Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/465

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

purpose were in large measure not original. The rappings are in accord with the traditional folk-lore behavior of ghosts, though their transformation into a signal code may have been due to the originality of the Fox children; the planchette has its analogies in Chinese and European modes of divination; clairvoyance was incorporated from the phenomena of artificial somnambulism, as practiced by the successors of Mesmer; the 'sensitive' or 'medium' suggests the same origin as well as the popular belief in the gift of supernatural powers to favored individuals; others of the phenomena such as 'levitation' and 'cabinet performances' have counterparts in Oriental magic; 'slate-writing/ 'form materializations/ 'spirit-messages' and 'spirit photographs' are, in the main, modern contributions. These various phenomena as ordinarily presented breed the typical atmosphere of the seance chamber, which resists precise analysis, but in which it is easy to detect morbid credulity, blind prepossession and emotional contagion; while the dependence of the phenomena on the character of the medium offers strong temptation alike to shrewdness, eccentricity and dishonesty. On the side of his teachings the spiritualist is likewise not strikingly original. The relations of his beliefs to those that grew about the revelations of Swedenborg, to the speculations of the German 'pneumatologists' and to other philosophical doctrines, though perhaps not intimate, are yet traceable and interesting; and in another view the 'spiritualist' is as old as man himself and finds his antecedents in the necromancer of Chaldea, or in the Shaman of Siberia, or the Angekok of Greenland, or the spirit-doctor of the Karens. The modern mediums are simply repeating with new costumes and improved scenic effects the mystic drama of primitive man.

Spiritualism thus appeals to a deep-seated craving in human nature, that of assurance of personal immortality and of communion with the departed. Just so long as a portion of mankind will accept material evidence of such a belief, and will even countenance the irreverence, the triviality and the vulgarity surrounding the manifestations, just so long as these persons will misjudge their own powers of detecting how the alleged supernatural appearances were really produced and remain unimpressed by the principles upon which alone a consistent explanation is possible, just so long will spiritualism and kindred delusions flourish.

As to the present-day status of this cult it is not easy to speak positively. Its clientele has apparently greatly diminished; it still numbers amongst its adherents men and women of culture and education and many more who cannot be said to possess these qualities. There seems to be a considerable class of persons who believe that natural laws are insufficient to account for their personal experiences and those of others, and who temporarily or permanently incline to a spiritualistic