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CHAPTER II

SPIRITUALISM AS A RELIGION (Continued)

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PPARENTLY spiritualist societies suffer from

one disorder which is prevalent among the Nonconformist sects—that of too-frequent splits and the founding of small competitive societies. A spiritualist writer, Mr. J. Rutherford, said in The Two Worlds of October 12th, 1917:

A very large number of Spiritualistic Societies are formed after the amoeba plan. This is particularly the case on Tyneside. In South Shields, for instance, there are five Societies, and, curious to relate, two are next door to each other. The development of little hole-and-corner meetings arises, in most cases, in this way: A Society is established, and with, say, an able President, does some useful work. Ultimately, however, an individual, well weighted with vanity and little wisdom, aspires to the office of President. A clique is gathered round him, and unless the clique obtain their object, a "division” is the result.

There is a good deal of human nature, evidently, with its inevitable party politics, in spiritualists as in other folk. And this human or secular element is rather strongly present in the atmosphere of their meetings. The good people are friendly and chatty, but a moderately orthodox stranger would probably feel that the devotional element is rather small. The proceedings

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are interesting—except when a speaker is long-winded

and platitudinous—and everyone is affable; but there is a lack of dignity and reverence. This, however, may be the fault of the stranger, who has been brought up on vaulted roofs and surpliced choirs and “storied windows richly dight.” An average Congregationalist will perhaps not feel this secularity to a painful extent, and a village Wesleyan may not feel it at all. And anyhow it is perhaps better than the other extreme, which often becomes mere dead ceremonialism.

At spiritualist meetings a trance control or inspirational speaker will sometimes hold forth with surprising fluency at incredible length-the Secretary of the Spiritualists' National Union once backed the late W. J. Colville to talk "till this time next week, without intervals for meals”—yet with a dullness and inanity that would drive any but a very tolerant audience mad. Spiritualists certainly have the virtue of patience, though there was an article in The Two Worlds in 1917 which indicated that at least one spiritualist was coming to the end of his tether, for he protested against the custom of having speakers of this class, urging that mediumship, to be useful, must be mainly evidential.

It is probable that many "mediums” who give trance addresses and supposed clairvoyance at spiritualist meetings are people in whom there is a dissociation of consciousness, and that there is no external spirit-agency at all. The mere fact of an eloquent trance address proves nothing, for the same thing may be observed in the case of many a hypnotised subject; and even when "spirits” are seen, named, and described, we cannot be sure that there is anything supernormal about the phenomena unless there is something said which the medium would never have known and which cannot reasonably be attributed to chance. In a case known to me, a local medium gave me (in trance), the names, addresses, and descriptions of several people who had died a year or so before, in towns not far away. All the information turned out correct, and I am ready to believe that the medium did not consciously know it. If he had been fraudulent he would have posted himself up

about my own deceased relatives, which would have been a very easy matter. The people he did describe were unknown to me, and I had never even heard of them. Probably he had read or heard of them, and the trance-control (a secondary personality) reproduced the knowledge in spiritistic form, somewhat as we may dream that we are seeing and talking to some deceased person whom we have heard of but have not known.

Presumably it would be a wise policy for spiritualist societies to get their members to prepare papers and give addresses with their own wits, thus educating both themselves and their hearers; instead of encouraging the flow of platitudinous or almost meaningless verbiage which, whether it comes from a medium's subliminal or from a discarnate spirit, can hardly be helpful to anybody, and must be very bad for the minds of most hearers.

Among spiritualists there is also much holding of private circles, with results probably both good and bad. Many a materialist has been convinced in this way, and indeed many inquirers have first begun to take the matter seriously because of results so obtained, becoming spiritualists in consequence. Real and important faculty may be developed by these means, and the procedure is at least scientific, in the sense of being experimental. On the other hand, these matters are still so little understood that we cannot say with confidence that this promiscuous sitting for development, of earnest but perhaps uneducated people, is without danger. In many persons, without question, it favours

, the oncoming of automatic phenomena-twitching of the muscles, leading up to automatic writing or speech, and sometimes trance—and we know too little about these dissociative changes to feel sure that they are always harmless. In defence it may be urged, with truth so far as my knowledge goes, that the dissociations induced by spiritualistic practices come on practically only when sought, and are therefore not comparable with split-personality cases such as that of Miss Beauchamp (not a spiritualist) in which a useful life was spoilt until the multiple selves were again integrated by hypnotic suggestion. But, in at least some cases of trance-control, there is no reason to believe the control to be other than a subliminal fraction of the automatist's mind, and unless some supernormal faculty is shown there is probably no benefit for anyone. These controls are often fluent enough, but torrents of words and much repetition are useless and tedious if the sense is shallow. Even Mr. J. J. Morse refers humorously to a certain "medium" who “lectured for

1“The Dissociation of a Personality," by Dr. Morton Prince. See also the Doris Fischer case in recent volumes of "Proceedings" of the American Society for Psychical Research.

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some time, and culminated in a tremendous outburst of either noise or eloquence.” 1

And as to private dark sittings for physical phenomena, somewhat the same is to be said. We know little of the psychological conditions set up by long sitting in the dark. If physical phenomena are tried for at all, it is desirable to have some light, as with Dr. Crawford's Belfast circle; and, even then, there seems no particular point in physical phenomena alone, except as providing a problem for the physicist and psychical researcher. A table or other object may move in some inexplicable way, but that is no proof of "spirits"; the energy is supplied from physical matter -mainly the medium's and sitters' bodies, apparently -and it is only through evidential messages conveyed by the phenomena that spirit-agency can reasonably be inferred. Without such messages, a physical-phenomena sitting may be only a demonstration of the action of a new physical force, and the performance is usually exhausting for the medium. So, on the whole, it would seem that private circles, except when held for investigation and by qualified persons, are doubtfully good. though the present writer cheerfully admits that his knowledge is insufficient to justify any dogmatism in the matter. And he also admits that his own best experiences in physical phenomena have been with a private sensitive (not a spiritualist and not in the dark) and it seems probable that psychic faculty is commoner than is supposed.

These remarks and criticisms are made in a friendly spirit. There may be much crudity and credulity

1“Leaves From My Life," p. 9.

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