WHILE MEDIUMS might claim remote descent from such ancient and exalted persons as the Sibyl who guided Aeneas through the world of the dead, their pedigree in the direct line does not go back much more than a century and is of humble origin. Two young girls in fact, who in 1848 were living in a farmhouse in Arcadia, State of New York, Margaretta Fox aged 15, and her sister Katie aged twelve. On the evening of the 31st March, after the two girls had gone to bed, raps were heard which answered questions put in the presence of about a dozen persons, mostly neighbours called in by the parents. Correct answers were given to such questions as the ages of various neighbours, the number of their children, and of the deaths that had occurred in their families. In reply to a question as to who was giving the answers it was stated to be a pedlar who had been murdered on the spot for a sum of $500 he had been carrying. There is no reason to suppose that the pedlar or his $500 ever existed.
It was his spirit that was credited by the Arcadians with producing the raps, though it was noticed that at first they did not occur unless the girls were present. Their fame grew: together with an elder sister they gave sittings for raps in several towns. After an exhibition which they gave at Rochester, N.Y., three professors of the local university declared that the raps were produced by deliberate movements of the girls' knee-joints, but this did not check the growth of the movement they had set on foot. Raps broke out in houses they had never visited. There was an epidemic of rapping, and by 1851 there were said to be a hundred Mediums in New York City.
The mediumistic movement soon spread to Europe, with the Fox sisters among the leaders. Great however as was their fame, it was overshadowed by that of D. D. Home, who paid his first visit to England in 1855. The most famous of all mediums, he gave sittings in many countries to royalties, and to persons eminent in other walks of life, scientists like William Crookes, arid writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He is the original from whom Robert Browning, who intensely disliked Home's influence over his wife, drew
Mr. Sludge, the Medium, an admirable study of the relations between the sillier type of sitter and the less reputable type of medium, but unfair in one important point, if the reader is intended to identify Sludge with Home. Sludge in the poem is caught cheating and, though there were several suspicious incidents in Home's career, fraud was never proved against him.
Messages claiming to come from the spirits of the dead were given through Home, but they do not seem in themselves to have been very impressive. In 1926 Lord Dunraven published through the
SPR (Proc. Vol. XXXV) the account of his sittings with Home which he had printed for private circulation in 1870. To the new issue Oliver Lodge contributed an Introduction in which he lists and classifies the phenomena described under ten headings, nine of them referring to phenomena of the purely "physical" type. The remaining one is the so-called "direct voice", in which messages are given in what is claimed to be the voice of the Communicator: since it is the resemblance of the voice, and not the content of the message, that is considered important, this is in fact as "physical" a phenomenon as the other nine.
Many of Home's "physical" phenomena are extremely difficult to explain away by normal means, unless one attributes to the many eminent witnesses of them an astounding incompetence as observers and as recorders of what they observed. But while these witnesses have recorded the deep impression made on them by such feats as Home's taking in his hands a red-hot coal from the fire and placing it on the head of an old gentleman without doing an injury to his own hand or the other's head, it is not, I think, reported that while doing this any of those who saw it exclaimed, "How characteristic of poor dear So-and-so! just how he used to behave!" Physical phenomena may, possibly, provide evidence of the existence of some physical force not at present recognised by science; they are no evidence at all of the survival of any person who has departed this life, unless
either there is present at the sitting a form perceptible to the sitters' senses and such as the surviving spirit may reasonably be supposed to inhabit,
or else there occurs behaviour distinctive of the bodily activity of that person. The question as to the genuineness and origin of materialised forms was sufficiently discussed in Chapter VI. As to physical phenomena purporting to be produced by a surviving spirit, the more paranormal they are the less likely are they to be distinctive or even appropriate, and
vice versa, since the conditions of ordinary life are very different from those of a properly controlled
sťance. It is, for example, a common occurrence in sťances held in the dark for a tambourine to be shaken, ostensibly by the communicating spirit. The number of persons addicted to this practice in life cannot be considerable. It is a habit which, if the phenomena are genuine, we must suppose we adopt when we join the Choir Invisible.
It is sometimes claimed that messages purporting to come from a particular dead person, and not uncharacteristic of him, are strengthened as evidence of his survival and identity when accompanied by "physical" phenomena, also purporting to be due to him. If the messages are by themselves sufficient to establish his survival (as to which see the chapters that follow this), then the "physical" phenomena accompanying them are superfluous. If the messages do not prove themselves, they are no guarantee of the "physical" phenomena. Even if the genuineness of these phenomena is established on other grounds, such as the adequacy of the control measures in force at the sitting, their origin cannot be proved by communications which are themselves of dubious authenticity. Not all believers in "physical" phenomena accept the spiritualistic view of them. As in the case of materialisations, so with regard to other "physical" phenomena, alternative explanations have the support of several eminent and experienced investigators.
I shall accordingly omit further discussion of "physical" phenomena except in so far as their occurrence throws light on the psychological situation in which phenomena of the so-called "mental" type are produced, as it does in the mediumship
(1872-1883) of Stainton Moses. As this was in several ways a turning-point in the history of mediumship, it may be a convenient place to explain some of the words that will be used to describe the personalities, actual or ostensible, now to be discussed and the phenomena connected with them. Psychical research and spiritualism both have fairly long histories in the course of which they have elaborated terminologies, not always mutually consistent, sometimes based on obsolete conceptions of the things intended to be defined, and changing with the course of time. Where a word has become established in general use, it has seemed to me better to retain it with such change in definition as lucidity may demand, even at the expense of verbal symmetry, rather than to bother the reader with a new technical term that fresh research might in a few years render obsolete.
There is no very convenient or exact term in general use to describe the sort of medium whose phenomena are not of the "physical" order. "Mental" as applied to persons has an unfortunate connotation, and is anyhow inexact. "Clairvoyant" is no longer tolerable now that clairvoyance has acquired a more precise definition: its use would only lead to serious 'confusion. "Trance-medium" is also inexact, as "physical" phenomena are generally produced in trance, or ostensibly so, and moreover while many "communications" are received in trance, others, especially those received through automatic writing, are not. As however it is short and less misleading than "clairvoyant" it will be used to cover all forms of mediumship in which communications are received that purport to come from the surviving spirits of the dead. Automatists are a type of trance-medium who practise one on the various techniques described in a later chapter.
In the early days of trance-mediumship, the view was prevalent that during trance a spirit invaded the medium's body of which it took complete and undivided control, displacing the medium's own spirit. Hence the personalities who claimed to manifest during the trance were called "Controls". (It is now usual to spell this word with a capital C when applied to a trance personality, and with a small c when applied to the condition prevailing when such a personality is manifesting.) In course of time however it became desirable to distinguish between (a) the spirits whose purpose it was to give evidence of their identity to their friends on earth, and messages of interest to them, these being called "Communicators", and (b) other spirits who made no serious attempt to prove their identity, but confined themselves to introducing the Communicators and relaying their messages in the third person ("He says" etc.), to arranging the times, duradon and general conditions of sittings, to imparting moral exhortation, and to explaining the philosophy of mediumship. It is to spirits of this second kind that the word "Control" is now mostly applied. It remains in general use even by persons who do not accept the independent existence of Controls, or, if they accept it, do not regard the medium's own mind or spirit as being eliminated by the Control's activity.
The distinction between Control and Communicator is not sharply defined. Some Communicators speak in the first person without the intervention of a separate Control: this state of things is called "direct control". Some, besides sending evidential messages themselves, introduce other Communicators. It may not be superfluous at this point to remind the reader of what was said in Chapter II that the omission of qualifying words such as "ostensible" in speaking of controlling or communicating personalities, while convenient for the sake of brevity, does not imply any assertion whether they are, or are not, what they purport to
The mediumship of Stainton Moses has been spoken of as a historical turning-point. It may be so considered for several reasons. It began in what may be called the pre-historical period before the founding of the
SPR in 1882 made psychical research an organised study. Stainton Moses was an original member of the Society. He produced both physical and mental phenomena. Later mediums have specialised in one or the other, there being no more recent example of a trance-medium worth serious consideration who produced notable physical phenomena, or of a cc physical" medium through whom communications of importance have been received. In his mediumship the distinction between Control and Communicator becomes plain, about a third of the four score spirits manifesting through him being the spirits Of persons recently dead who claimed to give evidence of their survival and identity.
An interesting and instructive example is the manifestation at sittings on the 1st and 2nd September, 1874, of a Communicator who gave the name Abraham Florentine. An extract from Stainton Moses's notebook for 1st September, 1874, reads:
"A new spirit manifested by tilts. He gave his name as Abraham Florentine, and lie was in the American War of 1812, died August 5th 1874, aged 83 years, 1 month, 17 days, at Brooklyn."
From enquiries made of his widow it was shown that the statements made as to his name, the date and place of his death, and his war service were correct. As to his age there appeared to he a trifling mistake: he was indeed 83 years old, but as his birthday was the 8th June, he had lived in addition 1 month and 27 days, not one month and 17. On the whole however the message seemed at the time to provide striking evidence for spirit communication. But further enquiry made in 1921 showed that the mistake might be significant. An entry in the
Brooklyn Daily Eagle of the evening of the 5th August 1874 read:
FLORENTINE. In Brooklyn, August 5th, after a long and painful illness, ABRAHAM FLORENTINE aged 83 years, 1 month and 17 days. A veteran of the war of 1812. Notice of funeral hereafter.
The New York Daily Tribune of the 6th August 1874 printed an almost identical notice, with the same statement as to his age. It is to be noted that, though neither Stainton Moses's contemporary record nor Mrs. Speer's account of the sitting say anything as to the length of Abraham Florentine's illness or whether it was painful, Stainton Moses in a letter to the
Spiritualist speaks of "his liberation from the body which (if I may guess again) had become a burden to him from a painful illness". This fact supports the inference suggested by the correspondence between the newspaper notices and the record of the sitting, especially where both were incorrect, that the source of the information given at the sitting was one of the newspapers.
If so, how had it come to Stainton Moses's conscious, or subconscious, mind? Enthusiasts for an indefinite extension of extrasensory perception might attribute it to direct clairvoyance, or possibly to telepathy between the compositor in America and Stainton Moses. If however it was possible for him to have read the Obituary in either paper, it would be simpler to assume that he had in fact read it. There was time for the newspapers to reach London, where he lived, before the sitting, but there is no evidence that he actually saw them, and it may appear curious that if he had done so he should have forgotten it within a few days. There being no ground for imputing conscious deception to him, it must be supposed that the newspaper entry attracted a casual glance ("marginal perception" is the term), making no impression on his conscious memory, but producing a latent subconscious memory that was activated by the conditions of the sitting. The possibility of marginal perception with consequent latent memory is the most serious difficulty to be faced when assessing records of sittings with trance mediums. For this important case see
SPR Proceedings XI, 82-85 and Journal XX 148-152, 223-226.
For the present purpose however a greater interest attaches to the Controls who gave no evidence of identity that need be considered. It is of course conceivable that the Egyptian Chom, not otherwise known to fame, or the prophet Haggai, or Plotinus, or Beethoven or Benjamin Franklin, to name but a few of this group, might have given Stainton Moses information about themselves which could be shown to be true and which could be shown at the same time not to have formed part of his extensive scholarly knowledge, but so far as
I know this did not happen.
Within this group the lead was taken by a band of spirits who assumed descriptive Latin names such as "Imperator Servus Dei", "Rector", "Prudens", etc., to conceal their identities from the world at large. The names they had borne on earth were revealed to Stainton Moses, but not made public during his life or for some time after. They included characters from the Old and New Testaments, and learned men of various periods and countries.
The most anomalous of the Controls was "Little Dicky", a child spirit, who on one occasion during a sťance is reported to have brought a brass candlestick from another room and hit the medium over the head with it. It is not unnatural that to many of the medium's contemporaries, who knew Stainton Moses to be in ordinary life a sincere and conscientious man, such an assault should seem, however playfully intended, conclusive proof that "Little Dicky" was a personality quite separate from his victim. To a later generation familiar with records of poltergeist cases and the story of Sally Beauchamp, this is not at all so obvious. Comparison with them suggests exactly the opposite, that "Little Dicky" was a dramatisation of one aspect of the medium's subconscious, and that it is not unlikely that other aspects were dramatised by other of his Controls.
This suggestion would not deserve to carry much weight in tile absence of reasonable motives for so elaborate a mystification. Subconscious motives of course, because as regards his conscious mind there is no doubt that Stainton Moses sincerely believed in the independent reality of the Controls. The primary consideration was, I think, that only through the Controls could he effectively fulfil his mission of giving to the world the philosophy embodied in the "Spirit Teachings" dictated by them. They provided a multiple alias for the expression of views formed by him over many years, which it would have been impossible to reconcile with the doctrines of the Church of England of which he was a priest, though he no longer had a cure of souls. Moreover these opinions were more likely to impress the world if issued over the names of a host of saints and sages than they would have done if he had claimed to, be their author.
A secondary motive may have been that in the company of the saints and sages he obtained welcome relief from the dull routine of a schoolmaster's life, diversified otherwise only by frequent bouts of illness. Perhaps "Little Dicky" was a relief from too many saints and sages.
The mediumship of Mrs. Piper, the most famous of trance mediums, began in 1884, the year following the close of Stainton Moses's activity. She lived to a great age, dying in 1950, but does not seem to have produced anything of importance after 1915. During the whole of her active mediumship she was under the close investigation of critical and competent researchers. She willingly collaborated with them, and they were all agreed that she was perfectly honest, and that the communications received through her conveyed information outside her normally acquired knowledge. On two points however there was disagreement, whether any of her Controls existed independently of her, and whether any of the communications should be taken as what they claimed to be, messages from particular dead persons. The latter point will be discussed in another chapter, and all that need for the present be said is that through Mrs. Piper there was for the, first time obtained a substantial body of evidence on which such a claim could with any show of reason be based.
Mrs. Piper's mediumship may be divided into five periods, in the first four of which her communications were produced in trance, while in the fifth she practised automatic writing without trance. The first period began when, an her second visit to a healing medium named Cocke for relief from the effects of an accident, she herself went into trance. The main Control during this period, which lasted until 1892, was Phinuit who claimed to have been a French doctor. Cocke had a doctor-Control called Finney, and Mrs. Piper's Phinuit (the spelling is due to the sitter who recorded her trance) obviously owed his name and his self-attributed doctorship to Cocke's Control. Phinuit had only a smattering of French and no systematic knowledge of medicine, and he made contradictory statements as to his birthplace. But he seems to have shown some flair for diagnosis and he impressed his investigators as a personality who, whatever his own psychological status, should be taken seriously. He was the dominant Control during Mrs. Piper's first visit to England in 1889-1890, when she was investigated by a very able
SPR Committee consisting of Myers, Lodge and Walter Leaf. His last appearance was in 1897. In 1892 a young man named Pellew (called in the records George Pelham. or G.P.) died suddenly in America, where he had been well known to Hodgson, Mrs. Piper's principal investigator. At a sitting a few weeks after his death, at which Phinuit was Control, G.P. appeared as Communicator and gave the anonymous sitter correct information. Later he acted as Control, frequently until 1896, and more rarely after that.
The third period may be considered as extending from January 1897 to Hodgson's sudden death in December 1905. The main Control at this time was Rector, who was introduced by a Control calling himself Stainton Moses as a former member of his Imperator group. The name to which the Moses-Rector laid claim had not at this time been made public: it was in fact St. Hippolytus. The Piper-Rector failed to establish his identity with the Moses-Rector, being unable to give this name, or indeed to give proofs of being any person who had ever lived. He was none the less, on the testimony of several sitters, distinctly impressive, and was regarded by William James as having a "Capacity for being a spiritual advise?' superior to that of Mrs. Piper in the state of ordinary consciousness. He continued as main Control after Hodgson's death and acted as such during the fourth period of the mediumship.
With the changes in Controls was associated a change in the Condition in which Mrs. Piper gave messages. In the first period the messages were entirely oral, delivered in trance. In the second they were mainly oral, with some writing, delivered in trance in either case. During these periods entry into trance was painful, but with the advent of Rector it became much easier. The messages were given during this, the third period, in writing while the trance lasted, the whole body of the medium, except the hand that wrote, appearing inert. The same conditions prevailed during the fourth period, which lasted until 1911, when her Imperator Control "closed the light". There followed a fifth period when she wrote automatically but not in trance.
In addition to the principal Controls named, the Piper mediumship had a host of minor ones. There was, for instance, a Mentor who asserted his identity with the Stainton Moses Control of the same name. The latter claimed to be Algazzali, an eleventh century Arab philosopher. But the Piper-Mentor avowed himself to be the classical Ulysses, not, one would say, a person pre-eminently fitted to serve as a spiritual guide. There was a Sir Walter Scott who declared there were monkeys in the sun, and a George Eliot who had met Adam Bede in heaven. These are obvious absurdities, not worth further discussion were it not that their appearance raises doubts as to the scope of fantasy in her mediumship as a whole, and so casts doubts on the claims to an independent existence made by the principal Controls, Phinuit, G.P., and Rector.
None of these three can so readily be dismissed as figments of Mrs. Piper's subconscious. Their status was debated at great length and with much ability on both sides in
SPR Proceedings. In favour of their independence there are several points deserving consideration, but none in my view conclusive. First there is the integrity of Mrs. Piper's conscious mind, which is admitted, but is not inconsistent with elaborate dramatisation in the subconscious, examples of which have been given in Chapter VII. Then there is the fact, accepted by critical investigators, that though neither Phinuit nor Rector could prove their identity, each in his way seemed to surpass Mrs. Piper's normal powers. Here again Chapter VII should be taken into account.
The other points relate to the veridical nature of the communications made by all of them. In particular a plausible, but not in my view conclusive, case could be made out for regarding G.P.'s apparent success as a Communicator, which will be discussed in a later chapter, as guaranteeing his independence as a Control.
To define the status of the Piper Controls is a matter of great psychological interest, but does not very closely concern the question of survival, since whatever view be taken as to their independence no action of theirs is as relevant to that question as the communications obtained through the same medium. The same is true of the Controls of other trance mediums and the messages received through them.
It is however of interest to note that the odd phenomenon of Mrs. Piper's hand acting as if it by itself, and it alone, possessed intelligence, has a parallel in the case of Anna Winsor, (1860-1863: see
H.P. I. 354-360). Not indeed a complete parallel, as Anna Winsor represented "an extreme form of hystero-epilepsy" while Mrs. Piper, though often in great physical pain, was notably placid in temperament. Anna Winsor, who called her right arm and hand "Old Stump", regarded them as something intelligent but foreign, as Mrs. Piper's right hand gave the appearance of being. But there was in Mrs. Piper's case no such show of hostility between the hand and the rest of the organism as was recorded with Anna Winsor.
At the end of her sittings Mrs. Piper several times spoke of "sliding down" a cord into the body, or of being pulled back by one, and she also expressed disgust at finding herself back in normal life, in a way recalling the feelings of the percipient in "out-of-the-body" experiences. While in hospital, after an operation it seems, she had a well-developed experience of this type, which she styles "a dream or vision". Two of her Controls, Phinuit and G.P., appeared to her. She heard voices saying "Come, we wish to take you with us: we wish to give you a rest from your tired body". After a pause she felt she was being lifted and was not on her bed. She passed through a delicate blue drapery, and "saw a light as though all space-the whole earth was aglow-such a light! I never saw anything like it before". She was greeted by singing, and a ring of beautiful women dancing, passed between hedges with flowers, and came to a pillared building where she met several dead relations and Communicators. She felt a stab in the back where she was attached to a cord that looked like the ray of light which she had followed in her ascent. She was pulled back to her body and found herself awake. "My body seemed so dark and heavy as though it did not belong to me: I had to struggle for breath. I felt depressed to think that I had got back."
(Proc. XXVIII, 377-380).
The analogy between some aspects of the Piper mediumship and conditions unassociated with mediumship described in earlier chapters is obvious. But in considering the nature of mediumistic Controls one is not entirely confined to argument from analogy. More direct psychological methods have been brought to bear on the Controls of some recent mediums, such as Mrs. Leonard and Mrs. Garrett. Mrs. Leonard's only Control, apart from Communicator-Controls, is the child Feda, who in some ways, but not altogether, closely resembles secondary personalities of the Sally type. Feda, like Sally, is most amusing, and professes a contempt for her medium, not unlike that which Sally boasted to have for Miss Beauchamp, or Margaret for Doris Fischer. But whereas both Sally and Margaret were guilty of spiteful actions, Feda has never gone beyond causing Mrs. Leonard such embarrassments as prevailing on her to give an expensive present or to walk through the streets of a town trailing a toy balloon. Feda is moreover, on the universal testimony of Mrs. Leonard's sitters, absolutely straightforward. For a character sketch of her see
SPR Proceedings XXXII, 344-378.
In 1933 Whately Carington began to apply to Mrs. Leonard and Mrs. Garrett, both of whom collaborated most willingly, the established psychological technique of word-association tests. The method is to read to a subject lists of stimulus words to which the subject replies with the first words he thinks of. The subject's reactions, e.g. the time between stimulus and response, are noted and on examination are found to show a pattern characteristic of each subject.
Carington administered this test first to each of these mediums in their normal state, and then, using the same stimulus-list to each of them in trance. The analysis of the results led to a long technical discussion in several volumes of
SPR Proceedings. Carington's conclusion, which was not however accepted by all Mrs. Leonard's sitters, was that Feda was a secondary personality, probably formed round a nucleus of material repressed by the medium's conscious mind.
With Mrs. Garrett recourse has also been had to the electro- encephalograph, by which the electrical activity of the cerebral cortex is recorded on a moving paper strip, the record being known as an electro-encephalogram. or E.E.G. The purpose was to discover whether mediumistic trance could be shown to have features distinguishing it from the normal ("alpha") rhythm observed with subjects resting but awake, and from the rhythm observed in hypnosis, in hysterical dissociation, and in light and deep sleep. The instrument was attached to Mrs. Garrett's head at two sessions in 1951, first when she was awake but resting, and then while she went into, remained in, and came out of trance, during which time her Control, Uvani, spoke. Trance was at the second session induced by hypnosis. The
SPR Journal (XXXVI, 588-596) reports, "There was no significant E.E.G. change when the subject went into or came out of either the trance state or the hypnotic state".
E.E.G. tests, and other physiological tests, have a bearing on the status of Controls only if it be a valid assumption that the correlation between mental processes and bodily conditions is constant, whether the mental processes manifest themselves in normal or paranormal activities. This has yet to be proved, and indeed such evidence as is available suggests that in telepathy mental activity may occur without a corresponding physical stimulus, a conception which many scientists find difficulty in accepting notwithstanding the impressive mass of evidence in its favour. In the present state of knowledge therefore physiological tests, whether they give positive or, as in the E.E.G. test described above, negative results, are not conclusive for or against the independence of Controls.
In the latter part of this book much will be said about the "SPR group of automatists", whose contribution towards a solution of the problem of survival is generally agreed to be outstanding. A discussion of the bearing on this problem of the status of Controls would he incomplete without consideration of the part they play in the scripts of this group, which represent each of the members of the group as being in touch with another group consisting of Communicators, all identifiable either by their names or in other ways. Of the five principal members of the group of automatists none had a Control who was not also a Communicator, i.e. who did not give messages purporting to be evidential. With some of the automatists the Communicators hardly emerged from an impersonal collectivity, the messages being introduced with some such phrase as "they say". With others a Communicator would take on for a time a not very strongly marked individuality, and with one, Mrs. Willett, the Control-Communicators took on marked personal characteristics of speech and manner. In the "cross-correspondences" which were an important feature of these scripts, the scripts of two or more automatists of the group had to be read together to get at the meaning. For this purpose the degree of personalisation shown by the Control-Communicators of the various automatists counted for nothing. The evidence therefore of the automatic writings of the
SPR group does not run counter to the view formed from a survey of trance-mediumship in general that the case for survival is not strengthened by the very doubtful claims to independent existence made by Controls, so far as they can be differentiated from Communicators.
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