Allan Kardec

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The forest of Dodona and the statue of Memnon

To get to the forest of Dodona we took Rue Lamartine and stopped for a moment at Mr. B... house where we saw a docile piece of furniture challenging us with a new problem of static. Assistants in numbers sat around the table in question, in any order, hence there was neither number nor cabalistic places; the hands resting on the edge of the table; mentally or in loud voice they appeal to the spirits who are used to attend to their invitation. Our opinion about this kind of spirits is well known which is why we treat them somewhat unceremoniously. Four or five minutes are hardly passed and a clear sound of knock-knock is heard at the table, often strong enough to be heard from the adjacent room, and repeats as long and as often as desired. The vibration is felt in the fingers, and when applying the ear against the table – which should not be forgotten – one unmistakably recognizes that the noise is originated from the very substance of the wood as the whole table vibrates, from the feet to the top.

What is causing this noise? Is it the wood that raps or is it, as they say, a spirit? Let us dismiss, to begin with, any idea of hoax as we are in the house of serious people, in good company, incapable of having fun at the expenses of those who, with good will, they admit to their homes. Indeed this house is not privileged. The same events occur in many others equally honorable. Allow us however a small digression before giving the answer.

A young bachelor’s degree student was in his room, busy studying for his examination when he hears a knock on his door. I do believe that everyone admits that it is possible to distinguish the nature of the noise, and especially with respect to its repetition, if it is caused by a crack in the wood, agitation of the wind or any other accidental cause, or if it is someone who is actually knocking, requesting entry. In the latter case the noise has an intentional character that cannot be misunderstood. That is what our student thinks. However, in order not to be unnecessarily disturbed, he wanted to make sure, by testing the visitor. If it's someone, he says, hit one, two, three, four, five, six times, hit the top, bottom, right, left, hit like the musical accord, play the military call, etc.., and to every one of these requests the noise obeys with the utmost accuracy. Surely, he thought, this may not be a burst in the wood, nor the wind, nor even a cat, however intelligent it may be. Here's a fact. Let us see where the syllogistic arguments take us to, as a consequence.

He then used the following train of thought: I hear noise thus there is something that produces it. That noise obeys my commands, so the cause that produces it understands me. Well, something that understands has intelligence thus the cause of the noise is intelligent. If the cause is intelligent then it is neither the wood nor the wind; if it is neither the wood nor the wind, so it's someone. He then opens the door. We see that it is not necessary to be a doctor to draw such a conclusion; and we trust that our future bachelor is sufficiently versed in his principles to achieve the following conclusions: Suppose that by opening the door he finds nobody, and that the noise continues exactly as before. He will continue his sorites: "I have just unarguably demonstrated to myself that the noise is produced by an intelligent being, since it responds to my thoughts. I always hear this sound before me, and it is certain that it is not I who knocks, thus it is someone else. Well, if I do not see it then it is invisible. Corporeal beings belonging to humanity are perfectly visible. Whoever knocks, being invisible, are not a corporeal human being. Indeed since we call spirits the incorporeal beings, the one who knocks, not being corporeal, is then a spirit."

We judge the conclusions of our student rigorously logical. What we had as an assumption is a fact, regarding the experiences that were taking place in Mr. B... house. We'll add that there was no need for the imposition of hands, all the phenomena occurring equally well while the table was free from any contact. Thus, according to the wish, the raps occurred in the table, on the wall, at the door, and any other verbally or mentally designated place. They indicated the time, the number of people present; the military rhythms, the harmony of a familiar tune, they imitated the sounds of a barrow worker, the grinding of the saw, echo, police patrol sirens or platoons and many other effects which would take us too long to describe. We were told that in some circles they heard the whistling wind, the rustling of leaves, the burst of thunder, the splashing of the waves, which is not surprising at all. The intelligence of the cause became obvious when, through those same raps, we got categorical answers to certain questions. In reality it is this intelligent cause that we called, or rather, which it has called itself spirit. When this spirit wanted to give a more developed communication, he indicated by any particular sign that he wanted to write; then the writing medium would take the pencil and transmit his thoughts in writing.

Among those present, not including those who were around the table, but everyone who filled the room, there were some authentic skeptical, half-believers and fervent followers, which form, as we all know, a truly unfavorable mix. We let the first group to be our guest, hoping that they would see the light. We respect all beliefs, even incredulity which is some sort of belief, when that is respectful enough not to shock any contrary opinion. Thus we do not consider their observations useless.
heir reasoning, much less prolonged than our student above, may be summarized as this: I do not believe in spirits hence it cannot be spirits and since it is not spirits than it is a trick. Such a supposition leads them to believe that the table would have some type of engine, much like Robert Houdin. Our answer to that is very simple: first, it would be necessary that all tables and all pieces of furniture had such mechanism, as none can be privileged; second, there isn’t any known mechanism sufficiently ingenious to produce all the effects we have just described, at will; third it would be necessary that Mrs. B... had prepared walls and doors of her apartment, on purpose, which is very unlikely; fourth, at last, it would have been still necessary to prepare the tables, doors and walls of all houses where similar events take place daily, which cannot be presumed either since the skillful constructor of such wonders would be known. The half-believers accept all phenomena, but they are undecided with respect to their causes. We refer to the arguments of our future Bachelor above. The believers have three well-defined nuances: those who see it nothing more than a fun game and a pastime in the experiments and those whose admiration can be translated by the expressions: It's amazing! This is strange! This is funny! But do not go beyond that. Then come the serious ones, the educated, the observers, the ones whom no detail escapes. Then comes, finally, the ultra-believers, if we may say so, or rather, the blind believers, those that can be criticized by an excess of credulity; since their faith is not enlightened enough, show such a confidence in the spirits that they admit their thorough knowledge and, above all, their prescience. Thus it is in good faith that they ask questions about every single subject, not thinking that they might have gotten the same answers had they have paid the first fortuneteller. For these, the “talking table” is not an object of study and observation; it is an oracle. Against this there is only the trivial form and its vulgar uses. If the wood that makes the table, instead of being cut for the domestic activities, were standing, we would have a “talking tree”; if it were carved as a statue, we would have an idol before which the credulous would prostrate.

Now we transpose the seas and twenty-five centuries and transport ourselves to the foothill of Mount Taurus in Epirus. There we will find the sacred forest whose oak trees provided oracles; add the prestige of worship and the splendor of religious ceremonies, and we easily have the explanation about the veneration of an ignorant and credulous people, unable to see reality through so many means of fascination.

Wood is not the only substance that can serve as a vehicle for the manifestation of the rapping spirits. We have seen them happen in a wall, thus in stone. We thus have the talking stones. If these stones represent a sacred figure, we have the statue of Memnon or that of Jupiter Ammon as oracles similar to the trees of Dodona.

It is true that history, indeed, does not tell us that these oracles were rendered by raps, as we see today. In the forest of Dodona, it was the wind whistling through the trees, the rustling leaves, or the murmur of the fountain that sprung at the foot of the sacred oak of Jupiter. The statue of Memnon issued, they say, melodic sounds, at the first rays of sunlight. But history also tells us, as we shall have the occasion to demonstrate, that the ancients knew perfectly well the phenomena attributed to the rapping spirits. Make no mistake that the very principle of their belief rests in the existence of animated beings on trees, rocks, water, etc... But since this kind of event was exploited, the raps were no longer enough; the visitors were too numerous to offer each person a particular session; by the way, it would have been very simple: it was necessary the prestige, and since they enriched the temple with their offerings, the costs would have been covered. The essential was to look to the object as sacred, inhabited by a divinity. Under those conditions it was possible to produce whatever they wanted and without the need for so many precautions.The priests of Memnon, they say, used trickeries: the statue was hollow, and the sounds she made were produced by acoustic processes. This is possible and even probable. The rapping spirits themselves, who generally are less scrupulous than others, are not always, as we have already said, at the service of the first to show up. They have their will, their occupations, their susceptibilities, and neither one nor the other likes to be exploited by greed. What a discredit to the high priests if their idol did not speak conveniently! It was necessary to make up for his silence and, if needed, to give a hand. It was in fact more comfortable to avoid much trouble by providing the answers according to the circumstances. What we see today proves that, despite all that, the old beliefs had the knowledge of the spiritist manifestations by principle, being this the reason we say that modern spiritualism is the revival of antiquity, but antiquity illuminated by the lights of civilization and reality.

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