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People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

CHAPTER XXI - SPIRITUALISM AGAINST RATIONALISM

IT is remarked by Lecky, in his " History of the rise and influence of the spirit of Rationalism in Europe," that, after the angry passions aroused by the Reformation had subsided, and a more judicial spirit was awakened, the advanced minds of the Eighteenth Century began to view the religious question with calmer judgment, and more philosophical impartiality. Says he :

"It was observed that every great change of belief had been pre- ceded by a great change in the intellectual condition of Europe, that the success of any opinion depended much less upon the force of its arguments, or upon the ability of its advocates, than upon the pre- disposition of society to receive it, and that that predisposition resulted from the intellectual type of the age. As men advance from an imperfect to a higher civilization, they gradually sublimate and refine their creed. Their imaginations insensibly detach them- selves from those grosser conceptions and doctrines that were formerly most powerful, and they sooner or later reduce all their opinions into conformity with the moral and intellectual standards which the new civilization produces. Thus, long before the Reformation, the tendencies of the Reformation were manifest. The revival of Greek learning, the development of art, the reaction against the schoolmen, had raised society to an elevation in which a more refined and less oppressive creed was absolutely essential to its well-being.

" Luther and Calvin only represented the prevailing wants, and embodied them in a definite form. The pressure of the general

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intellectual influences of the time determines the predispositions which ultimately regulate the details of belief; and though all men do not yield to that pressure with the same facility, all large bodies are at last controlled." Speaking of the method by which persons usually, arrive at opinions, in the investigation of new facts, Mr. Lecky observes:

"Nothing can be more certain to an attentive observer, than that the great majority even of those who reason much about their opinions, have arrived at their conclusions by a process quite distinct from reasoning. They may be perfectly unconscious of the fact, but the ascendancy of old associations is upon them, and, in the over- whelming majority of cases, men of the most various creeds conclude their investigations by simply acquiescing in the opinions they have been taught. They insensibly judge all questions by a mental standard derived from education ; they proportion their attention and sympathies to the degree in which the facts and arguments presented to them support their foregone conclusions; and thus speedily convince themselves that the arguments in behalf of their hereditary opinions are irresistibly cogent, and the arguments against them exceedingly absurd." I have quoted as much as this from this learned author, because it seems to define so satisfactorily the cause of the prevalent interest in Spiritualism, (especially in the phase presented by the Eddy mediums), as well as the behavior of the churchmen, the philosophical chemists, and the lay materialists, towards believers in the phenomena.

The progress of Rationalism in Europe weakened the influence of the Church, challenged the sources of religious belief, and fostered scientific research. These causes, at work for two centuries, have brought about a crisis which threatens so violent a reaction from our old subserviency to ecclesiastical rule, that every vestige of spirituality is likely to be swept out of our nature, and a bald Rationalism to take its place. The

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masses, viewing the conflict, seeing the impending crisis, and bewildered at the progress of events that no power of theirs seems potent to control, turn with deep anxiety to the spiritual manifestations, as offering the sole chance for successful resistance to the encroachments of remorseless scientific spirit upon the instinctive longing for and belief in immortality.

Finally, the scientists, setting their opinions by the rule of precedent and education, impatiently listen to the narration of facts, which, contravening their pre- conceived notions as to the laws of gravity, of chemical combination, of the conservation and correlation of force, they regard as in the highest degree absurd. Lecky himself says, that at present, nearly all educated men receive an account of a miracle taking place in their own day, "With an absolute and even derisive incredulity, which dispenses with all examination of the evidence. Although they may be entirely unable to give a satisfactory explanation of some phenomena that have taken place, they never on that account dream of ascribing them to supernatural agency, such an hypothesis being, as they believe, altogether beyond the range of reasonable discussion" Exactly: but what these gentlemen do not consider, and what makes them appear so ridiculous, in the eyes of those who are brave enough to investigate these curious facts in the judicial spirit, is that these phenomena that have taken place are at the same time, not supernatural, not miracles, and not trickery. They happen according to law as does everything else, and if the class of men referred to by Lecky, do not bestir themselves, the

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credit of discovering that law, and defining its forms of manifestation, will fall to persons outside the charmed circle of the Academy.

A reasonable and philosophical spiritualistic belief is as far removed from the superstition of the Seventeenth; and Eighteenth Centuries, as it is from the degrading materialism of the last quarter of the Nineteenth, which blots God out of the Universe, strips the soul of its aspirations for a higher existence beyond the grave, and bounds the life of man by the same limits as those within which the beast of the field, the bird of the air, or the fish of the sea has its being. I sought at Chittenden the material for the formation of such a belief, and if I cannot say that the Eddy manifestations warrant it, it is only because the things I saw, while apparently inexplicable upon any other than the spiritualistic hypothesis, were not happening under test conditions, and hence would not satisfy the judicial mind.

In looking back through the history of Magic, Sorcery, and Witchcraft, in all ages, it appears to me that most of the confusion in regard to the real nature of the so-called diabolical power, comes from two causes (1) The belief in a personal Devil, powerful enough to cause rebellion in Heaven, divert the allegiance of a large portion of the angelic host, and be constantly at war with God; thus affording to the superstitious a satisfactory ideal of an individualized Evil Power, which could send its demons to torment, and which could be invoked by spells, and propitiated by incanta- tions and sacrifices. (2) The empiricism of scientific

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men, who either, (as in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries,) yield to the prevalent anthropomorphic belief, or (as at present) coolly deny the occult origin of phenomena they are too indolent and cowardly to examine.

The verification of these surprising facts of modern Spiritualism, clearly does not necessitate a return to the ignorant exorcisms of earlier times in Europe, or endorsement of the practices of modern "Black Magic," in the countries of the Orient. It would doubtless result in showing that, by the establishment of favoring conditions about us, we might enjoy intercourse with the highest spirits, as well as receive the visits of the most tricky, ignorant, or malicious. The Eddy materializations, if proven true, while unquestionably the highest form of physical phenomena, cannot be regarded as comparable to the inspirational state, in which knowledge, wisdom, and thoughts of beauty pour into the receptive mind of the seer, from the sources of inspiration, and take the form of prophecy and poetry. Such men were Isaiah, Ezekiel, David, Jeremiah, and the other great Hebrews of those days; and the difference between them and the Witch of Endor was just as great, and no other, than that between--say Swedenborg and William Eddy;--the one, the type of the greatest possible spiritual ecstasy, the other, that of the most powerful physical mediumship.

I have been struck with the different light in which the Eddy manifestations, and, in fact, the whole range of these modern phenomena, are regarded by the Protestant and Roman Catholic bodies. The former begin

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by denying their occurrence, except as examples of legerdemain; but, when confronted with some peculiarly striking phenomenon, either attribute it to an occult force, under control of the medium, or circle, or, as a last refuge, find a satisfactory explanation in the direct interposition of the Devil.

The Church of Rome, on the other hand, admits the facts without argument, and if they happen outside her own jurisdiction, passes them to the credit of Satan. I rode in the cars recently with a very intelligent young priest, who took this ground and cited to me passage after passage from the Fathers in its support. He even narrated, with evident interest, his own experience with Planchette, in company with several other priests and sundry laymen, upon which occasion the " little plank " answered mental questions framed in his mind in Latin, in the same language, and wrote Spanish, Greek, Latin, French, German, and Italian for various persons in the room; the medium being an ignorant Irish girl. This, to his mind, was a clear case of diabolism, and, instead of testing the phenomena with scales or electrode, he was for resorting to "bell, book and candle," and a copious use of holy-water.

This theory of diabolism, might commend itself to a mind predisposed to anthropomorphic belief, if the manifestations were always of either a malicious or lying character; or mere exhibitions of impish power to startle or amuse, like the magical feats of the Hindoo, Egyptian, and Mongolian sorcerers.

The most devout Spiritualist would scarcely hesitate to ascribe to a very low grade of spirits, such marvels as the

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"mandragora," the transformations at Hindoo ceremonials, or the tape and pole climbing feats described in another chapter; and he would not complain of a resort by the priests to the usual forms of exorcism, set down in the books of the Church, if such might comfort the faithful. But, on the other hand, it would seem to almost any one unreasonable that a mother, seeing her resurrected child, in form as when alive, step out before her, should be asked to regard her darling one as either an imp of Satan, or as brought to her by devilish arts. So, too, it is revolting to one's feelings to believe that pure teachings, conveyed through mediums, are less admirable than they would be, if the person giving them voice, wore cape and stole and chasuble.

"The simplest peasant who observes a truth, And from a fact deduces principle, Adds solid treasure to the public wealth." The occurrence of the spiritualistic phenomena being conceded, the very fact that this belief in their diabolic origin still has a hold upon the public mind, is another argument why the subject should be thoroughly investigated; for it is a reproach that in this boasted age of knowledge and science, so important a matter should be left to conjecture. If we are beset by ministers of Evil, it is time we learn how to array against them a better class of spirits. It is not manly to surrender at discretion.

I was talking the other day with a professor in a denominational college, about the Eddys, when, after hearing fact after fact, and receding foot by foot from his original theory of imposture, he said that, in his opinion, the less Christians had to do with such things the better. In other words, he would retire within the Sanctuary,

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make the sign of the Cross, and let the Devil go up and down among the people, to entice, torment, and devour! I have spoken of the cowardice of men of science who refuse to investigate, and content themselves with the assumption of an attitude of contemptuous indifference; but what shall be said of Editors, who secretly believe, but openly denounce? It is within my personal knowledge, that several persons of this class, among the most influential in their profession, are firm believers in the reality of the Spiritualistic phenomena, and yet allow the columns of their journals to be filled with articles exhibiting no less ignorance and malevolence than coarse wit and sarcasm. In what estimation should such panderers be held by conscientious men? It is perhaps too much, to ask persons of weak moral character to champion an unfashionable creed in advance of its general adoption--such work is reserved for men of heroic mould-but they might preserve silence, and not debase themselves, by joining in the hue and cry against what they believe to be the Truth. They might keep their papers, and not their influence, for sale.

Among the interesting queries that have been propounded to me, during the past three months, is one coming from the Secretary of a well-known religiosocialistic community, to the following effect :

If you could manage to get a materialized spirit to vanish from before your eyes in a lighted room, holding in its hand some small living animal, say a canary-bird, and afterwards re-materialize it; and if the bird should, after its resurrection, hop about, sing, chirp, etc., a good many people would be bold enough to believe that the

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same thing could be done with a baby. How would that affect ordinary physical death?"

My answer to this is very simple. Firstly, Chittenden was no place for me to try philosophical experiments, neither the Eddys nor their spirit-friends feeling friendly enough towards me to grant me many more favors than other visitors; secondly, I have already described the appearance of several babies, of whom no traces could be found after the seance, and who, therefore, must have disappeared as mysteriously as they came; thirdly, I saw, on the evening of October 8th, the following thing occur: Honto sprang out of the cabinet soon after the circle was formed, and danced about the platform, like a cork on rippling water. She seemed as if enchanted to be in motion, and as if she had a reserve of power sufficient to enable her to do almost anything that any living woman could.

After awhile, she went into the cabinet for a moment, and, reappearing, was followed out by a curious little animal that hugged the floor, and waddled its short legs along, in a most comical fashion. As soon as our first feeling of astonishment passed off, we fell to laughing at this latest importation from the spirit world. But to old Mrs. Cleveland, who was at her end of the platform, as usual, it was no laughing matter, for when Honto moved towards her, with the little creature after her, the good dame screamed with fright, gathered her petticoats about her limbs, and mounted upon her chair. The spirit-squaw was convulsed with merriment, and the room rang with our sympathetic shouts. She pulled Mrs. Cleveland down, who ran to the other

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end of the platform and Honto followed her up; until finally, in her terror, the old lady clasped her arms about the roguish squaw, and retreated into a corner. By this time the animal had disappeared, and it was a most amusing thing to see Mrs. Cleveland looking all about, over the tops of her spectacles, as if the dreaded apparition had gone down some crack in the floor. Her confidence restored, she moved towards her chair, but Honto, laughing with us behind her back and making gestures to command our attention, touched and caused her to face about; when suddenly, under the very edge of her skirt, the creature reappeared. This was too much for human endurance, and the massive matron with a despairing shriek leaped down the steps, and rejoined the circle; Honto retreating into the cabinet, with her pet at her heels. Upon inquiry of Mrs. Eaton, we learned that this was Honto's tame flying squirrel. The same authority declared that in the spirit-world people surround themselves with the objects they most loved on Earth, and among them birds and flowers. I have mentioned this circumstance as pertinent to the inquiry propounded in the above query, whether living animals can be made to disappear and reappear, in lighted rooms by spirit-power.

A still more curious thing was done in one of Horatio's dark-circles on the evening of April 25th last, the nature of which is explained in the following certificate from a physician, who was present.

CHITTENDEN, Oct. 21st 1874

I hereby certify that in a dark-circle, held on or about the 25th of April last. at the Eddy house, the following incident occurred. The spirit-girl, Mayflower, came running across the room, her foot-steps

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being plainly audible by all, and said to a lady present, "Oh Mrs. K. I have caught a bird for you. I am going to make you a present of it. Hold your hands." A sparrow was then placed in the lady's hands, who afterwards told me that she felt both of Mayflower's little hands as she transferred the bird to her own. After it had been examined by all who wished, by lamplight, the light was again extinguished, and " George Dix " said to me, " Doctor, I want you to take that bird." Having done as requested, I was told to strangle it, without breaking its neck, or crushing any of the vital organs. I pinched its neck until after the heart had ceased to beat, and it lay in my palm, limp and lifeless, I dropped it on the floor, and it made no motion. I then, by request, placed it under a glass tumbler, and covering it over with a small plate, put the tumbler on a chair drawn up before me, so that I could place my feet upon the rungs. We were requested to sing, but we had not got through with more than one verse, when George Dix called for a light; and the bird was found to be fluttering about and making attempts to escape from the tumbler. It was as lively as if nothing had happened to it. I must say that the phenomenon was the more remarkable, as it occurred in a room every window and door of which was closed and sealed with strips of paper.

R. HODGSON, M. D., STONEHAM, MASS.

There is but one theory, except the spiritualistic one, to account for this affair, and that is, that a second bird was substituted for the first after the light was extinguished. But, as the bird was in a glass, covered with a saucer, and this upon a chair at Doctor Hodgson's knees, with his feet resting upon the rungs, it would seem rather difficult to do the trick without discovery; unless, (and this is what destroys the whole value of the manifestation,) the first bird, and tumbler and all, were quietly replaced by duplicates, under cover of the singing. Doctor Hodgson, however, asserts to me, in the most positive manner, that he identified the bird by a peculiar disturbance of its feathers, caused by his rude pinching of its tiny throat.

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CHAPTER XXII - SPIRITS AS CARRIERS