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WE come now to the occultists of to-day, who are no longer hierophants, adepts, initiates, or seers, but mere investigators applying to the study of abnormal phenomena the methods of experimental science. These phenomena may be noted on every hand by any one who displays a little vigilance. Are they exclusively due to the unknown powers of the subconsciousness, or to invisible entities which are not, are not yet, or are no longer human? Herein resides the great interest, one might say the whole interest, of the problem; but the solution is still uncertain, although the tendency to look for it in another world than ours is becoming more marked; and the conversion to spiritualism of scientists pure and simple, such as Sir Oliver Lodge or, more recently, Professor W. J. Crawford, is not without significance in this respect.
I shall not return in these pages to the spirit messages, the phantasms of the living and the dead, the phenomena of premonition, or the psychometric and mediumistic manifestations of which I gave a brief survey in "Death" and "The Unknown Guest." What I said in these volumes will give the reader a summary and provisional for in this domain all is provisional yet a sufficient idea of the present state of metapsychical knowledge in this connection.
There are, however, other factors, which did not then fall within the scope of my work, but with which I must deal to-day: first, because having surveyed, quickly but as completely as is possible in a necessarily brief monograph, the occultism of the past, it is only fair to treat the occultism of the present day in a similar fashion; but also and especially because the points which I then passed over throw a somewhat unexpected light on a number of other factors, and justify us, if not in forming conclusions, at least in drawing certain inferences which will complete this survey.
Our modern occultists no longer seek, as did their more presumptuous predecessors, to question the unknowable directly, to go back to the origin of the Cause without a cause, to explain the inexplicable transition from the infinite to the finite, from the unknowable to the known, from spirit to matter, from good to evil, from the absolute to the relative, from the eternal to the ephemeral, from the invisible to the visible, from immobility to movement, and from the virtual to the actual; and to find in all these incomprehensible things a theogony, a cosmogony, a religion, and a morality a little less hopeless than the obscurity whence man has striven to draw them.
Having learned wisdom from innumerable disappointments, they have resigned themselves to a more modest function. In the heart of a science which by the very nature of its investigation has almost inevitably become materialistic, they have patiently conquered a little island on which they give asylum to phenomena which the laws, or rather the habits of matter, as we believe ourselves to know them, are not sufficient to explain. They have thus gradually succeeded, if not in proving, yet in preparing us to accept the proof, that there is in man, whom we may regard as a sort of summary of the universe, a spiritual power other than that which proceeds from his organs or his material and conscious mind; which does not entirely depend on the existence of his body. We must admit that the island thus won by our occultists, who are now assuming the name of metapsychists, is as yet in considerable disorder. One sees upon it all the confusion of a recent and provisional settlement. Thither day by day the conquerors bear their discoveries, great or small, unloading them and heaping them pell-mell upon the beach. There the doubtful will be found beside the indisputable, the excellent by the worthless, while the beginning is confounded with the end. It would seem to be time to deduce, from this abundance and confusion of materials, a few general laws which would introduce a little order into their midst; but it is doubtful whether this could be attempted at the present moment, for the inventory is not yet complete, and one feels that an unexpected discovery may call the whole position in question and upset the most carefully constructed theories.
In the meanwhile one might try to begin at the beginning. Since the phenomena recorded tend to prove that the spiritual power which emanates from man does not entirely depend on his brain and his bodily life, it would be logical to show, in the first place, that thought may exist without a brain, and did, as a matter of fact, exist before there was such an organ as the brain. If one could do this, then survival after death and all the phenomena attributed to the subconsciousness would become almost natural and, at all events, far more capable of explanation.
The great objection which the materialists have always brought against the spiritualists, and which they still advance, though to-day with less assurance than of old, may be summed up in these words: "No thought without a brain." The mind or soul is a secretion of the cerebral tissues; when the brain dies thought ceases, and nothing is left.
To this formidable objection, to these statements, apparently irrefutable, since our daily experience of the dead is continually confirming them, the occultists have not hitherto been able to oppose any really serious argument.
They were, at bottom, far more defenseless than they dared to admit. But for some years now the investigations of our metapsychists, from which we have not as yet deduced all the consequences, have provided us, if not with unanswerable arguments, which it may be we shall never find, at least with the raw material which will enable us to hold our own against the materialists; no longer amid the clouds of religion or metaphysics, but on their own territory, whose sole ruler is the goddess the highly respectable goddess of the experimental method. Thus above the centuries we once more assemble the affirmations and declarations bequeathed to us by our prehistoric ancestors as a secret treasure, or one too long buried in oblivion.
We should be thankful enough to avoid these rather useless discussions between the spiritualists and the materialists, but the latter compel us to return to them by blindly maintaining that matter is everything; that it is the source of everything; that everything begins and ends in matter and through matter, and that nothing else exists. It would be more reasonable to admit once for all that matter and spirit are fundamentally merely two different states of a single substance, or rather of the same eternal energy. This is what the primitive religion of India has always affirmed, more definitely than any other cult, adding that the spirit was the primordial state of this substance or energy, and that matter is merely the result of a manifestation, a condensation, or a degradation of spirit. The whole of its cosmogony, theosophy, and morality proceed from this fundamental principle, whose consequences, even though in appearance they amount to no more than a verbal dispute, are in actual fact stupendous.
Thus, to begin with, we must know whether spirit preceded matter, or whether the reverse was the case; whether matter is a state of spirit, or whether, on the contrary, spirit is a state of matter. In the present condition of science, disregarding the teaching of the great religions, is it possible to answer this question?
Our materialists assert that life is the indispensable condition without which it is impossible for thought to rise and take shape in the mind. They are right; but what, in their eyes, is life, if not a manifestation of matter, which already is no longer matter as we understand it, and which we have a perfect right to call spirit, soul, or even God, if we so desire? If they maintain that matter is powerless to produce life unless a germ coming from without calls it into existence, they ipso facto enter our camp, since they acknowledge that something more than matter is needed to produce life. If, on the other hand, they claim that life is an emanation from matter, they are confessing that it was previously contained in matter, and again they find themselves in our ranks. For the rest, they have recently been compelled to admit see, among others, the experiments of Dr. Gustave le Bon that no such thing exists as inert matter, and that a pebble, a lump of lava, sterilized by the fiercest of infernal fires, is endowed with an intramolecular activity which is absolutely fantastic, expending, in its internal vortices, an energy which would be capable of hauling whole railway trains round and round the globe. Now what is this activity, this energy, if not an undeniable form of the universal life? And here again we are in agreement. But we are not in agreement when they claim, without reason, or rather against all reason, that matter existed before this energy. We may admit that it has existed simultaneously, from the beginning of the world; but mere logic and observation of the facts compel us to admit that when matter sets itself in motion, when it proceeds to evolve, not internally, as in a pebble, but externally, as in a crystal, a plant, or an animal, it is precisely the energy, the motive-power that was contained in it, that has now determined this movement or this development. This same logic, this same observation of the facts, forces us yet again to acknowledge that when matter is transformed or organized it is not the matter that begins the process, but the life contained in it. Now in this case, as in the disputes that are settled in the courts of law, it is extremely important to know which side began. If it was matter that began but let us ask, in passing, how it could begin, how it could possibly take the initiative, without ceasing to be matter defined by the materialists; that is, a thing that is in itself necessarily lifeless and motionless but if, after all, to admit the impossible, it was matter that began, it is probable enough our spiritual part will perish, or rather will be extinguished with matter, and will revert, contained in matter, to that elemental intramolecular activity which marked its beginning and will mark its end. If, on the other hand, it was spirit that began, it is no less probable that, having been able to transform and organize matter, it is more powerful than matter, and of a different nature; and that having been able to make use of matter, to profit by it in the process of evolution, improving and uplifting itself and the evolution, which, upon this earth of ours, began with minerals and ends in man, is assuredly a spiritual evolution, it is, I repeat, no less probable that spirit, having shown itself able to make use of matter and being its master, will refuse to allow matter, when it seems on the point of disintegration, to involve it in its material dissolution; that spirit will refuse to accept extinction, when matter becomes extinct; nor will it lapse into that obscure intramolecular activity whence it drew matter in the beginning.
In any case, the question for us has a peculiar interest as to whether thought preceded the brain, or whether thought is possible without a brain this question is determined by the facts. Before the appearance of man and the more intelligent of the animals, nature was already far more intelligent than we are and had already brought into the world of plants, fish, lizards, and reptilian birds, and above all into the world of insects, most of those marvelous inventions which even to-day fill us with an ecstasy of wonder. Where in those days was the mind of nature? Probably in matter, and above all outside matter; everywhere and nowhere, just as it is to-day. It is useless to object that all this was done gradually, with infinite slowness, by means of incessant, groping; that goes without saying, but time has nothing to do with the matter. It is therefore obvious, unless you believe that the effect may precede the cause, that there was somewhere, no one knows where, an intelligence which was already at work, although without organs that could be seen or localized; thus proving that the organs which we believe to be indispensable to the existence of an idea are merely the products of a preexisting idea, the results of a previous and a spiritual cause.
In the meantime it is quite possible that since the formation of the human mind nature thinks better than of old. It is quite possible, as certain biologists have claimed, that nature profits by our mental acquisitions, which are poured into the common fund of the universal mind. For my part I see no objection to this, for it does not in the least mean that nature depends for her conceptions on the human mind. She had them all long before we existed. When man invents, say, the printing-press or the typewriter to facilitate the diffusion of his ideas, this does not prove that he needed either invention in order to think.
It seems, indeed, that nature, at least on our little planet, has grown wiser and no longer permits the stupendous blunders of which she used to be guilty, in creating thousands of anomalous monsters incapable of survival. None the less it is true that she did not await our advent before proceeding to think, before imagining a far greater profusion of things than we shall ever imagine. We have not ceased, nor shall we soon cease, to help ourselves with overflowing hands from the stupendous treasury of intelligence accumulated by her before our coming. Earnest Kapp, in his Philosophie de la Technique, has brilliantly demonstrated that all our inventions, all our machinery, are merely organic projections, that is, unconscious imitations, of models provided by nature. Our pumps are derived from the animal heart; our cranks and connecting-rods are reproductions of our joints and limbs; our cameras are an adaptation of the human eye; our telegraphic systems, of our nervous system; in the X-rays we have that organic property of somnambulistic clairvoyance which is able to see through opaque substances; which can read, for example, the contents of a letter that has been sealed and enclosed in a threefold metal box. In wireless telegraphy we are following the hints afforded by telepathy, that is, the direct communication of an idea by means of psychic waves analogous to the Hertzian waves; and in the phenomena of levitation and the moving of objects without contact we have yet another indication which we have not hitherto been able to turn to account. It puts us upon the track of methods which will perhaps one day enable us to overcome the terrible laws of gravitation which chain us to the earth, for it seems as though these laws, instead of being, as was supposed, forever incomprehensible and impenetrable, are principally magnetic; that is to say, tractable and utilizable.
And I am speaking here only of the restricted world of man. What if we were to enumerate all nature's inventions in the insect world, where she seems to have lavished, long before our arrival on the earth, a genius more varied and more abundant than that which she has expended upon us? Apart from the conception of political and social organizations, which some day we may perhaps imitate, we find in the world of insects mechanical miracles which are beyond our attainments and secret forces of which we have as yet no conception. Consider the Languedocian scorpion: whence does she draw that mysterious aliment which, despite her incessant activity, enables her to live for nine months without any sort of nourishment? Where, again, do the young of the Lycosa of the Clotho spider obtain their food? They, too, possess a similar capacity. And by virtue of what alchemy does the egg of a beetle, the Minotaurus typhoeus, increase its volume tenfold, although nothing can reach it from the outside world? Fabre, the great entomologist, without a suspicion that he was repeating a fundamental theory of Paracelsusfor science, despite itself, draws daily closer to magic, had a shrewd suspicion "that they borrow part of their activity from the energies encompassing them heat, electricity, light, or other various modes of a single agent," which is precisely the universal or astral agent, the cosmic, etheric, or vital fluid, the Akahsa of the occultists, or the od of our modern theorists.
It may be said, in passing, that mindless nature has once more plainly shown our minds the path to follow should they seek to rid us of the burdensome and repugnant dependence upon food, which allows us barely a few hours' leisure between the three or four meals that we are obliged to consume daily. It may be that the time is less remote than we suppose when we shall cease to be greedy stomachs and insatiable bellies; when we in our turn shall have solved the magnificent secret of these insects; when we, like them, shall succeed in absorbing vitality from the universal and invisible fluid by which not they alone but we ourselves are surrounded and permeated.
Here is a field that to our human science is unexplored and unbounded. Here, above all from the point of view of our spiritual life, is a transformation which would singularly facilitate our understanding of our future existence; for when we no longer have to make the three or four meals which now, according to temperament, encumber or brighten the hours between sunrise and sunset, we shall perhaps begin to understand that our thoughts and feelings will not necessarily be unhappy, unoccupied, distracted, and a prey to eternal tedium when our day no longer contains the landmarks or objectives now furnished by breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner. It would be an excellent initiation into the diet which will be ours beyond the tomb and in eternity.
Returning once more to the problem of thought without a brain, which is the keystone of the whole building: let us suppose that after a cataclysm, such as the earth must assuredly have experienced already, and such as may at any moment be repeated, every living brain, and even the most elementary, the most gelatinous attempt at a nervous or cerebral organization, from that of the amoeba to that of man, were suddenly destroyed. Do you believe that the earth would remain bare, uninhabited, inert, and forever lifeless, if the conditions of life were once more to become precisely what they had been before the catastrophe? Such a supposition is scarcely permissible. On the contrary, it is all but certain that life, finding itself surrounded by the same favorable circumstances, would begin all over again in almost the same fashion. Mind would once more gradually come into being; ideas and emotions would reappear, would make themselves new organs, thereby giving us irrefragable proof that thought was not dead, that it cannot die, that somewhere it finds a refuge and continues to exist, intangible and imperishable, above the absolute destruction of its installments or its media; that it is, in a word, independent of matter.
Let us now examine this preexistence of the mind or spirit in ourselves. Had we already a brain when, at the moment of our conception, we were still no more than the sperm-cell which only the microscope renders visible to the eyes? Yet we were already potentially all that we are to-day. Not only were we ourselves, with our character, our innate ideas, our virtues and vices, and all that our brain, which as yet had no existence, would develop a great deal later; already we held within us all that our ancestors had been; we bore within us all that they had acquired during a tale of centuries whose number no one knows; their experience, their wisdom, their habits, their defects and qualities, and the consequences of their imperfections and their merits; all this was packed, struggling and fructifying, into one invisible speck. And we likewise bore within us (which seems to be much more extraordinary, although it is equally indisputable) the whole of our descendants; the whole unbroken sequence of our children and our children's children, in whom we shall live again through the infinity of the ages, though already we hold within us all their aptitudes, all their destinies, all their future. When matter accumulates so many things in a scrap of filament so fine that it all but escapes the microscope, is it not subtle to the point of bearing a strange resemblance to a spiritual principle?
We shall disregard for the moment the action of our descendants upon ourselves, our characters, and our tendencies; an influence which is probable enough, since they do incontestably exist within us, but which it would take us too long to investigate: and let us for a moment lay stress upon the fact that our ancestors, who to us seemed dead, are continuing in a very real sense to live on in us. I shall not linger over this point, since I wish to consider more recent arguments. I shall therefore content myself with calling your attention to it; for the phenomena of heredity are now recognized and classified. It is an indubitable fact that each of us is merely a sort of sum total of his forebears, reproducing more or less exactly the personality of one or several of them, who are obviously continuing to think and act in him. They think with our brains, you will say. That may be true. They employ the organs at their disposal; but it is evident that they still exist; that they live and think, although they have no brain of their own; and this for the moment is all that we need establish.
We have just seen, though our survey was all too brief and too summary, that it is possible for thought to exist without a brain; that it seems anterior to matter and actually exists independent of matter. For the moment I shall note only one of the objections put forward by the materialists. "If thought is independent of matter," they say, "how is it that it ceases to function, or functions only in an incomplete manner, when the brain is injured?" This objection, which, by the way, does not envisage the source of thought, but only the state of its conductor or condenser, loses some part of its value if we oppose to it a sufficient number of observations which prove precisely the contrary. I could, if we had the leisure, place before you a list of cases, vouched for by medical observers, in which thought continued to function normally though the whole brain almost was reduced to pulp or was merely a purulent abscess. I refer those whom this question interests to the works of the specialists; in particular they will find in Dr. Geley's authoritative volume; De l'Inconscient au Conscient, 1 some examples which will convince them.
Fundamentally the objection advanced by the materalists is a sophism, which has been admirably refuted by Dr. Carl du Prel. To say that every injury to the brain affects the mind, that all thought ceases when the brain is destroyed, and that the mind is consequently a product of the brain, is to argue precisely as who should say that any injury to a telegraphic apparatus garbles the message; that if the wire is cut the message no longer exists; therefore the apparatus produces the message, and no scientist can possibly imagine that there is an operator behind the apparatus.
We shall now consider the statements which the scientists have been collecting during the last few years, collating, over a dividing space of hundreds and thousands of years, the affirmations of the ancient religions and those of the occultists. These throw a new light on the problem. They corroborate, in short, by experiment, the esoteric doctrines in respect of the astral or etheric body or the Unknown Guest, if you prefer it; in respect of its extraordinary and incomprehensible faculties, its probable survival, and its independence of our physical body.
We all knew that a very considerable portion of our life, of our personality, lay buried in the darkness of the unconscious or the subconscious. In this darkness we housed the whole of our organic life: that of the stomach, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, and even the brain; and there they did their work, in an obscurity never pierced by a ray of consciousness save by chance; in illness, for example. There, too, we lodged our instincts, the lowest and the highest alike; with all that was mysterious, innate and irresistible in our knowledge, our aspirations, our tastes, our capacities, our temperaments, and many other things which we have no time to examine.
But for some years now the scientific investigation of hypnotism and mediumship has enormously enlarged and illuminated this extraordinary and magical domain of the unconscious.
We have come, step by step, to establish the fact, in an objective, material and indubitable fashion, that our little conscious cerebral life is as nothing compared with the vast ultra-cerebral and secret life which we live simultaneously; for this unknown life contains the past and the future, and even in the present can project itself to enormous distances from our physical body. In particular we have ascertained that the restricted, unreliable, and unstable memory which we thought unique is duplicated in the darkness by another memory which is unrestricted, indefatigable, inexhaustible, incorruptible, unshakable, and infallible, recording somewhere, perhaps in the brain, but in any case not in the brain as we know it and as it controls our consciousness for it seems to be independent of the condition of this brain, recording indelibly the most trivial events, the slightest emotions, the most fugitive thoughts of our lives. Thus, to cite only one example from among a thousand, a servant who was absolutely illiterate was able, in the hypnotic state, to repeat without a mistake whole pages of Sanskrit, having some years earlier heard her first employer, who was an Orientalist, reading passages from the "Vedas."
It has thus been proved that every chapter of every one of the thousands of books that we have read remains indelibly photographed on the tablets of our memory and may, at a given moment, reappear before our eyes without the loss of a period or a comma. Thus again Colonel de Rochas, in his experiments on the retrogression of the memory and the personality, made his subjects go back over the whole course of their lives, down to their very early childhood, whose least details were resuscitated with an extraordinary distinctness and perspective; details which, when they were verified, were acknowledged to be absolutely correct. He did even better than this: he succeeded in arousing the memory of their previous lives. But here, verification being more difficult, his experiments are hardly to the point; and I wish to lead you only on to the firm ground of established and undisputed facts.
Well, then, here is an enormous part of ourselves which escapes us; of whose life we know nothing; of which we make no use; which lives and records and acts outside our conscious minds; an ideal memory, which is, practically speaking, of no use to us; by the side of which the memory that obeys us is no more than a restricted summit, a sort of pinnacle, incessantly abraded by time, emerging from the ocean of oblivion, beneath which spreads away, downward and outward, a huge mountain of unchangeable memories, by which the brain is unable to profit. Now on what do we base our personality, the nature of our ego, the identity which above all things we fear to lose by death? Entirely on our conscious memory, for we know no other; and this memory, compared with the other, is, as we have seen, precarious and insignificant. Is it not time to ask ourselves where our ego really exists, where our true personality resides? Is it in the restricted, uncertain, precarious memory or in the spacious, infallible, and unshakable one? Which self should we choose after death? That which consists only of hesitating reminiscences, or the other, which represents the whole man, with no solution of continuity; which has not let slip a single action or spectacle or sensation of our lifetime, and retains, living within it, the self of all those who have died before us? While there is reason to fear that the first memory, that of which our brain makes use, is impaired or extinguished at the moment of death, just as it is impaired or diminished by the least ill-health during life, is it not, on the other hand, more probable that the other more capacious memory, which no shock, no sickness can confuse, will resist the terrific shock of death; and is there not a very good chance that we shall find it intact beyond the grave?
If this is not so, why this stupendous work of registration, this incredible accumulation of unused photographs for in ordinary life we never even wipe the dust from them when the few landmarks of our cerebral memory are enough to maintain the essential outlines of our identity? It is admitted that nature has made nothing useless; We must therefore suppose that these pictures will be of use later on, that elsewhere they will be necessary; and where can this elsewhere be, save in another life?
The inevitable objection will be made that it is the brain alone which registers the images and phrases of this memory, just as it registers the images and phrases of the other memory, and that when the brain is dead, etc. There may be some force in this objection; but would it not be more than a little strange were the brain unaided to perform, with a care which would completely absorb it, all these operations, which do not concern it, which it disregards a moment later, and of which it does not seem to have any clear conception? In any case this is not the brain as we commonly understand it, and here already we have a very important admission.
But this hidden memory, this cryptomnesia, as the specialists have called it, is only one of the aspects of cryptopsychics, or the hidden psychology of the unconscious. I have no time to recapitulate here all that the scholar, the scientist, the artist, and the mathematician owe to the collaboration of the subconscious. We have all profited more or less by this mysterious collaboration.
This subconscious self, this unfamiliar personality, which I have elsewhere called the Unknown Guest, which lives and acts on its own initiative, apart from the conscious life of the brain, represents not only our entire past life, which its memory crystallizes as part of an integral whole; it also has a presentiment of our future, which it often discerns and reveals; for truthful predictions on the part of certain specially endowed "sensitives" or somnambulistic subjects, in respect of personal details, are so plentiful that it is hardly possible any longer to deny the existence of this prophetic faculty. In time accordingly the subconscious self enormously overflows our small conscious ego, which dwells on the narrow table-land of the present; in space likewise it overflows it in a no less astonishing degree. Crossing the oceans and the mountains, covering hundreds of miles in a second, it warns us of the death or the misfortune which has befallen or is threatening a friend or relative at the other side of the world.
As to this point, there is no longer the slightest doubt; and, owing to the verification of thousands of such instances, we need no longer make the reservations which have just been made in respect of predictions of the future.
This unknown and probably colossal guest though we need not measure him to-day, having only to verify his existence is, for the rest, much less a new personality than a personality which has been forgotten since the recrudescence of our positive sciences. Our various religions know more of it than we do; and it matters little whether they call it soul, spirit, etheric body, astral body, or divine spark; for this guest of ours is always the same transcendental entity which includes our brain and our conscious ego; which probably existed before this conscious ego, and is quite as likely to survive it as to precede it; and without which it would be impossible to explain three fourths of the essential phenomena of our lives.
Passing over for the moment some of the other properties of this singular personality, which we believed to be forever relegated to invisibility, together with materialization, ideoplasty, levitation, lucidity, bilocation, psychometry, etc., it remains for me to explain in what a curious and unexpected fashion a somewhat recent science has succeeded in recording, investigating, and analyzing some of these physical manifestations, and to inquire how far these observations increase the probabilities of the survival or the immortality of the identical personality, which after all may very well be the essential and imperishable portion of our ego.
I have just explained how far the investigation of hypnotism and mediumship has enlarged the field of the subconscious. Hitherto, in accordance with the school to which the investigator belonged, the phenomena established have been attributed either to suggestion, or to a fluid of unknown nature, examination having as yet been confined to recording their amazing results. Matters were in this position, and the disputes between the "suggestionists" and the "mesmerists" were threatening to become permanent, when about fifty years ago to be exact, in 1886 and 1867 an Austrian scientist, Baron von Reichenbach, published his first papers on "odic emanations." Dr. Karl von Prel, a German scientist, completed Reichenbach's work, and, being gifted with a scientific mind of the first order, and intuitive powers which often amounted to genius, he was able to deduce all its consequences. These two writers have not yet had full justice done to them, and their works have not yet obtained the reputation which they deserve. We need not be surprised by this; for the progress of official science, the only science that permeates the public, is always a much more leisurely affair than that of independent science. It was more than a century before Volta's electricity became our modern electricity and the ruler of the industrial world. More than a century, too, had passed since the experiments of Mesmer before hypnotism was finally acknowledged by the medical academies, investigated at the universities, and classed as a branch of therapeutics. It may be as long before Reichenbach's experiments, improved by von Prel and completed by De Rochas, begin to bear fruit. In the meantime their investigations throw an abundant light on a whole series of obscure and confused phenomena whose objective existence they have been the first to prove, while indicating their source.
Reichenbach really rediscovered the universal vital fluid, which is none other than the Akahsa of the prehistoric religions, the Telesma of Hermes, the living fire of Zoroaster, the generative fire of Heraclitus, the astral light of the cabala, the Alkahest of Paracelsus, the vital spirit of the occultists, and the vital force of St. Thomas. He called it "od," from a Sankrit word whose meaning is "that which penetrates everywhere," and he saw in it quite correctly the extreme limit of our analysis of man, the point where the line of demarcation between soul and body disappears, so that it seems that the secret quintessence of man must be "odic."
I cannot, of course, describe in these pages the innumerable experiments of Reichenbach, von Prel, and de Rochas. It is enough to say that in principle the od is the magnetic or vital fluid which at every moment of our existence emanates from every part of our being in uninterrupted vibrations. In the normal state these emanations or effluvia, whose existence was suspected, thanks to the phenomena of hypnotism, are absolutely unknown to us and invisible. Reichenbach was the first to discover that "sensitives" that is to say, subjects in a state of hypnosis could see these effluvia quite distinctly in the darkness. As the result of a very great number of experiments, from which every possibility of conscious or unconscious suggestion was carefully eliminated, he was able to prove that the strength and volume of these emanations varied in accordance with the emotions, the state of mind, or the health of those who produced them; that those proceeding from the right side of the body are always bluish in color, while those from the left side are of a reddish yellow. He also states that similar emanations proceed not only from human beings, animals, and plants, but even from minerals. He succeeded in photographing the od emanating from rock crystal; the od given off by human beings; the od resulting from chemical operations; the od from amorphous lumps of metal, and that produced by noise or friction; in a word, he proved that magnetism, or od, exists throughout nature a doctrine which has always been taught by the occultists of all countries and all ages.2
Here then we have the existence of this universal emanation experimentally demonstrated. Now let us inquire into its properties and effects.
I shall confine myself to a few essential facts. Thanks to these emanations it has been possible to prove that this fluid is the same as that which produces the manifestations of table-turning; in the eyes of a sensitive, indeed, these manifestations are accompanied by luminous phenomena whose synchronism leaves no doubt that the emission of the fluid is correlated with the movements of the table. The latter does not move until the radiations proceeding from the hands of those experimenting have become sufficiently powerful. These radiations condense into luminous columns over the center of the table, and the more intense they become the more lively is the table. When they fade away the table falls back motionless.
It is the same with the displacement of objects without contact, levitation, and so forth: manifestations which to-day are so far established and verified that there is no need to repeat their occurrence. It is therefore an established fact that this fluid, which is able to set in motion a pendulum in a glass vase hermetically sealed with the blow-pipe, just as it is capable of lifting a table weighing more than two hundred pounds, possesses a power which at times is enormous and is independent of our muscles. This power may be attributed to our nerves, our minds, or what not, but is no less plainly and purely spiritual in its nature.
Moreover it is almost certain, although the experimental proofs are in this case less complete and more difficult, on account of the scarcity of subjects, that it is the same odic or odylic force that intervenes in the phenomena of materialization; notably in those produced by the celebrated Eusapia Paladino and by Madame Bisson, which latter are far more conclusive and far more strictly controlled by the medium. It probably draws, either from the medium or from the spectator, the plastic substance with whose help it fashions and organizes the tangible bodies which are called into existence and disappear in the course of these manifestations, thereby giving us a very curious glimpse of the manner in which thought, spirit, or the creative fluid acts upon matter, concentrating and shaping it, and how it sets about the business of creating our own bodies.
It has further been experimentally demonstrated that this odic or odylic fluid may be conveyed from place to place. Any material object may be filled with it. The object magnetized, into which the hypnotist has poured some portion of his vital energy, all possibility of suggestion being set aside, will always retain the same influence over the sensitive or medium; that is, the influence desired by the hypnotist. It will make the medium laugh or weep, shiver or perspire, dance or slumber, according to the purpose of the hypnotist when he emitted the vital fluid. Moreover, the fluid appears to be indestructible. A marble pestle, magnetized and placed successively in hydrochloric, nitric, and sulphuric acids and subjected to the corrosive action of ammonia, loses nothing of its power. An iron bar heated to a white heat, resin melted and solidified in a different shape, water that has been boiled, paper burned and reduced to ashes, all retain their power. Further to prove that the detection of this force is not dependent on human impressions it has been shown that water which has been magnetized and then boiled causes the needle of a rheostat an instrument for measuring electric currents to deviate through an angle of twenty degrees, just as it did before it was boiled. It would be interesting to know whether this vital force, thus imprisoned in a material object, can survive the hypnotist. I do not know whether any experiments have been made in respect of this detail. In any case, it has been observed that more than six months after they were charged with od, the most miscellaneous substances iron, tin, resin, wax, sulphur, and marble retained their magnetic powers intact.
Not only does the odic fluid thus transferred contain and reproduce the will of the hypnotist; it also contains and represents part of the personality of the hypnotic subject and in particular his sensitiveness to impressions. Colonel de Rochas has conducted, in connection with this phenomenon, which he calls "the externalization of sensibility," a host of experiments, bewildering yet unassailable and conclusive, which lead us straight back to the magical practices of the wizards of antiquity and the sorcerers of the middle ages, which shows us once more that the most fantastic beliefs or superstitions, provided they are sufficiently general, almost always contain a hidden or forgotten truth.
I need not refer the reader of these pages to experiments which are familiar to all those who have ever glanced through a volume dealing with metapsychics. I must keep within certain bounds; and what I have said is enough to establish the fact that there is within us a vital principle which is not indissolubly bound up with the body, but is able to leave it, to externalize itself, or at least in part, and for a brief period, during our lifetime. It may be rendered visible; it possesses a power independent of our muscles; it is able to condense matter, to shape it, to organize it, to make it live, not merely in appearance, like phantoms of the imagination, but like actual tangible bodies, whose substance evaporates and returns to us in the most inexplicable fashion. We have also seen that this vital principle may be transferred to a given object, and there, despite all physical and chemical treatment of the object, it will maintain, indestructibly, the will of the hypnotist and the sensibility of the hypnotized subject. May we not at this point ask ourselves whether, being to this extent separable from and independent of the body whether being so far indestructible, as, for example, in the ashes of a burned document, which contained only a very small portion of it whether this vital fluid does not survive the destruction of the body? In reply to this question we have, quite apart from logic, the extremely impressive evidence of those learned societies which have devoted themselves to the investigation of strictly authenticated cases of survival; and, in particular, the 500 to 600 apparitions of the dead verified by the Society for Psychical Research. It must be admitted that these apparitions, which are probably odic manifestations from beyond the grave, seem far more credible when we are acquainted with certain properties of the mysterious fluid which we have been considering.
Since the death of the leaders of the "odic" school Reidhenbach, von Prel, and de Rochas, the investigation of the magnetic or odic fluid has been somewhat neglected; mistakenly, to our thinking, for it was by no means exhaustive; but there are fashions in metapsychics as in everything else. The Society for Psychical Research, in particular, during the last few years, has devoted itself almost exclusively to the problems of "cross correspondences"; and while its inquiry has not yielded absolutely unassailable results, it does at least permit us to believe more and more seriously in the presence all about us of spiritual entities, invisible and intelligent; disembodied or other spirits, who amuse themselves the word is employed advisedly by proving to us that they make nothing of space or time and are pursuing some purpose which we cannot as yet understand. I know, of course, that we can, strictly speaking, attribute these unexpected communications to the unknown faculties of the subconsciousness; but this hypothesis becomes daily more precarious, and it may be that the time is not far distant when we shall be finally compelled to admit the existence of these disembodied entities, "doubles," wandering spirits, "elementals," "Dzyan-Choans," devas, cosmic spirits, which the occultists of old never doubted.
In this connection, to say nothing for the present of Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond, or of the highly interesting spiritualistic experiments of P. E. Cornillier, or of a host of other experiments the consideration of which would take us too far afield, the recent researches of Dr. W. Crawford, which have made a sensation in the world of metapsychics, have afforded a remarkable confirmation of the theory of the "invisibles." It is true, however, as we shall see, that this confirmation proceeds less from the facts themselves than from the interpretation which has been placed upon them.
W. J. Crawford, a doctor of science and a professor in Belfast University, has of late undertaken a series of experiments in connection with "telekinesia," or movements without contact; experiments which were conducted with a degree of scientific precision that wholly excluded any idea of fraud, and which absolutely confirm those which Crookes, the Institut Psychologique, and Ochorovicz carried out with Home, Eusapia Paladino, and Mademoiselle Tomscyk as mediums.
The subject of these experiments was that most peculiar phenomenon which is a sort of physical externalization; of the duplication, amorphous at first, and afterward more or less plastic, of the medium. From the medium's body proceeds an indefinable substance, which is sometimes visible, as in the case of Eva, Madame Bisson's medium, and sometimes invisible, as in the case of Crawford's medium, but which, even though invisible, may be touched and measured, and behaves as though it possessed an objective reality.
This substance, moist, cold and, sometimes viscous, which is known as "ectoplasm" can be weighed, and its weight exactly corresponds with the weight lost by the medium; and it may attain as much as 50 per cent. of the medium's normal weight.
In these experiments this invisible substance behaves as though it emerged from the medium's body in the form of a more or less rigid stem, which lifts a table placed at a certain distance from the chair in which the medium is seated. If the table is too heavy to be lifted directly at arm's length, so to speak, the psychic stem or lever curves itself, chooses a fulcrum on the floor, and erects itself to lift the weight. When this invisible lever has its fulcrum in the medium's body the weight of the latter is increased by that of the object lifted: but when it selects a fulcrum on the floor the medium's weight is diminished by the pressure exerted on the floor.
These phenomena of levitation were perfectly well known before Dr. Crawford's investigation; but by his discovery of the invisible lever, sometimes perceptible to the touch and even capable of being photographed, he is the first to reveal the entire material and psychical mechanism. Moreover in the course of his innumerable experiments he noted that everything happened as though invisible entities were watching the experiments, assisting and even directing him. He communicated with them by means of typtology, and having remarked that these mysterious operators did not seem fully to understand the scientific interest of the phenomena, he questioned them, and concluded from their replies that they were only laborers of some sort, manipulating forces which they did not understand, and accomplishing a task required of them by a higher order of beings who could not or did not condescend to do the work themselves.
It may of course be maintained that these invisible collaborators emanate from the subconsciousness of the medium or of other persons present, so that the problem is still unsolved. But a conviction which a scientist who was, to begin with, as skeptical as Dr. Crawford, was gradually, and by the very force of things, led to accept, deserves to be seriously considered. In any case his experiments, like those in connection with the odic fluid, prove once more that our being is far more immaterial, more psychic, more mysterious, more powerful, and assuredly more enduring than we believe it to be; and this was taught us by the primitive religions, as it is taught by the occultists who have been inspired thereby.
While we do not lose sight of the other spiritualistic manifestations the posthumous apparitions, the phenomena of psychometry and materialization, the provision of the future, the mystery of speaking animals, the miracles of Lourdes and other places of pilgrimage, which we mention here only to show that we have not overlooked them, here, as compared with the prodigious and arrogant affirmations of the past, are the half-certainties, the petty details slowly reconquered by the occultists of to-day. At first sight this is little enough, and even if the great central problem of our metapsychics, the problem of survival, were at length solved, this long and eagerly anticipated solution would not take us very far; assuredly not nearly so far as the priests of India and Egypt went. But modest though they may be, the discoveries of our occultists have at least the advantage of being founded upon facts which we can verify, and should therefore be of far greater value to us than the more impressive hypotheses which have hitherto evaded verification.
Now it is quite possible that to penetrate any further into the regions which they are exploring, the experimental methods which are the safest in other sciences may prove insufficient. Other elements must be considered than those which science is accustomed to encounter. Forces may perhaps be in question of a more spiritual nature than those of our intellect, and in order to grasp and control them it may first be necessary to apply ourselves to our own spiritualization. It is an advantage to possess perfectly organized laboratories, but the true laboratory whence the ultimate discoveries will proceed is probably within us. This the priests and Magi of the great religions seem to have understood better than we, for when they purposed to enter the ultra-spiritual domains of nature they underwent a protracted preparation. They felt that it was not enough that they should be learned, but that they must before all become saints. They began by the training of their will, by the sacrifice of their whole being, by dying to all desire. They enfolded their intellectual energies in a moral force which led them far more directly to the plane on which the strange phenomena which they were investigating had their being. It is probable enough that there are in the invisible, or the infinite, things that the understanding cannot grasp, on which it has no hold, but to which another faculty can attain; and this faculty is perhaps what is known as the soul, or that higher subconsciousness which the ancient religions had learned to cultivate by spiritual exercises, and above all by a renunciation and a spiritual concentration of which we have forgotten the rules and even the idea.
1 P. s et seq.
2 Some recent experiments by Mr. W. J. Kilner, described in his book, "The Human Atmosphere," give positive proof of the existence of these emanations, these effluvia, this human "aura," or at least of a similar aura which constitutes a true astral or etheric double. It is enough to look at the subject through a screen formed of a very flat glass dish containing an alcoholic solution of dicyanin, a coal-tar derivative which makes the retina sensitive to the ultraviolet rays; and the aura becomes visible not only to sensitives, as in Reichenbach's experiments, but also in the eyes of 95 per cent. of persons possessed of normal vision. It is, however, possible that this aura is not an etheric double, but a mere nervous radiation. In this connection, see the excellent summary by Monsieur Rene Sudre in No 3 of the Bulletin de Institut Metapsychigue International (JanuaryFebruary, 1921).