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Andrew Lang

The Poltergeist and his explainers

The Making of Religion: Appendix B (1900)

Published on: Saturday 23 September 2006

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Andrew Lang, ’The Poltergeist and his explainers’, The Making of Religion, (Appendix B), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 324-339.


In the chapter on ’Fetishism and Spiritualism’ it was suggested that the movements of inanimate objects, apparently without contact, may have been one of the causes leading to fetishism, to the opinion that a spirit may inhabit a stick, stone, or what not. We added that, whether such movements were caused by trickery or not, was inessential as long as the savage did not discover the imposture.

The evidence for the genuine supernormal character of such phenomena was not discussed, that we might preserve the continuity of the general argument. The history of such phenomena is too long for statement here. The same reports are found ’from China to Peru,’ from Eskimo to the Cape, from Egyptian magical papyri to yesterday’s provincial newspaper. [1]

About 1850-1870 phenomena, which had previously been reported as of sporadic and spontaneous occurrence, were domesticated and organised by Mediums, generally American. These were imitators of the enigmatic David Dunglas Home, who was certainly a most oddly gifted man, or a most successful impostor. A good deal of scientific attention was given to the occurrences; Mr. Darwin, Mr. Tyndall, Dr. Carpenter, Mr. Huxley, had all glanced at the phenomena, and been present at séances. In most cases the exhibitions, in the dark, or in a very bad light, were impudent impostures, and were so regarded by the savants who looked into them. A series of exposures culminated in the recent detection of Eusapia Paladino by Dr. Hodgson and other members of the S.P.R. at Cambridge.

There was, however, an apparent exception. The arch mystagogue, Home, though by no means a clever man, was never detected in fraudulent productions of fetishistic phenomena. This is asserted here because several third-hand stories of detected frauds by Home are in circulation, and it is hoped that a well-attested first-hand case of detection may be elicited.

Of Home’s successes with Sir William Crookes, Lord Crawford, and others, something remains to be said; but first we shall look into attempted explanations of alleged physical phenomena occurring not in the presence of a paid or even of a recognised ’Medium.’ It will appear, we think, that the explanations of evidence so widely diffused, so uniform, so old, and so new, are far from satisfactory. Our inference would be no more than that our eyes should be kept on such phenomena, if they are reported to recur.

Mr. Tylor says, ’I am well aware that the problem [of these phenomena] is one to be discussed on its merits, in order to arrive at a distinct opinion how far it may be connected with facts insufficiently appreciated and explained by science, and how far with superstition, delusion, and sheer knavery. Such investigation, pursued by careful observation in a scientific spirit, would seem apt to throw light on some interesting psychological questions.’

Acting on Mr. Tylor’s hint, Mr. Podmore puts forward as explanations (1) fraud; (2) hallucinations caused by excited expectation, and by the Schwärmerei consequent on sitting in hushed hope of marvels.

To take fraud first: Mr. Podmore has collected, and analyses, eleven recent sporadic cases of volatile objects. [2] His first instance (Worksop, 1883) yields no proof of fraud, and can only be dismissed by reason of the bad character of the other cases, and because Mr. Podmore took the evidence five weeks after the events. To this example we confine ourselves. This case appears to have been first reported in the ’Retford and Gainsborough Times’ ’early in March,’ 1883 (really March 9). It does not seem to have struck Mr. Podmore that he should publish these contemporary reports, to show us how far they agree with evidence collected by him on the spot five weeks later. To do this was the more necessary, as he lays so much stress on failure of memory. I have therefore secured the original newspaper report, by the courtesy of the editor. To be brief, the phenomena began on February 20 or 21, by the table voluntarily tipping up, and upsetting a candle, while Mrs. White only saved the wash tub by alacrity and address. ’The whole incident struck her as very extraordinary.’ It is not in the newspaper report. On February 26, Mr. White left his home, and a girl, Eliza Rose, ’child of a half-imbecile mother,’ was admitted by the kindness of Mrs. White to share her bed. The girl was eighteen years of age, was looking for a place as servant, and nothing is said in the newspaper about her mother. Mr. White returned on Wednesday night, but left on Thursday morning, returning on Friday afternoon. On Thursday, in Mr. White’s absence, phenomena set in. On Thursday night, in Mr. White’s presence, they increased in vigour. A doctor was called in, also a policeman. On Saturday, at 8 A.M., the row recommenced. At 4 P.M. Mr. White sent Eliza Rose away, and peace returned. We now offer the

STATEMENT OF POLICE CONSTABLE HIGGS. A man of good intelligence, and believed to be entirely honest…

’On the night of Friday, March 2nd, I heard of the disturbances at Joe White’s house from his young brother, Tom. I went round to the house at 11.55 P.M., as near as I can judge, and found Joe White in the kitchen of his house. There was one candle lighted in the room, and a good fire burning, so that one could see things pretty clearly. The cupboard doors were open, and White went and shut them, and then came and stood against the chest of drawers. I stood near the outer door. No one else was in the room at the time. White had hardly shut the cupboard doors when they flew open, and a large glass jar came out past me, and pitched in the yard outside, smashing itself. I didn’t see the jar leave the cupboard, or fly through the air; it went too quick. But I am quite sure that it wasn’t thrown by White or any one else. White couldn’t have done it without my seeing him. The jar couldn’t go in a straight line from the cupboard out of the door; but it certainly did go.

’Then White asked me to come and see the things which had been smashed in the inner room. He led the way and I followed. As I passed the chest of drawers in the kitchen I noticed a tumbler standing on it. Just after I passed I heard a crash, and looking round, I saw that the tumbler had fallen on the ground in the direction of the fireplace, and was broken. I don’t know how it happened. There was no one else in the room.

’I went into the inner room, and saw the bits of pots and things on the floor, and then I came back with White into the kitchen. The girl Rose had come into the kitchen during our absence. She was standing with her back against the bin near the fire. There was a cup standing on the bin, rather nearer the door. She said to me, "Cup’ll go soon; it has been down three times already." She then pushed it a little farther on the bin, and turned round and stood talking to me by the fire. She had hardly done so, when the cup jumped up suddenly about four or five feet into the air, and then fell on the floor and smashed itself. White was sitting on the other side of the fire.

’Then Mrs. White came in with Dr. Lloyd; also Tom White and Solomon Wass. After they had been in two or three minutes, something else happened. Tom White and Wass were standing with their backs to the fire, just in front of it. Eliza Rose and Dr. Lloyd were near them, with their backs turned towards the bin, the doctor nearer to the door. I stood by the drawers, and Mrs. White was by me near the inner door. Then suddenly a basin, which stood on the end of the bin near the door, got up into the air, turning over and over as it went. It went up not very quickly, not as quickly as if it had been thrown. When it reached the ceiling it fell plump and smashed. I called Dr. Lloyd’s attention to it, and we all saw it. No one was near it, and I don’t know how it happened. I stayed about ten minutes more, but saw nothing else. I don’t know what to make of it all. I don’t think White or the girl could possibly have done the things which I saw.’

This statement was made five weeks after date to Mr. Podmore. We compare it with the intelligent constable’s statement made between March 3 and March 8, that is, immediately after the events, and reported in the local paper of March 9.

STATEMENT BY POLICE CONSTABLE HIGGS. — During Friday night, Police Constable Higgs visited the house, and concerning the visit he makes the following statement.

’About ten minutes past [to?] twelve on Friday night, I was met in Bridge Street by Buck Ford, and Joe’s brother, Tom White and Dr. Lloyd. Tom said to me, “Will you go with us to Joe’s, and you will see something you have never seen before?’ I went; and when I got into the house Joe went and shut the cupboard doors. No sooner had he done so than the doors flew open again, and an ordinary sized glass jar flew across the kitchen, out of the door into the yard. A sugar jar also flew out of the cupboard unseen. In fact, we saw nothing and heard nothing until we heard it smash. The distance travelled by the articles was about seven yards. I stood a minute or two, and then the glass which I noticed on the drawers jumped off the drawers a yard away, and broke in about a hundred bits. The next thing was a cup, which stood on the flour-bin just beyond the yard door. It flew upwards, and then fell to the ground and broke. The girl said that this cup had been on the floor three times, and that she had picked it up just before it went off the bench. I said, “I suppose the cup will be the next.” The cup fell a distance of two yards away from the flour-bin. Dr. Lloyd had been in the next house lancing the back of a little boy who had been removed there. He now came in, and we began talking, the doctor saying, “It is a most mysterious thing.” He turned with his back to the flour-bin, on which stood a basin. The basin flew up into the air obliquely, went over the doctor’s head, and fell at his feet in pieces. The doctor then went out. I stood a short time longer, but saw nothing farther. There were six persons in the room while these things were going on, and so far as I could see, there was no human agency at work. I had not the slightest belief in anything appertaining to the super-natural. I left just before one o’clock, having been in the house thirty minutes.’

As the policeman says, there was nothing ’super-natural,’ but there was an appearance of something rather supernormal. On the afternoon of Saturday White sent the girl Rose away, and a number of people watched in his house till after midnight. Though the sceptical reporter thought that objects were placed where they might easily be upset, none were upset. The ghost was laid. ’Excited expectation’ was so false to its function as to beget no phenomena.

The newspaper reports contain no theory that will account for White’s breaking his furniture and crockery, nor for Rose’s securing her own dismissal from a house where she was kindly received by wilfully destroying the property of her hostess. An amateur published a theory of silken threads attached to light articles, and thick cords to heavy articles, whereof no trace was found by witnesses who examined the volatile objects. An elaborate machinery of pulleys fixed in the ceiling, the presence of a trickster in a locked pantry, apparent errors in the account of the flight of the objects, and a number of accomplices, were all involved in this local explanation, the explainer admitting that he could not imagine why the tricks were played. Six or eight pounds’ worth of goods were destroyed, nor is it singular that poor Mrs. White wept over her shattered penates.

The destruction began, of course, in the absence of White. The girl Rose gave to the newspaper the same account as the other witnesses, but, as White thought she was the agent, so she suspected White, though she admitted that he was not at home when the trouble arose.

Mr. Podmore, reviewing the case, says, ’The phenomena described are quite inexplicable by ordinary mechanical means. [3] Yet he elsewhere [4] suggests that Rose herself, ’as the instrument of mysterious agencies, or simply as a half-witted girl, gifted with abnormal cunning and love of mischief, may have been directly responsible for all that took place.’ That is to say, a half-witted girl could do (barring ’mysterious agencies’) ’what is quite inexplicable by ordinary mechanical means,’ while, according to the policeman, she was not even present on some occasions. But it is not easy to make out, in the evidence of White, the other witness, whether this girl Rose was present or not when the jar flew circuitously out of the cupboard, a thing easily worked by a half-witted girl. Such discrepancies are common in all evidence to the most ordinary events. In any case a half-witted girl, in Mr. Podmore’s theory, can do what ’is quite inexplicable by ordinary mechanical means.’ There is not the shadow of evidence that the girl Rose had the inestimable advantage of being ’half-witted;’ she is described by Mr. Podmore as ’the child of an imbecile mother.’ The phenomena began, in an isolated case (the tilted table), before Rose entered the house. She was admitted in kindness, acted as a maid, and her interest was not to break the crockery and upset furniture. The troubles, which began before the girl’s arrival, were apparently active when she was not present, and, if she was present, she could not have caused them ’by ordinary mechanical means,’ while of extraordinary mechanical means there was confessedly no trace. The disturbances ceased after she was dismissed—nothing else connects her with them.

Mr. Podmore’s attempt at a normal explanation by fraud, therefore, is of no weight. He has to exaggerate the value, as disproof, of such discrepancies as occur in all human evidence on all subjects. He has to lay stress on the interval of five weeks between the events and the collection of testimony by himself. But contemporary accounts appeared in the local newspapers, and he does not compare the contemporary with the later evidence, as we have done. There is one discrepancy which looks as if a witness, not here cited, came to think he had seen what he heard talked about. Finally, after abandoning the idea that mechanical means can possibly have produced the effect, Mr. Podmore falls back on the cunning of a half-witted girl whom nothing shows to have been half-witted. The alternative is that the girl was ’the instrument of mysterious agencies.’

So much for the hypothesis of a fraud, which has been identical in results from China to Peru and from Greenland to the Cape.

We now turn to the other, and concomitantly active cause, in Mr. Podmore’s theory, hallucination. ’Many of the witnesses described the articles as moving slowly through the air, or exhibiting some peculiarity of flight.’ (See e.g. the Worksop case.) Mr. Podmore adds another English case, presently to be noted, and a German one. ’In default of any experimental evidence’ (how about Mr. William Crookes’s?) ’that disturbances of this kind are ever due to abnormal agency, I am disposed to explain the appearance of moving slowly or flying as a sensory illusion, conditioned by the excited state of the percipient.’ (’Studies,’ 157, 158.)

Before criticising this explanation, let us give the English affair, alluded to by Mr. Podmore.

The most curious modern case known to me is not of recent date, but it occurred in full daylight, in the presence of many witnesses, and the phenomena continued for weeks. The events were of 1849, and the record is expanded, by Mr. Bristow, a spectator, from an account written by him in 1854. The scene was Swanland, near Hull, in a carpenter’s shop, where Mr. Bristow was employed with two fellow workmen. To be brief, they were pelted by odds and ends of wood, about the size of a common matchbox. Each blamed the others, till this explanation became untenable. The workrooms
and space above were searched to no purpose. The bits of wood sometimes danced along the floor, more commonly sailed gently along, or “moved as if borne on gently heaving waves.” This sort of thing was repeated during six weeks. One piece of wood “came from a distant corner of the room towards me, describing what may be likened to a geometrical square, or corkscrew of about eighteen inches diameter… Never was a piece seen to come in at the doorway.” Mr. Bristow deems this period ’the most remarkable
episode in my life.’ (June 27, 1891.) The phenomena ’did not depend on the presence of any one person or number of persons.’

Going to Swanland, in 1891, Mr. Sidgwick found one surviving witness of these occurrences, who averred that the objects could not have been thrown because of the eccentricities of their course, which he described in the same way as Mr. Bristow. The thrower must certainly have had a native genius for ’pitching’ at base-ball. This witness, named Andrews, was mentioned by Mr. Bristow in his report, but not referred to by him for confirmation. Those to whom he referred were found to be dead, or had emigrated. The villagers had a superstitious theory about the phenomena being provoked by a dead man, whose affairs had not been settled to his liking. So Mr. Darwin’s spoon danced—on a grave. [5]

This case has a certain interest à propos of Mr. Podmore’s surmise that all such phenomena arise in trickery, which produces excitement in the spectators, while excitement begets hallucination, and hallucination takes the form of seeing the thrown objects move in a non-natural way. Thus, I keep throwing things about. You, not detecting this stratagem, get excited, consequently hallucinated, and you believe you see the things move in spirals, or undulate as if on waves, or hop, or float, or glide in an impossible way. So close is the uniformity of hallucination that these phenomena are described, in similar terms, by witnesses (hallucinated, of course) in times old and new, as in cases cited by Glanvil, Increase Mather, Telfer (of Rerrick), and, generally, in works of the seventeenth century. Nor is this uniform hallucination confined to England. Mr. Podmore quotes a German example, and I received a similar testimony (to the flight of an object round a corner) from a gentleman who employed Esther Teed, ’the Amherst Mystery,’ in his service. He was not excited, for he was normally engaged in his normal stable, when the incident occurred unexpectedly as he was looking after his live stock. One may add the case of Cideville (1851) and Sir W. Crookes’s evidence, and that of Mr. Schhapoff.

Mr. Podmore must, therefore, suppose that, in states of excitement, the same peculiar form of hallucination develops itself uniformly in America, France, Germany, and England (not to speak of Russia), and persists through different ages. This is a novel and valuable psychological law. Moreover, Mr. Podmore must hold that ’excitement’ lasted for six weeks among the carpenters in the shop at Swanland, one of whom writes like a man of much intelligence, and has thriven to be a master in his craft. It is difficult to believe that he was excited for six weeks, and we still marvel that excitement produces the same uniformity of hallucination, affecting policemen, carpenters, marquises, and a F.R.S. We allude to Sir W. Crookes’s case.

Strictly scientific examination of these prodigies has been very rare. The best examples are the experiments of Sir William Crookes, F.R.S., with Home. [6] He demonstrated, by means of a machine constructed for the purpose, and automatically registering, that, in Home’s presence, a balance was affected to the extent of two pounds when Home was not in contact with the table on which the machine was placed. He also saw objects float in air, with a motion like that of a piece of wood on small waves of the sea (clearly excitement producing hallucination), while Home was at a distance, other spectators holding his hands, and his feet being visibly enclosed in a kind of cage. All present held each other’s hands, and all witnessed the phenomena. Sir W. Crookes being, professionally, celebrated for the accuracy of his observations, these circumstances are difficult to explain, and these are but a few cases among multitudes.

I venture to conceive that, on reflection, Mr. Podmore will doubt whether he has discovered an universal law of excited malperception, or whether the remarkable, and certainly undesigned, coincidence of testimony to the singular flight of objects does not rather point to an ’abnormal agency’ uniform in its effects. Contagious hallucination cannot affect witnesses ignorant of each other’s existence in many lands and ages, nor could they cook their reports to suit reports of which they never heard.

We now turn to peculiarities in the so-called Medium, such as floating in air, change of bulk, and escape from lesion when handling or treading in fire. Mr. Tylor says nothing of Sir William Crookes’s cases (1871), but speaks of the alleged levitation, or floating in air, of savages and civilised men. These are recorded in Buddhist and Neoplatonic writings, and among Red Indians, in Tonquin (where a Jesuit saw and described the phenomena, 1730), in the ’Acta Sanctorum,’ and among modern spiritualists. In 1760, Lord Elcho, being at Home, was present at the procès for canonising a Saint (unnamed), and heard witnesses swear to having seen the holy man levitated. Sir W. Crookes attests having seen Home float in air on several occasions. In 1871, the Master of Lindsay, now Lord Crawford and Balcarres, F.R.S., gave the following evidence, which was corroborated by the two other spectators, Lord Adare and Captain Wynne.

’I was sitting with Mr. Home and Lord Adare and a cousin of his. During the sitting, Mr. Home went into a trance, and in that state was carried out of the window in the room next to where we were, and was brought in at our window. The distance between the windows was about seven feet six inches, and there was not the slightest foothold between them, nor was there more than a twelve-inch projection to each window, which served as a ledge to put flowers on. We heard the window in the next room lifted up, and almost immediately after we saw Home floating in the air outside our window. The moon was shining full into the room; my back was to the light, and I saw the shadow on the wall of the window sill, and Home’s feet about six inches above it. He remained in this position for a few seconds, then raised the window and glided into the room feet foremost and sat down.

’Lord Adare then went into the next room to look at the window from which he had been carried. It was raised about eighteen inches, and he expressed his wonder how Mr. Home had been taken through so narrow an aperture. Home said, still entranced, “I will show you,” and then with his back to the window he leaned back and was shot out of the aperture, head first, with the body rigid, and then returned quite quietly. The window is about seventy feet from the ground.’ The hypothesis of a mechanical arrangement of ropes or supports outside has been suggested, but does not cover the facts as described.

Mr. Podmore, who quotes this, offers the explanation that the witnesses were excited, and that Home ’thrust his head and shoulders out of the window.’ But, if he did, they could not see him do it, for he was in the next room. A brick wall was between them and him. Their first view of Home was ’floating in the air outside our window.’ It is not very easy to hold that a belief to which the collective evidence is so large and universal, as the belief in levitation, was caused by a series of saints, sorcerers, and others thrusting their heads and, shoulders, out of windows where the observers could not see them. Nor in Lord Crawford’s case is it easy to suppose that three educated men, if hallucinated, would all be hallucinated in the same way.

The argument of excited expectation and consequent hallucination does not apply to Mr. Hamilton Aïdé and M. Alphonse Karr, neither of whom was a man of science. Both were extremely prejudiced against Home, and at Nice went to see, and, if possible, to expose him. Home was a guest at a large villa in Nice, M. Karr and Mr. Aïdé were two of a party in a spacious brilliantly lighted salon, where Home received them. A large heavy table, remote from their group, moved towards them. M. Karr then got under a
table which rose in air, and carefully examined the space beneath, while Mr. Aïdé observed it from above. Neither of them could discover any explanation of the phenomenon, and they walked away together, disgusted, disappointed, and reviling Home. [7]

In this case there was neither excitement nor desire to believe, but a strong wish to disbelieve and to expose Home. If two such witnesses could be hallucinated, we must greatly extend our notion of the limits of the capacity for entertaining hallucinations.

One singular phenomenon was reported in Home’s case, which has, however, little to do with any conceivable theory of spirits. He was said to become elongated in trance. [8] Mr. Podmore explains that ’perhaps he really stretched himself to his full height’—one of the easiest ways conceivable of working a miracle, Iamblichus reports the same phenomenon in his possessed men. [9] Iamblichus adds that they were sometimes broadened as well as lengthened. Now, M. FÈrÈ observes that ’any part of the body of an hysterical patient may change in volume, simply owing to the fact that the patient’s attention is fixed on that part.’ [10] Conceivably the elongation of Home and the ancient Egyptian mediums may have been an extreme case of this ’change of volume.’ Could this be proved by examples, Home’s elongation would cease to be a ’miracle.’ But it would follow that in this case observers were not hallucinated, and the presumption would be raised that they were not hallucinated in the other cases. Indeed, this argument is of universal application.

There is another class of ’physical phenomena,’ which has no direct bearing on our subject. Many persons, in many ages, are said to have handled or walked through fire, not only without suffering pain, but without lesion of the skin. Iamblichus mentions this as among the peculiarities of his ’possessed’ men; and in ’Modern Mythology’ (1897) I have collected first-hand evidence for the feat in classical times, and in India, Fiji, Bulgaria, Trinidad, the Straits Settlements, and many other places. The evidence is that of travellers, officials, missionaries, and others, and is backed (for what photographic testimony is worth) by photographs of the performance. To hold glowing coals in his hand, and to communicate the power of doing so to others, was in Home’s répertoire. Lord Crawford saw it done on eight occasions, and himself received from Home’s hand the glowing coal unharmed. A friend of my own, however, still bears the blister of the hurt received in the process. Sir W. Crookes’s evidence follows:

’At Mr. Home’s request, whilst he was entranced, I went with him to the fireplace in the back drawing-room. He said, "We want you to notice particularly what Dan is doing." Accordingly I stood close to the fire, and stooped down to it when he put his hands in.

. . . .

’Mr. Home then waved the handkerchief about in the air two or three times, held it above his head, and then folded it up and laid it on his hand like a cushion. Putting his other hand into the fire, he took out a large lump of cinder, red-hot at the lower part, and placed the red part on the handkerchief. Under ordinary circumstances it would have been in a blaze. In about half a minute he took it off the handkerchief with his hand, saying, "As the power is not strong, if we leave the coal longer it will burn." He then put it on his hand, and brought it to the table in the front room, where all but myself had remained seated.’

Mr. Podmore explains that only two candles and the fire gave light on one occasion, and that ’possibly’ Home’s hands were protected by some ’non-conducting substance.’ He does not explain how this substance was put on Lord Crawford’s hands, nor tell us what this valuable substance may be. None is known to science, though it seems to be known to Fijians, Tongans, Klings, and Bulgarians, who walk through fire unhurt.

It is not necessary to believe Sir W. Crookes’s assertions that he saw Home perform the fire-tricks, for we can fall back on the lack of light (only two candles and the fire-light), as also on the law of hallucination caused by excitement. But it is necessary to believe this distinguished authority’s statement about his ignorance of ’some non-conducting substance:’

’Schoolboys’ books and mediaeval tales describe how this can be done with alum and other ingredients. It is possible that the skin may be so hardened and thickened by such preparations that superficial charring might take place without the pain becoming great; but the surface of the skin would certainly suffer severely. After Home had recovered from the trance, I examined his hand with care to see if there were any signs of burning or of previous preparation. I could detect no trace or injury to the skin, which was soft and delicate, like a woman’s. Neither were there signs of any preparation having been previously applied. I have often seen conjurers and others handle red-hot coals and iron, but there were always palpable signs of burning.’ [11]

In September 1897 a crew of passengers went from New Zealand to see the Fijian rites, which, as reported in the ’Fiji Times,’ corresponded exactly with the description published by Mr. Basil Thomson, himself a witness. The interesting point, historically, is the combination in Home of all the répertoire of the possessed men in Iamblichus. We certainly cannot get rid of the fire-trick by aid of a hypothetical ’non-conducting substance.’ Till the ’substance’ is tested experimentally it is not a vera causa. We might as well say ’spirits’ at once. Both that ’substance’ and those
’spirits’ are equally ’in the air.’ Yet Mr. Podmore’s ’explanations’ (not satisfactory to himself) are conceived so thoroughly in the spirit of popular science—one of them casually discovering a new psychological law, a second contradicting the facts it seeks to account for, a third generously inventing an unknown substance—that they ought to be welcomed by reviewers and lecturers.

It seems wiser to admit our ignorance and suspend our belief.

Here closes the futile chapter of explanations. Fraud is a vera causa, but an hypothesis difficult of application when it is admitted that the effects could not be caused by ordinary mechanical means. Hallucination, through excitement, is a vera causa, but its remarkable uniformity, as described by witnesses from different lands and ages, knowing nothing of each other, makes us hesitate to accept a sweeping hypothesis of hallucination. The case for it is not confirmed, when we have the same reports from witnesses certainly not excited.

This extraordinary bundle, then, of reports, practically identical, of facts paralysing to belief, this bundle made up of statements from so many ages and countries, can only be ’filed for reference.’ But it is manifest that any savage who shared the experiences of Sir W. Crookes, Lord Crawford, Mr. Hamilton Aïdé, M. Robert de St. Victor at Cideville, and Policeman Higgs at Worksop, would believe that a spirit might tenant a stick or stone—so believing he would be a Fetishist. Thus even of Fetishism the probable origin is in a region of which we know nothing—the x region.


[1A sketch of the history will be found in the author’s Cock Lane and Common Sense.

[2The best source is his article on ’Poltergeists.’ Proceedings xi. 45-116. See, too, his ’Poltergeists’ in Studies in Psychical Research.

[3Studies in Psychical Research, p. 140.

[4See Preface to this edition for correction.

[5Proceedings, S.P.R. vii. 383-394.

[6See Sir W. Crookes’s Researches in Spiritualism.

[7Mr. Aïdé has given me this information. He recorded the circumstances in his Diary at the time.

[8Report of Dialectical Society, p. 209.

[9See Porphyry, in Parthey’s edition (Berlin, 1857), iii. 4.

[10Bulletin de la Société de Biologie, 1880, p. 399.

[11Crookes, Proceedings, ix. 308.

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