Theoretic explanation of Apparitions.
101. The most ordinary mode of apparition is that which takes place in sleep, through dreams; such apparitions are called visions. It does not enter into the plan of our present work to examine all the peculiarities that are presented by dreams ; we will merely state that they may be: - the actual sight of objects present or absent; a retrospective view of the past; and, in some exceptional cases, a presentiment of the future. Dreams are also, in many cases, allegorical pictures which spirits bring before our eyes ; the good, in order to give us useful warnings and salutary counsels; the imperfect, in order to lead us into error, or to flatter our passions. The theory we are about to place before the reader is applicable to dreams, as it is to all cases of apparitions. (See The Spirits' Book, N°. 400; et seq.). As for what is vulgarly called " the interpretation of dreams," we should consider it to be an insult to the common sense of our readers, were we to attempt to point out its absurdity.
102. - Apparitions, properly so called, take place when we are awake, and in the full enjoyment of our faculties. They are often vague and undecided ; usually presenting themselves under a vaporous and diaphanous form. At first, in many cases, only a whitish light is perceived, the outlines of which become gradually more distinct ; at other times, the form of the apparition is clearly defined, every feature being plainly seen. In such cases the air and aspect of the figure before us are the same as those of the spirit when in the flesh.
A spirit being able to assume any and every appearance, he presents himself under that by which he can best obtain recognition, if such be his desire. Although, as a spirit, he has no corporeal infirmity, he can appear as if maimed, lame, humpbacked, wounded, or scarred, should he consider this to be necessary to his identification. Aesop, for example, is not deformed as a spirit; but if we evoked him as Aesop, though he may have had many subsequent incarnations, he would show himself as Aesop, with his ugliness, his humped back, and his traditional costume. It is worthy of notice that, while the head, trunk, and arms, are always clearly defined, the lower limbs except under particular circumstances, are less clearly shown, and that apparitions rarely walk, but seem to glide, like shadows. Their costume generally consists of a drapery, terminating in long floating folds ; their hair is wavy and graceful ; such, at least, is the usual appearance of spirits who have retained none of their terrestrial peculiarities. But ordinary spirits, those whom we have known, generally preserve the costume that they wore in the latter part of their earthly existence. They often show themselves with appearances indicative of their degree of elevation ; with a halo or wings, for example, in the case of those whom we may consider as "angels ;" while others present themselves with the appear- ance of objects referring to their terrestrial occupations. Thus, a warrior may appear with his armour, a learned man with his books, an assassin with a dagger, &c. Spirits of ugh degree have a beautiful countenance, a serene and noble air; while the degraded have a fierce and bestial expression, and often show traces of the crimes they have committed, or of the punishments they have committed, or of the punishments they have endured. This question of spirit-aspect, with its various accessories, is perhaps what excites most astonishment among the uninitiated. We shall return to this subject in a special chapter, because of its bearing upon other very important phenomena.
103. We have said that apparitions frequently present a vaporous appearance; in certain cases, we might compare them to an image reflected in a sheet of glass ; an image. which, notwithstanding its distinctness, does not prevent our seeing through it the objects which are behind the glass. It is thus that seeing mediums generally perceive them. They seem to be coming and going, entering the room or leaving it, moving about among the persons who are present in the flesh, listening with interest to their conver- sation, and taking, at least in the case of the commoner sort of spirits, an active part in all that is going on around them. They are seen to approach a particular person, suggesting ideas, endeavouring to influence him, or con-soling him if sorrowful ; others show themselves scornful or mocking; all appear to be pleased or disappointed, according to the results they achieve; in a word, the world around us seems to be a counterpart of the corporeal world. Such is the hidden world which surrounds us, and in the midst of which we live without suspecting it, just as we live, without perceiving it, in the very midst of the countless myriads of the microscopic world. The microscope has revealed to us the world of the infinitely little, of which we were formerly unaware; spiritism, aided by seeing mediums, has revealed to us the world of spirits, showing us that the latter are one of the active forces of nature. By the aid of seeing mediums, we have been enabled to study the invisible world, and to acquaint ourselves with its habits ; as a nation of blind men might study the visible world, with the aid of those who have eyes. (See, in the chapter on Mediums, the article concerning Seeing Mediums.)
104. Sometimes a spirit, who desires or who is able to appear, assumes a form still more defined, and having all the appearance of a solid body, so as to produce a complete illusion, causing us to believe that we have a corporeal body before us. In some cases, and tinder certain circumstances, this apparent tangibility becomes a reality; that is to say, we can touch the spirit, handle it, and feel the same resistance, the same warmth, as we should feel in a fleshly body; but this does not hinder it from vanishing with the celerity of lightning. In such cases, it is not the eye alone which attests the reality of their presence, but also the sense of touch; and though we might attribute a merely visual apparition to illusion, or to a sort of fascination, we cannot do so when we are able to seize and handle the apparition, or when the latter seizes and touches us. The phenomena of tangible apparitions are the rarest of all; but those which have appeared, in these latter days, through the influence of certain powerful mediums, confirm and explain many historical statements in regard to persons who, in former days, have shown themselves, after death, with all the appearances of reality. For the rest, as we have said however extraordinary such phenomena may be, their marvellousness disappears when we know the means by which they are produced ; for we then see that, so far from being a derogation from the laws of nature, they are only another application of those laws.
105. The perispirit, in virtue of its nature, is invisible in its normal state, like a multitude of fluids which are known to exist, but which we have never seen ; but it can also, like certain fluids, undergo modifications which render it perceptible to the sight, sometimes by a kind of condensation, sometimes by a changed arrangement of its molecules; and it is then that it appears in a vaporous form. What, for want of a better term, and merely as a comparison, we may term the condensation of the perispirit, gives to the latter for the time being, all the properties of a solid and tangible body; but the perispirit, thus condensed, can instantly resume its ethereal and invisible state. We may understand something of this effect by Comparing the perispirit to aqueous vapour, which changes from an invisible state to that of mist, becomes liquid or solid, and again becomes invisible. 'These different states of its perispirit are deter-mined by the will of the spirit, and do not result from the action of an exterior physical cause, as is the case in the changes which take place in the state of gases. When a spirit appears, it is because he puts his perispirit into the necessary condition to render it visible; but the mere effort of his will does not suffice to this end, for the modification of the perispirit is effected by its combination with the personal fluid of the medium, which combination is not always possible; a fact which explains why spirits are not generally visible. Evidently, therefore, it is not enough that the spirit desires to show himself; it is not enough that the mortal desires to see him it is necessary that the fluids of the incarnate and disincarnate spirits should be able to enter into the requisite combination, that there should be a sort of affinity between them, and, probably, that the emission of fluid from the mortal should be sufficiently abundant to enable the spirit to effect the transformation of his perispirit. It is probable, also, that there are other conditions, of the operation of which we are still in ignorance; and, moreover, it is necessary that the spirit should have received permission to make himself visible to a given person; a permission which is not always accorded.
106. Another property of the perispirit, resulting from its ethereal nature, is its power of penetration. No species of matter constitutes an obstacle to its passage; it penetrates all material bodies as easily as light penetrates transparent ones." No enclosure can shut out spirits; they visit the prisoner in his dungeon, as easily as the inhabitant of the open country.
107. Apparitions seen in the waking state are neither new nor rare. They have occurred in all ages; history recounts a vast number of them; but we need not go back so far, for they are very common in our own times. They are especially frequent in connection with the death of persons who, being absent, come to Visit their relations or friends at the moment of departure. They often appear to have no determined object; but it may be affirmed that spirits who thus manifest themselves are usually drawn by sympathy. There are very few persons who are not cognisant or unquestionably authentic facts of this character.
108. We will conclude our examination of this part of our subject, by a reference to an optical effect which has given rise to the singular hypothesis of globular spirits.
The air is not always absolutely limpid; and its molecules when rarified by heat often become visible. Some people have taken this rarified air for a mass of spirits fluttering in space! - We allude to this opinion only as an absurdity. Another fancy, equally absurd,. has seen spirits in the opaque specks which are sometimes formed in the aqueous humour of the eye, and which, being held in suspension in the liquid of which they follow the movements, assume the appearance of minute disks that seem to float in the atmosphere. We have seen persons who have taken these disks for spirits, following and accompanying them everywhere; a fancy about as rational as that which sees a man in the moon. Others again have taken the black films that are sometimes seen in the eye for evil spirits.
Illusions of every kind can only result from superficial observation. A careful study of the nature of spirits, with the aid of the means that practical spiritism affords us, will enable the inquirer to keep clear of hasty and fanciful inductions, while enlightening him in regard to the reality of spirit-manifestations. Just as it is the duty of every spiritist to combat the erroneous judgements which are based on ignorance of the latter, it is also his duty to combat the erroneous suppositions suggested by unreasoning enthusiasm, and which cannot fail to render spiritism ridiculous in the eyes of those who are acquainted with it only through the fanciful exaggerations of some of its adherents.
109. The perispirit, as we have seen, is the foundation of all spirit- manifestations, to which the knowledge of this integral part of a spirit's personality gives us the key; a key which, let us never forget, has been furnished by the spirits themselves, for it is by them that the existence, nature, and functions of the perispirit have been made known to us. This knowledge enables us to understand the action of spirits on matter, the movement of inert bodies, the mode of production of aural, visual, and tangible phenomena; it will also be found equally available for the explanation of the other phenomena which we shall have to examine, before we proceed to the study of spirit-communications properly so called, and which we shall comprehend all the more easily with the aid of the preliminary knowledge we shall thus have acquired of the general principles on which they rest.
110. We are far from regarding the theory which we are about to set forth, as being absolutely true in every minute particular, or as giving an exhaustive explanation of the subjects which which it deals. The instructions we have already derived from our spirit-teachers will doubtless be completed or rectified by future studies; but, however incomplete or imperfect our theory at this time, it will at least assist us to comprehend the possibility of certain facts, by showing that they result from the action of natural causes, and are therefore in no way supernatural. Regarded as a hypothesis, it is one the reasonableness and probability of which cannot be denied, and which may fairly claim to be worth all the arguments employed by our opponents to prove that there is nothing but illusion, phantasmagoria, and deception, in spirit-phenomena.