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Andrew Lang

Crystal visions, savage and civilised

The Making of Religion: Chapter V (1900)

Published on: Saturday 30 September 2006

Keywords :

Andrew Lang, ’Crystal visions, savage and civilised’, The Making of Religion, (Chapter V), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 83-104.


Among savage methods of provoking hallucinations whence knowledge may be supernormally obtained, various forms of ’crystal-gazing’ are the most curious. We find the habit of looking into water, usually in a vessel, preferably a glass vessel, among Red Indians (Lejeune), Romans (Varro, cited in Civitas Dei, iii. 457), Africans of Fez (Leo Africanus); while Maoris use a drop of blood (Taylor), Egyptians use ink (Lane), and Australian savages employ a ball of polished stone, into which the seer ’puts himself’ to descry the results of an expedition. [1]

I have already given, in the Introduction, Ellis’s record of the Polynesian case. A hole being dug in the door of his house, and filled with water, the priest looks for a vision of the thief who has carried off stolen goods. The Polynesian theory is that the god carries the spirit of the thief over the water, in which it is reflected. Lejeune’s Red Indians make their patients gaze into the water, in which they will see the pictures of the things in the way of food or medicine that will do them good. In modern language, the instinctive knowledge existing implicitly in the patient’s subconsciousness is thus brought into the range of his ordinary consciousness.

In 1887 the late Captain J. T. Bourke, of the U.S. Cavalry, an original and careful observer, visited the Apaches in the interests of the Ethnological Bureau. He learned that one of the chief duties of the medicine-men was to find out the whereabouts of lost or stolen property. Na-a-cha, one of these jossakeeds, possessed a magic quartz crystal, which he greatly valued. Captain Bourke presented him with a still finer crystal. ’He could not give me an explanation of its magical use, except that by looking into it he could see everything he wanted to see,’ Captain Bourke appears never to have heard of the modern experiments in crystal-gazing. Captain Bourke also discovered that the Apaches, like the Greeks, Australians, Africans, Maoris, and many other, races, use the bull-roarer, turndun, or rhombos—a piece of wood which, being whirled round, causes a strange windy roar—in their mystic ceremonies. The wide use of the rhombos was known to Captain Bourke; that of the crystal was not.

For the Iroquois, Mrs. Erminie Smith supplies information about the crystal. ’Placed in a gourd of water, it could render visible the apparition of a person who has bewitched another.’ She gives a case in European times of a medicine-man who found the witch’s habitat, but got only an indistinct view of her face. On a second trial he was successful. [2] One may add that treasure-seekers among the Huille-che ’look earnestly’ for what they want to find ’into a smooth slab of black stone, which I suppose to be basalt.’ [3]

The kindness of Monsieur LefÈbure enables me to give another example from Madagascar. [4] Flacourt, describing the Malagasies, says that they squillent (a word not in Littré), that is, divine by crystals, which ’fall from heaven when it thunders,’ Of course the rain reveals the crystals, as it does the flint instruments called ’thunderbolts’ in many countries. ’Lorsqu’ils squillent, ils ont une de ces pierres au coing de leurs tablettes, disans qu’elle a la vertu de faire faire operation à leur figure de geomance.’ Probably they used the crystals as do the Apaches. On July 15 a Malagasy woman viewed, whether in her crystal or otherwise, two French vessels which, like the Spanish fleet, were ’not in sight,’ also officers, and doctors, and others aboard, whom she had seen, before their return to France, in Madagascar. The earliest of the ships did not arrive till August 11.

Dr. Callaway gives the Zulu practice, where the chief ’sees what will happen by looking into the vessel.’ [5] The Shamans of Siberia and Eastern Russia employ the same method. [6] The case of the Inca, Yupanqui, is very curious. ’As he came up to a fountain he saw a piece of crystal fall into it, within which he beheld a figure of an Indian in the following shape ... The apparition then vanished, while the crystal remained. The Inca took care of it, and they say that he afterwards saw everything he wanted in it.’ [7]

Here, then, we find the belief that hallucinations can be induced by one or other form of crystal-gazing, in ancient Peru, on the other side of the continent among the Huille-che, in Fez, in Madagascar, in Siberia, among Apaches, Hurons, Iroquois, Australian black fellows, Maoris, and in Polynesia. This is assuredly a wide range of geographical distribution. We also find the practice in Greece (Pausanias, VII. xxi. 12), in Rome (Varro), in Egypt, and in India.

Though anthropologists have paid no attention to the subject, it was of course familiar to later Europe. ’Miss X’ has traced it among early Christians, in early Councils, in episcopal condemnations of specularii, and so to Dr. Dee, under James VI.; Aubrey; the Regent d’Orléans in St. Simon’s Memoirs; the modern mesmerists (Gregory, Mayo) and the mid-Victorian spiritualists, who, as usual, explained the phenomena, in their prehistoric way, by ’spirits [8].’ Till this lady examined the subject, nobody had thought of remarking that a belief so universal had probably some basis of facts, or nobody if we except two professors of chemistry and physiology, Drs. Gregory and Mayo. Miss X made experiments, beginning by accident, like George Sand, when a child.

The hallucinations which appear to her eyes in ink, or crystal, are:

1. Revived memories ’arising thus, and thus only, from the subconscious strata;’

2. Objectivation of ideas or images—(a) consciously or (b) unconsciously—in the mind of the percipient;

3. Visions, possibly telepathic or clairvoyant, implying acquirement of knowledge by supernormal means.’ [9]

The examples given of the last class, the class which would be so useful to a priest or medicine-man asked to discover things lost, are of very slight interest. [10]

Since Miss X drew attention to this subject, experiments have proved beyond doubt that a fair percentage of people, sane and healthy, can see vivid landscapes, and figures of persons in motion, in glass balls and other vehicles. This faculty Dr. Parish attributes to ’dissociation,’ practically to drowsiness. But he speaks by conjecture, and without having witnessed experiments, as will be shown later. I now offer a series of experiments with a glass ball, coming under my own observation, in which knowledge was apparently acquired in no ordinary way. Of the absence of fraud I am personally convinced, not only by the characters of all concerned, but by the nature of the circumstances. That adaptive memory did not later alter the narratives, as originally told, I feel certain, because they were reported to me, when I was not present, within less than a week, precisely as they are now given, except in cases specially noted.

Early in the present year (1897) I met a young lady who told me of three or four curious hallucinatory experiences of her own, which were sufficiently corroborated. She was innocent of psychical studies, and personally was, and is, in perfect health; the pale cast of thought being remote from her. I got a glass ball, and was present when she first looked into it. She saw, I remember, the interior of a house, with a full-length portrait of a person unknown. There were, I think, one or two other fancy pictures of the familiar kind. But she presently (living as she was, among strangers) developed a power of ’seeing’ persons and places unknown to her, but familiar to them. These experiences do seem to me to be good examples of what is called ’thought transference;’ indeed, I never before could get out of a level balance of doubt on that subject, a balance which now leans considerably to the affirmative side. There may be abundance of better evidence, but, knowing the persons and circumstances, and being present once at what seemed to me a crucial example, I was more inclined to be convinced. This attitude appears, to myself, illogical, but it is natural and usual.

We cannot tell what indications may be accidentally given in experiments in thought transference. But, in these cases of crystal-gazing, the detail was too copious to be conveyed, by a looker-on, in a wink or a cough. I do not mean to say that success was invariable. I thought of Dr. W.G. Grace, and the scryer saw an old man crawling along with a stick. But I doubt if Dr. Grace is very deeply seated in that mystic entity, my subconscious self. The ’scries’ which came right were sometimes, but not always, those of which the ’agent’ (or person scried for) was consciously thinking. But the examples will illustrate the various kinds of occurrences.

Here one should first consider the arguments against accepting recognition of objects merely described by another person. The crystal-gazer may know the inquirer so intimately as to have a very good guess at the subject of his meditation. Again, a man is likely to be thinking of a woman, and a woman of a man, so the field of conjecture is limited. In answer to the first objection I may say that the crystal-gazer was among strangers, all of whom, myself included, she now saw for the first time. Nor could she have studied their histories beforehand, for she could not know (normally) when she left home, that she was about to be shown a glass ball, or whom she would meet. The second objection is met by the circumstance that ladies were not usually picked out for men, nor men for women. Indeed, these choices were the exceptions, and in each case were marked by minutely particular details. A third objection is that credulity, or the love of strange novelties, or desire to oblige, biases the inquirers, and makes them anxious to recognise something familiar in the scryer’s descriptions. In the same way we know how people recognise faces in the most blurred and vague of spiritist photographs, or see family resemblances in the most rudimentary doughfaced babies. Take descriptions of persons in a passport, or in a proclamation sketching the personal appearance of a criminal. These fit the men or women intended, but they also fit a crowd of other people. The description given by the scryer then may come right by a fortuitous coincidence, or may be too credulously recognised.

The complex of coincidences, however, could not be attributed to chance selection out of the whole possible field of conjecture. We must remember, too, that a series of such hits increases, at an enormous rate, the odds against accidental conjecture. Of such mere luck I may give an example. I was writing a story of which the hero was George Kelly, one of the ’Seven Men of Moidart.’ A year after composing my tale, I found the Government description of Mr. Kelly (1736). It exactly tallied with my purely fanciful sketch, down to eyes, and teeth, and face, except that I made my hero ’about six feet,’ whereas the Government gave him five feet ten. But I knew beforehand that Mr. Kelly was a clergyman; his curious career proved him to be a person of great activity and geniality—and he was of Irish birth. Even a dozen such guesses, equally correct, could not suggest any powers of ’vision,’ when so much was known beforehand about the person guessed at. I now give cases in the experience of Miss Angus, as one may call the crystal-gazer. The first occurred the day after she got the glass ball for the first time. She writes:

’I.—A lady one day asked me to scry out a friend of whom she would think. Almost immediately I exclaimed "Here is an old, old lady looking at me with a triumphant smile on her face. She has a prominent nose and nut-cracker chin. Her face is very much wrinkled, especially at the sides of her eyes, as if she were always smiling. She is wearing a little white shawl with a black edge. But! ... she can’t be old as her hair is quite brown! although her face looks so very very old." The picture then vanished, and the lady said that I had accurately described her friend’s mother instead of himself; that it was a family joke that the mother must dye her hair, it was so brown and she was eighty-two years old. The lady asked me if the vision were distinct enough for me to recognise a likeness in the son’s photograph; next day she laid several photographs before me, and in a moment, without the slightest hesitation I picked him out from his wonderful likeness to my vision!’

The inquirer verbally corroborated all the facts to me, within a week, but leaned to a theory of ’electricity.’ She has read and confirms this account.

’II.—One afternoon I was sitting beside a young lady whom I had never seen or heard of before. She asked if she might look into my crystal, and while she did so I happened to look over her shoulder and saw a ship tossing on a very heavy choppy sea, although land was still visible in the dim distance. That vanished, and, as suddenly, a little house appeared with five or six (I forget now the exact number I then counted) steps leading up to the door. On the second step stood an old man reading a newspaper. In front of the house was a field of thick stubbly grass where some lambs, I was going to say, but they were more like very small sheep.. were grazing.

’When the scene vanished, the young lady told me I had vividly described a spot in Shetland where she and her mother were soon going to spend a few weeks.’

I heard of this case from Miss Angus within a day or two of its occurrence, and it was then confirmed to me, verbally, by the other lady. She again confirms it (December 21, 1897). Both ladies had hitherto been perfect strangers to each other. The old man was the schoolmaster, apparently. In her MS., Miss Angus writes ’Skye,’ but at the time both she and the other lady said Shetland (which I have restored). In Shetland the sheep, like the ponies, are small. Fortuitous coincidence, of course, may be invoked. The next account is by another lady, say Miss Rose.

’III.—Writes Miss Rose—My first experience of crystal gazing was not a pleasant one, as will be seen from the following which I now relate as exactly as I can remember. I asked my friend, Miss Angus, to allow me to look in her crystal, and, after doing so for a short time, gave up, saying it was very unsatisfactory, as, although I saw a room with a bright fire in it and a bed all curtained and people coming and going, I could not make out who they were, so I returned the crystal to Miss Angus, with the request that she might look for me. She said at once, "I see a bed with a man in it looking very ill and a lady in black beside it." Without saying any more Miss Angus still kept looking, and, after some time, I asked to have one more look, and on her passing the ball back to me, I received quite a shock, for there, perfectly clearly in a bright light, I saw stretched out in bed an old man apparently dead; for a few minutes I could not look, and on doing so once more there appeared a lady in black and out of dense darkness a long black object was being carried and it stopped before a dark opening overhung with rocks. At the time I saw this I was staying with cousins, and it was a Friday evening. On Sunday we heard of the death of the father-in-law of one of my cousins; of course I knew the old gentleman was very ill, but my thoughts were not in the least about him when looking in the crystal. I may also say I did not recognise in the features of the dead man those of the old gentleman whose death I mention. On looking again on Sunday, I once more saw the curtained bed and some people.’

I now give Miss Angus’s version of this case, as originally received from her (December 1897). I had previously received an oral version, from a person present at the scrying. It differed, in one respect, from what Miss Angus writes. Her version is offered because it is made independently, without consultation, or attempt to reconcile recollections.

’At a recent experience of gazing, for the first time I was able to make another see what I saw in the crystal. Miss Rose called one afternoon, and begged me to look in the ball for her. I did so, and immediately exclaimed, "Oh! here is a bed, with a man in it looking very ill [I saw he was dead, but refrained from saying so], and there is a lady dressed in black sitting beside the bed." I did not recognise the man to be anyone I knew, so I told her to look. In a very short time she called out, "Oh! I see the bed too! But, oh! take it away, the man is dead!" She got quite a shock, and said she would never look in it again. Soon, however, curiosity prompted her to have one more look, and the scene at once came back again, and slowly, from a misty object at the side of the bed, the lady in black became quite distinct. Then she described several people in the room, and said they were carrying something all draped in black. When she saw this, she put the ball down and would not look at it again. She called again on Sunday (this had been on Friday) with her cousin, and we teased her about being _afraid_ of the crystal, so she said she would just look in it once more. She took the ball, but immediately laid it down again, saying, "No, I won’t look, as the bed with the awful man in it is there again!"

’When they went home, they heard that the cousin’s father-in-law had died that afternoon, [11] but to show he had never been in our thoughts, although we all knew he had not been well, no one suggested him; his name was never mentioned in connection with the vision.’

’Clairvoyance,’ of course, is not illustrated here, the corpse being unrecognised, and the coincidence, doubtless, accidental.

The next case is attested by a civilian, a slight acquaintance of Miss Angus’s, who now saw him for the second time only, but better known to her family.

’IV.—On Thursday, March —? 1897, I was lunching with my friends the Anguses, and during luncheon the conversation turned upon crystal balls and the visions that, by some people, can be seen in them. The subject arose owing to Miss Angus having just been presented with a crystal ball by Mr. Andrew Lang. I asked her to let me see it, and then to try and see if she could conjure up a vision of any person of whom I might think. . . . I fixed my mind upon a friend, a young trooper in the [regiment named], as I thought his would be a striking and peculiar personality, owing to his uniform, and also because I felt sure that Miss Angus could not possibly know of his existence. I fixed my mind steadily upon my friend, and presently Miss Angus, who had already seen two cloudy visions of faces and people, called out, "Now I see a man on a horse most distinctly; he is dressed most queerly, and glitters all over—why, it’s a soldier! a soldier in uniform, but it’s not an officer." My excitement on hearing this was so great that I ceased to concentrate my attention upon the thought of my friend, and the vision faded away and could not afterwards be recalled.—December 2, 1897.’

The witness gives the name of the trooper, whom he had befriended in a severe illness. Miss Angus’s own account follows: she had told me the story in June 1897.

’Shortly after I became the happy possessor of a "crystal" I managed to convert several very decided "sceptics," and I will here give a short account of my experiences with two or three of them.

’One was with a Mr. ----, who was so determined to baffle me, he said he would think of a friend it would not be _possible_ for me to describe!

’I had only met Mr. ---- the day before, and knew utmost nothing about him or his personal friends.

’I took up the ball, which immediately became misty, and out of this mist gradually a crowd of people appeared, but too indistinctly for me to recognise anyone, until suddenly a man on horseback came galloping along. I remember saying, "I can’t describe what he is like, but he is dressed in a very queer way—in something so bright that the sun shining on him quite dazzles me, and I cannot make him out!" As he came nearer I exclaimed. "Why, it’s a soldier in shining armour, but it’s not an officer, only a soldier!" Two friends who were in the room said Mr. ----’s excitement was intense, and my attention was drawn from the ball by hearing him call out, "It’s wonderful! it’s perfectly true! I was thinking of a young boy, a son of a crofter, in whom I am deeply interested, and who is a trooper in the ---- in London, which would account for the crowd of people round him in the street!"’

The next case is given, first in the version of the lady who was unconsciously scried for, and next in that of Miss Angus. The other lady writes:

’V.—I met Miss A. for the first time in a friend’s house in the south of England, and one evening mention was made of a crystal ball, and our hostess asked Miss A. to look in it, and, if possible, tell her what was happening to a friend of hers. Miss A. took the crystal, and our hostess put her hand on Miss A.’s forehead to "will her." I, not believing in this, took up a book and went to the other side of the room. I was suddenly very much startled to hear Miss A., in quite an agitated way, describe a scene that had most certainly been very often in my thoughts, but of which I had never mentioned a word, She accurately described a race-course in Scotland, and an accident which happened to a friend of mine only a week or two before, and she was evidently going through the same doubt and anxiety that I did at the time as to whether he was actually killed or only very much hurt. It really was a most wonderful revelation to me, as it was the very first time I had seen a crystal. Our hostess, of course, was very much annoyed that she had not been able to influence Miss A., while I, who had appeared so very indifferent, should have affected her.—November 28, 1897.’

Miss Angus herself writes:

’Another case was a rather interesting one, as I somehow got inside the thoughts of one lady while another was doing her best to influence me!

’Miss ----, a friend in Brighton, has strange "magnetic" powers, and felt quite sure of success with me and the ball.

’Another lady, Miss H., who was present, laughed at the whole thing, especially when Miss ---- insisted on holding my hand and patting her other hand on my forehead! Miss H. in a scornful manner took up a book, and, crossing to the other side of the room, left us to our folly.

’In a very short time I felt myself getting excited, which had never happened before, when I looked in the crystal. I saw a crowd of people, and in some strange way I felt I was in it, and we all seemed to be waiting for something. Soon a rider came past, young, dressed for racing. His horse ambled past, and he smiled and nodded to those he knew in the crowd, and then was lost to sight.

’In a moment we all seemed to feel as if something had happened, and I went through great agony of suspense trying to see what seemed just beyond my view. Soon, however, two or three men approached, and carried him past before my eyes, and again my anxiety was intense to discover if he were only very badly hurt or if life were really extinct. All this happened in a few moments, but long enough to have left me so agitated that I could not realise it had only been a vision in a glass ball.

’By this time Miss H. had laid aside her book, and came forward quite startled, and told me that I had accurately described a scene on a race-course in Scotland which she had witnessed just a week or two before—a scene that had very often been in her thoughts, but, as we were strangers to each other, she had never mentioned. She also said I had exactly described her own feelings at the time, and had brought it all back in a most vivid manner.

’The other lady was rather disappointed that, after she had concentrated her thoughts so hard, I should have been influenced instead by one who had jeered at the whole affair.’

[This anecdote was also told to me, within a few days of the occurrence, by Miss Angus. Her version was that she first saw a gentleman rider going to the post and nodding to his friends. Then she saw him carried on a stretcher through the crowd. She seemed, she said, to be actually present, and felt somewhat agitated. The fact of the accident was, later, mentioned to me in Scotland by another lady, a stranger to all the persons.—A.L.]

VI.—I may briefly add an experiment of December 21, 1897. A gentleman had recently come from England to the Scottish town where Miss Angus lives. He dined with her family, and about 10.15 to 10.30 P.M. she proposed to look in the glass for a scene or person of whom he was to think. He called up a mental picture of a ball at which he had recently been, and of a young lady to whom he had there been introduced. The lady’s face, however, he could not clearly visualise, and Miss Angus reported nothing but a view of an empty ball-room, with polished floor and many lights. The gentleman made another effort, and remembered his partner with some distinctness. Miss Angus then described another room, not a ball-room, comfortably furnished, in which a girl with brown hair drawn back from her forehead, and attired in a high-necked white blouse, was reading, or writing letters, under a bright light in an unshaded glass globe. The description of the features, figure, and height tallied with Mr. ----’s recollection; but he had never seen this Geraldine of an hour except in ball dress. He and Miss Angus noted the time by their watches (it was 10.30), and Mr. ---- said that on the first opportunity he would ask the young lady how she had been dressed and how employed at that hour on December 21. On December 22 he met her at another dance, and her reply corroborated the crystal picture. She had been writing letters, in a high-necked white blouse, under an incandescent gas lamp with an unshaded glass globe. She was entirely unknown to Miss Angus, and had only been seen once by Mr. ----. Mr. ---- and the lady of the crystal picture corroborated all this in writing.

I now suggested an experiment to Miss Angus, which, after all, was clearly not of a nature to establish a ’test’ for sceptics. The inquirer was to write down, and inclose in an envelope, a statement of his thoughts; Miss Angus was to do the same with her description of the picture seen by her; and these documents were to be sent to me, without communication between the inquirer and the crystal-gazer. Of course, this could in no way prove absence of collusion, as the two parties might arrange privately beforehand what the vision was to be.

Indeed, nobody is apt to be convinced, or shaken, unless he is himself the inquirer and a stranger to the seeress, as the people in these experiments were. Evidence interesting to them—and, in a secondary degree, to others who know them—can thus be procured; but strangers are left to the same choice of doubts as in all reports of psychological experiences, ’chromatic audition,’ views of coloured numerals, and the other topics illustrated by Mr. Galton’s interesting researches.

In this affair of the envelopes the inquirer was a Mr. Pembroke, who had just made Miss Angus’s acquaintance, and was but a sojourner in the land. He wrote, before knowing what Miss Angus had seen in the ball:

’VII.—On Sunday, January 23, 1898, whilst Miss Angus was looking in the crystal ball, I was thinking of my brother, who was, I believe, at that time, somewhere between Sabathu (Punjab, India) and Egypt. I was anxious to know what stage of his journey he had reached.’

Miss Angus saw, and wrote, before telling Mr. Pembroke:

’A long and very white road, with tall trees at one side; on the other, a river or lake of greyish water. Blue sky, with a crimson sunset. A great black ship is anchored near, and on the deck I see a man lying, apparently very ill. He is a powerful-looking man, fair, and very much bronzed. Seven or eight Englishmen, in very light clothes, are standing on the road beside the boat.

’January 28, 1898.’

’A great black ship,’ anchored in ’a river or lake,’ naturally suggests the Suez Canal, where, in fact, Mr. Pembroke’s brother was just arriving, as was proved by a letter received from him eight days after the experiment was recorded, on January 31. At that date Mr. Pembroke had not yet been told the nature of Miss Angus’s crystal picture, nor had she any knowledge of his brother’s whereabouts.

In February 1898, Miss Angus again came to the place where I was residing. We visited together the scene of an historical crime, and Miss Angus looked into the glass ball. It was easy for her to ’visualise’ the incidents of the crime (the murder of Cardinal Beaton), for they are familiar enough to many people. What she did see in the ball was a tall, pale lady, ’about forty, but looking thirty-five,’ with hair drawn back from the brows, standing beside a high chair, dressed in a wide farthingale of stiff grey brocade, without a ruff. The costume corresponds well (as we found) with that of 1546, and I said, ’I suppose it is Mariotte Ogilvy’—to whom Miss Angus’s historical knowledge (and perhaps that of the general public) did not extend. Mariotte was the Cardinal’s lady-love, and was in the Castle on the night before the murder, according to Knox. She had been in my mind, whence (on the theory of thought transference) she may have passed to Miss Angus’s mind; but I had never speculated on Mariotte’s costume. Nothing but conjecture, of course, comes of these apparently ’retrospective’ pictures; though a most singular and picturesque coincidence occurred, which may be told in a very different connection.

The next example was noted at the same town. The lady who furnishes it is well known to me, and it was verbally corroborated by Miss Angus, to whom the lady, her absent nephew, and all about her, were entirely strange.

’VIII.—I was very anxious to know whether my nephew would be sent to India this year, so I told Miss Angus that I had thought of something, and asked her to look in the glass ball. She did so, but almost immediately turned round and looked out of the window at the sea, and said, "I saw a ship so distinctly I thought it must be a reflection." She looked in the ball again, and said, "It is a large ship, and it is passing a huge rock with a lighthouse on it. I can’t see who are on the ship, but the sky is very clear and blue. Now I see a large building, something like a club, and in front there are a great many people sitting and walking about. I think it must be some place abroad, for the people are all dressed in very light clothes, and it seems to be very sunny and warm. I see a young man sitting on a chair, with his feet straight out before him. He is not talking to anyone, but seems to be listening to something. He is dark and slight, and not very tall; and his eyebrows are dark and very distinctly marked."

’I had not had the pleasure of meeting Miss Angus before, and she knew nothing whatever about my nephew; but the young man described was exactly like him, both in his appearance and in the way he was sitting.’

In this case thought transference may be appealed to. The lady was thinking of her nephew in connection with India. It is not maintained, of course, that the picture was of a prophetic character.

The following examples have some curious and unusual features. On Wednesday, February 2, 1897, Miss Angus was looking in the crystal, to amuse six or seven people whose acquaintance she had that day made. A gentleman, Mr. Bissett, asked her ’what letter was in his pocket,’ She then saw, under a bright sky, and, as it were, a long way off, a large building, in and out of which many men were coming and going. Her impression was that the scene must be abroad. In the little company present, it should be added, was a lady, Mrs. Cockburn, who had considerable reason to think of her young married daughter, then at a place about fifty miles away. After Miss Angus had described the large building and crowds of men, some one asked, ’Is it an exchange?’ ’It might be,’ she said. ’Now comes a man in a great hurry. He has a broad brow, and short, curly hair; [12] hat pressed low down on his eyes. The face is very serious; but he has a delightful smile.’ Mr. and Mrs. Bissett now both recognised their friend and stockbroker, whose letter was in Mr. Bissett’s pocket.

The vision, which interested Miss Angus, passed away, and was interrupted by that of a hospital nurse, and of a lady in a peignoir, lying on a sofa, with bare feet. [13] Miss Angus mentioned this vision as a bore, she being more interested in the stockbroker, who seems to have inherited what was once in the possession of another stockbroker—’the smile of Charles Lamb.’ Mrs. Cockburn, for whom no pictures appeared, was rather vexed, and privately expressed with freedom a very sceptical opinion about the whole affair. But, on Saturday, February 5, 1897, Miss Angus was again with Mr. and Mrs. Bissett. When Mrs. Bissett announced that she had ’thought of something,’ Miss Angus saw a walk in a wood or garden, beside a river, under a brilliant blue sky. Here was a lady, very well dressed, twirling a white parasol on her shoulder as she walked, in a curious ’stumpy’ way, beside a gentleman in light clothes, such as are worn in India. He was broad-shouldered, had a short neck and a straight nose, and seemed to listen, laughing, but indifferent, to his obviously vivacious companion. The lady had a ’drawn’ face, indicative of ill health. Then followed a scene in which the man, without the lady, was looking on at a number of Orientals busy in the felling of trees. Mrs. Bissett recognised, in the lady, her sister, Mrs. Clifton, in India—above all, when Miss Angus gave a realistic imitation of Mrs. Clifton’s walk, the peculiarity of which was caused by an illness some years ago. Mrs. and Mr. Bissett also recognised their brother-in-law in the gentleman seen in both pictures. On being shown a portrait of Mrs. Clifton as a girl, Miss Angus said it was ’like, but too pretty.’ A photograph done recently, however, showed her ’the drawn face’ of the crystal picture. [14]

Next day, Sunday, February 6, Mrs. Bissett received, what was not usual—a letter from her sister in India, Mrs. Clifton, dated January 20. Mrs. Clifton described a place in a native State, where she had been at a great ’function,’ in certain gardens beside a river. She added that they were going to another place for a certain purpose, ’and then we go into camp till the end of February.’ One of Mr. Clifton’s duties is to direct the clearing of wood preparatory to the formation of the camp, as in Miss Angus’s crystal picture. [15] The sceptical Mrs. Cockburn heard of these coincidences, and an idea occurred to her. She wrote to her daughter, who has been mentioned, and asked whether, on Wednesday, February 2, she had been lying on a sofa in her bed-room, with bare feet. The young lady confessed that it was indeed so; [16] and, when she heard how the fact came to be known, expressed herself with some warmth on the abuse of glass balls, which tend to rob life of its privacy.

In this case the prima facie aspect of things is that a thought of Mr. Bissett’s about his stockbroker, dulce ridentem, somehow reflected itself into Miss Angus’s mind by way of the glass ball, and
was interrupted by a thought of Mrs. Cockburn’s, as to her daughter. But how these thoughts came to display the unknown facts concerning the garden by the river, the felling of trees for a camp, and the bare feet, is a question about which it is vain to theorise. [17]

On the vanishing of the jungle scene there appeared a picture of a man in a dark undress uniform, beside a great bay, in which were ships of war. Wooden huts, as in a plague district, were on shore. Mr. Bissett asked, ’What is the man’s expression?’ ’He looks as if he had been giving a lot of last orders.’ Then appeared ’a place like a hospital, with five or six beds—no, berths: it is a ship. Here is the man again.’ He was minutely described, one peculiarity being the way in which his hair grew—or, rather, did not grow—on his temples.

Miss Angus now asked, ’Where is my little lady?’—meaning the lady of the twirling parasol and _staccato_ walk. ’Oh, I’ve left off thinking of her,’ said Mrs. Bissett, who had been thinking of, and recognised in the officer in undress uniform, her brother, the man with the singular hair, whose face, in fact, had been scarred in that way by an encounter with a tiger. He was expected to sail from Bombay, but news of his setting forth has not been received (February 10) at the moment when this is written. [18]

In these Indian cases, ’thought transference’ may account for the correspondence between the figures seen by Miss Angus and the ideas in the mind of Mr. and Mrs. Bissett. But the hypothesis of thought transference, while it would cover the wooden huts at Bombay (Mrs. Bissett knowing that her brother was about to leave that place), can scarcely explain the scene in the garden by the river and the scene with the trees. The incident of the bare feet may be regarded as a fortuitous coincidence, since Miss Angus saw the young lady foreshortened, and could not describe her face.

In the Introductory Chapter it was observed that the phenomena which apparently point to some unaccountable supernormal faculty of acquiring knowledge are ’trivial.’ These anecdotes illustrate the triviality; but the facts certainly left a number of people, wholly unfamiliar with such experiments, under the impression that Miss Angus’s glass ball was like Prince Ali’s magical telescope in the ’Arabian Nights.’ [19] These experiments, however, occasionally touch on intimate personal matters, and cannot be reported in such instances.

It will be remarked that the faculty is freakish, and does not always respond to conscious exertion of thought in the mind of the inquirer. Thus, in Case I. a connection of the person thought of is discerned; in another the mind of a stranger present seems to be read. In another case (not given here) the inquirer tried to visualise a card for a person present to guess, while Miss Angus was asked to describe an object which the inquirer was acquainted with, but which he banished from his conscious thought. The double experiment was a double-barrelled success.

It seems hardly necessary to point out that chance coincidence will not cover this set of cases, where in each ’guess’ the field of conjecture is boundless, and is not even narrowed by the crystal-gazer’s knowledge of the persons for whose diversion she makes the experiment. As ’muscle-reading’ is not in question (in the one case of contact between inquirer and crystal-gazer the results were unexpected), and as no unconsciously made signs could convey, for example, the idea of a cavalry soldier in uniform, or an accident on a race-course in two tableaux, I do not at present see any more plausible explanation than that of thought transference, though how that is to account for some of the cases given I do not precisely understand.

Any one who can accept the assurance of my personal belief in the good faith of all concerned will see how very useful this faculty of crystal-gazing must be to the Apache or Australian medicine-man or Polynesian priest. Freakish as the faculty is, a few real successes, well exploited and eked out by fraud, would set up a wizard’s reputation. That a faculty of being thus affected is genuine seems proved, apart from modern evidence, by the world-wide prevalence of crystal-gazing in the ethnographic region. But the discovery of this prevalence had not been made, to my knowledge, before modern instances induced me to notice the circumstances, sporadically recorded in books of travel.

The phenomena are certainly of a kind to encourage the savage theory of the wandering soul. How else, thinkers would say, can the seer visit the distant place or person, and correctly describe men and scenes which, in the body, he never saw? Or they would encourage the Polynesian belief that the ’spirit’ of the thing or person looked for is suspended by a god over the water, crystal, blood, ink, or whatever it may be. Thus, to anthropologists, the discovery of crystal-gazing as a thing widely diffused and still flourishing ought to be grateful, however much they may blame my childish credulity. I may add that I have no ground to suppose that crystal-gazing will ever be of practical service to the police or to persons who have lost articles of portable property. But I have no objection to experiments being made at Scotland Yard. [20]

View online : Crystal-gazing (The Making of Religion: Appendix C)


[1Information, with a photograph of the stones, from a correspondent in West Maitland, Australia.

[2Report Ethnol. Bureau, 1887-88, p. 460; vol. ii. p. 69. Captain Bourke’s volume on The Medicine Men of the Apaches may also be consulted.

[3Fitzroy, Adventure, vol. ii. p. 389.

[4L’Histoire de la grand Ile Madagascar, par le Sieur de Flacourt. Paris, 1661, ch. 76. Veue de deux Navires de France predite par les Negres, avant que l’on en peust sçavoir des Nouvelles, &c.

[5Religion of the Amazulu, p. 341.

[6J.A.I., November 1894, p. 155. Ryckov is cited; Zhurnal, p. 86.

[7Rites and Laws of the Yncas, Christoval de Molina, p. 12.

[8See Miss X’s article, S.P.R. Proceedings, v. 486.

[9Op. cit. v. 505.

[10If any reader wishes to make experiments, he, or she, should not be astonished if the first crystal figure represents ’the sheeted dead,’ or a person ill in bed. For some reason, or no reason, this is rather a usual prelude, signifying nothing.

[11Sunday afternoon. It is not implied that the pictures on Friday were prophetic. Probably Miss Rose saw what Miss Angus had seen by aid of ’suggestion.’

[12Miss Angus could not be sure of the colour of the hair.

[13The position was such that Miss Angus could not see the face of the lady.

[14I saw the photographs.

[15I have been shown the letter of January 20, which confirmed the evidence of the crystal pictures. The camp was formed for official purposes in which Mr. Clifton was concerned. A letter of February 9 unconsciously corroborates.

[16The incident of the feet occurred at 4.30 to 7.30 P.M. The crystal picture was about 10 P.M.

[17Miss Angus had only within the week made the acquaintance of Mrs. Cockburn and the Bissetts. Of these relations of theirs at a distance she had no knowledge.

[18I have seen a photograph of this gentleman, Major Hamilton, which tallies with the full description given by Miss Angus, as reported by Mrs. Bissett. All the proper names here, as throughout, are altered.

This account I wrote from the verbal statement of Mrs. Bissett. It was then read and corroborated by herself, Mr. Bissett, Mr. Cockburn, Mrs. Cockburn, and Miss Angus, who added dates and signatures.

[19The letters attesting each of these experiments are in my possession. The real names are in no case given in this account, by my own desire, but (with permission of the persona concerned) can be communicated privately.

[20The faculty of seeing ’fancy pictures’ in the glass is far from uncommon. I have only met with three other persons besides Miss Angus, two of them men, who had any success in ’telepathic’ crystal-gazing. In correcting ’revises’ (March 16), I leant that the brother of Mr. Pembroke (p. 105) wrote from Cairo on January 27. The ’scry’ of January 23 represented his ship in the Suez Canal. He was, as his letter shows, in quarantine at Suez, at Moses’s Wells, from January 25 to January 26. Major Hamilton (pp. 109, 110), on the other hand, left Bombay, indeed, but not by sea, as in the crystal-picture. See Appendix C.

Mr. Starr, an American critic, adds Cherokees, Aztecs, and Tonkaways to the ranks of crystal gazers.

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