THE MEDIUMS’ BOOK

Allan Kardec

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CHAPTER II
THE MARVELLOUS AND THE SUPERNATURAL


7. If the belief in spirits and in their manifestations were an isolated exception, the product of a theory, it might, with some show of reason, be attributed to illusion; but how is it that we find this belief in vigour among all peoples, ancient and modern, as well as in the writings recognised as sacred in all known religions? It is, say some critics, because man, in all ages, has sought the marvellous. But what then, is the marvellous ? -That which is supernatural. - How do you define the supernatural ?-That which is contrary to the laws of nature.-Ah! you are, then, sufficiently acquainted with those laws to assign a limit to their action? If so, prove to us that the existence of spirits, and their manifestations, are contrary to the laws of nature; prove they are not, and can not be, a result of natural law. Examine the doctrine of the spiritists, and see whether its chain of reasoning has not all the character of an admirable Jaw, solving all the problems that human philosophies have been unable to solve up to the present day?

Thought is one of the attributes of a spirit; the possibility of acting upon matter, of impressing the senses, and, as a natural consequence, of transmitting its thought, has its origin in the soul's physiological constitution, if we may so express it; there is, then, in this alleged fact, nothing supernatural, nothing marvellous. For a man who is dead to revive corporeally, for his scattered members to reunite to reform his body, would certainly be something marvellous, supernatural, fantastic; something that would indeed be a veritable derogation from His own laws that God could only accomplish by a miracle: but we find nothing of the sort in the teachings of spiritism.

8. Nevertheless, there are persons who say : "You, on your side, admit that a spirit can raise a table and retain it in space; is not that contrary to one of nature's laws, viz., the law of gravitation?" Yes, contrary to that law as commonly understood; but do you suppose that nature has revealed to us all its secrets? Before experiment had shown us the ascensional force of certain gases, who could have imagined that a heavy machine, bearing several men, could triumph over the force of attraction, and would not the assertion of such a possibility have appeared incredible? If a man had proposed, a century ago, to send a despatch five hundred leagues, and to receive an answer to it, in the course of a few minutes, he would have passed for a madman; if he had done it, he would have been declared to have the devil at his beck and call, for, in those days, it was only the devil who could travel so quickly. Why, then, may there not be some fluid, as yet unknown to us, possessing the property, under certain circumstances, of counterbalancing the action of density, as hydrogen counterbalances the weight of a balloon? This suggestion, we would remark in passing, is only a comparison, and not an assimilation, arid is brought forward solely to show, by analogy, that the fact assumed is not physically impossible. It is, in truth, precisely when the learned, in their observation of these phenomena, have endeavoured to proceed by the road of assimilation, that they have gone astray. In reality, the fact exists, and all tile negation in the world cannot get rid of it, for denying is not disproving; in our eyes, there is nothing supernatural about it, and this is all we have to say of it for the present.

9. "If the fact be proved," some may say, "we accept it as such ; we even accept the cause which you assign to it, viz., that of an unknown fluid; but what proves the intervention of spirits? That would indeed be marvellous; that would be supernatural!" To meet this objection, we should have to enter upon a demonstration that would be out of place in the present book, and that would, in fact, be a work of supererogation, since the action of disincarnate spirits, as the cause of the phenomena in question, is affirmed in every branch of its teachings. Nevertheless, to sum up these in a few words, we will say that they are founded, in theory, on this principle, viz., that every intelligent effect must have an intelligent cause, and, in practice, on the fact that the phenomena called spiritist having given proofs of the action of intelligence, must have their cause in something outside of matter; that this intelligence, not proceeding from those who are present at the sitting,-a point fully proved by experience,-must be extraneous to the sitters, and that, as no active agent is visible, this intelligence must be that of some invisible being. It is, then, through repeated observation that we have arrived at the certainty that this invisible being, to which the name of "spirit" has been given, is nothing else than the soul of one who has lived in the body, one whom death has deprived of his gross, visible envelope, leaving him with an ethereal envelope invisible to us in its normal state.

The existence of invisible beings once proved, their power over matter results from the very nature of their fluidic envelope; and the action of this power is intelligent, because, at death, those invisible beings only lost their body, but retained their intelligence, which is, in fact, their essence. The existence of spirits is therefore no preconceived theory, no mere hypothesis, invented to explain certain facts; it is a result of experience and of observation, and is the natural consequence of the existence of the soul: to deny their existence is to deny the soul and its attributes. If any one thinks he can give a more rational explanation of the phenomena in question, let him do so, taking care, however, to give a rational explanation of all the facts of the case ; and, when this has been done, we can discuss the merits of both sides of the question.

10. In the eyes of those who regard matter as the sole power in nature, everything which cannot be explained by the laws of matter is marvellous or supernatural; and with such, the marvellous is only another word for superstition. With such minds religion, being founded on the existence of an immaterial principle, is but a tissue of superstitions ; few dare to assert this openly, but many say it in whispers, and think they save appearances by conceding that religion is necessary for the people, and for keeping children in order. To such we would submit the following dilemma; either the religious principle is true, or it is false ; if it be true, it is true for all men, if it be false, it can no more be useful to the ignorant than to the wise.

11. Those who attack spiritism as being "marvellous," really play into the hands of the materialist, since, by denying all extra-material effects, they virtually deny the existence of the soul. Go to the bottom of their thought, examine the tendency of what they assert, and it will generally be found that they reason from materialistic principles, implied, if not openly asserted. Under cover of their pretended rationality, their denial is but the logical consequence of their premiss; they reject all that naturally follows from the soul's existence, because they do not really believe in that existence: for, not admitting the cause, how can they logically admit its effects? Hence they are fettered by a preconceived opinion which unfits them for judging soundly with respect to spiritism, since their starting-point is the negation of all that is not material. For ourselves, as we admit the consequences that flow from the existence of the soul, it follows, as a matter of course, that we have accepted the facts qualified as "marvellous ;" but it does not therefore follow that we are the champion of every dreamer, of every fancy, of all the eccentricities put forth by builders of theories. Those who could so far misunderstand us can know very little of spiritism; but our adversaries do not look at the matter so closely, and the duty of understanding what they are talking about is too often the thing they care least for. According to them, whatever is " marvellous " is absurd ; and, as spiritism is grounded on facts which appear to them to be "marvellous," they jump to the conclusion that spiritism is absurd. Regarding their verdict as being without appeal, they think they have brought out an irrefutable argument when, after having paraded the histories of the convulsionaries of Saint Medard, the fanatics of the Cevennes, and the nuns of Loudun, they point to facts of trickery which no one contests ; but are such histories the gospel of spiritism ? Have spiritists ever denied that charlatans have imitated some of the facts of spirit-manifestation from love of lucre, that some pretended manifestations have been the creation of an overexcited imagination, or that fanaticism has dealt largely in exaggeration? Spiritism is no more answerable for the extravagancies that may have been committed in its name, than is true science for the abuses of ignorant pretenders, or true religion for the excesses of the fanatic. Many critics only judge of spiritism by the fairy tales and popular legends which are, in fact, its fictions ; as well might they judge of history by historical romance.

12. According to the most elementary rules of logic, it is necessary to understand a question before discussing it for the critic's verdict is of no value unless founded on a complete knowledge of his subject ; in that case, and in that alone, his opinion, even if erroneous, may be worthy of consideration but what is it worth in a matter of which he is ignorant ? The true critic should give proof, not only of erudition, but of thorough knowledge of the subject of which he treats, of sound judgement, and unquestionable impartiality ; otherwise we might as 'veil be guided by the opinion of the first organ-grinder we meet with who should take upon himself to criticise Rossini, or that of any mere copyist who might think fit to censure Raphael.

13. Spiritism, then, does not accept all facts reputed to be marvellous or supernatural; so far from doing this, it demonstrates the impossibility of a great number of such, and the absurdity of certain beliefs which constitute, strictly speaking, " superstition." It is true that, in what it does admit, there are things which, to the incredulous, appear to belong to the domain of the marvellous, in other words, of what they regard as superstition; but, let them at least confine themselves to the discussion of these, for, in regard to the others, the spiritist has nothing to say, and the sceptic, in denouncing them to us, would be only "carrying coals to Newcastle." Those who attack us, in regard to abuses which we ourselves repudiate, prove their own ignorance of the matter in question ; and their argumentation is simply thrown away. " lout where," cry some of our opponents, " does the belief of Spiritists stop ?" Read, and mark; and you will know. No knowledge is acquired without time and study ; and spiritism, which involves the profoundest questions of philosophy and of social order, which deals at the same time with the physical man and with the moral man, is in itself a science, a philosophy, which can no more be apprehended in a few hours than any other. For those who are not content to rest on the surface, the study of such a subject is a question, not of hours, but of months and of years. Of what value, then, can be the opinion of those who arrogate to themselves the right of pronouncing judgement upon it, because they have witnessed one or two experiments, undertaken, perhaps, rather as an amusement than as a matter of serious inquiry? Such persons will doubtless affirm that they have not the leisure necessary for such a study; but, when people have not time to inform themselves correctly about any matter, they should refrain from talking about it, and especially from committing themselves to any opinion in regard to it and the higher their position in the world of science, the less excusable are they when they talk about what they do not understand.

14. We sum up our preceding remarks in the following propositions: -

1st. All spiritist-phenomena imply, as their principle, the existence of the soul, its survival of the body, and the manifestations which result therefrom.

2d. These phenomena, occurring in virtue of natural law, are neither "marvellous" nor "supernatural," in the ordinary sense of those words.

3d. Many facts are only reputed to be "supernatural" because their cause is unknown; spiritism, by assigning to them a cause, brings them within the domain of natural phenomena.

4th. Among the facts commonly called "supernatural," there are many which spiritism shows to be impossible, and which it therefore relegates into the category of superstitions.

5th. Although spiritism recognises a foundation of truth in many popular beliefs, it by no means accepts all the fantastic stories created by the imagination.

6th. To judge of spiritism by pretended facts, the reality of which it does not admit, is to give proof of ignorance, and to deprive such judgement of all weight.

7th. The explanation of the causes of facts acknowledged by spiritism, and the ascertainment of their moral consequences, constitute a new science and a new philosophy, requiring serious, persevering, and careful study.

8th. Spiritism can only be conclusively disproved by one who should have thoroughly studied it and sounded its deepest mysteries with the patient perseverance of a conscientious observer; one as well versed in every branch of the subject as the most ardent of its adherents; one acquainted with all the facts of the case, and with every argument that could be opposed to him, and which he must refute, not by denials, but by arguments still more conclusive; one, in short, who can give, of admitted facts, a more rational explanation than is given by spiritism. But such a critic has yet to be discovered.

15. We have, in the foregoing argument, pronounced the word miracle; a short observation on this subject will not be out of place in a chapter treating of the "marvellous."

The word miracle, in its primitive acceptation, and by its etymology, signifies something extraordinary, something admirable or wonderful; but this word, like many others, has lost its original meaning, and has come to be understood, in common parlance, as an ad of the Divine power, contrary to the known laws of nature. This is, in fact, its usual acceptation ; and it is no longer applied. to common things which surprise us and of which the cause is unknown, except as a metaphor. It is not our intention to examine, in this place, whether God may see fit, under certain circumstances, to act in opposition to the laws established by Himself; our object is solely to show that spirit-phenomena, extraordinary as they are, derogate in no degree from those laws, that they have no "miraculous" character, and are not even "marvellous" or "supernatural." A miracle cannot be explained ; spirit-phenomena, on the contrary, explain themselves, and in the most rational manner ; they are, therefore, not miracles, but simply effects which occur in virtue of general laws. A miracle has quite another character; it is something unusual, isolated. If a fact can be made to recur, so to say, at will, and through different people, that fact is no miracle.

Science works miracles daily in the eyes of the ignorant. In former times, any man who knew more than his neighbours passed for a sorcerer, and, as people then believed that all unusual knowledge came from the devil, they generally burned him; but now that we have become so much more civilised, we content ourselves with consigning such a one to the madhouse.

For a man who is really dead, as we remarked above, to be recalled to life by Divine intervention, would be a veritable miracle, because it would be contrary to the laws of nature. But if the man's death were only apparent, if there were still within him some remains of latent vitality, and if a physician, or a magnetiser, should intervene and restore him to life, it would be, to men of science, a natural phenomenon; but, in the eyes of the ignorant vulgar, it would pass for a miracle, and its author would either be stoned by the mob, or venerated by it, according to circumstances. If, in some rural district, a natural philosopher, with the aid of an electrical machine, should strike down a tree, as though by lightning, the new Prometheus would certainly be regarded as being armed with diabolical power (and here let us remark, in passing, that old Prometheus would seem to have got the start of Franklin); but the arresting of the movement of the sun, or rather of the earth, by Joshua, would indeed be a miracle, for we know of no magnetiser sufficiently powerful to accomplish such a prodigy. Of all the spirit phenomena one of the most extraordinary, without doubt, is that of direct writing, demonstrating, as it does, the power of the occult intelligences by whom it is effected; but it is no more miraculous than any of the other phenomena due to the action of those invisible agents, because the occult beings who people space are one of the powers of nature, and exercise an incessant action on the material world, as well as on the moral world.

Spiritism, by enlightening us in regard to this power, gives us a key to a host of things hitherto unexplained, and that are inexplicable by any other theory; things which, in the olden times, have passed for prodigies. Spiritism, like magnetism, reveals to us a law, the effects of which, if not wholly unknown, have been hitherto imperfectly understood; a law of which, while its effects were known, the world was ignorant, and the ignorance of which engendered superstition. This law being known, the marvellous disappears ; and phenomena, formerly regarded as miraculous or super natural, are brought into the category of natural things. Spiritists no more perform miracles by making a table to rap, or the so-called dead to write, than does the physician when he restores a sick man to health, or the electrician, when he produces artificial lightning. Whoever should pretend to perform miracles by the aid of spiritism would prove himself an ignoramus or a charlatan by the mere fact of such a pretension.

16. Spirit-phenomena, like magnetic phenomena, before their cause is known, may well pass for prodigies ; and those who, imagining themselves to have a monopoly of reason and common sense, refuse to admit the possibility of anything they do not understand, have naturally made these reputed prodigies the object of their raillery. And since religion asserts various facts of a similar character, those who thus scoff at the one, not unfrequently disbelieve the other. But spiritism, giving a rational explanation of many of the facts formerly held by science to be impossible, comes to the aid of religion, by proving the possibility or certain occurrences which are not the less extraordinary for not being miraculous, and in regard to which we see that God is not less great, nor less powerful, for not having violated His own laws. What discussions have been excited by the levitations of St Cupertin! Yet the suspension in the air of heavy bodies is a fact explained by spirit-laws; and Mr Home and other mediums known to us have frequently repeated the phenomenon manifested by St Cupertin. This phenomenon, therefore, is now included within the order of natural occurrences.

17. Among the facts of spiritism, we must give a prominent place to apparitions, because they are of such frequent occurrence. That of La Salette, which sets the clergy themselves at loggerheads, is no new thing for us. We cannot affirm that the fact asserted really took place, because we have no sufficient proof of its having done so; but we regard it as possible, because thousands of recent facts of a similar character are known to us, and because we can perfectly explain how such a phenomenon might take place. Let the reader only refer to the theory that we give, further on, concerning apparitions, and he will see that the phenomenon referred to is as simple and as probable as are a great number of other physical phenomena which are only regarded as prodigies because no key has yet been found to them. The identity of the personage said to have been seen at La Salette is another question; for that identity is by no means proved. We simply aver that such an apparition may have presented itself; more than this we are not competent to allege, and we leave every one free to form his own judgement. Spiritism has not to occupy itself with the matter. All we say is, that tile facts of spiritism reveal to us new laws, and give us the key to a multitude of things which used to be considered supernatural; and that, as many things, which used to pass for miraculous, find a logical solution in spiritism, we need be in no haste to deny what we do not understand.

Spirit-phenomena are sometimes contested because they appear to contradict known laws, and people therefore cannot see how they are to be accounted for. Give them a rational explanation of these things, and their doubt ceases. Explanation is the true means of conviction; and we constantly see those who have never witnessed any spirit-phenomena as fully convinced of the reality of those phenomena as we are ourselves, because they have read, and have comprehended their possibility. Were we to believe nothing that we had not beheld with our own eyes, the sum of our convictions would be reduced to a minimum.


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