Book: "The Survival of Man"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Section Four -

Automatism and Lucidity

Chapter 19

More Recent Piper Sittings. General Information


          THE preceding account of my own sittings dates from 1889-90. I saw Mrs. Piper again on 9th Nov., 1906, at Liverpool, where she had just arrived from America, and was staying in the house of Mrs. Isaac Thompson of Liverpool, whose acquaintance she had made on her previous visit to this country. Another series of sittings then began, but at a rate of only two or three per week instead of two a day, and of the general character of these I now propose to give an account.

Since our first English experience with Mrs. Piper a great mass of material had been accumulated in America, under the management of Dr. Hodgson, and the manner of the sittings had somewhat changed. In the old days communication had always been made with the voice, and any writing done was only brief and occasional. Communications are now almost entirely in writing, and only under exceptional circumstances is the voice employed.

The manner of preparation was as follows. A quiet room was selected in which interruption need not be feared; a fire was provided for warmth, and the windows were open for ventilation. A comfortable chair was placed near a table, on which was, a pile of from four to six cushions or pillows, on which the medium sitting in the chair and leaning forward could securely rest the side of her head when sleep came on, - not burying her face in the cushions, but turning it to the left side so as to be able to breathe during the trance. If it ever happened that the pillows incommoded the breathing, they had to be adjusted and pressed down by the experimenter in charge, so that air obtained free access to the mouth and nose. On the right hand side of the pillows, either on the same or on a small subsidiary, table, the writing materials were arranged, namely, a large pad or block-book (10" x 8") of 100 blank sheet, all numbered ill order, and four or five pencils of soft lead, 2B or 3B, properly cut and ready.

It was the duty of the experimenter in charge to record all that the Sitter said. This could generally be done sideways on the same sheet without interfering with the medium's hand. He also had to arrange the pad so that the hand could conveniently write upon it; and to tear off the sheets as they were done with. No attempt was made to economise paper; the automatic writing was large and scrawling, and did not often begin at the top of the page. Sometimes a good deal of writing was obtained on a single page, sometimes only a few lines, and occasionally only a few words. The tearing off of the old sheet was quickly done; and the hand waited the moment necessary; though sometimes, when in the midst of an energetic message, it indicated momentary impatience at the interruption.

Mrs. Piper and her daughters often had breakfast with the family, though occasionally she breakfasted in her room. On ordinary days she went shopping or sight-seeing, or was otherwise ordinarily occupied; but on sitting days she went back after breakfast to her own room to be quiet. At the time fixed for the sitting, say 10 or 10.30 a.m., Mrs. Piper came into the arranged room and seated herself in the chair in front of the pillows; then the experimenter in charge sat down on a chair near the table, leaving a vacant chair between him and the medium, from the sitter; who at my sittings was sometimes present from the first, but at those held in London was introduced only after the trance had come on. Mrs. Piper sat with her hands on the pillows in front of her; about five minutes of desultory conversation followed, then heavy breathing began, and the head of the medium presently dropped on to her hands on the pillows and turned itself with its face to the left.

Then almost at once the right hand disengaged itself and fell on the table near the writing materials. After about 30 seconds of complete quiescence, this hand alone "woke up" as it were; it slowly rose, made the sign of the cross in the air, and indicated that it was ready to write.

The experimenter then gave the hand a pencil, placing it between fore and middle fingers; it was at once grasped, and writing began. First a cross was drawn, and then the word "Hail" was written, followed usually by "We return to earth this day with joy and peace"; or "We greet you friend of earth once again, we bring peace and love"; or some such semi-religious phrase, signed "R," which stands for "Rector," the ostensible amanuensis.

In the old days the control had styled itself "Phinuit"; now Phinuit never appears, and the control calls itself Rector.

In the old days the tone was not so dignified and serious as it is now: it could in fact then be described as rather humorous and slangy; but there was a serious under-current constantly present even then; the welcomes and farewells were quaint and kindly-even affectionate at times-and nothing was ever said of a character that could give offence. I judge that stupid familiarity or frivolity on the part of a sitter - for which, however, there was no excuse-would have been at once rebuked and checked.

In the old days the going into trance seemed rather a painful process, or at least a process involving muscular effort, there was some amount of contortion of the face, and sometimes a slight tearing of the hair; and the same actions accompanied the return of consciousness. Now the trance seems nothing more than an exceptionally heavy sleep, entered into without effort - a sleep with the superficial appearance of that induced by chloroform; and the return to consciousness, though slow and for a time accompanied by confusion, is easy and natural.

A sitting used to last only about an hour; and on the rare occasions when there is a voice sitting now, an hour is the limit; but a writing sitting seems less of a strain, and was often allowed to last as much as two hours, though not more.

In the old days, when sittings were more frequent, there were degrees of intensity about them. Occasionally, though rarely, trance declined to come on at all; and sometimes, even when it did, the loss of consciousness seemed less than complete. Under present conditions the trance is undoubtedly profound, and the suspension of normal consciousness unmistakably complete. Once, but only once in my 1907 experience, the trance refused to come on, and the attempt at a sitting had to be abandoned till next day.

Usually after purposely placing herself under the familiar conditions to which she is accustomed, Mrs. Piper is able to let herself go off without trouble or delay. Great care was taken of the body of the medium, both now and previously, by the operating intelligence. She was spoken of usually as "the light," sometimes as "the machine," though the word "machine" commonly signified only the pencil.

If anything went wrong with the breathing, or if there was insufficient air in the room, or if the cushions slipped so as to make the attitude uncomfortable, the hand wrote "something wrong with the machine," or "attend to the light," or something of that sort; and the experimenter amended the arrangements before the writing went on. The whole thing was as sensible and easy as possible, as soon as the circumstances and conditions were understood. Each experimenter, of course, handed down all the information and Hodgsonian tradition of this kind to the next, so that all the conditions to which Mrs. Piper was accustomed could be supplied beforehand, and so that no injury would happen to her bodily health.

The following illustrates the care taken of the physical conditions and the way they are spoken of it is an extract from a sitting held by Mr. Dorr at Boston in 1906

(Rector interrupting a "Hodgson" communication.) Friend, you will have to change the conditions a moment.

[At the beginning of the sitting only one of the two windows in the room was open a very little way. A few moments previous to this time H. J. Jr. noticing that the room was a little close had opened the other window, and G. B. D. had nearly closed it again.]

G. B. D. What is wrong with the conditions? Do you want more air or less?

Well, there will have to be a change in the surroundings, there will have to be more strength, what is it, air, yes, air. And a good deal more just now. Hodgson takes a good deal of strength when he comes, but he is all right, he understands the methods of operation very well (The window was now opened wide). That is better. Now the light begins to get clear. All right, friend.

As the time drew near to the two-hour limit, which has been set as a period beyond which it is undesirable to persist, and sometimes at the end of about an hour and a half, or an hour and three quarters, from the commencement, the experimenter in charge gave a hint that the sitting must terminate soon; or else the controls indicate the same thing, and they then begin to clear up and take farewell. A sitting usually concludes as it began, with the writing of a serious sentence invoking the blessing of the Most High upon the sitter and the group.

The coming out of the trance was gradual, and semi-consciousness lasted for several minutes, during which muttered sentences were uttered, and the eyes, if open at all, only glared in sleep-walking fashion; until almost suddenly they took on a natural appearance, and Mrs. Piper became herself. Even then, however, for half an hour or so after the trance had disappeared, the medium continued slightly dazed and only partly herself. During this time her eldest daughter usually took charge of her. But the trance itself was so familiar to them all that the daughters were not the least anxious, and in another room went on with their letters or needlework unconcerned. After a sitting, one of them was usually called and took her mother for a stroll in the garden. Then everybody had lunch together and talked of ordinary topics, nothing being said about the sitting, and no ill result of any kind being experienced. It seemed a normal function in her case. The experimenter meanwhile had collected the papers and arranged them in order, and had removed the pencils and other appliances, subsequently it was his business to write out legibly all the material accumulated during the two hours of sitting, to annotate it sufficiently, and send it to a typewriter.

The actual record is of course preserved for exact reference whenever necessary. A record was also made of the remark., of Mrs. Piper during the period of awaking from trance. These were more or less mumbled and difficult to hear, but they were often a continuation of what had been obtained during trance, and generally contained useful passages; though part of them nearly always consisted of expressions of admiration for the state or experience she was leaving, and of repulsion-almost disgust-at the commonplace terrestrial surroundings in which she found herself. Even a bright day was described as dingy or dark, and the sitter was stared at in an unrecognising way, and described as a dull and ugly person, or sometimes as a Negro. Presently, however, the eyes became intelligent and she recognised some one - usually Lady Lodge first - and then with a smile welcomed her by name, and speedily came to.

Coming to ordinary social details: it is not an impertinence, but is justified by the special circumstances of the case, to state that the family is an admirable one, and that we regard them as genuine friends.

At the time of Mrs. Piper's first visit her daughters were children. Now they are grown up, and are very useful to their mother. Nothing in any way abnormal or unusual is to be noticed about them, and their mother expresses it as her sincerest wish that they will not develop her power. For though she must realise the value of her services to science, she cannot but feel that it to some extent isolates her and marks her out as peculiar among her neighbours in New England, and that the time spent in the trance state must have made a distinct inroad on her available lifetime. This however is to sortie extent the case with any occupation, and it is as the duty specially allotted to her that she has learnt to regard her long Service, now extending over a quarter of a century.

In speaking of messages received from a certain "control," it is not to be understood in general that that control is actually manipulating the organism; it may be always, and certainly is in general, merely dictating through an amanuensis as it were, - the actual writer or speaker being either "Rector" or "Phinuit," who again may or may not be a phase of Mrs. Piper's personality.

In the old days, undoubtedly, the appearance was sometimes as if the actual control was changed - after the fashion of a multiple personality; whereas now I think it is nearly always Rector that writes, recording the messages given to him as nearly as he can, and usually reporting in the first person, as Phinuit often did. I do not attempt to discriminate between what is given in this way and what is given directly, because it is practically impossible to do so with any certainty; since what appears to be direct control is liable to shade off into obvious reporting. That is to say, if a special agency gets control and writes for a few minutes, it does not seem able to sustain the position long, but soon abandons it to the more accomplished and experienced personality, Rector. In the recent series there appeared very little evidence of direct control other than Rector.

We shall speak however of the "Gurney control," the "Hodgson control," etc., without implying that these agents - even assuming their existence and activity are ever really in physical possession of the organism; and, even when they are controlling as directly as possible, they may perhaps always be operating telepathically on it rather than telergically - operating, that is to say, through sortie stratum if the mind, rather than directly on any part of the physical organism. It is rather soon as yet to make definite assertions regarding the actual method of control-there are too many unknown quantities about the whole phenomenon, at the same time Dr. Hodgson has thought it worth while to report the general aspect of the phenomenon as it is said to appear to the Communicators themselves; he does this on Page 400 Of Proc. xiii. (A portion is quoted above on page 190). And in the next few pages he goes on to indicate his own independent view of what is occurring, - giving a detailed description which my own smaller experience, as far as it goes, tends in a general way to confirm.

Further Details

In the old days Mrs. Piper sat upright in her chair, with head somewhat bowed and eyes closed, and with both hands available for holding objects or a hand of the sitter. Now her head reclines throughout on a cushion, with her face turned away. The right hand alone is active, being engaged nearly all the time in writing, with intervals of what looks like listening. The dramatic activity of the hand is very remarkable it is full of intelligence and can be described as more like an intelligent person than a hand (cf. p. 2,5). It turns itself to the sitter when it wants to be spoken to by him; but for the most part, when not writing, it turns itself away from the sitter, as if receiving communications from outside, which it then proceeds to write down; going back to space - i.e. directing itself to a part of the room where nobody is - for further information and supplementary intelligence, as necessity arises (cf. P. 105).

When Mrs. Piper in trance wrote a name in the old days - as Phinuit did sometimes - the writing was usually mirror-writing; but sometimes she wrote a name on paper held to her forehead, so that the pencil was turned towards her face: in that case the writing was ordinary. If this should happen to have been so consistently, it is curious. But now that Rector writes, voluminously, the mirror-writing only crops up occasionally; and usually the only reversal consists in giving the letters of a name in inverted order, e.g. Knarf instead of Frank.

One other point deserves to be here mentioned:-

In the days of Phinuit considerable facility was shown in dealing with strangers. Persons introduced anonymously had their relations enumerated, and their family affairs referred to, in a remarkably quick and clever way: so much so that they sometimes thought that their special case must have been "got up" beforehand. The facility for dealing with strangers in this way is now much less marked. The introduction of a stranger now makes things slow and laborious, and is on the whole discouraged; for although the old characteristics continue to some extent, the tests now given are mainly of a different kind. The early procedure was useful at the beginning, and it continued useful for a good many years till a case for investigation was firmly established; but it must have seemed tedious to prolong that method further, so the group of controls associated with Rector assured Dr. Hodgson that they would take the trance in hand and develop it on better and higher lines.

As to how far the change is an improvement, there have been at times some differences of opinion; but in view of the remarkable tests recently given under what, though of several years' standing, may be called the new regime, - tests which have been and are being dissected out by Mr. Piddington, - there can be but little doubt about the reality of the improvement now.

Since this book first appeared Mrs. Piper's power appears to have vanished. Her controls have said a carefully considered farewell, and no trance will now come on. Whether the regime, - tests or inhibition is permanent or temporary I cannot say. At one time I thought it likely to be permanent, and it would not be surprising after her highly valuable thirty years of service.



Contents / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 1 7 / Chapter 18 / Chapter 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23 / Chapter 24 / Chapter 25

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