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The Naturalisation of the Supernatural/Chapter 10


IN the next two chapters it is proposed to pass in review those spontaneous apparitions—"ghosts" warning dreams, haunted houses—which have been held in all ages to indicate the presence of the dead. We have already in previous chapters considered some instances in which the apparition approximately coincided with the death of the person represented, and have seen that in such a case the vision may reasonably be interpreted as originating in the mind of a still living agent. Further we have seen that in some cases where it can be clearly proved that the vision occurred some hours after the death, we should yet not be justified in assuming the agency of the dead.[1] After all reasonable deductions have, however, been made, there will be found to remain a considerable number of well-attested apparitions which prima facie refer rather to the dead than to the living. The simplest case of all is that in which the fact of the death is announced by dream, vision, or inner voice before the news could have reached the percipient by normal means, but at such an interval after the death as to make the supposition of latency no longer tenable. We could not of course expect that such cases would be as numerous as those in which the dream or vision approximately coincides with the death, if for no other reason than that generally the news would be conveyed, by letter or telegram, to those most nearly concerned within a day or two at most. We have relatively very few cases of the kind in our collection; and even if we grant that the instances reported to us have been diminished in number by the instinctive tendency, already pointed out, to reduce the interval between the death and the annunciatory vision, the number is still far too small to permit us to found any generalisation upon it. For it must be remembered that impressions which occur some days or even a week after the death offer much more scope for chance coincidence than those which fall within twelve hours of the death.

But even if narratives such as those referred to were much more numerous than is in fact the case, we should still be left in doubt as to their actual significance. For we cannot exclude the possibility that the percipient's impression may have had its origin in the minds of the survivors, mourning over the dead. Such an explanation is unmistakably indicated by the following narrative.

No. 42. From Mr. Stephen Peebles[2]

Satank, Colorado. January 2nd, 1894.

We live on a farm ten miles from Glenwood Springs. At Glenwood Springs a Mrs. Walz, whom my wife has known for some years, lives with her husband. She was the mother of two children, one an infant. This Mrs. Walz, our daughter (who is married and lives near us—a mile away), and a Mrs. Zimmermann have been, from the time of their first acquaintance, intimate friends. Mrs. Zimmermann lives four miles from us, fourteen miles from Glenwood Springs.

My wife had not seen Mrs. Walz for months, had not heard anything about her for some time, and did not know of any sickness in her family.

On Sunday morning, December 17th, while my wife was dressing, and before she had seen or spoken to any one but me, she told me of a dream she had had in the night. She dreamed that Mrs. Walz's baby was dead, and that she was at their house. She wished to do certain work that needed to be done in the house, but she was not dressed. While she was struggling vainly to get her clothes on, Mrs. Zimmermann came into the dream, doing this work.

It was about six o'clock when my wife told me this. About ten o'clock our daughter came in and told us that she and her husband had been to Glenwood Springs the day before to attend the funeral of Madgie Walz's baby, and that Hattie Zimmermann was there doing the work which has to be done on such occasions.

Our son was out that night and heard of the death of the child; but he 'did not return till one o'clock—long after we were in bed—and he was not up, nor had he spoken to his mother, when she told me the dream. She heard him come in, and she thinks the dream came after that.

Stephen Peebles.

Mrs. Peebles writes:

My husband has read the above to me. My dream was as he has told it, and my recollection of the circumstances connected with my telling:it to him and its verification is as he has given them.

D. L. Peebles.

Mr. F. M. Peebles, son of the percipient, writes:

[Satank. Colorado, January 2nd, 1894.]

I was away from home on that evening of December 16th, and was told of the death of the child, which formed the subject of my mother's dream. I think this was about eight or nine o'clock in the evening, but I did not return home until after midnight, and did not speak to my mother about what I had heard until near noon the next day.

Frank M. Peebles.

Here it will be seen the dream was concerned with the domestic cares consequent on the death, rather than with the death itself. It would seem therefore most probable that the dream originated in the mind of the dreamer's son or daughter who were acquainted with the facts. In any case, we should hardly be justified, in default of any analogous instance, in invoking the agency of the dead infant.

A similar explanation is indicated in the following case. Mr. Russell, member of a church choir in San Francisco, died quite suddenly at 11 A.M. At 1.30 P.M. the same day a friend went to the house of the choirmaster. Whilst he was telling the news to the ladies of the household, the choir-master himself, who was at the time occupied up-stairs, saw an apparition of the deceased.[3] Here the vision coincided, not with the death, but with the recital of it to the relatives of the percipient. Again, in each of the five cases which follow the percipient's impression occurred some time after the death, but only a few hours before the receipt of the news by normal means.

No. 43. From Miss Kitching[4]

Miss Kitching, then in Saratoga, N. Y., on the morning of the 33rd August, 1888, had in a dream a painful impression of the death of her brother in Algeria. But the death had taken place on the 20th, and the cablegram announcing it had been designedly held over in New York; from which town it was actually despatehed to Saratoga a few hours after the dream.

No. 44. From Mas. G. T. HALY[5]

122 Coningham Road, Shepherd's Bush, W.

On waking in broad daylight, I saw, like a shadowed reflection, a. very long coffin stretching quite across the ceiling of my room, and as I lay gazing at it, and wondering at its length and whose death it could foreshadow, my eyes fell on a shadowy figure of an absent nephew with his back towards me, searching, as it were, in my bookshelf. That morning's post brought me the news of his death in Australia. He was six foot two or three inches in height, and a book had been my last present to him on his leaving England, taken from that very bookcase.

Mr. Gurney saw Mrs. Haly in November, 1884, and learnt that this, and an appearance of lights, are the only hallucinations of sight Mrs. Haly has had, and that she clearly recognised her nephew's figure. The event occurred in the winter of 1872–3, some six weeks after the nephew's death. It will be noted that, though the death had occurred several weeks previously, the phantasm was not seen until news of the event had reached England in the ordinary course of post.

No. 45. From Mr. George King[6]

Mr. George King (November, 1885) on the night of December 2, 1874, after being present at a Conversazione at King's College, London, dreamt that at a brilliant assembly his brother advanced towards him. He was in evening dress, like all the rest, and was the very image of buoyant health. " I was much surprised to see him, and, going forward to meet him, I said: ' Hallo! D., how are you here?' He shook me warmly by the hand and replied: 'Did you not know I have been wrecked again?' At these words a deadly faintness came over me. I seemed to swim away and sink to the ground. After momentary unconsciousness I awoke, and found myself in my bed. I was in a cold perspiration, and had paroxysms of trembling, which would not be controlled. I argued with myself on the absurdity of getting into a panic over a dream, but all to no purpose, and for long I could not sleep."

The newspapers on the following morning contained an account of the foundering of the La Plata, the ship in which Mr. King's brother had sailed, on November 29th.

No. 46. From The Rev. G. M. Tandy, Vicar or West Ward, Cumberland.[7]

Mr. Tandy had called upon a friend in a neighbouring village and carried away with him a newspaper, still in its wrapper. Some hours after returning home he saw a lifelike apparition of his intimate friend Canon Robinson. On subsequently removing the wrapper of the newspaper he found an account of the death of Canon Robinson, of which he had. not previously heard.

No. 47. From Mr. Cameron Grant[8]

Mr. Grant, who was at the time up country, in Brazil, had on the night of the 24th December, 1885, an impression of death, and connected it with a member of Lord Z.'s family. On that day Lord Z. died.

On the 26th January the impression of death was renewed. Both the impressions are attested by entries in Mr. Grant's diary.

On the 27th January there is an entry as follows: "Very tired, but did not sleep a wink all night. I am sure that something has happened to [a member of Lord Z.'s family. I heard every hour strike, and kept thinking of [all the members of the family] but not of the dear old gentleman [i. e., imagining them in sorrow, but not Lord Z. himself]. I got up and wanted to draw him. His features seemed before me. I had before shown Mr. Catlin a face in the Graphic that was like him, also that of a dead man. I had the greatest difficulty not to draw his portrait with his head forward and sunk on his breast, as if he had been sitting in a room with a window on his right hand and an old man-servant;—and then his head just went forward, and he fell asleep. Weeks ago I thought of him,—some time about Christmas; and ever since I have been feeling [pity, etc., for members of family]."

On the next day, Thursday, January 28, 1886, Mr. Grant received by accident a Scotch paper in which Lord Z.'s death was mentioned,—but apparently without the precise date.

I have grouped these five cases together, because there would appear to be some connection between the percipient's impression and the news of the death which followed a few hours later. It is not easy to conjecture the precise nature of this connection: for we do not know enough of the surrounding circumstances. But we may note, as probably not without significance, the fact that the telepathic message came just at the moment when the news of the death was known, or might have been known, to persons in the vicinity of the percipient—that is, when the possibility of thought-transference from the living had been established.

There is a case recorded in Phantasms of the Living (vol. i., p. 365), in which Mrs. Menneer saw in a dream the body of her brother, Mr. Wellington, standing by her bedside, with his head lying on a coffin by his side. Mr. Wellington had actually been decapitated by the Chinese at about the time of the dream—the exact date of the dream cannot now be fixed.

To Mr. Gurney the interpretation of the dream on the hypothesis of thought-transference from the living presented some difficulties: it seemed necessary to suppose that Mr. Wellington had dramatised his own fate at the moment of death. But we have since learnt that the head was given up to Mr. Wellington's friends on the following day, and a telepathic message from their minds is thus suggested as a possible explanation.[9]

Several cases have been reported to us in which a dying man has seen the figure of a friend, of whose death he could not have been aware by ordinary means. In some of these cases the fact was known to those around the sick-bed, and had been deliberately withheld from the patient. In the case which follows, however, the fact of the death of the person seen in the vision was not apparently known to any one in the neighbourhood of the percipient, and the hypothesis of thought-transference from the living is so far less plausible. It is possible that the approach of death may in itself tend, as suggested by Mr. Myers, to quicken and stimulate our psychical faculties.

No. 48. From Colonel ———[10]

Writing on the 1511 March, 1885, Colonel ——— explains that about sixteen years previously he had invited Miss Julia X., the daughter of his gunmaker, to stay in his house for a week in order that she might take part in some singing at the house of a neighbour, Mrs. Y. Miss X. gave great pleasure by her visit: she was shortly after married, and gave up the idea of coming out as a singer. Mrs. Y. apparently never saw her again. Some years later, on the 12th of February, 1874, Mrs. Y. lay dying, and Colonel had come to talk over some business matters with her. She was, he tells us, in thorough possession of her senses. "She changed the subject and said: 'Do you hear those voices singing?' I replied that I did not; and she said: 'I have heard them several times to-day, and I am sure they are the angels welcoming me to Heaven; but,' she added, 'it is strange, there is one voice amongst them I am sure I know, and cannot remember whose voice it is.' Suddenly she stopped and said, pointing straight over my head, 'Why there she is in the corner of the room; it is Julia X.; she is coming on; she is leaning over you; she has her hands up; she is praying; do look; she is going.' I turned but could see nothing. Mrs. Y. then said: 'She is gone.' All these things I imagined to be the phantasies of a dying person."

On the following day Mrs. Y. died. On the day after, the 14th, Colonel ——— saw in the Time: the notice of the death of Julia X. (Mrs. Webley). From Mr. Webley we learn that she died on the 2nd of February, 1874, and that the last hours of her life were spent in singing.

In the cases so far considered, which occurred within, at furthest, a few weeks after death, no information has been communicated beyond the fact of the death itself, and occasionally the circumstances and manner of the death, or the appearance of the deceased person at the time. But the popular conception of a ghost, a returning spirit, includes more than this. In traditional stories the spirit generally returns to communicate a definite message to the survivors. Sometimes the message consists simply in the fact of the survival of the soul after death; but frequently it is concerned with things left undone in his lifetime by the deceased. In comparatively few of the narratives collected by us do concrete messages of this kind play a part. That fact furnishes in itself, of course, strong proof of the good faith and scrupulousness of our informants. It is clear that they are dealing with matters of their own personal experience, and have not given rein to their imagination. It will be noticed, indeed, by any one who carefully compares a large number of these narratives, that, in the more recent cases at any rate, the waking vision is not often represented as giving a message of particular import. The apparition seen with the eyes open may resemble the dead man, but the resemblance is to the figure familiar to the percipient in life. It is, in other words, open to us to suppose that the clothing and imagery are supplied by the percipient's own imagination. There is rarely any novel feature of costume; rarely any communication to other senses than that of sight. It is, generally speaking, in the narratives which deal with remoter experiences that the more sensational details are apt to appear. In short, statements written down many years after the event to which they relate have a tendency to conform more closely to the traditional type. But though in the best attested accounts of waking hallucinations we can find few parallels to the repentant monk, the troubled miser, or the conscientious debtor of the popular imagination, we do in dreams find many cases where purpose and knowledge are shown which apparently point to the agency of the deceased. That such indications practically occur only in dreams is not in itself a suspicious circumstance. Dreams no doubt, as already pointed out, have less ostensive value than waking visions, because of the greater scope for chance coincidence. But, on the other hand, we have good reason to believe that telepathic communication of all kinds is most readily established when, as in sleep or trance, the faculties which deal with the life of relation are in abeyance. We have no reason therefore for distrusting the accuracy of a dream story, on the sole ground that it imports sensational features of the kind referred to.

I propose to cite a few narratives in which information purporting to proceed from a deceased person, and beyond the conscious knowledge of the recipient, was communicated in dream or some allied state. It is of course impossible in any case of this kind to be absolutely satisfied that the information was not already latent in the dreamer's mind. We know of many cases in which impressions, after remaining latent through a period of weeks or even years, have ultimately emerged in sleep, crystal vision, or other form of automatism. But the reader will probably agree that in some of the narratives quoted such an explanation is at least improbable; and that the accumulation of a large number of similar instances would furnish an argument of some weight for the survival of human personality after the death of the body. The hypothesis of the emergence of latent memory can no doubt be applied in the following case.

No. 49. From Professor Dolebar[11]

Mr. Dolbear, Professor of Physics at Tufts College, Mass.,dreamt one night that he saw and spoke to a deceased acquaintance, Mr. Farmer, an electrician. In his dream Professor Dolbear asked for a test of identity, and Farmer held out his left hand, with the fingers bent in a very extraordinary way. On his relating the dream to Miss Farmer, Professor Dolbear learnt that this particular disposition of the fingers was a common trick on the part of the dead man. Professor Dolbear had, however, no recollection of ever seeing such a trick, and as his acquaintance with Mr. Farmer was purely on a business footing, he thinks it unlikely that he had actually seen it.

In the following case the hypothesis of the revival in dream of a latent impression involves perhaps a higher degree of improbability.

Miss Whiting, the narrator, had been an intimate friend of Kate Field, the well-known American journalist, and was in 1899 bringing out a life of her deceased friend. Miss Whiting believes that she has frequently held communication with the spirit of Kate Field.

No. 50. From Miss Lilian Whiting[12]

8th August, 1899.

Between 2 and 3 a.m., August 4th, Kate wakened me, speaking to me excitedly about a "letter of Lowell's" to her. All was confused and rapid, but at last I caught clearly: "In K. F.'s W.—in my Washington, Lilian; look in my Washington." Then I vaguely recalled that Lowell had written her a letter in re International Copyright, which she had published in her journal, and which I had already included in her biography, so I replied to her: "Yes, darling, I know—the letter is in the book. It 's all right."

Again an excited and rapid speaking, of which I only caught here and there a word, but—partly from impression, and almost impulsion—I rose, went out into my parlour, turned on the electric light,and took the five bound volumes of her K. F.'s W. down from my shelves. Half automatically I seemed to be guided (for I had totally forgotten its existence) to a letter that Lowell wrote to her in 1879, when he was American Minister to Spain—writing from Madrid, and she in London—and which, on his death, she had published in her Washington.

[Miss Whiting explains that the letter was of considerable literary interest, and then adds:] As the original letter was not among Miss Field's MSS., and as I had totally forgotten it (I don't, even now, recall seeing it, though I must have at the time), this very important letter would have been left out of her biography, had she not thus called me and led me to it. There was barely time to get [it] in before the first casting of the proofs. I went with it myself out to the University Press the next morning to see where I could now introduce it in the part of proofs not yet cast—as I couldn't even delay for the mail. Miss Field's waking me,—her urgent and excited and forcible manner and words,—were just as real to me as would have been [those] of some friend in this world coming to my bedside in the night.

L. W.

On a first reading Miss Whiting's interpretation of this dramatic incident would appear to be the most probable. But a case which offers many points of similarity has been put on record by Dr. Hilprecht, Professor of Assyrian at the University of Pennsylvania. After puzzling over the inscription on two fragments of agate from the temple of Bel, at Nippur, he fell asleep and dreamt that the priest of Bel appeared to him, led him into the treasure chamber of the temple, and then gave him the history of the two fragments and an interpretation of the inscription. This interpretation, the next day he found to be correct. Here there can be little doubt that the revelation made in the dream was but the final result of the dreamer's own processes of unconscious celebration, and the priestly visitant only a puppet in the drama.[13]

It is more difficult in the next case to apply the hypothesis of latent knowledge, though Professor Alexander, who procured the narrative for us, writes that the incident is "of a type rather frequent among Brazilian Catholics."

No. 51. From Donna Nery[14]

Barhacena, March 26th, 1895.

In January, 1894, the decease occurred of Félicité G., a young Belgian lady, who was married to a nephew of mine. After the death of his wife, the latter came to our house at Barbacena, bringing with him much luggage belonging to the deceased, and he stayed here with his children for some days.

Some two months afterwards—I have no means of ascertaining the exact date—I went to a soirée and returned home about 2 o'clock in the morning, having passed some pleasant hours in which all thoughts of sadness were temporarily swept from my memory. On that very night, however, I had a vivid dream of Félicité. It seemed to me that she entered the room where I really lay asleep, and, sitting down on the bedside, asked me, as a favour, to look into an old tin box under the staircase for a certain wax candle, which had been already lighted, and which she had promised to Our Lady. On my consenting to do so, she took leave of me, saying, "Até a outro mundo (Till the other world)."[15] I awoke from the dream much impressed. It was still dark, but I could no longer sleep.

On that day, the others having gone out, I called a servant and ordered her to search in the tin box, which had, in fact, been placed under the staircase, and which had belonged to Félicité. No one had opened the box before. It was full of old clothes and cuttings, among which it was by no means probable that we should find a wax candle. The servant turned over these clothes, at first without result, and I was already beginning to think that my dream was of no importance, when, on straightening out the clothes so that the box might be closed, I saw the end of a candle, which I at once ordered her to take out. It was of wax—of the kind used for promises [to saints]—and, what was a still more singular coincidence, it had already been lighted.

We delivered the candle to Monsenhor José Augusto, of Barbacena, in performance of my niece's pious vow thus curiously revealed in a dream.

(Signed) Guilhermina Nery.

Senhor Nery writes:

Barbacena. March 26th, 1895.

I recollect that, on the occasion, my wife told me of the dream, much impressed by it. It is exactly what is written.

(Signed) Domingos Nery.

The next case comes to us from America. The facts were carefully investigated within a few weeks of the occurrence by Dr. Hodgson, and there seems no ground for doubting that the dream actually occurred as stated. The following account extracted from a local newspaper was written by a member of the staff who happened to enter the coroner's office a few minutes after the son of the dead man, who had returned to Dubuque on the strength of his sister's dream, had searched the clothes, and found the money. The reporter heard the facts both from the son and from the coroner.

No. 52. From "The Herald," Dubuque, Iowa[16]

February 11th, 1891

It will be remembered that on February and, Michael Conley, a farmer living near Ionia, Chickasaw County, was found dead in an outhouse at the Jefferson house. He was carried to Coroner Hoffmann's morgue, where, after the inquest, his body was prepared for shipment to his late home. The old clothes which he wore were covered with filth from the place where he was found and they were thrown outside the morgue on the ground.

His son came from Ionia and took the corpse home. When he reached there and one of the daughters was told that her father was dead, she fell into a swoon, in which she remained for several hours. When at last she was brought from the swoon, she said, "Where are father's old clothes? He has just appeared to me dressed in a white shirt, black clothes, and felt [misreported for satin] slippers, and told me that after leaving home he sewed a large roll of bills inside his grey shirt with a piece of my red dress and the money is still there." In a short time she fell into another swoon and when out of it demanded that somebody go to Dubuque and get the clothes. She was deathly sick, and is so yet.

The entire family considered it only a hallucination, but the physician advised them to get the clothes, as it might set her mind at rest. The son telephoned Coroner Hoffmann asking if the clothes were still in his possession. He looked and found them in the backyard, although he had supposed they were thrown in the vault as he had intended. He answered that he still had them, and on being told that the son would come to get them, they were wrapped in a bundle.

The young man arrived last Monday afternoon and told Coroner Hofimann what his sister had said. Mr. Hoffmann admitted that the lady had described the identical burial garb in which her father was clad, even to the slippers, although she never saw him after death. and none of the family had seen more than his face through the coffin lid. Curiosity being fully aroused, they took the grey shirt from the bundle and within the bosom found a large roll of bills sewed with a piece of red cloth. The young man said his sister had a red dress exactly like it. The stitches were large and irregular. and looked to be those of a man. The son wrapped up the garments and took them home with him yesterday morning, filled with wonder at the supernatural revelation made to his sister, who is at present lingering between life and death.

The coroner and the other persons concerned have confirmed the accuracy of the newspaper account. The percipient, though unwilling to write out her version of the incident, has related the dream in similar terms to Mr. Amos Crum, the pastor of a neighbouring church.

There is another class of evidence for post-mortem agency which may briefly be referred to here. Several cases have been investigated by us in which the body of a drowned man has, after fruitless search by ordinary means, been at length discovered through a dream. A typical case of the kind occurred at New Lambton (County Durham) in January, 1902. A police constable in the neighbourhood had disappeared on the night of the 4th January. For the next four days the neighbourhood was thoroughly searched, some thirty or forty constables assisting. On the 8th January a friend of the missing constable dreamt that he saw the body in a particular spot in a stream running through a wood, The next day, after mentioning his dream to several persons, he went to the spot indicated, thrust a long pole into the water, and raised the body.[17]

Of the facts there can be no question. But the dreamer had actually taken part in the search along the banks of this very stream; and we cannot, therefore, exclude the possibility that some indication had been perceived subconsciously which first received full recognition in the dream. However, the incident, as said, is by no means an isolated one, and the hypothesis of subconscious perception becomes less plausible the more numerous the instances which it is invoked to cover. In the next chapter we shall have to consider a case in which the skeleton of a man murdered forty years previously was discovered through a persistent dream.

So far we have passed in review examples of messages purporting to emanate from the dead, in which the proof of such origin consists in the information, whether as to the death itself, or as to some other fact presumably known only to the deceased, which was conveyed by the message. We have now to consider an important class of cases in which the apparition is seen by two or more persons simultaneously—"collective" apparitions, as they are conveniently termed.[18]

The fact that the phantasm is seen by more than one person at the same moment inevitably suggests that the apparition is in some sense objective; i. e., that it has a cause external to the minds of all the percipients. But even when two or three witnesses are prepared to attest the reality of the vision, it would be difficult now to maintain the older view that the thing seen is objective in the sense of being material, or even quasi-material, astral, metetherial, or whatever other name may be found for the hypothetical substance. Whatever the cause of the apparition, it will probably be recognised that it is in substance a hallucination—the stuff of which dreams are made—and has no more materiality, or quasi-materiality, than they.

Collective hallucinations, or what purport to be such, though far less common than solitary hallucinations, are still fairly numerous. In the Census 95 visual cases were reported at first hand, as compared with 992 cases of unshared hallucinations. The following table shows the nature of the collective hallucinations reported in the Census.

Collective Visual Hallucinations, divided according to conditions of perception[19]
  Percipients in bed Percipients up and indoors Seen out of doors Totals.
Realistic human apparitions of living persons 03 10 14 27
Realistic human apparitions dead persons 06 02 08
Realistic human apparitions unrecognised 02 13 17 32
Incomplete developed apparitions 04 04 04 12
Angels and religious apparition: or visions
Apparitions, grotesque, horrible, or monstrous 01 02 03
Apparitions of animals 03 01 04
Apparitions of definite inanimate objects 01 01
Apparitions of lights 01 01 02
Apparitions of indefinite objects 05 01 06
Totals.......... 11 42 42 95

From this total, however, of 95 cases large deductions should be made. In only 43 of the cases have we received testimony from a second percipient; and it is practically certain that in some cases the narrator's memory is at fault in assuming that his experience was shared. Further, the large proportion of collective hallucinations seen out of doors (33 out of 67 apparitions of the human form) suggests that in many cases the hallucinatory character of the experience may have been too hastily assumed. The figure may have been a real person.

Again, in some cases it seems possible that the experience may have been of the nature of an illusion rather than a hallucination—a misinterpretation of some actual sense impression occurring to both percipients simultaneously. Or again, the similarity of the impressions reported by different percipients may have been due to verbal suggestion. This explanation is especially applicable when the vision, as in one of the cases cited below, lasted for several minutes.

But when ample allowance has been made on these accounts, enough well evidenced cases remain, both in the Census and outside of it, to compel us to search for some other explanation than those indicated above. If the existence, then, of a class of collectively perceived hallucinations is admitted, there are, apart from verbal suggestion, two conceivable explanations: (1) The apparition may be due to a cause external to the minds of all the percipients, or (2) it may originate in the mind of one of those present, and be transferred telepathically to the rest. In the latter case, the vision may have no objective significance, and may testify to no reality. It is obvious that, in the case of apparitions representing the dead, we have no criterion which will enable us to decide between these alternative explanations. At most, we can determine upon which side the balance of probability lies, by considering the whole of the evidence.

In the first place, then, we may note that collective visions are occasionally concerned with inanimate objects—e. g., a chair, or a skeleton,—or with animals. We have several cases in which apparitions of animals, a cat, or a bull, have been seen by two witnesses simultaneously. We have also many cases of lights seen collectively. We have an interesting experimental case in which two young ladies saw the same imaginary scene in a crystal—pyramids and a train of camels.[20]

Further, it will be seen from the Census table that nearly half the human apparitions seen represented persons unknown to the percipients. Again, collective apparitions of the living, which constitute more than three fourths of the recognised apparitions shown in the table, are not as a rule seen under circumstances such as to suggest the agency of the person represented. A typical case is quoted in the Census Report.[21] Two sisters, playing the harmonium in an empty church, saw the figure of a third sister walk up the church and mysteriously disappear. The third sister had accompanied them to the Rectory, and, as appeared subsequently, had spent most of the afternoon in the library. She had, indeed, gone to the church gate with the intention of entering, but had turned back. It would seem extravagant to suppose that her easily abandoned intention had wrought such an impression upon the minds of her sisters as to cause a hallucinatory apparition of herself. And in many cases of collective hallucinations there is no apparent connection of any kind between the percipients' experience, and the condition of the living person whose phantasmal likeness is seen.

All these considerations point to the conclusion that, in the great majority of cases, at any rate, the collectively seen apparition has no point of interest beyond its collectivity; that it is, in fact, no more significant than the ordinary casual hallucination, from which it is distinguished merely by the fact that, owing to favouring circumstances, it is telepathically transferred to another mind. But obviously in the present state of our knowledge such a conclusion can only be tentative, and the reader must judge for himself how far the cases to be cited justify provisionally the assumption of post-mortem agency.

The following account, which was procured for us by the Rev. A. Holborn, will serve to illustrate the type. The ladies, who are well-known to Mr. Holborn, withhold their names, at the request of the surviving relatives of the little boy. The statement is signed by both ladies.

No. 53[22]

A little friend of ours, H. G., had been ill a long time. His mother, who was my greatest friend, had nursed her boy with infinite care, and during her short last illness was full of solicitude for him.

After her death he seemed to become stronger for a time, but again grew very ill, and needed the most constant care, his eldest sister watching over him as the mother had done. As I was on the most intimate terms with the family, I saw a great deal of the invalid.

On Sunday evening, June 28th, 1903, about nine o'clock, I and the sister were standing at the foot of the bed, watching the sick one, who was unconscious, when suddenly I saw the mother distinctly. She was in her ordinary dress as when with us, nothing supernatural in her appearance. She was bending over her boy with a look of infinite love and longing and did not seem to notice us. After a minute or two she quietly and suddenly was not there. I was so struck that I turned to speak to the sister, but she seemed so engrossed that I did not think it wise to say anything.

The little patient grew gradually worse, until on Tuesday evening, June 30th, I was summoned to go at once. When I arrived at the house he had passed away. After rendering the last offices of love to the dear little body, the sister and I again stood, as on the Sunday, when I said, " M———, I had a strange experience on Sunday evening here." She quickly replied, " Yes, mother was here; I saw her." The young girl is not given to fancies at all, and must have been impressed as I was.

As said, the interpretation of the vision is ambiguous. In the remarkable case of Frances Reddell, the vision seen by the watcher at the deathbed was that of a living woman, the patient's mother. Frances Reddell, a servant of Mrs. Pole Carew, when nursing a fellow-servant, who was dying of typhoid fever, heard a bell ring, and then " heard the door open, and looking round, saw a very stout old woman walk in. She was dressed in a nightgown and red flannel petticoat, and carried an old-fashioned brass candlestick in her hand, The petticoat had a hole rubbed in it." The vision then disappeared. The sick girl died a few hours later, and when the mother attended the funeral, Frances Reddell and Mrs. Pole Carew, to whom she had told the story, recognised in her the original of the apparition.[23]

It is difficult to explain this case except on the supposition that the dying girl's dream was somehow impressed upon the mind of the watcher by the bedside; and the possibility of a similar explanation cannot, of course, be precluded when the figure seen is that of the dead.

In the following narrative several figures are reported to have been seen, some recognised as those of the dead or the living, some unrecognised by any of those present. The case was sent to us by Mrs. H. J. Wilson, an Associate of the Society, of 12 Cheyne Court, Chelsea, London, S. W., who is intimately acquainted with all the witnesses. We are requested to print their initials only, but the full names have been given to us. Mrs. C., the medium mentioned, is not a professional medium, but a friend of the other ladies.

The incident took place in May, 1904, and the first account we give is copied from a letter written shortly afterwards by Mrs. A. to Mrs. Wilson, as follows:

No. 54. From Mrs. A.[24]

It was in my bedroom at B———, Switzerland. Mrs. C——— was the medium. She was seated facing the long mirror in my wardrobe, and we, that is C. [Mrs. P., sister of Mrs. A.], A. [the daughter of Mrs. A.], Mrs. H., and myself, were seated just behind her, also facing the mirror. Mrs. C——— was not in trance. In a very short time we saw my father's face form over Mrs. C.'s face (in the mirror), and then S.'s face, two or three times following. She was smiling and looking hard at us, her two sisters. Then she faded away, and a long corridor came, with a large hall or room at the end of it, brilliantly lighted up. Many figures were walking about, but my figure and E.'s [Mrs. A.'s son] were most prominent—there was no mistaking them. I recognised my own figure walking about, and leaning forward to talk. That was all, as it was rather late, and time to go to bed.

5., the sister of Mrs. A. and Mrs. P., had died in March, 1904; E., the son of Mrs. A., was living at the time, and in London.

The account of the other sister, Mrs. P., was dictated by her to Mrs. Wilson, and sent to us enclosed in a letter from Mrs. Wilson, dated October 3rd, 1904. It is as follows:

It was at B———, about May 1st, 1904, at 8.30 p.m. The electric light was full on all the time, shaded only by a piece of silver tissue paper. There were present Mrs. C——— (the medium), Mrs. A———, A., Mrs. H———, and myself. Mrs. C. sat in front of a mirror, Mrs. A. and I sat just behind her, and the other two to right and left of us respectively. Behind us was the bedroom wall, and a washing stand against that, with a small mirror over it. The medium was not entranced. I saw S———'s face form on Mrs. C———'s face, followed by that of old Mrs. P——— Then came a full-length figure of my father in the mirror, in his robes, very like the portrait. He looked benignant and rested, with lines of face much smoothed away. This faded, and then all perceived a long passage in the mirror, at a guess, about 25 feet long, with bay window at the end, and sunshine streaming through. There was a window seat, and two figures standing by it, unrecognisable. Then a third figure appeared, also unrecognisable. They seemed to look out of window and converse. Medium then became tired.

The next account, written in October, 1904, is from Miss A., and is as follows:

Mother, Mrs. C———, Aunt C——— [Mrs. P.], another lady, and myself, were all seated in front of a large pier glass, Mrs. C——— (the medium) being slightly nearer the glass (say 3 inches) than the rest of us. The gas was turned down to about half its strength. Presently, after sitting ten minutes or so, we saw what appeared to be a white mist rising up in front of the medium's reflection, and it finally resolved into a good and distinct likeness of Grandad. When we recognised it the figure smiled and nodded its head. Then a likeness of Aunt S——— appeared, not so distinct, but perfectly easy of recognition, after which a lady appeared unknown to four of us, but recognised by the lady who was sitting with us.

For a time we saw nothing but mist again, but it gradually cleared, and a long corridor became visible with a door at the further end evidently opened inwards, and screened on the side nearest us by looped curtains, through which we saw into a brilliantly lighted room, whether bright sunlight or artificial light we could not tell. Figures too distant to be recognised came and went in the room, and once a girl in what appeared to be bridal dress stood just behind the opening of the curtain. Then the doors appeared to be shut for a time, but presently opened, and two Figures pushed aside the curtains and came down the corridor towards us talking. We recognised them as Mother and E———. Then the picture faded again, and we closed the sitting. This is to the best of my recollection, but as I took no notes at the time, I may easily have forgotten details.

In answer to further questions Miss A. writes:

October 14th, 1904.

The likenesses were formed on Mrs. C ———'s image in the glass, as it were, transforming her features into those of the persons represented. Her own face, as distinct from the image, was unchanged, except that the eyes were closed, while the faces in the glass all had their eyes open. This is an interesting point, I think.

The fourth witness, Mrs.H., dictated her account to Mrs. Wilson in the early part of November, 1904, as follows:

I first saw the head and shoulders of an old clergyman with grey hair—no beard; he wore the old-fashioned "Geneva bands" that the clergy used to wear. I did not recognise him, but, heard Mrs. P——— and Mrs. A——— say it was their father. I did not see him on the medium's face, but in a comer of the mirror, apart from the medium. I also heard Mrs. P——— and Mrs. A——— say that they saw their sister, but I did not see her. After this we saw a ball-room in the mirror, very brightly lighted, with people walking about in it. I did not recognise any of them. I ought to have said that at first I saw a curtain across the room, and it was when it was withdrawn that I saw the people walking about.

The room we were sitting in was lighted by a candle.

This curious case is unique in our collection. But it is clearly analogous to a crystal vision; and we have, as already indicated, one or two cases of collective vision in a crystal. All the accounts are fairly recent, and they present, it will be seen, a general agreement. There are indeed certain discrepancies, especially as to the lighting of the room, which is diversely described as electric light, gas, and a candle. There are differences too in the description of the persons seen, but these may have been due to differences in the details of the visions actually seen by the percipients. It is stated that Mrs. C., the medium, kept her eyes closed and did not speak at all throughout the sitting. But the other ladies described to each other what they were seeing, and it is probable that the several visions may have been by this means brought into closer conformity. It is difficult to suppose, however, that the whole of the scenes described originated in the verbal suggestion of one of those present. It is to be regretted that the accounts do not give more precise details as to the nature and relative position of the light; it seems possible that shadows or reflections on the surface of the mirror may have formed a basis upon which the complex scenes described could be built up, under the joint influence of verbal and telepathic suggestion.

In the next case, again, we cannot altogether exclude the influence of verbal suggestion; since the apparition remained visible for an appreciable length of time; and the percipients discussed as they approached it the nature of the appearance. Moreover, though the accounts here given are stated to have been written independently, it is probable that in the interval of some years which elapsed before the incident was committed to writing the details were fully discussed by the percipients, and the remarkable uniformity in their descriptions should not therefore be given undue weight.

It is a point of interest in the case that the scene of the apparition was the park attached to an Elizabethan Manor House, in which several "ghosts" had been seen in a period covering some years. The figure seen in the present case, however, bore no resemblance to any of the ghostly figures seen in the house itself. One of the percipients, Miss Eglantine Russell, had on several occasions seen hallucinatory figures (a dog and a human form) in the house.


August. 1904.

On December 22nd, 1897, I was walking through the fields near the house with my sisters, Edith and Rose (both older than myself). It was quite a sunny afternoon, between three and four o'clock. Resting at a fence we stopped to talk, myself sitting on the top railing, the others standing below. Looking across the corner of the field by an oak tree in the fence, I remember seeing an object, but listening to the others talking, I didn't take much notice whether it was man, horse, or cow. Presently Rose, looking up, said, "There's one of the boys," looking across in the same direction. "Yes," I replied, "I thought I saw them." " No, it is n't," Rose continued; "it 's a man. Who is it, I wonder? Who can be wandering about up here? We 'd better go and see." We started for the other hedge, which was, I should think, about 50 yards distant. We had a fox terrier with us; he growled, and his ruff stood up, and he refused to come. I cannot now remember whether my sister Edith walked across with us, or, being nervous, stayed by the fence. My impression is she came, but a trifle behind Rose and myself. Walking closer, I saw that it was a man, hanging apparently from an oak tree in front of some railings over a ditch. He was dressed in brown rather brighter than the colour of brown holland; he did not seem to have a regular coat, but more of a loose blouse. One thing I most distinctly recall is his heavy clumsy boots. His face we could not see; there was something white over it. The head hung forward, and the arms drooped forward too. Coming within about 15 yards I saw the shadow of the railings through him, one bar across the shoulders, one bar about his waist, and one almost at his knees, quite distinct, but faint. I have a remembrance of a big, very black shadow in the background. At about 15 yards the whole thing disappeared absolutely. We went to the railing and looked over a clear field beyond, which would give no possible cover to any one trying to hide. Walking back to where we had first seen it we saw nothing but an oak tree by railings in a fence. While I saw it my only feeling, I remember, was intense curiosity to see what it was,—one seemed impelled to go forward; afterwards, sickening terror.

This is some years ago, but writing brings it all back to me. There may be some details I have forgotten; but this is the account as it stands clearly in my mind.

Miss Edith Russell (now Mrs. Shaw) writes:

I am writing down exactly what I saw, in conjunction with my two sisters.

It was on Dec. 23rd, 1897 (?). We were walking across some fields to meet my brothers who were out shooting with a. neighbour. We stopped to wait for them, and sat on a fence half way across a field about 80 or 90 yards wide. My youngest sister suddenly remarked that there was a man looking over the fence at the far end of the field. I made some answer as to its probably being one of the boys. Presently my other sister said, "There is a man there," or words to that effect, and I looked up, and distinctly saw what looked like a man leaning over the fence. We then said we would find out what it was, and all three walked in a row towards the figure. When within about 20 yards, my youngest sister said, "Look at his legs!"

I remarked to my other sister, "What is it? I don't like it."

We walked on, after having said we would report to each other what we saw, as we went. This is what we all three saw: a man's figure hanging from a branch of an oak tree, his arms and legs dangling apparently helplessly, and his head hung forward. but it was covered with something white. We could see the railings which ran behind the oak tree through the figure. When we got within 10 yards, my sister said, "Why, it 's gone." We stopped and looked, and there was nothing to be seen but the oak tree and fence. It was a very bright sunny afternoon; there was a little snow on the ground.

One thing struck us as odd, for between the sun and the oak tree was a great black shadow, which we could not account for, as in the ordinary course of events the shadow would be on the opposite side of the tree to where the sun was.

This is absolutely true, and I have put it down just as I remember it.

The mother of the two ladies, in enclosing the above accounts, stated that they were written independently of each other. She adds that the third daughter is unwilling to write down her version; but Mrs.——— furnishes her own recollection of what she heard from this daughter at the time. Her account corresponds with those given above. Mrs.——— adds that there is a vague legend that some one was murdered somewhere near. There is nothing, however, to throw any light upon the origin of the curious vision. It appears, however, from all three accounts that the first person to see the apparition was Miss Eglantine, the only one of the sisters who appears to have seen any of the ghostly figures in the house. On the hypothesis that the vision was a hallucination self-engendered in the mind of one of the percipients, we may assume, therefore, that it originated with Miss Eglantine.

  1. See above p. 141.
  2. Journal, S. P. R., December, 1895.
  3. Proceedings. S. P. R., vol. viii.. p. 214.
  4. Journal. S. P. R., June, 1893.
  5. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. iii.. p. 91.
  6. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. v.. p. 455.
  7. Ibid. p. 408.
  8. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. viii., p. 212. See also Phantasms of the Living, vol. ii.. p. 690.
  9. See Mr. Myers's comments on the case, Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. viii., p. 208. See also, in this connection. Cases 39, 40, and 41. Chapter VI.
  10. Proceedings, S. P. R.. vol. iii.. p. 92.
  11. Journal, S. P. R., October. 1897.
  12. Journal, S. P. R.. December, 1899.
  13. Quoted in Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. xii., p. 11.
  14. Journal, S. P. R., January, 1896.
  15. Till soon," "Till to-morrow," "Till the return," etc., are the expressions generally used in Brazilian leave-tsking.—A. A.
  16. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. viii.. pp. 200, 201.
  17. Journal, S. P. R., November, 1902.
  18. For the sake of convenience the case of collective visual hallucinations only is considered in the text. For examples of collective auditory hallucinations, see the Census Report (Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. I... pp.315-17).
  19. Proceedings, S. P. R., vol. x., p. 414.
  20. Journal, S. P. R., November, 1901, p. 134.
  21. Proceedings, vol. x., p. 306.
  22. Journal, S. P. R., February. 1904, p. 187.
  23. See my Apparitions and though Transference, p. 306.
  24. Journal, S. P. R., February, 1905, pp. 17–19.
  25. Journal, S. P. R.. April, 1907, pp. 62, 63. All the names are assumed, as it is not thought desirable that the locality should be identified.