Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/246

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Having discarded the ghostology of olden times, many people, and among these some men and women of considerable culture, have set up for themselves a novel system of intercourse with the unknown world. Brownies and fairies, with all the fine romance that surrounds the history of their doings among human folks, are dismissed with contempt. Spiritualism has swept all these ethereal puppets off the hoards of ordinary life. To substitute what? We might at least look for an improved exhibition and more interesting "characters;" but the truth is, that nothing could be less satisfactory than the modern attempt at demon-craft. There is something so clumsy and inartistic in the whole get-up of the "spiritual" drama, that it is less surprising to find it very generally scouted than to see it obtain even a partial notoriety.

Ignorance is the parent of superstition, without a doubt; and the one never exists apart from the other. There is, however, a second wise saw that tells a great deal of the truth about the origin of that world-old bugbear of the human mind, namely, "The wish is father to the thought." What we strongly desire to be, we are next door to believing to be. The appetite of man's vanity is unappeasable, and in catering for it his fancy plays tricks with his reason. He longs for intercommunion with the unknown, and indulges the wish by creating fictitious agents for that purpose. Tokens, signs, omens, and auguries, are also outgrowths of the various forms of desire and vanity. We believe we shall have luck if we turn the money in our pocket when looking at new moon. Men have waited in all ages for the appearance of some favorable sign before beginning any enterprise of importance. If the sun shines on our wedding-day, how auspicious! Palpably in each case because we desire these things to be! But having set up omens with such an object, we, in the cleft-stick of our own superstition, are bound to believe their absence, or converse, the foreshadowers of evil.

In many ways modern credulity frees itself from such mechanical trammels as those we have mentioned, to take a form and complexion from the age, losing meanwhile not one jot of its vigor. To dream three times of a hidden treasure and set about, Whang-the-Miller-like, to lay bare the foundations of one's house, is an exploit not to be thought of by the veriest wiseacre of our day; but the desire to obtain wealth easily and rapidly being, if anything, more active and rampant, the belief in some magical means for attaining it is the most natural thing in the world. An El Dorado is required, and lo! an El Dorado is implicitly thought to exist. The projectors of a bogus company for "utilizing the clippings of old moons," or "extracting starch from granite chips," are the good fairies whom by propitiating with a portion of our substance we hope to enlist in our behalf, and obtain a thousand-fold return. Where such a superstition exists, and it is broadcast, any scheme, however absurd, any swindle, no matter how