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People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

CHAPTER IX - THE FIRST SEANCE

THE now famous circle-room was built last December, and opened to the public on the evening of January 1st, 1874, on which occasion the exercises began with a dark-circle, at which the spirit, or  what is claimed to be the spirit, of a sailor, named George Dix, made a lengthy dedicatory address. He declared, among other things, that the apartment was to be used solely for spiritual sťances, with the occasional exception of a quiet dance. After the dark-circle, one of the usual kind for materializing was held, and addresses and prayers were spoken by the spirits of Mrs. Eddy; " Mrs. Eaton" (an old lady from New York State, who made her first appearance here in October, 1872, during her granddaughter's visit, and has acted as assistant directress of sťances ever since) ; a Mrs. Wheeler, late of Utica; Doctor Horton, also late of Utica, who brought his two baby children in his arms and addressed his widow; and the elder of these two children, little Minna, who spoke some words of comfort to her weeping mother.

Since that eventful evening, William has held a materialization

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circle every evening, Sundays excepted; a circumstance that, in view of the usual serious exhaustion felt by mediums, is very remarkable. Mr.Crookes says of David Home, the famous medium, that the psychic force by which the phenomena are produced, is attended by an expenditure of his vital force or nervous energy, proportionate to the degree of its activity of manifestation. Its flow through Mr. Home's system "varies enormously," says Mr. Crookes, "not only from week to week, but from hour to hour; on some occasions the force is inappreciable by my tests for an hour or more, and then suddenly re-appears in great strength." He testifies to "witnessing the painful state of nervous and bodily prostration in which some of these experiments have left Mr. Home" -to "seeing him lying in an almost fainting condition on the floor, pale and speechless" -and yet I, myself, having attended at about fifty of William Eddy's materializations, can certify that, beyond a slight appearance of fatigue immediately after emerging from the cabinet, he seems as well as usual. He goes about his daily avocations, takes no rest to speak of, says he has eaten nothing for weeks but a little fruit, and yet, after as many as eighteen ghosts have appeared in a single evening, his pulse is regular, and he resumes the pipe that he laid down at the moment of entering the circle-room.

If his materializations were nothing but trickery, this might easily be accounted for, but I have satisfied myself, and hope to satisfy the public beyond reasonable doubt, that this is not the case. A pseudo-scientist has recently spent one evening here, and is getting

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ready to publish in a book his conviction that both I and the hundreds of other lay spectators have been deceived. Has spent one evening, I say, and nevertheless writes me that he is convinced, and requires "no more evidence to convince the scientific world," that it is all fraud. How different from the late Professor Hare, who devoted years to the subject of spiritual intercourse, and did not give his adherence to the doctrine until he had completed a long series of scientific tests and experiments; and from Mr. Crookes, one of the first scientific men in Great Britain, who spent three years in the inquiry before he avowed himself satisfied!

I reached Chittenden on my present mission, September 17th, 1874, and attended a circle the same evening. Outside a violent gale of wind was blowing, the clouds hung low, the rain fell, and the atmospheric conditions would in almost any other locality have been considered unfavorable. A company of twenty-five persons assembled in the circle-room, among them several who, like myself, had arrived that day. Shortly after seven o'clock William entered the cabinet, and we waited expectantly for our weird visitors. To promote harmony of feeling among the persons present, vocal and instrumental music was resorted to, continuity of sound and rapidity of time seeming to be more necessary than quality of execution.

I will say here that I have failed to get from Spiritualists any very satisfactory explanation of the part that music plays in these manifestations, and for lack of a better will suggest one of my own. Pre-supposing that there is such a thing in the human system as the force mistermed "magnetic," sometimes "odic," and more

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recently "psychic," which has its polarites, its positive and negative qualities ; and that persons may be classed among the positives and negatives respectively, the effect of music, by concentrating attention upon itself, is to reduce the positives to passivity, and by nervous stimulation exalt the negatives to something of an equality of condition with their more forceful neighbors. The result is equilibrium between the two extremes, and consequent receptivity : then, going so far as to concede that there are such things as spirits, and that they can exert an appreciable magnetic, odic, psychic (or whatever we choose to call it) influence upon us, it is not difficult to see that they are placed in such a positive attitude towards their medium and his circle, as to enable them to force their power upon us to the degree of producing the several phases of manifestations.

The logician will say, that much is taken for granted in this proposition, and so I will leave him to first note the features of these phenomena wherever occurring, and then at his leisure construct a better theory than mine.

So much for the psychological aspect of the case, and to this extent some enlightened Spiritualists precede me. But why should the spirits demand quick tunes--jigs, waltzes, reels, and compositions of like character, in which the constant repetition of the same notes occurs in presto or prestissimo measure? May the answer not be suggested by two of Professor Tyndall's lectures at the Royal Institution in one of which be demonstrated that a ray of light was allowed to traverse a strip of glass every time he caused it to set up a musical sound ; the glass being held in a vice, and the light from an electric

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lamp polarized upon it; and in the other, upon" The Rhythm of Flames," in which he showed that a flame twenty inches in height would fall down to eight on the slightest tap on an anvil. It responded to the tinkle of a bunch of keys or a few pence shaken together, the creaking of boots, the rustling of a silk dress or a piece of paper; while certain intonations of the voice threw it into violent commotion. (Epes Sargent's "Planchette," P. 379). If we put ourselves for the purposes of this inquiry into the position of the Spiritualists, we might reasonably demand that men of science, investigating the subject, should not overlook the fact, that much light may be gained upon the nature and properties of this new occult force, by experiments in this direction. I have heard this call for rapid music, so often made, that I have come to the conclusion that equal, constant, and rapid vibrations of the atmosphere, play an important part in the production of the phenomenon of materialization.

I am also satisfied that careful experiments in the matter of the intensity and quality of the light used, would result in unexpected and great discoveries. May it not be, that the yellow ray bears some such relation to spirit-materializations as it does to photography ?

Doctor H. T. Child, of Philadelphia, writes me that, while he thinks that if we understood this law, the materializations might be better, in his opinion it is more important to have a good medium and good circle. He has known instances, where a circle containing rude and uncongenial persons, got nothing satisfactory; while one following it, on the same evening, obtained everything that could be desired.

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We had not sat many minutes in our first" circle" before a voice- the piping treble of an old woman addressed to us some remarks from behind the curtain that hung over the open door of the cabinet, to the effect that this was a bad night for manifestations, and none but the strongest spirits could show themselves. I may as well at once admit, that this voice had such peculiarities of accent and provincial expressions, as to excite the suspicion that it was William speaking in falsetto. So I crossed that off, in my note- book as a fact of no value to the Spiritualists; but since then, having seen the woman herself--Mrs. Eaton-and heard her address me personally from a distance of not more than ten feet, in the self- same voice, I re-entered the fact and transcribe it here.

The curtain presently stirred, and the Indian woman named Honto, stepped on the platform. She appears young, dark complexioned, of marked Indian features, lithe and springy in movement, full of fun, natural in manner, and full of inquisitiveness. She measures 5 feet 3 inches in height, against a painted scale I had placed beside the cabinet door. To William Eddy she bears not the slightest resemblance in any particular, all assertions of any superficial observer to the contrary, notwithstanding. I have seen her about thirty times, and have necessarily enjoyed ample opportunities to compare her with William in every particular. Nevertheless, the first two times I saw her, I was so deceived by the dull light as to fancy her the same as William in height and bulk. In this circle-room, one's eye must be educated, as it must at sea, to judge of distances, or in a mountainous

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region, to estimate the height and distance of the various peaks. Let any one try even so simple an experiment, as to judge how high a man's hat will come against the wall when set upon the floor, and some idea will be attained of the optical difficulties to be overcome, before one can form a correct impression of the relative heights of the spirits who present themselves.

She changes her dress frequently, sometimes appearing in a dark skirt with light overdress, shaped like the garment called a polonaise; sometimes with these shades reversed; sometimes with light clothing throughout and a sash around her waist, or bands crossed over her bosom; sometimes with a cap, and at others bareheaded; sometimes with her black hair a yard or more in length, flowing over her shoulders, and again with it braided in a single rope down her back. A remarkable fact is, that at times her hair is very long, and at others not longer than the artist has represented it in the picture. I have seen her with what seemed to be buckskin leggins, and a short dress reaching a little below the knee; and again, with high moccasins trimmed about the top with what looked like fur. Others tell me that they have seen her in a dress upon which were two rows of phosphorescent buttons gleaming in the obscure light like great diamonds, that ran from each shoulder in curved lines to the bottom of her skirt, but I have not seen the costume myself.

The sketch represents one of the phenomena attending the appearance of this spirit-girl, and is what I witnessed on the evening in question. Honto steps either to the wall or to one of the two persons-Mrs. R. Cleveland and Mr. E. V. Pritchard, of Albany, N. Y.-who usually

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occupy chairs on the platform, and suddenly produces a knitted shawl or a long piece of gauzy fabric, apparently from the air itself, and exhibits it to the audience. The light in the room is so very bad-about as strong as that in the parlor when we sit before the dying embers "'twixt the gloamin' and the mirk " before the lamps are lighted -that it is impossible to see the features of Honto or the pattern of her shawl; but the sketch shows the latter as it appeared to us. She threw the slender fabric over the railing, and so gave us an opportunity to see that its strands were perfectly opaque.* Then throwing it over her head as a Spanish woman wears her mantilla, she produced another, woolen, black and apparently striped; and then passed both behind the curtain.

Somebody in the audience then asked if she would allow Mrs. Cleveland to feel the beating of her heart; whereupon she opened her dress and Mrs. Cleveland laid her hand upon the bare flesh. It felt cold and moist, not like that of a living person. The breast was a woman's, and the heart beat feebly but rhythmically. The same pulsation was felt in the wrist. Honto's hand was hard and of medium size, her fingers broad but not stumpy, its color dark-in a word, the hand of an Indian.

After Honto retired, various other spirits of Indians and Whites (among the latter two little children) appeared before us, but I must reserve further description for another chapter.

*The platform-railing has been omitted in this and other full Page pictures, because of the in-artistic effect of so many straight lines, and the additional fact that they interfere with the view of the groups. This railing is a nuisance, at any rate, and should be removed, Its only conceivable use, that I can see, is to deter rude spectators from rushing forward to grasp the phantoms.

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CHAPTER X - MANY PHANTOM VISITORS