Book: "Psychical Research and Survival"

Author: Prof. James Hyslop

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- Chapter Eight -

Apparitions and Premonitions


          IT MIGHT seem that the subject of apparitions should have been treated earlier. The English Society for Psychical Research took them up before dealing with spiritistic phenomena at all, and published its Phantasms of the Living and the Census of Hallucinations with a view to explaining apparitions by the hypothesis of telepathy. They recognized three types of them, apparitions of the living, apparitions of the dying, and apparitions of the dead, but no one except Mr. Myers and Air. Gurney said anything about the last class. The object was to postpone the consideration of the spiritistic theory. The resource of telepathy was to explain the first two classes where the facts were certainly not evidence of discarnate existence or intervention, while the last class seemed too small and too poorly accredited apparently to assure any interpretation for the supernormal. But I have had special reasons for postponing the consideration of apparitions until the spiritistic theory had been discussed. The phenomena which at least suggest and support a spiritistic hypothesis, exclude telepathy from consideration, as we have seen, and for this reason alone we are justified in suspending judgment on so hasty an explanation of apparitions, until we find some clue out of the labyrinth of other phenomena that certainly do not present any superficial evidence of being exactly like apparitions, though study shows connections.

But there are two special reasons for thus suspending the consideration of apparitions until we have a reasonable theory for the other facts. The first is that all three types of apparitions must ultimately have the same general explanation. It will be absurd to explain those of the living and dying by telepathy and to exclude those of the dead from the same explanation. There is no essential difference between the three types. Their internal characteristics are the same. They are all of them so often connected with crises of some kind in the living that they point to a unity which must be taken into account in the effort to explain them. If apparitions of the living and the dying are to be explained by telepathy, it is because the agent is the living or dying person, and so you would have to explain those of the dead either by supposing the dead to be the agent, which makes them evidence of spirits, or you would have to suppose that some living third person was the agent. But this latter supposition deprives the telepathic hypothesis in the case of the living and dying of its assumption that the agent is necessarily the person identified in the coincidence. Hence if you are going to introduce a tertium quid, some other than the living, dying, or dead person, into the problem, you have to seek an explanation of the same kind for all three types of the phenomena, and that will be outside of telepathy, or outside of any form of it that is capable of proof.

The second reason for waiting to explain apparitions is the fact that the 'mental picture' method of communication in spiritistic phenomena throws so much light upon the problem that, instead of offering an explanation of apparitions prior to that of mediumistic phenomena, we may subordinate the former to theories of the latter. I turn, then, to the implications of this 'mental picture' method of communicating, after stating what the real problem is.

The great perplexity for the scientific man in the phenomena of apparitions was G spirit clothes.' It seems preposterous that, even on the hypothesis that the apparition correctly represented a reality, quasi material, it should have exactly the same clothes that the human being wore when living! That is so inconceivable and so absurd that it favours scepticism and any explanation whatever rather than its acceptance as reality. It seemed possible to believe in their being pure hallucinations in spite of the real or apparent evidence that they were not casual. A duplication of the earthly life, where we had supposed the spiritual to be wholly different from it, only challenged doubt and made belief more difficult. The situation destroyed all the possibility of supposing them beyond chance or as significant of something supernormal. We were ready to believe anything of them rather than that they were spirits.

But the 'mental picture' method of communicating makes the explanation quite easy, easy of course after we have reason to believe it a fact and understand something of the process. I have shown in the previous chapter that the communicator's thoughts were transmitted in the form of hallucinations or phantasms to the control or to the psychic, and then these pictures, visions, or apparitions, were described as if they were realities. They were usually memories of the communicator and of objects which no longer had a material existence. What appeared as a reality to the control or to the psychic was only a thought of the communicator. How such a thing takes place is not the question here, but only the fact that it does, and that apparitions can be classified with the same process. A few illustrations will make this clear.

In a communication purporting to come from my father, he had mentioned his gun, and I took occasion to ask what he shot with it. The answer, 'Hogs, beeves, and rabbits,' would have been correct. But the psychic evidently guessed foxes, wolves, hawks, and eagles, none of which, except hawks, existed in my home locality, and hence the facts were false. I did not correct the mistake which occurred in the automatic writing. The next day, as the psychic went into the trance and during the subliminal stage of it, in which she is a spectator of apparitions, not an impersonator, she described the details of a butchering scene in my early days, and asked if this was not what the gun was used for, thus spontaneously correcting the error of the day before and answering my question. But the most interesting feature of this description was the psychic's repulsion to the scene itself, saying that she did not like to see things like that in heaven. But in a moment the vision 'vanished, and she exclaimed: 'Oh, now it is lovely.' The subconscious of the psychic, in the same condition as our sleep and dreaming, had taken the vision as a reality, just as we do our hallucinations and dream images. The scene, in fact, was only a memory of my father's, not a reality, quasi material or otherwise. It was a telepathic hallucination produced by the dead.

Again, my father described the three churns of my early days quite accurately, and with them the dog that had done the churning at one time. Of the dog, the psychic said he 'is here,' meaning that he was present. Now she believes that animals survive; and this discrimination between the dog and the churns was probably due to the reflection of that conviction through her own subconsciousness; for there is not more reason to believe that the dog was actually present, in spirit, than the churns. Memory pictures transmitted by telepathy is the better explanation of all of them.

A more significant incident is the following: I had asked my father, purporting to communicate, about some trouble in the sale of some wool, as he had previously referred to a certain unruly ram in his flock of sheep. After saying something about this trouble, though not clearly enough to make the incident evidential, he suddenly turned to the subject of his mother and the room where she had spent her last days. This, its furniture, its fireplace, and a number of other things of an evidential nature were described, and in it my grandmother appeared as a little old, very wrinkled woman with a cap on her head. This described her exactly in her last days. She was so wrinkled and so thin from the loss of flesh when she died, that she was nothing but skin and bones at the end. But in the midst of all this the statement was made: 'She is standing by laughing.' Here was a complete picture of her, the room, and her last days.

Now, if I or the subconscious of the psychic had not known or represented my father as communicating the facts, I should have had superficial evidence that my grandmother was communicating and that she appeared here just as she died, cap and all. But, on the one hand, it is my father communicating, and, on the other, my grandmother is represented as standing by laughing, and is apparently distinguished from the apparition of her as a wrinkled old woman. This wrinkled appearance was a distinguishing mark of her to my father and other members of the family, and so represents a memory of my father, not necessarily a spiritual reality of any other kind. The fact that my father is proving his identity with incidents that his mother did not know, that he is referring to the room in connection with the trouble about the wool, because it was in that particular room before my grandmother ever came to it, that the accident happened to the wool that caused the trouble, shows that I am dealing with a transferred 'mental picture,' not a quasi material or other reality. The phenomena of the subliminal stage in the psychic supply ample corroborative evidence of the same nature.

Now the great significance of this phenomenon is the fact that the apparition was not produced by my grandmother. It was the thought of my father. Quite constantly this psychic, in the subliminal stage of her trance, sees an apparition or hears a voice, but cannot tell anything more about it. She does not know from whom the voice issues or what produces the apparition. No name may come with it. But in such a case as that of my father just narrated, we have a clear indication of the source, and that makes the apparition the product of his thought, where we should have had no indication of this but for our knowledge that he it was who was communicating the facts. The apparition might superficially suggest its own origin, and in that case we should have the perplexity of 'spirit clothes' or the continuance of the conditions that prevailed in an earthly life, while the explanation of the facts as due to telepathic hallucinations from the dead removes these perplexities completely. It is not the spirit itself that produces the result, but some one else. It is a memory of a third person, not the reality of the person represented, that is at the basis of the phenomena.

This explanation unifies mediumistic phenomena and apparitions. That is, it classifies them together in a causal explanation. They no longer require separate hypotheses for their explanation. The 'mental picture' method of communicating involves the production of apparitions and explains them as mental products, not realities as represented, and this introduces a tertium quid into the phenomena of apparitions, a third party besides the personality represented and the percipient of them. The agent becomes, not the person appearing, but some one else who may not appear at all, and who may remain as fully in the background as does a control often in mediumistic phenomena, where this control is absolutely essential for the result but does not superficially appear as the cause. Indeed, this fact still more closely identifies the process with that of apparitions. If all mediumistic phenomena require the agency of the control, even when this control is not superficially or avowedly present, we see a perfectly distinct resemblance to the production of apparitions by some one else than the person appearing in the vision, and we have a law of communication with the dead that may cover a vast field and reduce to a simple order what seems to be a complex and chaotic system. It means that a tertium quid is at the basis on the whole set of phenomena, and that we must reckon with it in apparitions as well as ordinary communications. It may even extend to other types of psychic phenomena, but this is not the place to take them up. We are satisfied if the perplexities of apparitions can be resolved by it.

This general law takes telepathy between the living out of the case, except by supposing a form of it which is not proved, which probably could not be proved, and perhaps, if it were proved, would show it to be most extraordinarily devilish. The telepathic hypothesis depends on supposing that the agent or cause of the apparition is the person who appears to the percipient. This was the view taken by the authors of Phantasms of the Living. The living or dying person whose apparition was seen was supposed to be the agent, the person whose thought caused the phantasm or apparition. But if we have to suppose, with the process of communication between the dead and the living, that it is a third party who is the cause, and that third party not always or often discoverable, we have to exclude any such telepathy as we have been supposing and for which there is at least a modicum of evidence, and have to resort to that form of it which is without any scientific evidence whatever for its existence. It is apparent, therefore, that if we assume a tertium, quid in all three types of apparitions mentioned above, we can quite easily understand that one general cause for them can be supposed, and they get a perfect unity which they do not have on the telepathic hypothesis usually presented. The apparitions of the dead as well as those of the living would thus have a definite law behind them, and that, too, the same law in both cases, the person appearing not being the real agent, or at least more than a co-operative cause in the result.

I know of one case of apparition that illustrates this claim clearly. A lady had employed a seamstress to help her with some work. She did not know that the seamstress was psychic. When they sat down to work the seamstress began to cough rather violently. The lady got her a glass of water, but it was refused, because the seamstress felt it would pass in a moment, which it did. She then saw an apparition which she described as a man, heavy set, with long white beard, white hair, and holding his hand on the lady's shoulder. The lady recognized in the description her father-in-law, who used to hold his hand on her shoulder in this way. But the interesting circumstance is that her father died from a violent fit of coughing. Now this transmission to a psychic of some peculiar physical act or characteristic that marked the dying moments of a person is a very frequent phenomenon, and it occurs in the act of controlling, as in this case. I meet it often in mediumistic experiments. Now, if the seamstress had not coughed we should not have suspected what the real cause of the apparition was. But as it is evident that the lady's father was the control, as indicated by the coughing, we have a most important incident in the cause of the apparition of the father-in-law. It is apparently not the father-in-law himself that caused it. The effect is not an immediate one. It is an intermediate effect, just as in all mediumistic phenomena even when the control is apparently not present or active. The father caused the apparition, whatever part the father-in-law had in it. It would have appeared otherwise superficially, but for the evidence of who was influencing the psychic.

Another instance occurred in a case of pure telepathy which I have on record. A man carried on a series of successful experiments in telepathy. He did not report to me anything but the facts which proved the transmission of his thoughts. On my interrogating him about other experiences, it turned out that he frequently had an apparition of a lady whose messages to him served as warnings, and if he did not obey them he suffered for it; but while he had no apparition of this person when he was experimenting with telepathy, he was conscious A outside assistance in the experiments, a feeling that should not exist if the process were direct or not intermediated.

I cannot give these last two incidents as evidence of the phenomena claimed, but only as illustrations of a general fact, at least hinted at in many instances. They happen to be more complete in their details than we usually find such phenomena, and for that reason are crucial examples of a process, the main feature of which is better attested in other instances.

What this explanation of apparitions brings out is that the process of producing them is a mental one. We do not require to suppose that the analogies of perception are at the basis of them. We do not see the real spirit. We see a mental effect of spiritual action on the living mind. The phenomena are not material, but mental. We do not see ghosts as is usually supposed, but have phantasms produced by the thoughts which the dead transmit to us in the form of hallucinations. These phantasms are as good evidence of identity as any quasi material reality, and though they do not make clear what manner of life a spiritual world represents, the recognition of their nature removes the main perplexities from their occurrence. I shall not insist that all apparitions are caused in this way. It may be that the reality is seen in. some cases. But we have no definite criterion for distinguishing, as yet, between those which are caused by another than the person appearing, and those which might be caused directly by the person appearing. In either case, however, they may be mental products, though veridical and evidence of survival. It is certain, however, if we assume a spiritistic theory at all, that many of them are telepathic phantasms produced by the dead and by others than the person seen. The agent is not the superficially apparent one, but a tertium quid or third person, manifesting a law far wider than a supposed direct telepathy between the living, though the telepathic process be involved. It then becomes possible that even telepathy between the living is mediated by the discarnate, and as the claim is often made in mediumistic phenomena that this is, the fact, it remains only to obtain the evidence for this claim.

The primary interest in premonitions and predictions is that they cannot possibly be explained by any conceivable form of telepathy, and yet they are constantly connected with both apparitions and mediumistic communications. This clearly indicates that we require a comprehensive explanation for the whole group of psychic phenomena. There are, of course, several types of premonitions and predictions into which we cannot go in detail. I can only suggest a few analogies which connect some of them, perhaps all of them, with spiritistic explanations.

There are frequent premonitions of coming death. These often occur in connection with mediumistic experiments where spirits are concerned both ostensibly and evidentially. Now as living people can predict death where they have sufficient knowledge of the conditions that must so terminate, it is quite easy to conceive that discarnate spirits, where they could detect indications of coming death not visible to the living, and if they could get an opportunity to communicate with the living, might convey or foretell the fact either by apparitions or mediumistic communications. It might be the same with other events within certain limitations. Also assuming, as automatic writing indicates, that spirits might affect human actions to a limited extent, we might find instances in which they bring about their own predictions. But we cannot treat seriously any instances in which the subject knows the prediction, as he may consciously or unconsciously fulfil it himself. The evidence for their occurrence and the frequency of their occurrence, however, are not so great as in other phenomena. But assuming that they do occur beyond chance coincidence, guessing, and self-fulfilment, we can understand how spirits might either foresee some events or actually bring about others that they have predicted.

There are types of premonitions or predictions, however, which are not so easily explained. They seem to indicate events which it would seem impossible either to foresee or bring about. It is a common idea in some cases that events may take place in the ethereal or spiritual world before they are realized in the physical world. Now if the ethereal is a mental world, this would indicate that it is possible that certain thoughts and purposes might often be formed there long before they are realized in matter, and certain qualified persons might be able to estimate the probabilities of their fulfilment. In fact, there is a distinct analogy to this in our own mental life. We form our plans long before they obtain execution, and we do not always realize them as soon as we expect. A thing has actually taken place in our minds when we plan it in so far as mental reality is concerned, but it often takes time to give it material expression and reality. It may be the same with cosmic evolution, so that qualified spirits might ascertain the probabilities in favourable situations and base predictions upon them. This, however, is not a proved fact.



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