of very
considerable weight, and there exist individual cases which one feels
unable to dispute. Thus while I would never regard the hallucinatory
figure of a friend, perceived by myself, as proof of his death, I
would entertain some slight anxiety till I heard of his well-being.
On this topic I will offer, in a Kantian spirit, an anecdote of the kind
which, occurring in great quantities, disposes the mind to a sort of
belief. It is not given as evidence to go to a jury, for I only received
it from the lips of a very gallant and distinguished officer and V.C.,
whose own part in the affair will be described.
This gentleman was in command of a small British force in one of the
remotest and least accessible of our dependencies, not connected by
telegraph, at the time of the incident, with the distant mainland. In the
force was a particularly folly young captain. One night he went to a
dance, and, as the sleeping accommodation was exhausted, he passed the
night, like a Homeric hero, on a couch beneath the echoing _loggia_. Next
day, contrary to his wont, he was in the worst of spirits, and, after
moping for some time, asked leave to go a three days' voyage to the
nearest telegraph station. His commanding officer, my informant, was
good-natured, and gave leave. At the end of a week Captain ---- returned,
in his usual high spirits. He now admitted that, while lying awake in the
verandah, after the ball, he had seen a favourite brother of his, then
in, say, Peru. He could not shake off the impression; he had made the long
voyage to the nearest telegraph station, and thence had telegraphed to
another brother in, let us say, Hong Kong, 'Is all well with John?' He
received a reply, 'All well by last mail,' and so returned, relieved in
mind, to his duties. But the next mail bringing letters from Peru brought
news of his Peruvian brother's death on the night of the vision in the
This, of course, is not offered as evidence. For evidence we need
Captain ----'s account, his Hong Kong brother's account, date of the
dance, official date of the Peruvian brother's death, and so on. But the
character of my informant indisposes me to disbelief. The names of places
are intentionally changed, but the places were as remote from each other
as those given in the text.
We find ourselves able to understand the Master of Ravenswood's
cogitations after he saw the best wraith in fiction:
'She died expressing her eager desire to see me. Can it be, then--can
strong and earnest wishes, formed during the last agony of nature,
survive its catastrophe, surmount the awful bounds of the spiritual
world, and place before us its inhabitants in the hues and colouring of
life? And why was that manifested to the eye, which could not unfold its
tale to the ear?' ('Her withered lips moved fast, although no sound
issued from them.') 'And wherefore should a breach be made in the laws
of nature, yet its purpose remain unknown?'
The Master's reasonings are such as, in hearing similar anecdotes, must
have occurred to Scott. They no longer represent our views. The death and
apparition were coincidental almost to the minute: it would be impossible
to prove that life was utterly extinct, when Alice seemed to die, 'as the
clock in the distant village tolled one, just before' Ravenswood's
experience. We do not, like him, postulate 'a breach in the laws of
nature,' only a possible example of a law. The tale was not 'unfolded to
the ear,' as the telepathic impact only affected the sense of sight.
Here, perhaps, ought to follow a reply to certain scientific criticisms of
the theory that telepathy, or the action of one distant mind, or brain,
upon another, may be the cause of 'coincidental hallucinations,'
whether among savage or civilised races. But, not to delay the argument
by controversy, the Reply to Objections has been relegated to the
[Footnote 1: The lady, her husband, and the lawyer, all known to me, gave
me the story in writing; the servant's sister has been lost sight of.]
[Footnote 2: See three other cases in _Proceedings_, S.P.R., ii. 122, 123.
Two others are offered by Mr. Henry James and Mr. J. Neville Maskelyne of
the Egyptian Hall.]
[Footnote 3: See 'Phantasms of the Living' and 'A Theory of Apparitions,'
_Proceedings_, S.P.R., vol. ii., by Messrs. Gurney and Myers.]
[Footnote 4: _Studies in Psychical Research,_ p. 388.]
[Footnote 5: This, at least, scorns to myself a not illogical argument.
Mr. Leaf has argued on the other side, that 'Darwinism may have done
something for Totemism, by proving the existence of a great monkey
kinship. But Totemism can hardly be quoted as evidence for Darwinism.'
True, but Darwinism and Totemism are matters of opinion, not facts of
personal experience. To a believer in coincidental hallucinations, at
least, the alleged parallel experiences of savages must yield some
confirmation to his own. His belief, he thinks, is warranted by human
experience. On what does he suppose that the belief of the savage is
based? Do his experience and their belief coincide by pure chance?]
[Footnote 6: _Prim. Cult._ i. 449.]
[Footnote 7: Ibid. i. 450.]
[Footnote 8: _Prim. Cult._ vol. i. p. 450.]
[Footnote 9: From Shortland's _Traditions of New Zealand,_ p. 140.]
[Footnote 10: Gurney and Myers, 'Phantasms of the Living,' vol. ii.
ch. v. p. 557.]
[Footnote 11: _The 'Adventure' and 'Beagle,'_ iii. 181, cf. 204.]
[Footnote 12: It will, of course, be said that they worked their stories
[Footnote 13: _Prim. Cult._ i. 116.]
[Footnote 14: Polack's _Manners of the New Zealanders_, i. 268.]
[Footnote 15: Howitt, op. cit. p. 186.]
[Footnote 16: On examining the cases, we find, in 1894, these dates of
reported occurrences, in twenty-eight cases: 1890, 1882, 1879, 1870, 1863,
1861, 1888, 1885, 1881, 1880, 1878, 1874, 1869, 1869, 1845, 1887, 1881,
1877, 1874, 1873, 1860 (?), 1864 (?), 1855, 1830 (?!), 1867, 1862, 1888,
[Footnote 17: On this point see _Report_, p. 260. Fifty phantasms out of
the whole occurred during anxiety or presumable anxiety. Of these,
thirty-one coincided (within twelve hours) with the death of the person
apparently seen. In the remaining nineteen, the person seen recovered in
[Footnote 18: Appendix A.]
There is a kind of hallucinations--namely, Phantasms of the Dead--about
which it seems better to say nothing in this place. If such phantasms are
seen by savages when awake, they will doubtless greatly corroborate that
belief in the endurance of the soul after death, which is undeniably
suggested to the early reasoner by the phenomena of dreaming. But, while
it is easy enough to produce evidence to recognised phantasms of the dead
in civilised life, it would be very difficult indeed to discover many good
examples in what we know about savages. Some Fijian instances are given by
Mr. Fison in his and Mr. Howitt's 'Kamilaroi and Kurnai,' Others occur in
the narrative of John Tanner, a captive from childhood among the Red
Indians. But the circumstance, already noted, that an Australian lad
became a wizard on the strength of having seen a phantasm of his dead
mother, proves that such experiences are not common; and Australian black
fellows have admitted that they, for their part, never did see a ghost,
but only heard of ghosts from their old men. Mr. David Leslie, previously
cited, gives some first-hand Zulu evidence about a haunted wood, where the
_Esemkofu_, or ghosts of persons killed by a tyrannical chief, were heard
and felt by his native informant; the percipient was also pelted with
stones, as by the European _Poltergeist_. The Zulu who dies commonly
becomes an Ihlozi, and receives his share of sacrifice. The _Esemkofu_ on
the other hand, are disturbed and haunting spirits.
As a rule, so far as our information goes, it is not recognised phantasms
of the dead, in waking vision, which corroborate the savage belief in the
persistence of the spirit of the departed. The savage reasoner rather
rests his faith on the alleged phenomena of noises and physical movements
of objects apparently untouched, which cause so many houses in civilised
society to be shut up, or shunned, as 'haunted.' Such disturbances the
savage naturally ascribes to 'spirits.' Our evidence, therefore, for
recognised phantasms of the savage dead is very meagre, so it is
unnecessary to examine the much more copious civilised evidence. The facts
attested may, of course, be theoretically explained as the result of
telepathy from a mind no longer incarnate; and, were the evidence as
copious as that for coincidental hallucinations of the living, or dying,
it would be of extreme importance. But it is not so copious, and, granting
even that it is accurate, various explanations not involving anything so
distasteful to science as the action of a discarnate intelligence may be,
and have been, put forward.
We turn, therefore, from a theme in which civilised testimony is more
bulky than that derived from savage life, to a topic in which savage
evidence is much more full than modern civilised records. This topic is
the so-called Demoniacal Possession.
In the philosophy of Animism, and in the belief of many peoples, savage
and civilised, spirits of the dead, or spirits at large, can take up their
homes in the bodies of living men. Such men, or women, are spoken of as
'inspired,' or 'possessed.' They speak in voices not their own, they act
in a manner alien to their natural character, they are said to utter
prophecies, and to display knowledge which they could not have normally
acquired, and, in fact, do not consciously possess, in their normal
condition. All these and similar phenomena the savage explains by the
hypothesis that an alien spirit--perhaps a demon, perhaps a ghost, or a
god--has taken possession of the patient. The possessed, being full of the
spirit, delivers sermons, oracles, prophecies, and what the Americans call
'inspirational addresses,' before he returns to his normal consciousness.
Though many such prophets are conscious impostors, others are sincere. Dr.
Mason mentions a prophet who became converted to Christianity. 'He could
not account for his former exercises, but said that it certainly appeared
to him as though a spirit spoke, and he must tell what it communicated.'
Dr. Mason also gives the following anecdote:
'...Another individual had a familiar spirit that he consulted and with
which he conversed; but, on hearing the Gospel, he professed to become
converted, and had no more communication with his spirit. It had left
him, he said; it spoke to him no more. After a protracted trial I
baptised him. I watched his case with interest, and for several years he
led an unimpeachable Christian life; but, on losing his religious zeal,
and disagreeing with some of the church members, he removed to a distant
village, where he could not attend the services of the Sabbath, and it
was soon after reported that he had communications with his familiar
spirit again. I sent a native preacher to visit him. The man said
he heard the voice which had conversed with him formerly, but it
spoke very differently. Its language was exceedingly pleasant to
hear, and produced great brokenness of heart. It said, "Love each
other; act righteously--act uprightly," with other exhortations such us
he had heard from the teachers. An assistant was placed in the village
near him, when the spirit left him again; and ever since he has
maintained the character of a consistent Christian.'
This anecdote illustrates what is called by spiritists 'change of
control.' After receiving, and deserting, Christian doctrine, the patient
again spoke unconsciously, but under the influence of the faith which he
had abandoned. In the same way we shall find that a modern American
'Medium,' after being for a time constantly in the society of educated
and psychological observers, obtained new 'controls' of a character more
urbane and civilised than her old 'familiar spirit.'
It is admitted that the possessed sometimes display an eloquence which
they are incapable of in their normal condition. In China, possessed
women, who never composed a line of poetry in their normal lives, utter
their thoughts in verse, and are said to give evidence of clairvoyant
The book--_Demon Possession in China_--of Dr. Nevius, for forty years a
missionary, was violently attacked by the medical journals of his native
country, the United States. The doctor had the audacity to declare that he
could find no better explanation of the phenomena than the theory of the
Apostles--namely, that the patients were possessed. Not having the fear of
man before his eyes, he also remarked that the current scientific
explanations had the fault of not explaining anything.
For example, 'Mr. Tylor intimates that all cases of supposed demoniacal
possession are identical with hysteria, delirium, and mania, and
suchlike bodily and mental derangements.' Dr. Nevius, however, gave what
he conceived to be the notes of possession, and, in his diagnosis,
distinguished them from hysteria (whatever that may mean), delirium, and
mania. Nor can it honestly be denied that, if the special notes of
possession actually exist, they do mark quite a distinct species of mental
affection. Dr. Nevius then observed that, according to Mr. Tylor,
'scientific physicians now explain the facts on a different principle,'
but, says Dr. Nevius, 'we search in vain to discover what this principle
is.' Dr. Nevius, who had the courage of his opinions, then consulted a
work styled 'Nervous Derangement,' by Dr. Hammond, a Professor in the
Medical School of the University of New York. He found this scientific
physician admitting that we know very little about the matter. He knew,
what is very gratifying, that 'mind is the result of nervous action,'
and that so-called 'possession' is the result of 'material derangements of
the organs or functions of the system.'
Dr. Nevius was ready to admit this latter doctrine in cases of idiocy,
insanity, epilepsy, and hysteria; but then, said he, these are not what I
call possession. The Chinese have names for all these maladies, 'which
they ascribe to physical causes,' but for possession they have a different
name. He expected Dr. Hammond to account for the abnormal conditions in
so-called possession, but 'he has hardly even attempted to do this.' Dr.
Nevius next perused the works of Dr. Griesinger, Dr. Baelz, Professor
William James, M. Ribot, and, generally, the literature of 'alternating
personality.' He found Mr. James professing his conviction that the
'alternating personality' (in popular phrase, the demon, or familiar
spirit) of Mrs. Piper knew a great deal about things which Mrs. Piper, in
her normal state, did not, and could not know. Thus, after consulting many
physicians, Dr. Nevius was none the better, and came back to his faith in
Diabolical Possession. He was therefore informed that he had written 'one
of the most extraordinarily perverted books of the present day' on the
evidence of 'transparent ghost stories'--which do not occur in his book.
The attitude of Dr. Nevius cannot be called strictly scientific. Because
pathologists and psychologists are unable to explain, or give the _modus_
of a set of phenomena, it does not follow that the devil, or a god, or a
ghost, is in it.
But this, of course, was precisely the natural inference of savages.
Dr. Nevius catalogues the symptoms of possession thus:
1. The automatic, persistent and consistent acting out of a new
personality, which calls himself _shieng_ (genius) and calls the patient
_hiang to_ (incense burner, 'medium').
2. Possession of knowledge and intellectual power not owned by the patient
(in his normal state), nor explainable on the pathological hypothesis.
3. Complete change of moral character in the patient.
Of these notes, the second would, of course, most confirm the savage
belief that a new intelligence had entered into the patient. If he
displayed knowledge of the future, or of the remote, the inference that a
novel and wiser intelligence had taken possession of the patient's body
would be, to the savage, irresistible. But the more cautious modern, _even
if he accepted the facts_, would be reduced to no such extreme conclusion.
He would say that knowledge of the remote in space, or in the past, might
be telepathically communicated to the brain of some living person; while,
for knowledge of the future, he could fly, with Hartmann, to contact with
But the question of evidence for the facts is, of course, the only real
question. Now, in Dr. Nevius's book, this evidence rests almost entirely
on the written reports of native Christian teachers, for the Chinese were
strictly reticent when questioned by Europeans. 'My heathen brother, you
have a sister who is a demoniac?' asks the intelligent European. The reply
of the heathen brother is best left in the obscurity of a remarkably
difficult and copious Oriental language. We are thus obliged to fall back
on the reports of Mr. Leng and other native Christian teachers. They are
perfectly modest and rational in style. We learn that Mrs. Sen, a lady in
her normal state incapable of lyrical efforts, lisped in numbers in her
secondary personality, and detected the circumstance that Mr. Leng was on
his way to see her, when she could not have learned the fact in any normal
way. 'They are now crossing the stream, and will be here when the sun
is about so high;' which was correct. The other witnesses were examined,
and corroborated. Dr. Nevius himself examined Mrs. Kwo, when possessed,
talking in verse, and, physically, limp.
The narratives are of this type; the patient, on recovering consciousness,
knows nothing of what has occurred; Christian prayers are often
efficacious, and there are many anecdotes of movements of objects
By a happy accident, as this chapter was passing through the press, a
scientific account of a demoniac and his cure was published by Dr. Pierre
Janet. Dr. Janet has explained, with complete success, everything in
the matter of possession, except the facts which, in the opinion of Dr.
Nevius, were in need of explanation. These facts did not occur in the case
of the demoniac 'exorcised' by Dr. Janet. Thus the learned essay of that
eminent authority would not have satisfied Dr. Nevius. The facts in which
be was interested did not present themselves in Dr. Janet's patient, and
so Dr. Janet does not explain them.
The simplest plan, here, is to deny that the facts in which Dr. Nevius
believes ever present themselves at all; but, if they ever do, Dr. Janet's
explanation does not explain them.
1. His patient, Achille, did _not_ act out a new personality.
2. Achille displayed _no_ knowledge or intellectual power which he did not
possess in his normal state.
3. His moral character was _not_ completely changed; he was only more
hypochondriacal and hysterical than usual.
Achille was a poor devil of a French tradesman who, like Captain Booth,
had infringed the laws of strict chastity and virtue. He brooded on this
till he became deranged, and thought that Satan had him. He was convulsed,
anaesthetic, suicidal, involuntarily blasphemous. He was not 'exorcised'
by a prayer or by a command, but after a long course of mental and
physical treatment. His cure does not explain the cures in which Dr.
Nevius believed. His case did not present the features of which Dr.
Nevius asked science for an explanation. Dr. Janet's essay is the
_dernier cri_ of science, and leaves Dr. Nevius just where it found him.
Science, therefore, can, and does, tell Dr. Nevius that his evidence for
his facts is worthless, through the lips of Professor W. Romaine Newbold,
in 'Proceedings, S.P.R.,' February 1898 (pp. 602-604). And the same
number of the same periodical shows us Dr. Hodgson accepting facts similar
to those of Dr. Nevius, and explaining them by--possession! (p. 406).
Dr. Nevius's observations practically cover the whole field of
'possession' in non-European peoples. But other examples from other areas
are here included.
A rather impressive example of possession may be selected from
Livingstone's 'Missionary Travels' (p. 86). The adventurous Sebituane was
harried by the Matabele in a new land of his choice. He thought of
descending the Zambesi till he was in touch with white men; but Tlapane,
'who held intercourse with gods,' turned his face west-wards. Tlapane used
to retire, 'perhaps into some cave, to remain in a hypnotic or mesmeric
state' until the moon was full. Then he would return _en prophete_.
'Stamping, leaping, and shouting in a peculiarly violent manner, or
beating the ground with a club' (to summon those under earth), 'they
induce a kind of fit, and while in it pretend that their utterances are
unknown to themselves,' as they probably are, when the condition is
genuine. Tlapane, after inducing the 'possessed' state, pointed east:
'There, Sebituane, I behold a fire; shun it, it may scorch thee. The gods
say, Go not thither!' Then, pointing west, he said, 'I see a city and a
nation of black men, men of the water, their cattle are red, thine own
tribe are perishing, thou wilt govern black men, spare thy future tribe.'
So far, mere advice; then,
'Thou, Ramosinii, thy village will perish utterly. If Mokari moves first
from the village, he will perish first; and thou, Ramosinii, wilt be the
last to die.'
'Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance,'
'The gods have given other men water to drink, but to me they have given
bitter water. They call me away. I go.'
Tlapane died, Mokari died, Ramosinii died, their village was destroyed
soon after, and so Sebituane wandered westward, not disobedient to the
voice, was attacked by the Baloiana, conquered, and spared them.
Such is 'possession' among savages. It is superfluous to multiply
instances of this world-wide belief, so freely illustrated in the New
Testament, and in trials for witchcraft. The scientific study of the
phenomena, as Littre complained, 'had hardly been sketched' forty years
ago. In the intervening years, psychologists and hypnotists have devoted
much attention to the theme of these 'secondary personalities,' which
Animism explains by the theory of possession. The explanations of modern
philosophers differ, and it is not our business to discuss their
physiological and pathological ideas. Our affair is to ask whether, in
the field of experience, there is any evidence that persons thus
'possessed' really evince knowledge which they could not have acquired
through normal channels? If such evidence exists, the facts would
naturally strengthen the conviction that the possessed person was inspired
by an intelligence not his own, that is, by a spirit. Now it is the firm
conviction of several men of science that a certain Mrs. Piper, an
American, does display, in her possessed condition, knowledge which
she could not normally acquire. The case of this lady is precisely on a
level with that of certain savage or barbaric seers. Thus: 'The Fijian
priest sits looking steadily at a whale's tooth ornament, amid dead
silence. In a few minutes he trembles, slight twitchings of face and limbs
come on, which increase to strong convulsions.... Now the god has
In China, 'the professional woman sits at a table in contemplation, till
the soul of a deceased person from whom communication is desired enters
her body and talks through her to the living....'
The latter account exactly describes Mrs. Piper. When consulted she passes
through convulsions into a trance, after which she talks in a new voice,
assumes a fresh personality, and affects to be possessed by the spirit of
a French doctor (who does not know French)--Dr. Phinuit. She then displays
a varying amount of knowledge of dead and living people connected with her
clients, who are usually strangers, often introduced under feigned names.
Mrs. Piper and her husband have been watched by detectives, and have not
been discovered in any attempts to procure information. She was for some
months in England under the charge of the S.P.R. Other ghosts, besides
Dr. Phinuit, ghosts more civilised than he, now influence her, and her
latest performances are said to exceed her former efforts.
Volumes of evidence about Mrs. Piper have been published by Dr. Hodgson,
who unmasked Madame Blavatsky and Eusapia Paladino. He was at first
convinced that Mrs. Piper, in her condition of trance, obtains knowledge
not otherwise and normally accessible to her. It was admitted that her
familiar spirit guesses, attempts to extract information from the people
who sit with her, and tries sophistically to conceal his failures. Here
follow the statements of Professor James of Harvard.
'The most convincing things said about my own immediate household were
either very intimate or very trivial. Unfortunately the former things
cannot well be published. Of the trivial things I have forgotten the
greater number, but the following, _rarae nantes_, may serve as samples
of their class. She said that we had lost recently a rug, and I a
waistcoat. (She wrongly accused a person of stealing the rug, which was
afterwards found in the house.) She told of my killing a grey-and-white
cat with ether, and described how it had "spun round and round" before
dying. She told how my New York aunt had written a letter to my wife,
warning her against all mediums, and then went off on a most amusing
criticism, full of _traits vifs_, of the excellent woman's character.
(Of course, no one but my wife and I knew the existence of the letter in
question.) She was strong on the events in our nursery, and gave striking
advice during our first visit to her about the way to deal with certain
"tantrums" of our second child--"little Billy-boy," as she called him,
reproducing his nursery name. She told how the crib creaked at night, how
a certain rocking-chair creaked mysteriously, how my wife had heard
footsteps on a stair, &c. &c. Insignificant as these things sound when
read, the accumulation of them has an irresistible effect; and I repeat
again what I said before, that, taking everything that I know of Mrs.
Piper into account, the result is to make me feel us absolutely certain as
I am of any personal fact in the world that she knows things in her
trances which she cannot possibly have heard in her waking state, and that
the definitive philosophy of her trances is yet to be found. The
limitations of her trance information, its discontinuity and fitfulness,
and its apparent inability to develop beyond a certain point, although
they end by arousing one's moral and human impatience with the phenomenon,
yet are, from a scientific point of view, amongst its most interesting
peculiarities, since where there are limits there are conditions, and the
discovery of them is always the beginning of an explanation.
'This is all I cam tell you of Mrs. Piper. I wish it were more
"scientific." But _valcat quantum!_ it is the best I can do.'
Elsewhere Mr. James writes:
'Mr. Hodgson and others have made prolonged study of this lady's trances,
and are all convinced that supernormal powers of cognition are displayed
therein. They are, _prima facie_, due to "spirit control." But the
conditions are so complex that a dogmatic decision either for or against
the hypothesis must as yet be postponed.'
'In the trances of this medium I cannot resist the conviction that
knowledge appears which she has never gained by the ordinary waking use of
her eyes, ears, and wits.
'The trances have broken down, for my own mind, the limits of the admitted
order of nature.'
M. Paul Bourget (who is not superstitious), after consulting Mrs. Piper,
'L'esprit a des procedes de connaitre non soupconnes par notre
In this treatise I may have shown 'the will to believe' in an unusual
degree; but, for me, the interest of Mrs. Piper is purely anthropological.
She exhibits a survival or recrudescence of savage phenomena, real or
feigned, of convulsion and of secondary personality, and entertains a
survival of the animistic explanation.
Mrs. Piper's honesty and excellent character, in her normal condition, are
vouched for by her friends and observers in England and America; nor do I
impeach her normal character. But 'secondary personalities' have often
more of Mr. Hyde than of Dr. Jekyll in their composition. It used to be
admitted that, when 'possessed,' Mrs. Piper would cheat when she
could--that is to say, she would make guesses, try to worm information out
of her sitter, describe a friend of his, alive or dead, as 'Ed.,' who may
be Edgar, Edmund, Edward, Edith, or anybody. She would shuffle, and repeat
what she had picked up in a former sitting with the same person; and the
vast majority of her answers started from vague references to probable
facts (as that an elderly man is an orphan), and so worked on to more
precise statements. Professor Macalister wrote:
'She is quite wide-awake enough all through to profit by suggestions. I
let her see a blotch of ink on my finger, and she said that I was a
writer.... Except the guess about my sister Helen, who is alive, there was
not a single guess which was nearly right. Mrs. Piper is not anaesthetic
during the so-called trance, and if you ask my private opinion, it is that
the whole thing is an imposture, and a poor one.'
Mr. Barkworth said that, as far as his experience went, 'Mrs. Piper's
powers are of the ordinary thought-reading [i.e. muscle-reading] kind,
dependent on her hold of the visitor's hand.' Each of these gentlemen had
only one 'sitting.' M. Paul Bourget also informed me, in conversation,
that Mrs. Piper held his hand while she told the melancholy tale connected
with a key in his possession, and that she did not tell the story promptly
and fluently, but very slowly and hesitatingly. Even so, he declared that
he did not feel able to account for her performance.
As these pages were passing through the press, Dr. Hodgson's last report
on Mrs. Piper was published. It is quite impossible, within the space
allotted, to criticise this work. It would be necessary to examine
minutely scores of statements, in which many facts are suppressed as too
intimate, while others are remarkably incoherent. Dr. Hodgson deserves the
praise of extraordinary patience and industry, displayed in the very
distasteful task of watching an unfortunate lady in the vagaries of
'trance.' His reasonings are perfectly calm, perfectly unimpassioned, and
his bias has not hitherto seemed to make for credulity. We must, in fact,
regard him as an expert in this branch of psychology. But he himself makes
it clear that, in his opinion, no written reports can convey the
impressions produced by several years of personal experience. The results
of that experience he sums up in these words:
'At the present time I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the chief
"communicators" to whom I have referred in the foregoing pages are
veritably the personalities that they claim to be, that they have survived
the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with
us, whom we call living, through Mrs. Piper's entranced organism.'
This means that Dr. Hodgson, at present, in this case, accepts the
hypothesis of 'possession' as understood by Maoris and Fijians, Chinese
The published reports do not produce on me any such impression. As a
personal matter of opinion, I am convinced that those whom I have honoured
in this life would no more avail themselves of Mrs. Piper's 'entranced
organism' (if they had the chance) than I would voluntarily find myself in
a 'sitting' with that lady. It is unnecessary to wax eloquent on this
head; and the curious can consult the writings of Dr. Hodgson for
themselves. Meanwhile we have only to notice that an American 'possessed'
woman produces on a highly educated and sceptical modern intelligence
the same impression as the Zulu 'possessed' produce on some Zulu
The Zulus admit 'possession' and divination, but are not the most
credulous of mankind. The ordinary possessed person is usually consulted
as to the disease of an absent patient. The inquirers do not assist the
diviner by holding his hand, but are expected to smite the ground
violently if the guess made by the diviner is right; gently if it is
wrong. A sceptical Zulu, named John, having a shilling to expend on
psychical research, smote violently at _every_ guess. The diviner was
hopelessly puzzled; John kept his shilling, and laid it out on a much more
meritorious exhibition of animated sticks.
Uguise gave Dr. Callaway an account of a female possessed person with
whom Mrs. Piper could not compete. Her spirit spoke, not from her mouth,
but from high in the roof. It gave forth a kind of questioning remarks
which were always correct. It then reported correctly a number of singular
circumstances, ordered some remedies for a diseased child, and offered to
return the fee, if ample satisfaction was not given.
In China and Zululand, as in Mrs. Piper's case, the spirits are fond of
diagnosing and prescribing for absent patients.
A good example of savage possession is given in his travels by Captain
Jonathan Carver (1763).
Carver was waiting impatiently for the arrival of traders with provisions,
near the Thousand Lakes. A priest, or jossakeed, offered to interview the
Great Spirit, and obtain information. A large lodge was arranged, and the
covering drawn up (which is unusual), so that what went on within might be
observed. In the centre was a chest-shaped arrangement of stakes, so far
apart from each other 'that whatever lay within them was readily to be
discerned.' The tent was illuminated 'by a great number of torches.' The
priest came in, and was first wrapped in an elk's skin, as Highland seers
were wrapped in a black bull's hide. Forty yards of rope made of elk's
hide were then coiled about him, till he 'was wound up like an Egyptian
I have elsewhere shown that this custom of binding with bonds the seer
who is to be inspired, existed in Graeco-Egyptian spiritualism, among
Samoyeds, Eskimo, Canadian Hareskin Indians, and among Australian blacks.
'The head, body, and limbs are wound round with stringy bark cords.'
This is an extraordinary range of diffusion of a ceremony apparently
meaningless. Is the idea that, by loosing the bonds, the seer demonstrates
the agency of spirits, after the manner of the Davenport Brothers? But
the Graeco-Egyptian medium did _not_ undo the swathings of linen, in which
he was rolled, _like a mummy_. They had to be unswathed for him, by
others. Again, a dead body, among the Australians, is corded up tight,
as soon as the breath is out of it, if it is to be buried, or before being
exposed on a platform, if that is the custom. Again, in the Highlands
second-sight was thus acquired: the would-be seer 'must run a Tedder
(tether) of Hair, _which bound a corpse to the Bier_, about his Middle
from end to end,' and then look between his legs till he sees a funeral
cross two marches. The Greenland seer is bound 'with his head between
Can it be possible, judging from Australia, Scotland, Egypt, that the
binding, as of a corpse or mummy, is a symbolical way of putting the seer
on a level with the dead, who will then communicate with him? In three
remote points, we find seer-binding and corpse-binding; but we need to
prove that corpses are, or have been, bound at the other points where the
seer is tied up--in a reindeer skin among the Samoyeds, an elk skin in
North America, a bull's hide in the Highlands.
Binding the seer is not a universal Red Indian custom; it seems to cease
in Labrador, and elsewhere, southwards, where the prophet enters a magic
lodge, unbound. Among the Narquapees, he sits cross-legged, and the lodge
begins to answer questions by leaping about. The Eskimo bounds, though
he is tied up.
It would be decisive, if we could find that, wherever the sorcerer is
bound, the dead are bound also. I note the following examples, but the
Creeks do not, I think, bind the magician.
Among the Creeks,
'The corpse is placed in a hole, with a blanket wrapped about it, and the
legs bent under it _and tied together_.' The dead Greenlanders were
'wrapped and sewed up in their best deer-skins.'
Carver could only learn that, among the Indians he knew, dead bodies were
'wrapped in skins;' that they were also swathed with cords he does not
allege, but he was not permitted to see all the ceremonies.
My theory is, at least, plausible, for this manner of burying the dead,
tied tightly up, with the head between the legs (as in the practice of
Scottish and Greenland seers), is very old and widely diffused. Ellis
says, of the Tahitians, 'the body of the dead man was ... placed in a
sitting posture, with the knees elevated, _the face pressed down between
the knees_,... and the whole body tied with cord or cinet, wound repeatedly
The binding may originally have been meant to keep the corpse, or ghost,
from 'walking.' I do not know that Tahitian prophets were ever tied up, to
await inspiration. But I submit that the frequency of the savage form of
burial with the corpse tied up, or swathed, sometimes with the head
between the legs; and the recurrence of the savage practice of similarly
binding the sorcerer, probably points to a purpose of introducing the
seer to the society of the dead. The custom, as applied to prophets, might
survive, even where the burial rite had altered, or cannot be ascertained,
and might survive, for corpses, where it had gone out of use, for seers.
The Scotch used to justify their practice of putting the head between
the knees when, bound with a corpse's hair tether, they learned to
be second-sighted, by what Elijah did. The prophet, on the peak of
Carmel, 'cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his
knees.' But the cases are not analogous. Elijah had been hearing a
premonitory 'sound of abundance of rain' in a cloudless sky. He was
probably engaged in prayer, not in prophecy.
Kirk, by the way, notes that if the wind changes, while the Scottish seer
is bound, he is in peril of his life. So children are told, in Scotland,
that, if the wind changes while they are making faces, the grimace will be
permanent. The seer will, in the same way, become what he pretends to be,
This desertion of Carver's tale may be pardoned for the curiosity of the
topic. He goes on:
'Being thus bound up like an Egyptian mummy' (Carver unconsciously making
my point), 'the seer was lifted into the chest-like enclosure. I could now
also discern him as plain as I had ever done, and I took care not to turn
my eyes away a moment'--in which effort he probably failed.
The priest now began to mutter, and finally spoke in a mixed jargon of
scarcely intelligible dialects. He now yelled, prayed, and foamed at the
mouth, till in about three quarters of an hour he was exhausted and
speechless. 'But in an instant he sprang upon his feet, notwithstanding at
the time he was put in it appeared impossible for him to move either his
legs or arms, and shaking off his covering, as quick as if the bands with
which it had been bound were burst asunder,' he prophesied. The Great
Spirit did not say when the traders would arrive, but, just after high
noon, next day, a canoe would arrive, and the people in it would tell when
the traders were to appear.
Next day, just after high noon, a canoe came round a point of land about a
league away, and the men in it, who had met the traders, said they would
come in two days, which they did. Carver, professing freedom from any
tincture of credulity, leaves us 'to draw what conclusions we please.'
The natural inference is 'private information,' about which the only
difficulty is that Carver, who knew the topography and the chances of a
secret messenger arriving to prompt the Jossakeed, does not allude to this
theory. He seems to think such successes not uncommon.
All that psychology can teach anthropology, on this whole topic of
'possession;' is that secondary or alternating personalities are facts
_in rerum natura_, that the man or woman in one personality may have no
conscious memory of what was done or said in the other, and that cases of
knowledge said to be supernormally gained in the secondary state are worth
inquiring about, if there be a chance of getting good evidence.
A few fairly respectable savage instances are given in Dr. Gibier's 'Le
Fakirisme Occidental' and in Mr. Manning's 'Old New Zealand;' but, while
modern civilised parallels depend on the solitary case of Mrs. Piper (for
no other case has been well observed), no affirmative conclusion can be
drawn from Chinese, Maori, Zulu, or Red Indian practice.
[Footnote 1: _Among the Zulus_, p. 120.]
[Footnote 2:_ Burmah_, p. 107.]
[Footnote 3: Hodgson, _Proceedings_, S.P.E., vol. xiii. pt. xxxiii. Dr.
Hodgson by no means agrees with this view of the case--the case of Mrs.
[Footnote 4: _Prim. Cult_. ii. 184.]
[Footnote 5: Nevius's _Demon Possession in China_, a curious collection of
examples by an American missionary. The reports of Catholic missionaries
abound in cases.]
[Footnote 6: Op. cit. p. 169.]
[Footnote 7: Putnam, 1881.]
[Footnote 8: Nevius, p. 33.]
[Footnote 9: Ibid. p. 35.]
[Footnote 10: Op. cit. p. 38.]
[Footnote 11: See 'Fetishism and Spiritualism.']
[Footnote 12: _Necroses et Idees Fixes_. Alcan, Paris, 1898. This is the
first of a series of works connected with the Laboratoire de Psychologie,
at the Salpetritere, in Paris.]
[Footnote 13: 'Macleod shall return, but Macrimmon shall never!']
[Footnote 14: See Ribot, _Les Maladies de la Personnalite,_; Bourru
et Burot, _Variations de la Personnalite_; Janet, _L'Automatisme
Psychologique_; James, _Principles of Psychology_; Myers, in _Proceedings_
of S.P.R., 'The Mechanism of Genius,' 'The Subliminal Self.']
[Footnote 15: _Prim. Cult_. ii. 133.]
[Footnote 16: Doolittle's _Chinese_, i. 143; ii. 110, 320.]
[Footnote 17: _Proceedings_, S.P.R., pt. xxxiii.]
[Footnote 18: _Proceedings_, S.P.R., vi. 436-650; viii. 1-167; xiii.
[Footnote 19: _The Will to Believe_, p. 814.]
[Footnote 20: _Figaro_, January 14, 1895.]
[Footnote 21: _Proceedings_, vi. 605, 606.]
[Footnote 22: _Proceedings_, S.P.R, part xxxiii. vol. xiii.]
[Footnote 23: Op. cit. part xxxiii. p. 406.]
[Footnote 24: See 'Fetishism.' Compare Callaway, p. 328.]
[Footnote 25: Callaway, pp. 361-374.]
[Footnote 26: _Cock Lane and Common Sense_, p. 66.]
[Footnote 27: Brough Smyth, i. 475. This point is disputed, but I did not
invent it, and a case appears in Mr. Curr's work on the natives.]
[Footnote 28: _Prim. Cult_. i. 152.]
[Footnote 29: Eusebius, _Prap. Evang_. v. 9.]
[Footnote 30: Brough Smyth, i. 100, 113.]
[Footnote 31: Kirk, _Secret Commonwealth_ 1691.]
[Footnote 32: Crantz, p. 209.]
[Footnote 33: Pere Arnaud, in Hind's _Labrador_, ii. 102.]
[Footnote 34: Major Swan, 1791, official letter on the Creek Indians,
Schoolcraft, v. 270.]
[Footnote 35: Crantz, p. 237.]
[Footnote 36: _Polynesian Researches_, i. 519.]
[Footnote 37: 1 Kings xviii. 42.]
[Footnote 38: Carver, pp. 123,184.]
FETISHISM AND SPIRITUALISM
It has been shown how the doctrine of souls was developed according to the
anthropological theory. The hypothesis as to how souls of the dead were
later elevated to the rank of gods, or supplied models after which such
gods might be inventively fashioned, will be criticised in a later
chapter. Here it must suffice to say that the conception of a separable
surviving soul of a dead man was not only not essential to the savage's
idea of his supreme god, as it seems to me, but would have been wholly
inconsistent with that conception. There exist, however, numerous forms of
savage religion in addition to the creed in a Supreme Being, and these
contribute their streams to the ocean of faith. Thus among the kinds of
belief which served in the development of Polytheism, was Fetishism,
itself an adaptation and extension of the idea of separable souls. In this
regard, like ancestor-worship, it differs from the belief in a Supreme
Being, which, as we shall try to demonstrate, is not derived from the
theory of ghosts or souls at all.
_Fetish_ (_fetiche_) seems to come from Portuguese _feitico_, a talisman
or amulet, applied by the Portuguese to various material objects
regarded by the negroes of the west coast with more or less of religious
reverence. These objects may be held sacred in some degree for a number of
incongruous reasons. They may be tokens, or may be of value in sympathetic
magic, or merely _odd_, and therefore probably endowed with unknown mystic
qualities. Or they may have been pointed out in a dream, or met in a
lucky hour and associated with good fortune, or they may (like a tree with
an unexplained stir in its branches, as reported by Kohl) have seemed to
show signs of life by spontaneous movements; in fact, a thing may be what
Europeans call a fetish for scores of reasons. For our present purpose, as
Mr. Tylor says, 'to class an object as a fetish demands explicit statement
that a spirit is considered as embodied in it, or acting through it, or
communicating by it, or, at least, that the people it belongs to do
habitually think this of such objects; or it must be shown that the object
is treated as having personal consciousness or power, is talked with,
worshipped...' and so forth. The in-dwelling spirit may be human, as when
a fetish is made out of a friend's skull, the spirit in which may even be
asked for oracles, like the Head of Bran in Welsh legend.
We have tried to show that the belief in human souls may be, in part at
least, based on supernormal phenomena which Materialism disregards. We
shall now endeavour to make it probable that Fetishism (the belief in the
souls tenanting inanimate objects) may also have sources which perhaps are
not normal, or which at all events seemed supernormal to savages. We say
'perhaps not normal' because the phenomena now to be discussed are of the
most puzzling character. We may lean to the belief in a supernormal cause
of certain hallucinations, but the alleged movements of inanimate objects
which probably supply one origin of Fetishism, one suggestion of the
presence of a spirit in things dead, leave the inquiring mind in
perplexity. In following Mr. Tylor's discussion of the subject, it is
necessary to combine what be says about Spiritualism in his fourth with
what he says about Fetishism in his fourteenth and later chapters. For
some reason his book is so arranged that he criticises 'Spiritualism'
long before he puts forward his doctrine of the origin and development of
the belief in spirits.
We have seen a savage reason for supposing that human spirits inhabit
certain lifeless things, such as skulls and other relics of the dead. But
how did it come to be thought that s spirit dwelt in a lifeless and
motionless piece of stone or stick? Mr. Tylor, perhaps, leads us to a
plausible conjecture by writing: 'Mr. Darwin saw two Malay women in
Keeling Island, who held a wooden spoon dressed in clothes like a doll:
this spoon had been carried to the grave of a dead man, and becoming
inspired at full moon, in fact lunatic, it danced about convulsively, like
a table or a hat at a modern spirit seance.' Now M. Lefebure has
pointed out (in 'Melusine') that, according to De Brosses, the African
conjurers gave an appearance of independent motion to small objects, which
were then accepted as fetishes, being visibly animated. M. Lefebure
next compares, like Mr. Tylor, the alleged physical phenomena of
spiritualism, the flights and movements of inanimate objects apparently
The question thus arises, Is there any truth whatever in these world-wide
and world-old stories of inanimate objects acting like animated things?
Has fetishism one of its origins in the actual field of supernormal
experience in the X region? This question we do not propose to answer,
as the evidence, though practically universal, may be said to rest on
imposture and illusion. But we can, at least, give a sketch of the nature
of the evidence, beginning with that as to the apparently _voluntary_
movements of objects, _not_ untouched. Mr. Tylor quotes from John Bell's
'Journey in Asia' (1719) an account of a Mongol Lama who wished to
discover certain stolen pieces of damask. His method was to sit on a
bench, when 'he carried it, or, as was commonly believed, it carried him,
to the very tent' of the thief. Here the bench is innocently believed to
be self-moving. Again, Mr. Rowley tells how in Manganjah the sorcerer, to
find out a criminal, placed, with magical ceremonies, two staffs of wood
in the hands of some young men. 'The sticks whirled and dragged the men
round like mad,' and finally escaped and rolled to the feet of the
wife of a chief, who was then denounced as the guilty person.
Mr. Duff Macdonald describes the same practice among the Yaos:
'The sorcerer occasionally makes men take bold of a stick, which, after a
time, begins to move as if endowed with life, and ultimately carries them
off bodily and with great speed to the house of the thief.'
The process is just that of Jacques Aymard in the celebrated story of the
detection of the Lyons murderer.
In Melanesia, far enough away, Dr. Codrington found a similar practice,
and here the sticks are explicitly said by the natives to be moved by
_spirits_. The wizard and a friend hold a bamboo stick by each end, and
ask what man's ghost is afflicting a patient. At the mention of the
right ghost 'the stick becomes violently agitated.' In the same way, the
bamboo 'would run about' with a man holding it only on the palms of his
hands. Again, a hut is built with a partition down the middle. Men sit
there with their hands _under_ one end of the bamboo, while the other end
is extended into the empty half of the hut. They then call over the names
of the recently dead, till 'they feel the bamboo moving in their hands.' A
bamboo placed on a sacred tree, 'when the name of a ghost is called, moves
of itself, and will lift and drag people about.' Put up into a tree, it
would lift them from the ground. In other cases the holding of the sticks
produces convulsions and trance. The divining sticks of the Maori are
also 'guided by spirits,' and those of the Zulu sorcerers rise, fall,
and jump about.
These Zulu performances must be really very curious. In the last chapter
we told how a Zulu named John, having a shilling to lay out in the
interests of psychical research, declined to pay a perplexed diviner, and
reserved his capital far a more meritorious performance. He tried a medium
named Unomantshintshi, who divined by Umabakula, or dancing sticks--
'If they say "no," they fall suddenly; if they say "yes," they arise and
jump about very much, and leap on the person who has come to inquire. They
"fix themselves on the place where the sick man is affected; ... if the
head, they leap on his head.... Many believe in Umabakula more than in the
diviner. But there are not many who have the Umabakula."'
Dr. Callaway's informant only knew two Umabakulists, John was quite
satisfied, paid his shilling, and went home.
The sticks are about a foot long. It is not reported that they are moved
by spirits, nor do they seem to be regarded as fetishes.
Mr. Tylor also cites a form of the familiar pendulum experiment. Among the
Karens a ring is suspended by a thread over a metal basin. The relations
of the dead strike the basin, and when he who was dearest to the ghost
touches it the spirit twists the thread till it breaks, and the ring falls
into the basin. With us a ring is held by a thread over a tumbler, and our
unconscious movements swing it till it strikes the hour. How the Karens
manage it is less obvious. These savage devices with animated sticks
clearly correspond to the more modern 'table-turning.' Here, when the
players are honest, the pushing is certainly _unconscious_.
I have tested this in two ways--first by trying the minimum of _conscious_
muscular action that would stir a table at which I was alone, and by
comparing the absolute unconsciousness of muscular action when the table
began to move in response to no _voluntary_ push. Again, I tried with a
friend, who said, 'You are pushing,' when I gently removed my hands
altogether, though they seemed to rest on the table, which still revolved.
My friend was himself unconsciously pushing. It is undeniable that, to
a solitary experimenter, the table _seems_ to make little darts of its own
will in a curious way. Thus, the unconsciousness of muscular action on the
part of savages engaged in the experiment with sticks would lead them to
believe that spirits were animating the wood. The same fallacy beset the
table-turners of 1855-65, and was, to some extent, exposed by Faraday.
Of course, savages would be even more convinced by the dancing spoon of
Mr. Darwin's tale, by the dancing sticks of the Zulus, and the rest,
whether the phenomena were supernormal or merely worked by unseen strings.
The same remark applies to modern experimenters, when, as they declare,
various objects move untouched, without physical contact.
Still more analogous than turning tables to the savage use of inspired
sticks for directing the inquirer to a lost object or to a criminal, is
the modern employment of the divining-rod--a forked twig which, held by
the ends, revolves in the hands of the performer when he reaches the
object of his quest. He, like the savage cited, is occasionally agitated
in a convulsive manner; and cases are quoted in which the twig writhes
when held in a pair of tongs! The best-known modern treatise on the
divining-rod is that of M. Chevreul, 'La Baguette Divinatoire' (1854). We
have also 'L'Histoire du Merveilleux dans les Temps Modernes,' by M.
Figuier (1860). In 1781 Thouvenel published his 600 experiments with
Bleton and others; and Hegel refers to Amoretti's collection of hundreds
of cases. The case of Jacques Aymard, who in the seventeenth century
discovered a murderer by the use of the rod in true savage fashion, is
well known. In modern England the rod is used in the interests of private
individuals and public bodies (such as Trinity College, Cambridge) for the
discovery of water.
Professor Barrett has lately published a book of 280 pages, in which
evidence of failures and successes is collected. Professor Barrett
gives about one hundred and fifty cases, in which he was only able to
discover, on good authority, twelve failures. He gives a variety of tests
calculated to check frauds and chance coincidence, and he publishes
opinions, hostile or agnostic, by geologists. The evidence, as a general
rule, is what is called first-hand in other inquiries. The actual
spectators, and often the owners of the land, or the persons in whose
interest water was wanted, having been present, give their testimony; and
it is certain that the 'diviner' is called in by people of sense and
education, commonly too practical to have a theory, and content with
getting what they want, especially where scientific experts have
In Mr. Barrett's opinion, the subconscious perception of indications of
the presence of water produces an equally unconscious muscular 'spasm,'
which twirls the rod till it often breaks. Yet 'it is almost impossible to
imitate its characteristic movement by any voluntary effort.' I have
myself held the hands of an amateur performer when the twig was moving,
and neither by sight nor touch could I detect any muscular movement on his
part, much less a spasm. The person was bailiff on a large estate, and,
having accidentally discovered that he possessed the gift, used it when he
wanted wells dug for the tenants on the property.
The whole topic is obscure; nor am I concerned here with the successes or
failures of the divining-rod. But the movements of the twig have never, to
my knowledge, been attributed by modern English performers to the
operation of spirits. They say 'electricity.' Mr. Tylor merely writes:
'The action of the famous divining-rod, with its curiously versatile
sensibility to water, ore, treasure, and thieves, seems to belong partly
to trickery and partly to more or less conscious direction by honester
As the divining-rod is the only instance in which automatism, whatever its
nature and causes, has been found of practical value by practical men, and
as it is obviously associated with a number of analogous phenomena, both
in civilised and savage life, it certainly deserves the attention of
science. But no advance will be made till scientifically trained inquirers
themselves arrange and test a large number of experiments. Knowledge of
the geological ignorance of the dowsers, examples of fraud on their part,
and cases of failure or reported failure, with a general hostile bias, may
prevent such experiments from being made by scientific experts on an
adequate scale. Such experts ought, of course, to avoid working the
dowsers into a state of irritation.
It is just worth while to notice cases in which the rod acts like those of
the Melanesians, Africans, and other savages. A Mr. Thomas Welton
published an English translation of 'La Verge de Jacob' (Lyon, 1693). In
1651 he asked his servant to bring into the garden 'a stick that stood
behind the parlour door. In great terror she brought it to the garden, her
hand firmly clutched on it, nor could she let it go.' When Mrs. Welton
took the stick, 'it drew her with very considerable velocity to nearly the
centre of the garden,' where a well was found. Mr. Welton is not likely to
have known of the lately published savage examples. The coincidence with
the African and Melanesian cases is, therefore, probably undesigned.
Again, in 1694, the rod was used by le Pere Menestrier and others, just as
it is by savages, to indicate by its movements answers to all sorts of
questions. Experiments of this kind have not been made by Professor
Barrett, and other modern inquirers, except by M. Richet, as a mode of
detecting automatic action. But it would be just as sensible to use the
twig as to use planchette or any other 'autoscopic' apparatus. If these
elicit knowledge unconsciously present to the mind, mere water-finding
ought not to be the sole province of the rod. In the same class as
these rods is the forked twig which, in China, is held at each end by
two persons, and made to write in the sand. The little apparatus called
_planchette_, or the other, the _ouija_, is of course, consciously or
unconsciously, pushed by the performers. In the case of the twig, as held
by water-seekers, the difficulty of consciously moving it so as to
escape close observation is considerable.
In the case of the _ouija_ (a little tripod, which, under the operators'
hands, runs about a table inscribed with letters at which it points), I
have known curious successes to be achieved by amateurs. Thus, in the
house of a lady who owned an old _chateau_ in another county, the _ouija_,
operated on by two ladies known to myself, wrote a number of details about
a visit paid to the _chateau_ for a certain purpose by Mary Stuart. That
visit, and its object, a purely personal one, are unknown to history, and
the _chateau_ is not spoken of in Mr. Hay Fleming's careful, but
unavoidably incomplete, itinerary of the Queen's residence in Scotland.
After the communication had been made, the owner of the _chateau_
explained that she was already acquainted with the circumstances
described, as she had recently read them in documents in her charter
chest, where they remain.
Of course, the belief we extend to such narratives is entirely conditioned
by our knowledge of the personal character of the performers. The point
here is merely the civilised and savage practice of _automatism_, the
apparent eliciting of knowledge not otherwise accessible, by the
movements of a stick, or a bit of wood. These movements, made without
conscious exertion or direction, seem, to savage philosophy, to be caused
by in-dwelling spirits, the sources of Fetishism.
These examples, then, demonstrating unconscious movement of objects by the
operators, make it clear that movements even of touched objects, may be
attributed, by some civilised and by savage amateurs, to 'spirits.' The
objects so moved may, by savages, be regarded in some cases as fetishes,
and their movements may have helped to originate the belief that spirits
can inhabit inanimate objects. When objects apparently quite untouched
become volatile, the mystery is deeper. This apparent animation and
frolicsome behaviour of inanimate objects is reported all through history,
and attested by immense quantities of evidence of every degree. It would
be tedious to give a full account of the antiquity and diffusion of reports
about such occurrences. We find them among Neo-Platonists, in the English
and Continental Middle Ages, among Eskimo, Hurons, Algonkins, Tartars,
Zulus, Malays, Nasquapees, Maoris, in witch trials, in ancient Peru
(immediately after the Spanish Conquest), in China, in modern Russia, in
New England (1680), all through the career of modern spiritualism, in
Hayti (where they are attributed to 'Obeah'), and, sporadically,
Among all these cases, we must dismiss whatever the modern paid medium
does in the dark. The only thing to be done with the ethnographic and
modern accounts of such marvels is to 'file them for reference.' If a
spontaneous example occurs, under proper inspection, we can then compare
our old tales. Professor James says: 'Their mutual resemblances suggest a
natural type, and I confess that till these records, or others like them,
are positively explained away, I cannot feel (in spite of such vast
amounts of detected frauds) as if the case of physical mediumship itself,
as a freak of nature, were definitely closed.... So long as the stories
multiply in various lands, and so few are positively explained away, it is
bad method to ignore them.' Here they are not ignored, because,
whatever the cause or causes of the phenomena, they would buttress, if
they did not originate, the savage belief in spirits tenanting inanimate
matter, whence came Fetishism. As to facts, we cannot, of course, 'explain
away' events of this kind, which we know only through report. A conjurer
cannot explain a trick merely from a description, especially a description
by a non-conjurer. But, as a rule, nothing so much leads to doubt on this
theme as the 'explanation' given--except, of course, in the case of 'dark
seances' got up and prepared by paid mediums. We know, sometimes, how the
Thus, the house of a certain M. Zoller, a lawyer and member of the Swiss
Federal Council, a house at Stans, in Unterwalden, was wade simply
uninhabitable in 1860-1862. The disturbances, including movements of
objects, were of a truly odious description, and occurred in full
daylight. M. Zoller, deeply attached to his home, which had many
interesting associations with the part his family played in the struggle
against revolutionary France, was obliged to abandon the place. He had
made every conceivable sort of research, and had called in the local
police and _savants_, to no purpose.
But the affair was explained away thus: While the phenomena could still be
concealed from public curiosity, a client called to see M. Zoller, who was
out. The client, therefore, remained in the drawing-room. Loud and heavy
blows resounded through the room. The client, as it chanced, had once felt
the effects of an electric battery, for some medical reason, apparently.
M. Zoller writes: 'My eldest son was present at the time, and, when my
client asked whether there was such a thing as an electrical machine in
the house (the family having been enjoined to keep the disturbances as
secret as possible), he allowed S. to think that there was.' Consequently,
the phenomena were set down to M. Zoller's singular idea of making
his house untenantable with an 'electric machine'--which he did not
possess. A number of the most respected citizens, including the
Superintendent of Police, and the chief magistrate for law, published a
statement that neither Zoller, nor any of his family, nor any of
themselves, produced or could have produced the phenomena witnessed by
them in August 1862. This declaration they put forth in the 'Schwytzer
Zeitung,' October 5, 1863. No electric machine known to mortals
could have produced the vast variety of alleged effects, none was ever
found; and as M. Zoller changed his servants without escaping his
tribulations, they can hardly be blamed for what, _prima facie_, it seems
that they could not possibly do. However, 'electricity,' like Mesopotamia,
is 'a blessed word.'
My own position in this matter of 'physical phenomena' is, I hope, clear.
They interest me, for my present purpose, as being, whatever their real
nature and origin, things which would suggest to a savage his theory of
Fetishism. 'An inanimate object may be tenanted by a spirit, as is proved
by its extraordinary movements.' Thus the early thinker might reason, and
go on to revere the object. It is to be wished that competent observers
would pay more attention to such savage practices as crystal-gazing and
automatism as illustrated by the sticks of the Melanesians, Zulus, and
Yaos. Our scanty information we pick up out of stray allusions, but
it has the advantage of being uncontaminated by theory, the European
spectator not knowing the wide range of such practices and their value in
We have now finished our study of the less normal and usual phenomena,
which gave rise to belief in separable, self-existing, conscious, and
powerful souls. We have shown that the supernormal factors which, when
reflected on, probably supported this belief, are represented in civilised
as well as in savage life, while as to their existence among the founders
of religion we can historically know nothing at all. If we may infer from
certain considerations, the supernormal experiences were possibly more
prevalent among the remote ancestors of known savage races than among
their modern descendants. We have suggested that clairvoyance, thought
transference, and telepathy cannot be dismissed as mere fables, by a
cautious inquirer, while even the far more obscure stories of 'physical
manifestations' are but poorly explained away by those who cannot explain
them. Again, these faculties have presented-in the acquisition of
otherwise unattainable knowledge, in coincidental hallucinations, and in
other ways--just the kind of facts on which the savage doctrine of souls
might be based, or by which it might be buttressed. Thus, while the
actuality of the supernormal facts and faculties remains at least an open
question, the prevalent theory of Materialism cannot be admitted as
dogmatically certain in its present shape. No more than any other theory,
nay, less than some other theories, can it account for the psychical facts
which, at the lowest, we may not honestly leave out of the reckoning.
We have therefore no more to say about the supernormal aspects of the
origins of religion. We are henceforth concerned with matters of
verifiable belief and practice. We have to ask whether, when once the
doctrine of souls was conceived by early men, it took precisely the course
of development usually indicated by anthropological science.
[Footnote 1: Darwin, _Journal_, p. 458; Tylor, _Prim. Cult_. ii. 152. The
spoon was not untouched.]
[Footnote 2: Rowley, _Universities' Mission_, p. 217.]
[Footnote 3: _Africana_, vol. i. p. 161.]
[Footnote 4: In the author's _Custom and Myth_, 'The Divining Rod.']
[Footnote 5: Codrington's _Melanesia_, p. 210.]
[Footnote 6: Op. cit. pp. 229-325.]
[Footnote 7: _Prim. Cult_. vol. i. p. 125.]
[Footnote 8: Callaway, _Amazulu_, p. 330.]
[Footnote 9: Callaway, _Amazulu_, p. 368.]
[Footnote 10: _The So-called Divining-Rod_, S.P.R. 1897.]
[Footnote 11: See especially _The Waterford Experiments_, p. 106.]
[Footnote 12: Authorities and examples are collected in the author's _Cock
Lane and Common Sense_.]