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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/168

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

burned. A man sees an old woman in the woods, and, on turning about, the old woman is gone and a hare flies across his track; he concludes that she turned herself into a hare, and the witch test is applied. When the personal devil was believed in, he was daily seen clothed in the garments that imagination had given him, and engaged in mischievous actions of all kinds. When witchery was the dominant superstition, all things gave evidence of that. With the doctrines of modern spiritualism to be supported, the number of mediums and manifestations will be correspondingly abundant. Create a belief in the theory, and the facts will create themselves.

In the production of this state of mind a factor as yet unmentioned plays a leading rôle: it is the power of mental contagion. Error, like truth, flourishes in crowds. At the hearth of sympathy each finds a home. The fanatical lead, the saner follow. When a person of nervous temperament, not strongly independent in thought and action, enters a spiritualistic circle, where he is constantly surrounded by confident believers, all eager to have him share their sacred visions and profound revelations, where the atmosphere is replete with miracles and every chair and table may at any instant be transformed into a proof of the supernatural, is it strange that he soon becomes one of them?—hesitatingly at first, and perhaps yet restorable to his former modes of thought by the fresh air of another and more steadfast mental intercourse, but more and more certainly and ardently convinced the longer he breathes the séance atmosphere. No form of contagion is so insidious in its onset, so difficult to check in its advance, so certain to leave germs that may at any moment reveal their pernicious power, as a mental contagion—the contagion of fear, of panic, of fanaticism, of lawlessness, of superstition. The story of the witchcraft persecutions, were there no similar records to deface the pages of history, would suffice as a standing illustration of the overwhelming power of psychic contagion. To fully illustrate its importance in the production of deception would require an essay in itself. It enters at every stage of the process and in every type of illusion. It has least effect when deception is carried on by external arrangements, by skillful counterfeits of logical inferences; its power is greatest where the subjective factor in deception is greatest, more particularly in such forms of deception as have been last described.

In this review of the types of deception, I have made no mention of such devices as the gaining of one's confidence for selfish ends, preying upon ignorance, upon fear, acting the friend while at heart the enemy, planned connivance and skillful plotting, together with the whole outfit of insincerity, villainy, and crime. It is not that these are without interest or are unrelated to the