334. All that we have said of reunions in general applies to regularly-constituted societies, which, be sides, have to contend with some special difficulties, which are born of the very tie that unites the members.
Advice on their organization having been asked of us" several times, we will here recapitulate it in a few words.
Spiritism, but lately born, is still too diversely ap preciated, too little understood in its essence, by a great number of believers, to afford a powerful bond between the members of what may be called an association.
This bond may exist between those who perceive its moral end, understand it, and apply it to themselves. Between those who see only facts more or less curious, there can be no serious bond ; putting facts above principles, a simple divergence in the manner of view ing them may be a cause of division. It is not the same with the first mentioned, for there cannot be two ways of looking at moral questions : also, it must be remarked, that wherever they meet a reciprocal confi dence attracts them to each other ; the mutual benev olence that reigns among them banishes the uneasi ness and constraint born of sensitiveness, of the pride that is offended at the least contradiction, of the ego tism that takes everything to itself. A society where such sentiments reign supreme, where all are united for the purpose of being instructed by the teachings of the spirits, and not in the hope of seeing things more or less interesting, or to make one's own opinion pre vail, — such a society, we say, would not only contain the elements of life, but would be indissoluble. Again, the difficulty of bringing together numerous homoge neous elements for this purpose, moves us to say that, in the interest of study, and for the good of the thing even, spirit reunions should be multiplied in small groups, rather than in large agglomerations. These groups, corresponding, visiting, transmitting their ob servations, may now form the nucleus of the great spiritist family, that will, some day, bring together all opinions, and unite all men in one sentiment of frater nity, sealed by Christian charity.
335. We have seen the importance of uniformity of sentiment for obtaining good results ; the greater the number, the more difficult, necessarily, will it be to obtain this uniformity. In small committees they know each other better, and are more sure of the ele ments introduced ; silence and concentration are more easy, and all are like one family. Large assemblies exclude intimacy by the variety of the elements of which* they are composed ; they require special loca tions, pecuniary resources, and an administrative ma chinery useless in small groups : diversity of character, of ideas, of opinions, is better displayed, and offers to the meddling spirits greater facility for sowing discord. The more numerous, the more difficult to satisfy every one ; each one wants the work directed according to his liking, that the society should prefer those subjects most interesting to him : some think that their mem bership gives them the right to have everything their own way ; thence disagreements, a sensation of unea siness, which, sooner or later, leads to disunion, then dissolution — the fate of all societies, whatever their object. Small committees are not subject to the same fluctuations ; the fall of a large society would be an apparent check to the cause of Spiritism, and its ene mies would not fail to take advantage of it ; the disso lution of a small group would pass unnoticed ; and then, if one is dispersed, twenty more would be formed beside it : also, twenty groups, of from fifteen to twen ty, will obtain more and do more for propagation than an assembly of three or four hundred persons.
It will, doubtless, be said that the members of a society who would act in such a manner would not be real spiritists, since the first duty the doctrine imposes is charity and benevolence. That is perfectly true ; those who do this are spiritists in name rather than in fact ; they do not assuredly belong to the third category (see No. 28) ; but who can say they are not in some sense spiritists ? This consideration is not without gravity.
336. Let us not forget that Spiritism has enemies interested in opposing it, and who view its success with anger : the most dangerous are not those who attack it openly, but those who act in the dark —those who caress with one hand and mangle with the other. These malevolent beings creep in wherever they hope to do harm ; as they know that union is strength, they endeavor to destroy by throwing in brands of discord. Who, then, can say that those who, in reunions, sow trouble and dissension, are not agents of those who are interested in disorder ? Certainly they are neither true nor good spiritists ; they can never do good, but they can do much harm. It may easily be seen that they have infinitely greater facilities to insinuate themselves into large reunions than into small committees, where all know each other ; under cover of their secret plots, they sow doubt, distrust, and disaffection ; under an appearance of hypocritical interest, they criticise every thing, form conventicles and coteries, which soon break up the harmony of the whole : this is what they desire. To appeal to sentiments of charity and fraternity with such persons is like talking to persons willfully deaf, for their aim is precisely to destroy those sentiments, the greatest obstacles to their plots. This state of things, grievous in all societies, is still more so in those of spiritists, because, if they do not lead to a rupture, they cause a preoccupation incompatible with concen tration and attention.
337. It may be said, if the reunion is on the wrong road, have not discreet and well-intentioned men the right of criticism ? and should they let the evil go on saying nothing, by their silence approving ? Without doubt it is their right ; more, it is a duty ; but if their intention be really good, they will offer their advice in a seemly and kindly manner, openly, and not in secret ; if it is not followed, they withdraw ; for one cannot imagine a well-intentioned person remaining in a so ciety where things are done that do not suit him.
It may, then, be established as a principle, that who ever, in a spiritist reunion, causes disorder or disunion, openly or secretly, by any means whatever, is either a designing agent, or, at least, a very bad spiritist, of whom they cannot too soon rid themselves ; but the obligations that bind the members are often obstacles to this ; and for this reason it is best to avoid all indis soluble engagements : good men are always sufficiently bound, bad men always too much so.
338. Besides men notoriously malevolent who in trude into reunions, there are those who, by their character, bring trouble with them wherever they are ; so that we cannot be too circumspect with regard to the new elements introduced. The most troublesome, in such cases, are not those ignorant of the matter, nor even those who do not believe; conviction is acquired only by experience, and there are persons who sin cerely desire to be enlightened. Those of whom it is necessary to beware are systematists, skeptics who doubt everything, even the evidence ; the vain, who think they alone have the true light, wish to impose their opinion on every one, and look with disdain on all who do not think like themselves. Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by their pretended desire for enlightenment ; more than one would be sorry to be forced to acknowledge himself deceived ; beware, especially, of those insipid talkers, who always want the last word, and of those who are only pleased when contradicting ; both waste the time for others, while not profiting by it themselves : spirits do not like use less words.
339. In view of the necessity of avoiding every cause of trouble and distraction, a spiritist society about to organize should turn its attention especially to meas ures that will deprive the fomentors of discord of the means of doing injury, and give the greatest facility for their removal ; small reunions need only a very simple disciplinary rule for the order of the stances; regulai ly constituted societies require a more complete organization : the best will be where the wheels are the least complicated.
340. Small and large societies, and all reunions, whatever be their importance, have to contend with another danger. The fomentors of discord are not only within them, they are in the invisible world as well. As there are spirit protectors for societies, cities, and nations, so bad spirits attach themselves to groups as to individuals ; they first attack the weakest, the most accessible, of whom they endeavor to make instruments, and gradually try to circumvent the masses ; for their wicked joy increases according to the number they can subjugate. So, whenever one person of a group has fallen into a snare, say at once, an enemy is in the camp, —a wolf in the sheepfold, — and we must be on our guard, for it is most probable he will multiply his attempts ; if he is not discouraged by an energetic resistance, the obsession then becomes like a contagious disease, which is manifested among the mediums by pertuibation of mediumship, and among others by hostility of sentiment, perversion of the moral sense, and a breaking up of the harmony. As the most powerful antidote to this poison is charity, it is charity they will seek to stifle. No waiting until the evil has become incurable in order to bring a remedy for it, no waiting even for the symptoms, but by every means endeavor to prevent it ; for this there are two efficacious means, that may be well employed : prayer from the heart, and the attentive study of the least signs that reveal the presence of deceiving spirits ; the first attracts good spirits who zealously assist those who second them by confidence in God ; the other proves to the bad ones that they have to do with persons clear-sighted and sensible enough not to allow themselves to be deceived. If one of the members yields to the influence of the obsession, every effort, from the first symptoms, should tend to open his eyes, lest the evil should increase, then to convince him that he is deceived, and lead him to desire to second those who wish to help him.
341. The influence of the surroundings is the conse quence of the nature of spirits, and of their mode of action on living beings ; of this influence each can, for himself, deduce the conditions most favorable for a society that aspires to conciliate the sympathy of good spirits, and to obtain only good communications. These conditions are entirely in the moral characters of the assistants ; they may be recapitulated as to the following points : —
Perfect community of views and sentiments.
Reciprocal kind feeling among all fhe members.
Abnegation of every sentiment adverse to true Chris tian charity.
Sole desire for instruction, and to advance through the teachings of good spirits, and to profit by their advice. Whoever is convinced that the superior spirits manifest themselves with the view of making us pro gress, and not for our pleasure, will understand why they should withdraw from those who are limited to admiration of their style, without extracting the fruit of their teachings, and who prize the seances only for the greater or less interest they offer to their own in dividual tastes.
Exclusion of everything that, in communications asked of the spirits, has only curiosity for its end.
Concentration and respectful silence during the in terviews with the spirits.
Associations of all the assistants by thought, in the appeal made to the spirits invoked.
Concurrence of the mediums in the assembly, with abnegation of every sentiment of pride,- self-love, and supremacy, in the one desire to be useful.
Are these conditions so difficult to fulfill that it can not be done ? We think not ; on the contrary, we hope that truly serious reunions, as there are many already in different localities, will be multiplied, and we do not hesitate to say that it is to them that Spiritism will owe its most powerful propagation ; in bringing unto it honest and conscientious men, they will silence criticism ; and the purer their intentions, the more re spected they will be, even by their adversaries ; when ridicule attacks the good, it no longer amuses, it becomes despicable. Among reunions of this kind a true bond of sympathy, a mutual solidarity, will be established by the force of events, and will contribute to the general progress.
342. It would be an error to think that this fraternal concert is unnecessary in reunions for physical mani festations more especially, and that they exclude all serious thought ; if they do not require so rigorous conditions, it is not with impunity that they are under taken with levity, and . a person would be deceived should he suppose that the concurrence of the assist ants is absolutely null ; we have the proof of this in the fact that often manifestations of this kind, even called out by powerful mediums, can produce nothing in some places. There is some reason for it, and it can only be in the divergency or hostility of sentiment which paralyzes the efforts of the spirits.
Physical manifestations, as we have said, are of great utility ; they open a vast field to the observer, for it is an entire order of unusual phenomena unfolded to his view, whose consequences are incalculable. Thus, an assembly may be occupied with very serious views, but may not attain its end, whether of study or means of conviction, if it is not placed in favorable conditions : the first of all is, not faith in the assistants, but their desire to be enlightened, without subterfuge, or deter mination to reject the evidence ; the second is the re striction of their number, to avoid the bringing together of heterogeneous elements. If physical manifestations are, in general, produced by the less advanced spirits, they have none the less a providential end, and good spirits always favor them when they can have a useful result.