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Andrew Lang

Anthropology and Hallucinations

The Making of Religion: Chapter VI (1900)

Published on: Saturday 4 November 2006

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Andrew Lang, ’Anthropology and Hallucinations’, The Making of Religion, (Chapter VI), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 106-127.


We have been examining cases, savage or civilised, in which knowledge is believed to be acquired through no known channel of sense. All such instances among savages, whether of the nature of clairvoyance simple, or by aid of gazing in a smooth surface, or in dreams, or in trance, or through second sight, would confirm if they did not originate the belief in the separable soul. The soul, if it is to visit distant places and collect information, must leave the body, it would be argued, and must so far be capable of leading an independent life. Perhaps we ought next to study cases of ’possession,’ when knowledge is supposed to be conveyed by an alien soul, ghost, spirit, or god, taking up its abode in a man, and speaking out of his lips. But it seems better first to consider the alleged super-normal phenomena which may have led the savage reasoner to believe that he was not the only owner of a separable soul: that other people were equally gifted.

The sense, as of separation, which a savage dreamer or seer would feel after a dream or vision in which he visited remote places, would satisfy him that his soul, at least, was volatile. But some experience of what he would take to be visits from the spirits of others, would be needed before he recognised that other men, as well as he, had the faculty of sending their souls a journeying.

Now, ordinary dreams, in which the dreamer seemed to see persons who were really remote; would supply to the savage reasoner a certain amount of affirmative evidence. It is part of Mr. Tylor’s contention that savages (like some children) are subject to the difficulty which most of us may have occasionally felt in deciding ’Did this really happen, or did I dream it?’ Thus, ordinary dreams would offer to the early thinker some evidence that other men’s souls could visit his, as he believes that his can visit them.

But men, we may assume, were not, at the assumed stage of thought, so besotted as not to take a great practical distinction between sleeping and waking experience on the whole. As has been shown, the distinction is made by the lowest savages of our acquaintance. One clear waking hallucination, on the other hand, of the presence of a person really absent, could not but tell more with the early philosopher than a score of dreams, for to be easily forgotten is of the essence of a dream. Savages, indeed, oddly enough, have hit on our theory, ’dreams go by contraries.’ Dr. Callaway illustrates this for the Zulus, and Mr. Scott for the Mang’anza. Thus they do discriminate between sleeping and waking. We must therefore examine waking hallucinations in the field of actual experience, and on such recent evidence as may be accessible. If these hallucinations agree, in a certain ratio, beyond what fortuitous coincidence can explain, with real but unknown events, then such hallucinations would greatly strengthen, in the mind of an early thinker, the savage theory that a man at a distance may, voluntarily or involuntarily, project his spirit on a journey, and be seen where he is not present.

When Mr. Tylor wrote his book, the study of the occasional waking hallucinations of the sane and healthy was in its infancy. Much, indeed, had been written about hallucinations, but these were mainly the chronic false perceptions of maniacs, of drunkards, and of persons in bad health such as Nicolai and Mrs. A. The hallucinations of persons of genius—Jeanne d’Arc, Luther, Socrates, Pascal, were by some attributed to lunacy in these famous people. Scarcely any writers before Mr. Galton had recognised the occurrence of hallucinations once in a life, perhaps, among healthy, sober, and mentally sound people. If these were known to occur, they were dismissed as dreams of an unconscious sleep. This is still practically the hypothesis of Dr. Parish, as we shall see later. But in the last twenty years the infrequent hallucinations of the sane have been recognised by Mr. Galton, and discussed by Professor James, Mr. Gurney, Dr. Parish, and many other writers.

Two results have followed. First, ’ghosts’ are shown to be, when not illusions caused by mistaking one object for another, then hallucinations. As these most frequently represent a living person who is not present, by parity of reason the appearance of a dead person is on the same level, is not a space-filling ’ghost,’ but merely an hallucination. Such an appearance can, prima facie, suggest no reasonable inference as to the continued existence of the dead. On the other hand, the new studies have raised the perhaps insoluble question, ’Do not hallucinations of the sane, representing the living, coincide more frequently than mere luck can account for, with the death or other crisis of the person apparently seen?’ If this could be proved, then there would seem to be a causal nexus, a relation of cause and effect between the hallucination and the coincident crisis. That connection would be provisionally explained by some not understood action of the mind or brain of the person in the crisis, on that of the person who has the hallucination. This is no new idea; only the name, Telepathy, is modern. Of course, if all this were accepted, it would be the next step to ask whether hallucinations representing the dead show any signs of being caused by some action on the side of the departed. That is a topic on which the little that we have to say must be said later.

In the meantime the reader who has persevered so far is apt to go no further. The prejudice against ’wraiths’ and ’ghosts’ is very strong; but, then, our innocent phantasms are neither (as we understand their nature) ghosts nor wraiths. Kant broke the edges of his metaphysical tools against, not these phantasms, but the logically inconceivable entities which were at once material and non-material, at once ’spiritual’ and ’space-filling.’ There is no such difficulty about hallucinations, which, whatever else may be said about them, are familiar facts of experience. The only real objections are the statements that hallucinations are always morbid (which is no longer the universal belief of physiologists and psychologists), and that the alleged coincidences of a phantasm of a person with the unknown death of that person at a distance are ’pure flukes.’ That is the question to which we recur later.

In the meantime, the defenders of the theory, that there is some not understood connection of cause and effect between the death or other crisis at one end and the perception representing the person affected by the crisis at the other end, point out that such hallucinations, or other effects on the percipient, exist in a regular rising scale of potency and perceptibility. Suppose that ’A’s’ death in Yorkshire is to affect the consciousness of ’B’ in Surrey before he knows anything about the fact (suppose it for the sake of argument), then the effect may take place (1) on ’B’s’ emotions, producing a vague malaise and gloom; (2) on his motor nerves, urging him to some act; (3) or may translate itself into his senses, as a touch felt, a voice heard, a figure seen; or (4) may render itself as a phrase or an idea.

Of these, (1) the emotional effect is, of course, the vaguest. We may all have had a sudden fit of gloom which we could not explain. People rarely act on such impressions, and, when they do, are often wrong. Thus a friend of my own was suddenly so overwhelmed, at golf, with inexplicable misery (though winning his match) that he apologised to his opponent and walked home from the ninth hole. Nothing was wrong at home. Probably some real ground of apprehension had obscurely occurred to his mind and expressed itself in his emotion.

But one may illustrate what did look like a coincidence by the experience of the same friend. He inhabited, as a young married man, a flat in a house belonging to an acquaintance. The hall was covered by a kind of glass roof, over part of its extent. He was staying in the country with his wife, and as they travelled home the lady was beset with an irresistible conviction that something terrible had occurred, not to her children. On reaching their house they found that one of their maids had fallen through the glass roof and killed herself. They also learned that the girl’s sister had arrived at the house, immediately after the accident, explaining that she was driven to come by a sense that something dreadful had happened. The lawyer, too, who represented the owner of the house, had appeared, unsummoned, from a conviction, which he could not resist, that for some reason unknown he was wanted there. [1] Here, then, was not an hallucination, but an emotional effect simultaneously reaching the consciousness of three persons, and coinciding with an unknown crisis. [2]

Cases in which a person feels urged to an act (2) are also recorded. Indeed, the lawyer’s in our anecdote is such an instance. Not to trouble ourselves (3) with ’voices,’ hallucinations of sight, coinciding with a distant unknown crisis, are traced from a mere feeling that somebody is in the room, followed by a mental, or mind’s eye picture of a person dying at a distance, up to a kind of ’vision’ of a person or scene, and so on to hallucinations appealing, at once, to touch, sight, and hearing. As some hundreds of these narratives of coincidental hallucinations in every degree have been collected from witnesses at first hand, often personally known, and usually personally cross-questioned, by the student, it is difficult to deny that there is a prima facie case for inquiry. [3]

There is here no question of ’spirits,’ with all their physical and metaphysical difficulties. Nor is there any desire to shirk the fact that many ’presentiments’ and hallucinations of the sane coincide with no ascertainable fact. We only provisionally posit the possibility of an influence, in its nature unknown, of one mind on another at a distance, such influence translating itself into an hallucination. An inquiry into this subject, in the ethnographic and modern fields, may be new but involves no ’superstition.’

We now return to Mr. Tylor, who treats of hallucinations among other experiences which led early savage thinkers to believe in ghosts or separable souls, the origin of religion.

As to the causes of hallucinations in general, Mr. Tylor has something to say, but it is nothing systematic. ’Sickness, exhaustion, and excitement’ cause savages to behold ’human spectres,’ in ’the objective reality’ of which they believe. But if an educated modern, not sick, nor exhausted, nor excited, has an hallucination of a friend’s presence, he, too, believes that it is ’objective,’ is his friend in flesh and blood, till he finds out his mistake, by examination or reflection. As Professor William James remarks, in his ’Principles of Psychology,’ such solitary hallucinations of the sane and healthy, once in a life-time, are difficult to account for, and are by no means rare. ’Sometimes,’ Mr. Tylor observes, ’the phantom has the characteristic quality of not being visible to all of an assembled company,’ and he adds ’to assert or imply that they are visible sometimes, and to some persons, but not always, or to everyone, is to lay down an explanation of facts which is not, indeed, our usual modern explanation, but which is a perfectly rational and intelligible product of early science.’

It is, indeed, nor has later science produced any rational and intelligible explanation of collective hallucinations, shared by several persons at once, and perhaps not perceived by others who are present. Mr. Tylor, it is true, asserts that ’in civilised countries a rumour of some one having seen a phantom is enough to bring a sight of it to others whose minds are in a properly receptive state.’ But this is arguing in a circle; What is ’a properly receptive state’? If illness, overwork, ’expectant attention,’ make ’a properly receptive state,’ I should have seen several phantoms in several ’haunted houses.’ But the only thing of the sort I ever saw occurred when I was thinking of nothing less, when I was in good health, and when I did not know (nor did I learn till long after) that it was the right and usual phantom to see. Mr. Podmore remarks that various members of the Psychical Society have sojourned in various ’haunted houses,’ ’some of them in a state of expectancy and nervous excitement,’ which never caused them to see phantoms, for they saw none. [4]

Mr. Tylor treats of waking hallucinations in much the same manner as he deals with ’travelling clairvoyance.’ He does not study them ’in the field of experience.’ He is not concerned with the truth of the facts, important as we think it would be, but with his theory that hallucinations, among other causes, would naturally give rise to the belief in spirits, and thus to the early philosophy of Animism. Now, certainly, the hallucination of a person’s presence, say at the moment of his death at a distance, would suggest to a savage that something of the dying man’s, something symbolised in the word ’shadow,’ or ’breath’ (spiritus), had come to say farewell. The modern ’spiritualistic’ theory, again, that the dead man’s ’spirit’ is actually present to the percipient, in space, corresponds to, and is derived from, the animistic philosophy of the savage. But we may believe in such ’death-wraiths,’ or hallucinatory appearances of the dying, without being either savages or spiritualists. We may believe without pretending to explain, or we may advance the theory of ’Telepathy,’ Hegel’s ’magical tie,’ according to which the distant mind somehow impresses itself, in a more or less perfect hallucination, on the mind of the person who perceives the wraith. If this be so, or even if no explanation be offered, the truth of the stories of coincidental
apparitions becomes important, as pointing to a new region of psychical inquiry. Then the evidence of savages as to hallucinations of their own, coincident with the death of their absent friends, will confirm, quantum valeat, the evidence of many modern observers in all ranks of life, and all degrees of culture, from Lord Brougham to an old nurse. [5]

As to hallucinations coincident with the death of the person apparently seen, Mr. Tylor says: ’Narratives of this class I can here only specify without arguing on them, they are abundantly in circulation.’ [6] Now, the modern hallucinations themselves can scarcely, perhaps, be called ’survivals from savagery,’ though the opinion that an hallucination of a person must be his ’spirit’ is really such a survival. It is with that opinion, with Animism in its hallucinatory origins, that Mr. Tylor is concerned, not with the hallucinations themselves or with the evidence for their veridical existence.

Mr. Tylor gives three anecdotes, narrated to him, in two cases, by the seers, of phantasms of the living beheld by them (and in one case by a companion also) when the real person was dying at a distance. He adds: ’My own view is that nothing but dreams and visions could have ever put into men’s minds such an idea as that of souls being ethereal images of bodies.’ [7] The idea may be perfectly erroneous; but if the occurrence of such coincidental appearances as Mr. Tylor tells us about could be shown to be too frequent for mere chance to produce, then there would be a presumption in favour of some unknown faculties in our nature—a proper theme for anthropology.

The hallucinations of which we hear most are those in which a person sees the phantom of another person, who, unknown to him, is in or near the hour of death. Mr. Tylor, in addition to his three instances in civilised life, alludes to one in savage life, with references to other cases. [8] We turn to his savage instance, offering it at full length from the original. [9]

’Among the Maoris’ (says Mr. Shortland) ’it is always ominous to see the figure of an absent person. If the figure is very shadowy, and its face is not seen, death, although he may ere long be expected, has not seized his prey. If the face of the absent person is seen, the omen forewarns the beholder that he is already dead.’

The following statement is from the mouth of an eyewitness:

’A party of natives left their village, with the intention of being absent some time, on a pig-hunting expedition. One night, while they were seated in the open air around a blazing fire, the figure of a relative who had been left ill at home was seen to approach. The apparition appeared to two of the party only, and vanished immediately on their making an exclamation of surprise. When they returned to the village they inquired for the sick man, and then learnt that he had died about the time he was said to have been seen.’

I now give Maori cases, communicated to me by Mr. Tregear, F.R.G.S., author of a ’Maori Comparative Dictionary.’

A very intelligent Maori chief said to me, ’I have seen but two ghosts. I was a boy at school in Auckland, and one morning was asleep in bed when I found myself aroused by some one shaking me by the shoulder. I looked up, and saw bending over me the well-known form of my uncle, whom I supposed to be at the Bay of Islands. I spoke to him, but the form became dim and vanished. The next mail brought me the news of his death. Years passed away, and I saw no ghost or spirit—not even when my father and mother died, and I was absent in each case. Then one day I was sitting reading, when a dark shadow fell across my book. I looked up, and saw a man standing between me and the window. His back was turned towards me. I saw from his figure that he was a Maori, and I called out to him, "Oh friend!" He turned round, and I saw my other uncle, Ihaka. The form faded away as the other had done. I had not expected to hear of my uncle’s death, for I had seen him hale and strong a few hours before. However, he had gone into the house of a missionary, and he (with several white people) was poisoned by eating of a pie made from tinned meat, the tin having been opened and the meat left in it all night. That is all I myself had seen of spirits.’

One more Maori example may be offered: [10]

From Mr. Francis Dart Fenton, formerly in the Native Department of the Government, Auckland, New Zealand. He gave the account in writing to his friend, Captain J.H. Crosse, of Monkstown, Cork, from whom we received it. In 1852, when the incident occurred, Mr. Fenton was ’engaged in forming a settlement on the banks of the Waikato.’

’March 25, 1860

’Two sawyers, Frank Philps and Jack Mulholland, were engaged cutting timber for the Rev. R. Maunsell at the mouth of the Awaroa creek—a very lonely place, a vast swamp, no people within miles of them. As usual, they had a Maori with them to assist in felling trees. He came from Tihorewam, a village on the other side of the river, about six miles off. As Frank and the native were cross-cutting a tree, the native stopped suddenly, and said, "What are you come for?" looking in the direction of Frank. Frank replied, "What do you mean?" He said, "I am not speaking to you; I am speaking to my brother." Frank said, "Where is he?" The native replied, "Behind you. What do you want?" (to the other Maori), Frank looked round and saw nobody. The native no longer saw anyone, but bid down the saw and said, "I shall go across the river; my brother is dead."

’Frank laughed at him, and reminded him that be had left him quite well on Sunday (five days before), and there had been no communication since. The Maori spoke no more, but got into his canoe and pulled across. When he arrived at the landing-place, he met people coming to fetch him. His brother had just died. I knew him well.’

In answer to inquiries as to his authority for this narrative, Mr. Fenton writes:

’December 18, 1883.

’I knew all the parties concerned well, and it is quite true, valeat quantum, as the lawyers say. Incidents of this sort are not infrequent among the Maoris.

’Late Chief Judge, Native Law-Court of N.Z.’

Here is a somewhat analogous example from Tierra del Fuego:

’Jemmy Button was very superstitious’ (says Admiral Fitzroy, speaking of a Fuegian brought to England). ’While at sea, on board the "Beagle," he said one morning to Mr. Bynoe that in the night some man came to the side of his hammock and whispered in his ear that his father was dead. He fully believed that such was the case,’ and he was perfectly right… ’He reminded Bennett of the dream.’ [11]

Mr. Darwin also mentions this case, a coincidental auditory hallucination.

I have found no other savage cases quite to the point. This is, undeniably, ’a puir show for Kirkintilloch,’ a meagre collection of savage death-wraiths, but it may be so meagre by reason of want of research, or of lack of records, travellers usually pooh-poohing the benighted superstitions of the heathen, or fearing to seem superstitious if they chronicle instances. However few the instances, they are, undeniably, exact parallels to those recorded in civilised life.

In filling up the lacuna in Mr. Tylor’s anthropological work, in asking questions as to the proportion between phantasms of the living which coincide with a crisis in the experience of the person seen, and those which do not, it is obviously necessary to reject all evidence of people who were ill, or anxious, or overworked, or in poignant grief at the time of the hallucination. It will be seen later that neither grief nor amatory passion (dominating the association of our ideas as they do) beget many phantasms. Our business, however, is with the false perceptions of persons trustworthy, as far as we know, sane, healthy, not usually visionary, and in an unperturbed state of mind.

There remains a normal cause of subjective hallucinations, expectancy. This appears to be a real cause of hallucination or, at least, of illusion. Waiting for the sound of a carriage you may hear it often before it comes, you taking other sounds for that which you desire. Again, in an inquiry embracing 17,000 people, the S.P.R. collected thirteen cases of an hallucinatory appearance of one person to another who was expecting his arrival. Once more, it is very conceivable that a trifle, the accidental opening of a door, a noise of a familiar kind in an unfamiliar place, may touch the brain into originating an hallucination of a person passing through the door, or of the place where the sound now heard used once to be familiar. Expectancy, again, and nervousness, might doubtless cause an hallucination to a person who felt uncomfortable in a house with a name to be ’haunted,’ though, as we have seen, the effect is far less common than the cause. All these sorts of causes are undoubtedly more apt to be prevalent among superstitious savages than among educated Europeans. And it stands to reason that savages, where one man ’thinks he sees something,’ will be readier than we are to think they ’see something’ too. Yet collective hallucinations, which are shared by several persons at once, are especially puzzling. Even if they occur when all are in a strained condition of expectancy, it is odd that all see them in the same way. [12] Examples will occur later. When there is no excitement, the mystery is increased. We may note that, among the expectant multitudes who looked on while Bernadette was viewing the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes, not one person, however superstitious or hysterical, pretended to share the vision. Again, only one person, and he on doubtful evidence, is asserted to have shared, once, the visions of Jeanne d’Arc. In both cases all the conditions said to produce collective hallucination were present in the highest degree. Yet no collective hallucination occurred.

Narratives about hallucinations coincident with a death, narratives well attested, are abundant in modern times, so abundant that one need only refer the curious to Messrs. Gurney and Myers’s two large volumes, ’Phantasms of the Living,’ and to the S.P.R ’Report of Census of Hallucinations’ (1894). Mr. Tylor says: ’The spiritualistic theory specially insists on cases of apparitions, where the person’s death corresponds more or less nearly with the time when some friend perceives his phantom.’ But visionaries, he remarks truly, often see phantoms of living persons when nothing occurs. That is the case, and the question arises whether more such phantoms are viewed (not by ’visionaries’) in connection with the death or other crisis of the person whose hallucinatory appearance is perceived, than ought to occur, if there be no connection of some unknown cause between deaths and appearances. As Mr. Tylor observes, ’Man, as yet in a low intellectual condition, came to associate in thought those things which he found by experience to be connected in fact.’ [13] Did early man, then, find in experience that apparitions of his friends were ’connected in fact’ with their deaths? And, if so, was that discovered connection in fact the origin of his belief that an hallucinatory appearance of an absent person sometimes announced his death?

That the belief exists in New Zealand we saw, and find confirmed by this instance, one of ’many such relations,’ says the author. A Maori chief was long absent on the war-path. One day he entered his wife’s hut, and sat mute by the hearth. She ran to bring witnesses, but on her return the phantasm was no longer visible. The woman soon afterwards married again.

Her husband then returned in perfect health, and pardoned the lady, as she had acted on what, to a Maori mind, seemed good legal evidence of his decease. Of course, even if she fabled, the story is evidence to the existence of the belief. [14]

What, then, is the cause of the belief that a phantom of a man is a token of his death? On the theory of savage philosophy, as explained by Mr. Tylor himself, a man’s soul may leave his body and become visible to others, not at death only, but on many other occasions, in dream, trance, lethargy. All these are much more frequent conditions, in every man’s career, than the fact of dying. Why, then, is the phantasm supposed by savages to announce death? Is it because, in a sufficient ratio of cases to provoke remark, early man has found the appearance and the death to be ’things connected in fact’?

I give an instance in which the philosophy of savages would lead them not to connect a phantasm of a living man with his death.

The Woi Worung, an Australian tribe, hold that ’the Murup [wraith] of an individual could be sent from him by magic, as, for instance, when a hunter incautiously went to sleep when out hunting.’ [15] In this case the hunter is exposed to the magic of his enemies. But the Murup, or detached soul, would be visible to people at a distance when its owner is only asleep—according to the savage philosophy. Why, then, when the wraith is seen, is the owner believed to be dying? Are the things bound to be ’connected in fact’?

As is well known, the Society for Psychical Research has attempted a little census, for the purpose of discovering whether hallucinations representing persons at a distance coincided, within twelve hours, with their deaths, in a larger ratio than the laws of chance allow as possible. If it be so, the Maori might have some ground for his theory that such hallucinations betoken a decease. I do not believe that any such census can enable us to reach an affirmative conclusion which science will accept. In spite of all precautions taken, all warnings before, and ’allowances’ made later, collectors of evidence will ’select’ affirmative cases already known, or (which is equally fatal) will be suspected of doing so. Again, illusions of memory, increasing the closeness of the coincidence, will come in—or it will be easy to say that they came in. ’Allowances’ for them will not be accepted.

Once more, 17,000 cases, though a larger number than is usual in biological inquiries, are decidedly not enough for a popular argument on probabilities; a million, it will be said, would not be too many. Finally, granting honesty, accurate memory, and non-selection (none of which will be granted by opponents), it is easy to say that odd things must occur, and that the large proportion of affirmative answers as to coincidental hallucinations is just a specimen of these odd things.

Other objections are put forward by teachers of popular science who have not examined—or, having examined, misreport—the results of the Census in detail. I may give an example of their method.

Mr. Edward Clodd is the author of several handbooks of science—’The Story of Creation,’ ’A Manual of Evolution,’ and others. Now, in a signed review of a book, a critique published in ’The Sketch’ (October 13, 1897), Mr. Clodd wrote about the Census: ’Thousands of persons were asked whether they had ever seen apparitions, and out of these some hundreds, mostly unintelligent foreigners, replied in the affirmative. Some eight or ten of the number—envied mortals—had seen "angels," but the majority, like the American in the mongoose story, had seen only "snakes."… In weighing evidence we have to take into account the competency as well as the integrity of the witnesses.’ Mr. Clodd has most frankly and good-humouredly acknowledged the erroneousness of his remark. Otherwise we might ask: Does Mr. Clodd prefer to be considered not ’competent’ or not ’veracious’? He cannot be both on this occasion, for his signed and published remarks were absolutely inaccurate. First, thousands of persons were not asked ’whether they had seen apparitions.’ They were asked: ’Have you ever, when believing yourself to be perfectly awake, had a vivid impression of seeing, or being touched by a living being or inanimate object, or of hearing a voice; which impression, so far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?’ Secondly, it is not the fact that ’some hundreds, mostly unintelligent foreigners, replied in the affirmative.’ Of English-speaking men and women, 1,499 answered the question quoted above in the affirmative. Of foreigners (naturally ’unintelligent’), 185 returned affirmative answers. Thirdly, when Mr. Clodd says, ’The majority had seen only "snakes,"’ it is not easy to know what precise sense ’snakes’ bears in the terminology of popular science. If Mr. Clodd means, by ’snakes,’ fantastic hallucinations of animals, these amounted to 25, as against 830 representing human forms of persons recognised, unrecognised, living or dead. But, if by ’snakes’ Mr. Clodd means purely subjective hallucinations, not known to coincide with any event—and this is his meaning—his statement agrees with that of the Census. His observations, of course, were purely accidental errors.

The number of hallucinations representing living or dying recognised persons in the answers received, was 352. Of first-hand cases, in which coincidence of the hallucination with the death of the person apparently seen was affirmed, there were 80, of which 26 are given.

The non-coincidental hallucinations were multiplied by four, to allow for forgetfulness of ’misses.’ The results being compared, it was decided that the hallucinations collected coincided with death 440 more often than ought to be the case by the law of probabilities. Therefore there was proof, or presumption, in favour of some relation of cause and effect between A’s death and B’s hallucination.

If we were to attack the opinion of the Committee on Hallucinations, that ’Between deaths and apparitions of the dying a connection exists which is not due to chance alone,’ the assault should be made not only on the method, but on the details. The events were never of very recent, and often were of remote occurrence. The remoteness was less than it seems, however, as the questions were often answered several years before the publication of the Report (1894). There was scarcely any documentary evidence, any note or letter written between the hallucination and the arrival of news of the death. Such letters, the evidence alleged, had in some cases existed, but had been lost, burnt, eaten by white ants, or written on a sheet of blotting paper or the whitewashed wall of a barrack room. If I may judge by my own lifelong success in mislaying, losing, and casually destroying papers, from cheques to notes made for literary purposes, from interesting letters of friends to the manuscripts of novelists, or if I may judge by Sir Walter Scott’s triumphs of the same kind, I should not think much of the disappearance of documentary evidence to death-wraiths. Nobody supposed, when these notes were written, that Science would ask for their production; and even if people had guessed at this, it is human to lose or destroy old papers.

The remoteness of the occurrences is more remarkable, for, if these things happen, why were so few recent cases discovered? Again, the seers were sometimes under anxiety, though such cases were excluded from the final computation: they frequently knew that the person seen was in bad health: they were often very familiar with his personal aspect. Now what are called ’subjective hallucinations,’ non-coincidental hallucinations, usually represent persons very familiar to us, persons much in our minds. I know seven cases in which such hallucinations occurred. 1, 2, of husband to wife; 3, son to mother; 4, brother to sister; 5, sister to sister; 6, cousin (living in the same house) to cousin; 7, friend (living a mile away) to two friends. In no case was there a death-coincidence. Only in case 4 was there any kind of coincidence, the brother having intended to do (unknown to the sister) what he was seen doing—driving in a dog-cart with a lady. But he had not driven. We cannot, of course, prove that these seven cases were not telepathic, but there is no proof that they were. Now most of the coincidental cases, on which the Committee relied as their choicest examples, represented persons familiarly known to the seers. This looks as if they were casual; but, of course, if telepathy does exist, it is most likely (as Hegel says) to exist between kinsfolk and friends. [16]

The dates might be fresher!

In case 1, percipient knew that his aunt in England (he being in Australia) was not very well. No anxiety.

2. Casual acquaintance. No anxiety. Case of accident or suicide.

3. Acquaintance who feared to die in childbed, and did. Percipient not much interested, nor at all anxious.

4. Father in England to son in India. No anxiety.

5. Uncle to niece. Sudden death. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.

6. Brother-in-law to sister-in-law, and her maid. No anxiety reported. Russian.

7. Father to son. No anxiety reported. Russian.

8. Friend to friend. No knowledge of illness or anxiety reported.

9. Grandmother to grandson. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.

10. Casual acquaintance, to seven people, and apparently to a dog. Illness known. Russian.

11. Step-brother to step-brother. No anxiety. No knowledge of illness.

12. Friend to friend. No anxiety or knowledge of illness.

13. Casual acquaintance. No anxiety.

14. Aunt to nephew and to his wife. Illness known. No anxiety.

15. Sister to brother. Illness known. No anxiety.

16. Father to daughter. No knowledge of illness. No anxiety.

17. Father to son. Much anxiety. (Uncounted.)

18. Sister to sister. Illness known. ’No immediate danger’ surmised.

19. Father to son. Much anxiety. Russian. (Uncounted.)

20. Friend to friend. Illness known. Percipient had been nursing patient. Brazilian. (Very bad case!)

21 Friend to friend. Illness known. No anxiety.

22. Brother to brother. Illness known. No anxiety.

23. Grandfather to grand-daughter. Illness known. No pressing anxiety.

24. Grandfather to grandson. Illness known. No anxiety.

25. Father’s hand. Illness chronic. No anxiety. Percipient a daughter. Russian.

20. Husband to wife. Anxiety in time of war.

27. Brother to sister. Slightly anxious from receiving no letter.

28. Friend to friend. No anxiety.

Anxiety is only reported, or to be surmised, in two or three cases. In a dozen the existence of illness was known.

It may therefore be argued, adversely, that in the selected coincidental hallucinations, the persons seen were in the class most usually beheld in non-coincidental and, probably, purely subjective hallucinations representing real persons; also, that knowledge of their illness, even when no anxiety existed, kept them in some cases before the mind; also, that several cases are foreign, and that ’most foreigners are fools.’ On the other hand, affection, familiarity, and knowledge of illness had not produced hallucinations even in the case of these percipients, till within the twelve hours (often much less) of the event of death.

It would have been desirable, of course, to publish all the non-coincidental cases, and show how far, in these not veridical cases, the recognised phantasms were those of kindred, dear friends, known to be ill, and subjects of anxiety [17].

The Census, in fact, does contain a chapter on ’Mental and Nervous Conditions in connection with Hallucinations,’ such as anxiety, grief, and overwork. Do these produce, or probably produce, many empty hallucinations not coincident with death or any great crisis? If they do, then all cases in which a coincidental hallucination occurred to a person in anxiety, or overstrained, will seem to be, probably, fortuitous coincidences like the others. All percipients, of all sorts of hallucinations, hits or misses, were asked if they were in grief or anxiety. Now, out of 1,622 cases of hallucination of all known kinds (coincidental or not), mental strain was reported in 220 instances; of which 131 were cases of grief about known deaths or anxiety. These mental conditions, therefore, occur only in twelve per cent. of the instances. On the whole, it does not seem fair to argue that anxiety produces so much hallucination that it will account by itself for those which we have analysed as coincidental.

The impression left on my own mind by the Census does pretty closely agree with that of its authors. Fairly well persuaded of the possibility of telepathy, on other grounds, and even inclined to believe that it does produce coincidental hallucinations, the evidence of the Census, by itself, would not convince me nor its authors. We want better records; we want documentary evidence recording cases before the arrival of news of the coincidence. Memories are very adaptive. The authors, however, made a gallant effort, at the cost of much labour, and largely allowed for all conceivable drawbacks.

I am, personally, illogical enough to agree with Kant, and to be more convinced by the cumulative weight of the hundreds of cases in ’Phantasms of the Living,’ in other sources, in my own circle of acquaintance, and even by the coincident traditions of European and savage peoples, than by the statistics of the Census. The whole mass, Census and all, is of very considerable weight, and there exist individual cases which one feels unable to dispute. Thus while I would never regard the hallucinatory figure of a friend, perceived by myself, as proof of his death, I would entertain some slight anxiety till I heard of his well-being.

On this topic I will offer, in a Kantian spirit, an anecdote of the kind which, occurring in great quantities, disposes the mind to a sort of belief. It is not given as evidence to go to a jury, for I only received it from the lips of a very gallant and distinguished officer and V.C., whose own part in the affair will be described.

This gentleman was in command of a small British force in one of the remotest and least accessible of our dependencies, not connected by telegraph, at the time of the incident, with the distant mainland. In the force was a particularly folly young captain. One night he went to a dance, and, as the sleeping accommodation was exhausted, he passed the night, like a Homeric hero, on a couch beneath the echoing loggia. Next day, contrary to his wont, he was in the worst of spirits, and, after moping for some time, asked leave to go a three days’ voyage to the nearest telegraph station. His commanding officer, my informant, was good-natured, and gave leave. At the end of a week Captain ---- returned, in his usual high spirits. He now admitted that, while lying awake in the verandah, after the ball, he had seen a favourite brother of his, then in, say, Peru. He could not shake off the impression; he had made the long voyage to the nearest telegraph station, and thence had telegraphed to another brother in, let us say, Hong Kong, ’Is all well with John?’ He received a reply, ’All well by last mail,’ and so returned, relieved in mind, to his duties. But the next mail bringing letters from Peru brought news of his Peruvian brother’s death on the night of the vision in the verandah.

This, of course, is not offered as evidence. For evidence we need Captain ----’s account, his Hong Kong brother’s account, date of the dance, official date of the Peruvian brother’s death, and so on. But the character of my informant indisposes me to disbelief. The names of places are intentionally changed, but the places were as remote from each other as those given in the text.

We find ourselves able to understand the Master of Ravenswood’s cogitations after he saw the best wraith in fiction:

’She died expressing her eager desire to see me. Can it be, then—can strong and earnest wishes, formed during the last agony of nature, survive its catastrophe, surmount the awful bounds of the spiritual world, and place before us its inhabitants in the hues and colouring of life? And why was that manifested to the eye, which could not unfold its tale to the ear?’ (’Her withered lips moved fast, although no sound issued from them.’) ’And wherefore should a breach be made in the laws of nature, yet its purpose remain unknown?’

The Master’s reasonings are such as, in hearing similar anecdotes, must have occurred to Scott. They no longer represent our views. The death and apparition were coincidental almost to the minute: it would be impossible to prove that life was utterly extinct, when Alice seemed to die, ’as the clock in the distant village tolled one, just before’ Ravenswood’s experience. We do not, like him, postulate ’a breach in the laws of nature,’ only a possible example of a law. The tale was not ’unfolded to the ear,’ as the telepathic impact only affected the sense of sight.

Here, perhaps, ought to follow a reply to certain scientific criticisms of the theory that telepathy, or the action of one distant mind, or brain, upon another, may be the cause of ’coincidental hallucinations,’ whether among savage or civilised races. But, not to delay the argument by controversy, the Reply to Objections has been relegated to the Appendix [18].


[1The lady, her husband, and the lawyer, all known to me, gave me the story in writing; the servant’s sister has been lost sight of.

[2See three other cases in Proceedings, S.P.R., ii. 122, 123. Two others are offered by Mr. Henry James and Mr. J. Neville Maskelyne of the Egyptian Hall.

[3See ’Phantasms of the Living’ and ’A Theory of Apparitions,’ Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. ii., by Messrs. Gurney and Myers.

[4Studies in Psychical Research, p. 388.

[5This, at least, scorns to myself a not illogical argument. Mr. Leaf has argued on the other side, that ’Darwinism may have done something for Totemism, by proving the existence of a great monkey kinship. But Totemism can hardly be quoted as evidence for Darwinism.’ True, but Darwinism and Totemism are matters of opinion, not facts of personal experience. To a believer in coincidental hallucinations, at least, the alleged parallel experiences of savages must yield some confirmation to his own. His belief, he thinks, is warranted by human experience. On what does he suppose that the belief of the savage is based? Do his experience and their belief coincide by pure chance?

[6Prim. Cult. i. 449.

[7Ibid. i. 450.

[8Prim. Cult. vol. i. p. 450.

[9From Shortland’s Traditions of New Zealand, p. 140.

[10Gurney and Myers, ’Phantasms of the Living,’ vol. ii.
ch. v. p. 557.

[11The ’Adventure’ and ’Beagle,’ iii. 181, cf. 204.

[12It will, of course, be said that they worked their stories into conformity.

[13Prim. Cult. i. 116.

[14Polack’s Manners of the New Zealanders, i. 268.

[15Howitt, op. cit. p. 186.

[16On examining the cases, we find, in 1894, these dates of reported occurrences, in twenty-eight cases: 1890, 1882, 1879, 1870, 1863, 1861, 1888, 1885, 1881, 1880, 1878, 1874, 1869, 1869, 1845, 1887, 1881, 1877, 1874, 1873, 1860 (?), 1864 (?), 1855, 1830 (?!), 1867, 1862, 1888, 1870.

[17On this point see Report, p. 260. Fifty phantasms out of the whole occurred during anxiety or presumable anxiety. Of these, thirty-one coincided (within twelve hours) with the death of the person apparently seen. In the remaining nineteen, the person seen recovered in eight cases.

[18Appendix A.

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