The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

Back to the menu
New York’s Library

The Courier from the United States reports: “A New York paper publishes a very curious fact already known by a certain number of people and about some very interesting comments that have been made for several days. The spiritualists see in that fact one more example of manifestations from the other world. Sensible people don’t go that far to find the explanation, and clearly acknowledge symptoms that characterize hallucination. That is also the opinion of Dr. Cogswell, hero of this adventure.

Dr. Cogswell is the chief librarian of the Astor Library. His dedication to the final stages of construction of a complete catalogue of the library has him using hours of work which should actually been dedicated to his sleep. That is how he has the occasion of visiting rooms alone where so many volumes sit on the shelves. About fifteen days ago, around eleven o’clock at night, he was passing by one side room full of books when he saw, with great surprise, a well-dressed man standing and apparently examining the titles of the books with great attention. In the beginning he thought it was a thief, he then backed up and carefully examined the intruder. His surprise became even livelier when he recognized the visitor as Dr. … who had lived near Lafayette-Place, who had died and was buried six months earlier. Dr. Cogswell does not believe much in apparitions and fears them even less. Nonetheless, he thought it to be appropriate to treat the ghost with consideration and raising his voice he said: - Doctor, how come you have perhaps never visited this library when alive and you come to visit it after your death? The ghost kindly looked at the librarian and disappeared without responding, leaving him still perplex in his contemplation.
• A singular hallucination, Dr. Cogswell said to himself. I might have eaten something spoiled over dinner.

He then returned to work and later went to bed and slept uneventfully. On the next day, at the same time, he felt like visiting the library again. He found the ghost at the same spot as the night before. He addressed him with the same words and got the same outcome.
• That is curious, he thought. I must come back tomorrow.

However, before returning, Dr. Cogswell examined the shelves that seemed to have the ghost’s attention and out of a singular coincidence he identified a large number of both old and new books about necromancy. Hence, the next day and a third time he meets the deceased doctor again, and now varying the question he said:
• It is the third time I meet you doctor. Tell me if any of these books trouble your resting so that I can have it removed from the collection.

The ghost did not respond as it had not on previous occasions but it disappeared definitely and the persistent librarian returned to the same place, at the same time on several occasions, not finding him ever again. Yet, advised by friends to whom he had told the story, as well as doctors who he had consulted with, he decided to take a break and travel to Charlestown where he spent a few weeks, before resuming the painstaking task that he had imposed upon himself and whose fatigue, no doubt, had caused the hallucination that we have just described.” 

Observation: A first observation about the article: the nonchalance with which the detractors of Spiritism attribute to themselves the monopoly of common sense. “The spiritualists, says the author, see in that fact one more example of manifestations from the other world. Sensible people don’t go that far to find the explanation, and clearly acknowledge symptoms which characterize hallucination.” Thus, according to this author, only people that think like him are sensible people; the others don’t have common sense, even if they are doctors, and Spiritism can count them to the thousands. Strange modesty, really, the one that uses the maxim: Nobody is right but only my friends and us.

We still wait for a clear and accurate definition, a physiological explanation of hallucination. However, in the absence of that, there is a meaning that is related to the word. In the mind of those who use that term it means illusion. Well, illusion means lack of reality. According to them it is a purely fantastic image produced by imagination, under some sort of overly excited cerebral. We don’t deny the fact that in certain cases it may well be so. What remains to be determined is if every event of that kind occurs under the same conditions. From the examination of the above case it seems that Dr. Cogswell was perfectly calm, as he declares himself, and that no moral or physiological cause had disturbed his mind. On another hand, and even admitting his temporary illusion, it is still necessary to explain how come such an illusion had lasted for so many days in a roll, at the same time of the day and in similar circumstances, since this is not the character of hallucination, per say. Had his brain been impressed by a given material cause on the first day, it is obvious that the cause had ceased after a few moments when the apparition vanished. How could such a material impression be identically reproduced over a period of three consecutive days, with 24-hour intervals? It is regrettable, the fact that the author disregarded this when providing explanations because, no doubt, he must have excellent reasons since he is part of the group of sensible people.

Nevertheless, we agree that in the case above there is no positive proof of reality and that, strictly speaking, we can admit that the same aberration of the senses could have repeated. However, would the same thing happen when the apparitions are followed by events of some sort of material nature? For example, when well alert people (and not in their dreams) see their absent relatives or friends, who they were not thinking of, coming to announce their passing to them, at the time of their death, can it be said to be a result of imagination?

If the fact of death was not real there would undeniably be an illusion; but when the event confirms the prediction, and that is very frequent, how is it possible that the only thing admitted is silly ghost stories? Besides, if it were an isolated or rare fact one could believe in a game of chance. However, as we have been saying, the examples are uncountable and perfectly confirmed. It is up to the “hallucinationists” to bring us an irrefutable explanation and we will then see if their reasons are more demonstrable than ours. In particular we would like to have them demonstrating to us, especially if they consider themselves the owners of common sense and do admit that we have a soul which outlives the body, we would like to have them demonstrating, we were saying, the material impossibility that the soul that must be somewhere, cannot be around us, seeing us, hearing and communicating with us.

The Betrayed Bride

The following fact was reported by the “Gazetta dei Teatri” from Milan, on March 14th, 1860:

“A young man was totally in love with a lady who loved him back and whom he was going to marry when, yielding to an ill-fated desire, he abandoned his wife-to-be for a woman who was unworthy of true love. The unfortunate and abandoned young lady begged and cried but all was useless. Her fickle boyfriend remained impervious to her appeals. So desperate, she went to his house and died before his eyes as a consequence of a poison that she had ingested. Facing the cadaver and after witnessing the death that he had caused, he is then taken by a terrible reaction and tries to kill himself. However, he survives, but his conscience always blames him of this crime. Since that fatal episode, each day at dinner time, his fiancée appears at the door of his bedroom, in the image of a frightening skeleton. However much he tried to become distracted, change his habits, travel, visit with joyful friends, forget about the time, nothing worked. Wherever he was, the ghost would always appear at the appointed time. In a short time, he lost a lot of weight and his health became compromised to the point that the doctors gave up on being able to save him.

A medical doctor, who was his friend, after having experimented with several medications and studied the case very seriously, had the following idea: hoping to demonstrate to him that he was a victim of an illusion, he sought a real skeleton and stored it in the room next door; then, having invited his friend for dinner, at 4 o’clock which was the usual time of the vision, he brought in the skeleton by the use of pulleys which were fixed nearby. The doctor thought that he was successful when his friend, taken by a sudden horror, exclaimed:
• Oh, like one was not enough! Now it is two!

He then fell dead; a fulminating death.”

Observation: Reading this story, which we report on in good faith to the Italian newspaper, the hallucinationists, from where we have taken the information, one can easily say, and with reason, that this was an obvious cause for cerebral super-excitation, that produced an illusion on the shocked person. In fact there is nothing that demonstrates the reality of the apparition that could be attributed to a mind weakened by a violent shock. As for ourselves, who knew so many analogue and attested facts, we shall say that it is possible and that, in any case, the in-depth knowledge of Spiritism would have given the doctor a more efficient way of treating his friend. The means would have been the evocation of the young lady at different times, speaking to her, be it directly or through a medium; asking her what could have been done in order to please her and obtain her forgiveness; praying to a guardian angel to intercede on her behalf for reflection; and since she definitely loved him, she would certainly forget his mistakes had he shown a sincere regret and sorrow, instead of a simple horror which was his likely dominant feeling. Perhaps, she would have stopped to appear to him in such a terrible form, taking the gracious form she had when alive or she would simply no longer appear to him. She would have certainly told him good things which would have reestablished his calmness and balance. The certainty that they would never really be separated; that she watched over him and that they would reunite one day, all would have given him courage and acceptance. It is a result that we have often seen. The spirits that show up spontaneously always have an objective. In such cases the best thing to do is to ask what their wishes are. If they are suffering, it is necessary to pray for them and do what we can to please them. If the apparition has a permanent character, like an obsession, it almost always stops when the spirit is satisfied. If the spirit manifests with obstinacy, visually or through any disturbing means that cannot be taken by an illusion; if the spirit is ill-behaved and acts malevolently, that spirit is generally more tenacious, a fact which justifies even further perseverance and sincere prayers in its favor. However, one must be really persuaded that there are no sacramental words in such cases, or even cabalistic formulas or exorcisms that may have any influence. The more mischievous these spirits are the more they laugh at the inspired terror and importance given to their presence. They enjoy being called devils or demons and thus take names like Asmodeu, Astaroth, Lucifer and other diabolical qualification, multiplying their perniciousness, whereas they simply leave when they notice that they waste their time with people that are not mistaken and just pray for God to have mercy on them.

Superstition

The Siècle from April 6th, 1860 reports:

“Mr. Felix N…, a gardener from an area near Orléans, was said to have the talent of exempting conscripts from the draft lottery, in other words making them get an non-chosen number. He promised a certain Frederic Vincent P…, a young winemaker from Saint-Jean-de-Braye, a conscription number that he wanted, for a compensation of 60 francs that he would have to pay, 30 in advance and 30 after the draft lottery. The secret consisted of praying three Our Father and three Hail Mary for nine days. In addition, the sorcerer indicated that if he gracefully did his part, the actions would greatly influence the conscript, hindering him from sleeping on the very last night but yielding his release instead. Unfortunately the enchantment did not work. The conscript slept as usual and picked number 31, which made him a soldier. Since these facts occurred two more times the secret was out and the sorcerer, Felix N… was prosecuted.”

Spiritism’s adversaries accuse it of promoting superstitious ideas. However, what is the commonality between the doctrine that teaches the existence of the invisible world communicating with the visible one and facts of nature that were just reported, true superstitious facts? Where has anyone seen Spiritism teaching such absurdities? Had those who attack it, dedicated themselves to its serious study before judging it so lightheartedly, they would then know that Spiritism not only condemns all witchcraft practices but it also demonstrates its uselessness. Hence and as we have reiterated often, the serious study of Spiritism tends to destroy all superstitious practices. In the majority of the popular beliefs there is almost always some truth but it is typically altered or modified. That is how the genie and fairy tales are founded, on the idea of the existence of good and bad spirits, protecting or malevolent; that all stories of apparitions are based on the very real spiritist visible and even tangible manifestations. Such phenomenon, perfectly explained and verified now, enter into the category of natural phenomena, a consequence of the eternal laws of creation. But people are rarely satisfied with the truth that seems too simple. People tend to coat it with all fantasies created by imagination, falling then in the zone of absurd. Those who are interested in exploiting those same beliefs come next, adding a self-serving fantastic reputation. This explains the crowd of fortunetellers, witches and sorceress against whom the law is fairly enforced.

The true, rational Spiritism is then not more responsible for their abuse than Medicine is by the ridiculous formulas and practices employed by charlatans or ignorant people. Once more, before judging Spiritism, give yourself time to study it seriously.

It is conceivable that there might be some truth in certain beliefs, but one may ask about the origin of the belief in something like the facts described above, such as a wide spread belief in our countryside, as one knows it. It seems to us, at first sight, that one has in its origin an intuitive feeling about invisible beings and their inclination to attribute to them a power that they often do not have. The existence of deceiving spirits hanging out around us by force of our planet’s inferiority, like pesky insects in a swamp, who amuse themselves at the expense of credulous people, predicting their utopian futures, always suitable to flatter their tastes and desires, is a fact from which we have demonstrated daily by today’s mediums. These things that happen before our eyes have happened in all times as a means of communication according to the time and place required for that reality. With the help of charlatanism and greed, reality has turned into a superstitious belief.

Pneumatography or Direct Writing

Mr. X…, one of our most renowned scholars, was at the house of Ms. Huet last February 11th, with a group of six people who were acquainted with spiritist manifestations for a long time already. Mr. X… and Ms. Huet sat face to face around a little table chosen by Mr. X… He took a piece of paper from his pocket, completely blank, folded it four times and marked it with an almost imperceptible sign, but sufficient to be identified. He put the piece of paper on the table covered by his white handkerchief. Ms. Huet put her hands over the handkerchief. Mr. X… did the same, asking the spirits to provide a direct manifestation, with an enlightening objective. Mr. X… directed his request to Channing to be evoked for that. Ten minutes had passed when he raised the handkerchief and retrieved the piece of paper in which there was a phrase written on one side, written with difficulty, almost illegible, but showing the outline of these words: God loves you. On the other side it read: God on the external angle, and Christ at the end of the paper. This last word was written in such a way that it showed a hinged mark on the folded paper. A second trial was carried out under the same conditions and after fifteen minutes the paper contained on its lower surface, written in bold characters, the following English words: God loves you, and below it read: Channing. At the end of the piece of paper it read in French: Faith in God. Finally, on the back of the same page there was a cross with a sign similar to a reed, both drawn with a red substance. Once the experiment was over Mr. X… expressed to Ms. Huet his desire to obtain more elaborated explanations from Channing, through her mediumship as a writing medium. The following dialogue was established between him and the spirit:
• Are you here, Channing?
• I am here. Are you satisfied?
• Have you addressed the things you wrote to me in particular or to everybody else?
• I wrote a phrase whose meaning applies to all people. The experiment of writing in English however, is particularly to you. As for the cross, it is the symbol of faith.
• Why have you done it in red?
• In order to ask you to have faith. I could not write it because it would be too long; then I used the symbol.
• Is the red then the symbolic color of faith?
• Certainly. It is the representation of baptism by blood.

Observation: Ms. Huet does not speak English and thus the spirit wanted to give another proof that his thoughts were foreign to the manifestation. He did that spontaneously and from his own initiative, but it is more than likely that if one had requested more proof, it would not have been there. It is well known that the spirits do not like to be used as instruments in experiments. The most patent proofs are sometimes given when least expected and when the spirits act freely, they sometimes give more than if they were asked. Whether they have the heart to show their independence, or for the fault of not being able to produce certain phenomena as a contest of circumstances which cannot always be produced by our will. It is never too much to repeat that the spirits have their own free will and want to demonstrate to us that they are not submitted to our caprices. That is why they rarely yield to curiosity.

The phenomena, whatever their nature, are never at our services with any certainty, and no one can guarantee that they will be produced at a given moment and at will. Any person who wishes to observe them must be patient and wait and this is frequently a test of perseverance from the part of the spirits, assessing the observer and the actual intention. The spirits give no importance to the entertainment of curiosity and do not bind themselves but to those who demonstrate their real desire for instruction, doing whatever is necessary to achieve that, without any commercialization of their time and effort.

The simultaneous production of signs in characters of different colors is an extremely curious fact, but it is not more supernatural than all others. We have an account of that in the article Pneumatography or direct writing in The Spiritist Review, August 1859. The supernatural disappears giving place to a simple phenomenon explained by the general laws of nature, and that would be called the physiology of the spirits.

Spiritism and Spiritualism

The following statement by Cardinal Donnet was given in a recent speech in the Senate: “But today, like in former times, it is true to say with an eloquent publicist, in humankind, that Spiritualism is represented by Christianity.”

It would certainly be a strange mistake if we thought that the celebrity speaker in that particular event had understood Spiritualism in the sense of spirits’ manifestations. The word was employed there in its true meaning, and the speaker could not have expressed it in a different way, unless he had made use of a paraphrase because there was no other term to express the same thought. If we had not provided the source of our citation, people might certainly think that we had extracted it from an American spiritualist, about Spiritism, equally represented by Christianity, in its most sublime expression. According to that, would it be possible that a future scholar, giving a free interpretation to the words of Cardinal Donnet, would try to demonstrate to our descendants that in 1860 a Cardinal had publicly professed the manifestation of the spirits, before the French Senate?

Don’t we see in this fact a new proof that there is the need for a different word for each thing, so that we can understand one another? How many endless philosophical arguments haven’t we had due to the multiple meanings of the words! The inconvenience is even worse with the translations, from which the biblical texts show more than one example. If in Hebrew the word day and period were not expressed in the same way, we would not have been mistaken about the meaning of the words in the book of Genesis, regarding the duration of the formation of the earth, and science would not have been cursed for a lack of understanding, when it demonstrated that the formation of the planet could not have been accomplished in a period of six times 24 hours.

Related articles

Show related items
Wait, loading...