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Andrew Lang

Demoniacal Possession

The Making of Religion: Chapter VII (1900)

Published on: Saturday 11 November 2006

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Andrew Lang, Demoniacal Possession, The Making of Religion, (Chapter VII), Longmans, Green, and C°, London, New York and Bombay, 1900, pp. 128-146.


There is a kind of hallucinations—namely, Phantasms of the Dead—about which it seems better to say nothing in this place. If such phantasms are seen by savages when awake, they will doubtless greatly corroborate that belief in the endurance of the soul after death, which is undeniably suggested to the early reasoner by the phenomena of dreaming. But, while it is easy enough to produce evidence to recognised phantasms of the dead in civilised life, it would be very difficult indeed to discover many good examples in what we know about savages. Some Fijian instances are given by Mr. Fison in his and Mr. Howitt’s ’Kamilaroi and Kurnai,’ Others occur in the narrative of John Tanner, a captive from childhood among the Red Indians. But the circumstance, already noted, that an Australian lad became a wizard on the strength of having seen a phantasm of his dead mother, proves that such experiences are not common; and Australian black fellows have admitted that they, for their part, never did see a ghost, but only heard of ghosts from their old men. Mr. David Leslie, previously cited, gives some first-hand Zulu evidence about a haunted wood, where the Esemkofu, or ghosts of persons killed by a tyrannical chief, were heard and felt by his native informant; the percipient was also pelted with stones, as by the European Poltergeist. The Zulu who dies commonly becomes an Ihlozi, and receives his share of sacrifice. The Esemkofu on the other hand, are disturbed and haunting spirits [1].

As a rule, so far as our information goes, it is not recognised phantasms of the dead, in waking vision, which corroborate the savage belief in the persistence of the spirit of the departed. The savage reasoner rather rests his faith on the alleged phenomena of noises and physical movements of objects apparently untouched, which cause so many houses in civilised society to be shut up, or shunned, as ’haunted.’ Such disturbances the savage naturally ascribes to ’spirits.’ Our evidence, therefore, for recognised phantasms of the savage dead is very meagre, so it is unnecessary to examine the much more copious civilised evidence. The facts attested may, of course, be theoretically explained as the result of telepathy from a mind no longer incarnate; and, were the evidence as copious as that for coincidental hallucinations of the living, or dying, it would be of extreme importance. But it is not so copious, and, granting even that it is accurate, various explanations not involving anything so distasteful to science as the action of a discarnate intelligence may be, and have been, put forward.

We turn, therefore, from a theme in which civilised testimony is more bulky than that derived from savage life, to a topic in which savage evidence is much more full than modern civilised records. This topic is the so-called Demoniacal Possession.

In the philosophy of Animism, and in the belief of many peoples, savage and civilised, spirits of the dead, or spirits at large, can take up their homes in the bodies of living men. Such men, or women, are spoken of as ’inspired,’ or ’possessed.’ They speak in voices not their own, they act in a manner alien to their natural character, they are said to utter prophecies, and to display knowledge which they could not have normally acquired, and, in fact, do not consciously possess, in their normal condition. All these and similar phenomena the savage explains by the hypothesis that an alien spirit—perhaps a demon, perhaps a ghost, or a god—has taken possession of the patient. The possessed, being full of the spirit, delivers sermons, oracles, prophecies, and what the Americans call ’inspirational addresses,’ before he returns to his normal consciousness. Though many such prophets are conscious impostors, others are sincere. Dr. Mason mentions a prophet who became converted to Christianity. ’He could not account for his former exercises, but said that it certainly appeared to him as though a spirit spoke, and he must tell what it communicated.’ Dr. Mason also gives the following anecdote:

’… Another individual had a familiar spirit that he consulted and with which he conversed; but, on hearing the Gospel, he professed to become converted, and had no more communication with his spirit. It had left him, he said; it spoke to him no more. After a protracted trial I baptised him. I watched his case with interest, and for several years he led an unimpeachable Christian life; but, on losing his religious zeal, and disagreeing with some of the church members, he removed to a distant village, where he could not attend the services of the Sabbath, and it was soon after reported that he had communications with his familiar spirit again. I sent a native preacher to visit him. The man said he heard the voice which had conversed with him formerly, but it spoke very differently. Its language was exceedingly pleasant to hear, and produced great brokenness of heart. It said, "Love each other; act righteously—act uprightly," with other exhortations such us he had heard from the teachers. An assistant was placed in the village near him, when the spirit left him again; and ever since he has maintained the character of a consistent Christian.’ [2]

This anecdote illustrates what is called by spiritists ’change of control.’ After receiving, and deserting, Christian doctrine, the patient again spoke unconsciously, but under the influence of the faith which he had abandoned. In the same way we shall find that a modern American ’Medium,’ after being for a time constantly in the society of educated and psychological observers, obtained new ’controls’ of a character more urbane and civilised than her old ’familiar spirit.’ [3]

It is admitted that the possessed sometimes display an eloquence which they are incapable of in their normal condition. [4] In China, possessed women, who never composed a line of poetry in their normal lives, utter their thoughts in verse, and are said to give evidence of clairvoyant powers. [5]

The book—Demon Possession in China—of Dr. Nevius, for forty years a missionary, was violently attacked by the medical journals of his native country, the United States. The doctor had the audacity to declare that he could find no better explanation of the phenomena than the theory of the Apostles—namely, that the patients were possessed. Not having the fear of man before his eyes, he also remarked that the current scientific explanations had the fault of not explaining anything.

For example, ’Mr. Tylor intimates that all cases of supposed demoniacal possession are identical with hysteria, delirium, and mania, and suchlike bodily and mental derangements.’ Dr. Nevius, however, gave what he conceived to be the notes of possession, and, in his diagnosis, distinguished them from hysteria (whatever that may mean), delirium, and mania. Nor can it honestly be denied that, if the special notes of possession actually exist, they do mark quite a distinct species of mental affection. Dr. Nevius then observed that, according to Mr. Tylor, ’scientific physicians now explain the facts on a different principle,’ but, says Dr. Nevius, ’we search in vain to discover what this principle is.’ [6] Dr. Nevius, who had the courage of his opinions, then consulted a work styled ’Nervous Derangement,’ by Dr. Hammond, a Professor in the Medical School of the University of New York. [7] He found this scientific physician admitting that we know very little about the matter. He knew, what is very gratifying, that ’mind is the result of nervous action,’ and that so-called ’possession’ is the result of ’material derangements of the organs or functions of the system.’

Dr. Nevius was ready to admit this latter doctrine in cases of idiocy, insanity, epilepsy, and hysteria; but then, said he, these are not what I call possession. The Chinese have names for all these maladies, ’which they ascribe to physical causes,’ but for possession they have a different name. He expected Dr. Hammond to account for the abnormal conditions in so-called possession, but ’he has hardly even attempted to do this.’ Dr. Nevius next perused the works of Dr. Griesinger, Dr. Baelz, Professor William James, M. Ribot, and, generally, the literature of ’alternating personality.’ He found Mr. James professing his conviction that the ’alternating personality’ (in popular phrase, the demon, or familiar spirit) of Mrs. Piper knew a great deal about things which Mrs. Piper, in her normal state, did not, and could not know. Thus, after consulting many physicians, Dr. Nevius was none the better, and came back to his faith in Diabolical Possession. He was therefore informed that he had written ’one of the most extraordinarily perverted books of the present day’ on the evidence of ’transparent ghost stories’—which do not occur in his book.

The attitude of Dr. Nevius cannot be called strictly scientific. Because pathologists and psychologists are unable to explain, or give the modus of a set of phenomena, it does not follow that the devil, or a god, or a ghost, is in it.

But this, of course, was precisely the natural inference of savages.

Dr. Nevius catalogues the symptoms of possession thus:

1. The automatic, persistent and consistent acting out of a new personality, which calls himself shieng (genius) and calls the patient hiang to (incense burner, ’medium’).

2. Possession of knowledge and intellectual power not owned by the patient (in his normal state), nor explainable on the pathological hypothesis.

3. Complete change of moral character in the patient.

Of these notes, the second would, of course, most confirm the savage belief that a new intelligence had entered into the patient. If he displayed knowledge of the future, or of the remote, the inference that a novel and wiser intelligence had taken possession of the patient’s body would be, to the savage, irresistible. But the more cautious modern, even if he accepted the facts, would be reduced to no such extreme conclusion. He would say that knowledge of the remote in space, or in the past, might be telepathically communicated to the brain of some living person; while, for knowledge of the future, he could fly, with Hartmann, to contact with the Absolute.

But the question of evidence for the facts is, of course, the only real question. Now, in Dr. Nevius’s book, this evidence rests almost entirely on the written reports of native Christian teachers, for the Chinese were strictly reticent when questioned by Europeans. ’My heathen brother, you have a sister who is a demoniac?’ asks the intelligent European. The reply of the heathen brother is best left in the obscurity of a remarkably difficult and copious Oriental language. We are thus obliged to fall back on the reports of Mr. Leng and other native Christian teachers. They are perfectly modest and rational in style. We learn that Mrs. Sen, a lady in her normal state incapable of lyrical efforts, lisped in numbers in her secondary personality, and detected the circumstance that Mr. Leng was on his way to see her, when she could not have learned the fact in any normal way. [8] ’They are now crossing the stream, and will be here when the sun is about so high;’ which was correct. The other witnesses were examined, and corroborated. [9] Dr. Nevius himself examined Mrs. Kwo, when possessed, talking in verse, and, physically, limp. [10]

The narratives are of this type; the patient, on recovering consciousness, knows nothing of what has occurred; Christian prayers are often efficacious, and there are many anecdotes of movements of objects untouched. [11]

By a happy accident, as this chapter was passing through the press, a scientific account of a demoniac and his cure was published by Dr. Pierre Janet. [12] Dr. Janet has explained, with complete success, everything in the matter of possession, except the facts which, in the opinion of Dr. Nevius, were in need of explanation. These facts did not occur in the case of the demoniac ’exorcised’ by Dr. Janet. Thus the learned essay of that eminent authority would not have satisfied Dr. Nevius. The facts in which he was interested did not present themselves in Dr. Janet’s patient, and so Dr. Janet does not explain them.

The simplest plan, here, is to deny that the facts in which Dr. Nevius believes ever present themselves at all; but, if they ever do, Dr. Janet’s explanation does not explain them.

1. His patient, Achille, did not act out a new personality.

2. Achille displayed no knowledge or intellectual power which he did not possess in his normal state.

3. His moral character was not completely changed; he was only more hypochondriacal and hysterical than usual.

Achille was a poor devil of a French tradesman who, like Captain Booth, had infringed the laws of strict chastity and virtue. He brooded on this till he became deranged, and thought that Satan had him. He was convulsed, anaesthetic, suicidal, involuntarily blasphemous. He was not ’exorcised’ by a prayer or by a command, but after a long course of mental and physical treatment. His cure does not explain the cures in which Dr. Nevius believed. His case did not present the features of which Dr. Nevius asked science for an explanation. Dr. Janet’s essay is the dernier cri of science, and leaves Dr. Nevius just where it found him.

Science, therefore, can, and does, tell Dr. Nevius that his evidence for his facts is worthless, through the lips of Professor W. Romaine Newbold, in ’Proceedings, S.P.R.,’ February 1898 (pp. 602-604). And the same number of the same periodical shows us Dr. Hodgson accepting facts similar to those of Dr. Nevius, and explaining them by—possession! (p. 406).

Dr. Nevius’s observations practically cover the whole field of ’possession’ in non-European peoples. But other examples from other areas are here included.

A rather impressive example of possession may be selected from Livingstone’s ’Missionary Travels’ (p. 86). The adventurous Sebituane was harried by the Matabele in a new land of his choice. He thought of descending the Zambesi till he was in touch with white men; but Tlapàne, ’who held intercourse with gods,’ turned his face west-wards. Tlapàne used to retire, ’perhaps into some cave, to remain in a hypnotic or mesmeric state’ until the moon was full. Then he would return en prophète. ’Stamping, leaping, and shouting in a peculiarly violent manner, or beating the ground with a club’ (to summon those under earth), ’they induce a kind of fit, and while in it pretend that their utterances are unknown to themselves,’ as they probably are, when the condition is genuine. Tlapàne, after inducing the ’possessed’ state, pointed east: ’There, Sebituane, I behold a fire; shun it, it may scorch thee. The gods say, Go not thither!’ Then, pointing west, he said, ’I see a city and a nation of black men, men of the water, their cattle are red, thine own tribe are perishing, thou wilt govern black men, spare thy future tribe.’

So far, mere advice; then,

’Thou, Ramosinii, thy village will perish utterly. If Mokari moves first from the village, he will perish first; and thou, Ramosinii, wilt be the last to die.’


’Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance,’

’The gods have given other men water to drink, but to me they have given bitter water. They call me away. I go.’ [13]

Tlapàne died, Mokari died, Ramosinii died, their village was destroyed soon after, and so Sebituane wandered westward, not disobedient to the voice, was attacked by the Baloiana, conquered, and spared them.

Such is ’possession’ among savages. It is superfluous to multiply instances of this world-wide belief, so freely illustrated in the New Testament, and in trials for witchcraft. The scientific study of the phenomena, as Littré complained, ’had hardly been sketched’ forty years ago. In the intervening years, psychologists and hypnotists have devoted much attention to the theme of these ’secondary personalities,’ which Animism explains by the theory of possession. The explanations of modern philosophers differ, and it is not our business to discuss their physiological and pathological ideas. [14] Our affair is to ask whether, in the field of experience, there is any evidence that persons thus ’possessed’ really evince knowledge which they could not have acquired through normal channels? If such evidence exists, the facts would naturally strengthen the conviction that the possessed person was inspired by an intelligence not his own, that is, by a spirit. Now it is the firm conviction of several men of science that a certain Mrs. Piper, an American, does display, in her possessed condition, knowledge which she could not normally acquire. The case of this lady is precisely on a level with that of certain savage or barbaric seers. Thus: ’The Fijian priest sits looking steadily at a whale’s tooth ornament, amid dead silence. In a few minutes he trembles, slight twitchings of face and limbs come on, which increase to strong convulsions… Now the god has entered.’ [15]

In China, ’the professional woman sits at a table in contemplation, till the soul of a deceased person from whom communication is desired enters her body and talks through her to the living…’ [16]

The latter account exactly describes Mrs. Piper. When consulted she passes through convulsions into a trance, after which she talks in a new voice, assumes a fresh personality, and affects to be possessed by the spirit of a French doctor (who does not know French)—Dr. Phinuit. She then displays a varying amount of knowledge of dead and living people connected with her clients, who are usually strangers, often introduced under feigned names. Mrs. Piper and her husband have been watched by detectives, and have not been discovered in any attempts to procure information. She was for some months in England under the charge of the S.P.R. Other ghosts, besides Dr. Phinuit, ghosts more civilised than he, now influence her, and her latest performances are said to exceed her former efforts. [17]

Volumes of evidence about Mrs. Piper have been published by Dr. Hodgson, who unmasked Madame Blavatsky and Eusapia Paladino. [18]


’In the trances of this medium I cannot resist the conviction that knowledge appears which she has never gained by the ordinary waking use of her eyes, ears, and wits.

’The trances have broken down, for my own mind, the limits of the admitted order of nature.’

M. Paul Bourget (who is not superstitious), after consulting Mrs. Piper, concludes:

’L’esprit a des procédés de connaître non soupçonnés par notre analyse.’ [19]

In this treatise I may have shown ’the will to believe’ in an unusual degree; but, for me, the interest of Mrs. Piper is purely anthropological. She exhibits a survival or recrudescence of savage phenomena, real or feigned, of convulsion and of secondary personality, and entertains a survival of the animistic explanation.

Mrs. Piper’s honesty and excellent character, in her normal condition, are vouched for by her friends and observers in England and America; nor do I impeach her normal character. But ’secondary personalities’ have often more of Mr. Hyde than of Dr. Jekyll in their composition. It used to be admitted that, when ’possessed,’ Mrs. Piper would cheat when she could—that is to say, she would make guesses, try to worm information out of her sitter, describe a friend of his, alive or dead, as ’Ed.,’ who may be Edgar, Edmund, Edward, Edith, or anybody. She would shuffle, and repeat what she had picked up in a former sitting with the same person; and the vast majority of her answers started from vague references to probable facts (as that an elderly man is an orphan), and so worked on to more precise statements. Professor Macalister wrote:

’She is quite wide-awake enough all through to profit by suggestions. I let her see a blotch of ink on my finger, and she said that I was a writer… Except the guess about my sister Helen, who is alive, there was not a single guess which was nearly right. Mrs. Piper is not anaesthetic during the so-called trance, and if you ask my private opinion, it is that the whole thing is an imposture, and a poor one.’ [20]

Mr. Barkworth said that, as far as his experience went, ’Mrs. Piper’s powers are of the ordinary thought-reading [i.e. muscle-reading] kind, dependent on her hold of the visitor’s hand.’ Each of these gentlemen had only one ’sitting.’ M. Paul Bourget also informed me, in conversation, that Mrs. Piper held his hand while she told the melancholy tale connected with a key in his possession, and that she did not tell the story promptly and fluently, but very slowly and hesitatingly. Even so, he declared that he did not feel able to account for her performance.

As these pages were passing through the press, Dr. Hodgson’s last report on Mrs. Piper was published. [21] It is quite impossible, within the space allotted, to criticise this work. It would be necessary to examine minutely scores of statements, in which many facts are suppressed as too intimate, while others are remarkably incoherent. Dr. Hodgson deserves the praise of extraordinary patience and industry, displayed in the very distasteful task of watching an unfortunate lady in the vagaries of
’trance.’ His reasonings are perfectly calm, perfectly unimpassioned, and his bias has not hitherto seemed to make for credulity. We must, in fact, regard him as an expert in this branch of psychology. But he himself makes it clear that, in his opinion, no written reports can convey the impressions produced by several years of personal experience. The results of that experience he sums up in these words:

’At the present time I cannot profess to have any doubt but that the chief "communicators" to whom I have referred in the foregoing pages are veritably the personalities that they claim to be, that they have survived the change we call death, and that they have directly communicated with us, whom we call living, through Mrs. Piper’s entranced organism.’ [22]

This means that Dr. Hodgson, at present, in this case, accepts the hypothesis of ’possession’ as understood by Maoris and Fijians, Chinese and Karens.

The published reports do not produce on me any such impression. As a personal matter of opinion, I am convinced that those whom I have honoured in this life would no more avail themselves of Mrs. Piper’s ’entranced organism’ (if they had the chance) than I would voluntarily find myself in a ’sitting’ with that lady. It is unnecessary to wax eloquent on this head; and the curious can consult the writings of Dr. Hodgson for themselves. Meanwhile we have only to notice that an American ’possessed’ woman produces on a highly educated and sceptical modern intelligence the same impression as the Zulu ’possessed’ produce on some Zulu intelligences.

The Zulus admit ’possession’ and divination, but are not the most credulous of mankind. The ordinary possessed person is usually consulted as to the disease of an absent patient. The inquirers do not assist the diviner by holding his hand, but are expected to smite the ground violently if the guess made by the diviner is right; gently if it is wrong. A sceptical Zulu, named John, having a shilling to expend on psychical research, smote violently at every guess. The diviner was hopelessly puzzled; John kept his shilling, and laid it out on a much more meritorious exhibition of animated sticks. [23]

Uguise gave Dr. Callaway an account of a female possessed person with whom Mrs. Piper could not compete. Her spirit spoke, not from her mouth, but from high in the roof. It gave forth a kind of questioning remarks which were always correct. It then reported correctly a number of singular circumstances, ordered some remedies for a diseased child, and offered to return the fee, if ample satisfaction was not given. [24]

In China and Zululand, as in Mrs. Piper’s case, the spirits are fond of diagnosing and prescribing for absent patients.

A good example of savage possession is given in his travels by Captain Jonathan Carver (1763).

Carver was waiting impatiently for the arrival of traders with provisions, near the Thousand Lakes. A priest, or jossakeed, offered to interview the Great Spirit, and obtain information. A large lodge was arranged, and the covering drawn up (which is unusual), so that what went on within might be observed. In the centre was a chest-shaped arrangement of stakes, so far apart from each other ’that whatever lay within them was readily to be discerned.’ The tent was illuminated ’by a great number of torches.’ The priest came in, and was first wrapped in an elk’s skin, as Highland seers were wrapped in a black bull’s hide. Forty yards of rope made of elk’s hide were then coiled about him, till he ’was wound up like an Egyptian mummy.’

I have elsewhere shown [25] that this custom of binding with bonds the seer who is to be inspired, existed in Graeco-Egyptian spiritualism, among Samoyeds, Eskimo, Canadian Hareskin Indians, and among Australian blacks.

’The head, body, and limbs are wound round with stringy bark cords.’ [26] This is an extraordinary range of diffusion of a ceremony apparently meaningless. Is the idea that, by loosing the bonds, the seer demonstrates the agency of spirits, after the manner of the Davenport Brothers? [27] But the Graeco-Egyptian medium did not undo the swathings of linen, in which he was rolled, like a mummy. They had to be unswathed for him, by others. [28] Again, a dead body, among the Australians, is corded up tight, as soon as the breath is out of it, if it is to be buried, or before being exposed on a platform, if that is the custom. [29] Again, in the Highlands second-sight was thus acquired: the would-be seer ’must run a Tedder (tether) of Hair, which bound a corpse to the Bier, about his Middle from end to end,’ and then look between his legs till he sees a funeral cross two marches. [30] The Greenland seer is bound ’with his head between his legs.’ [31]

Can it be possible, judging from Australia, Scotland, Egypt, that the binding, as of a corpse or mummy, is a symbolical way of putting the seer on a level with the dead, who will then communicate with him? In three remote points, we find seer-binding and corpse-binding; but we need to prove that corpses are, or have been, bound at the other points where the seer is tied up—in a reindeer skin among the Samoyeds, an elk skin in North America, a bull’s hide in the Highlands.

Binding the seer is not a universal Red Indian custom; it seems to cease in Labrador, and elsewhere, southwards, where the prophet enters a magic lodge, unbound. Among the Narquapees, he sits cross-legged, and the lodge begins to answer questions by leaping about. [32] The Eskimo bounds, though he is tied up.

It would be decisive, if we could find that, wherever the sorcerer is bound, the dead are bound also. I note the following examples, but the Creeks do not, I think, bind the magician.

Among the Creeks,

’The corpse is placed in a hole, with a blanket wrapped about it, and the legs bent under it and tied together.’ [33] The dead Greenlanders were ’wrapped and sewed up in their best deer-skins.’ [34]

Carver could only learn that, among the Indians he knew, dead bodies were ’wrapped in skins;’ that they were also swathed with cords he does not allege, but he was not permitted to see all the ceremonies.

My theory is, at least, plausible, for this manner of burying the dead, tied tightly up, with the head between the legs (as in the practice of Scottish and Greenland seers), is very old and widely diffused. Ellis says, of the Tahitians, ’the body of the dead man was… placed in a sitting posture, with the knees elevated, the face pressed down between the knees,… and the whole body tied with cord or cinet, wound repeatedly round.’ [35]

The binding may originally have been meant to keep the corpse, or ghost, from ’walking.’ I do not know that Tahitian prophets were ever tied up, to await inspiration. But I submit that the frequency of the savage form of burial with the corpse tied up, or swathed, sometimes with the head between the legs; and the recurrence of the savage practice of similarly binding the sorcerer, probably points to a purpose of introducing the seer to the society of the dead. The custom, as applied to prophets, might survive, even where the burial rite had altered, or cannot be ascertained, and might survive, for corpses, where it had gone out of use, for seers. The Scotch used to justify their practice of putting the head between the knees when, bound with a corpse’s hair tether, they learned to be second-sighted, by what Elijah did. The prophet, on the peak of Carmel, ’cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.’ [36] But the cases are not analogous. Elijah had been hearing a premonitory ’sound of abundance of rain’ in a cloudless sky. He was probably engaged in prayer, not in prophecy.

Kirk, by the way, notes that if the wind changes, while the Scottish seer is bound, he is in peril of his life. So children are told, in Scotland, that, if the wind changes while they are making faces, the grimace will be permanent. The seer will, in the same way, become what he pretends to be, a corpse.

This desertion of Carver’s tale may be pardoned for the curiosity of the topic. He goes on:

’Being thus bound up like an Egyptian mummy’ (Carver unconsciously making my point), ’the seer was lifted into the chest-like enclosure. I could now also discern him as plain as I had ever done, and I took care not to turn my eyes away a moment’—in which effort he probably failed.

The priest now began to mutter, and finally spoke in a mixed jargon of scarcely intelligible dialects. He now yelled, prayed, and foamed at the mouth, till in about three quarters of an hour he was exhausted and speechless. ’But in an instant he sprang upon his feet, notwithstanding at the time he was put in it appeared impossible for him to move either his legs or arms, and shaking off his covering, as quick as if the bands with which it had been bound were burst asunder,’ he prophesied. The Great Spirit did not say when the traders would arrive, but, just after high noon, next day, a canoe would arrive, and the people in it would tell when the traders were to appear.

Next day, just after high noon, a canoe came round a point of land about a league away, and the men in it, who had met the traders, said they would come in two days, which they did. Carver, professing freedom from any tincture of credulity, leaves us ’to draw what conclusions we please.’

The natural inference is ’private information,’ about which the only difficulty is that Carver, who knew the topography and the chances of a secret messenger arriving to prompt the Jossakeed, does not allude to this theory. [37] He seems to think such successes not uncommon.

All that psychology can teach anthropology, on this whole topic of ’possession;’ is that secondary or alternating personalities are facts in rerum natura, that the man or woman in one personality may have no conscious memory of what was done or said in the other, and that cases of knowledge said to be supernormally gained in the secondary state are worth inquiring about, if there be a chance of getting good evidence.

A few fairly respectable savage instances are given in Dr. Gibier’s ’Le Fakirisme Occidental’ and in Mr. Manning’s ’Old New Zealand;’ but, while modern civilised parallels depend on the solitary case of Mrs. Piper (for no other case has been well observed), no affirmative conclusion can be drawn from Chinese, Maori, Zulu, or Red Indian practice.


[1Among the Zulus, p. 120.

[2Burmah, p. 107.

[3Hodgson, Proceedings, S.P.E., vol. xiii. pt. xxxiii. Dr. Hodgson by no means agrees with this view of the case—the case of Mrs. Piper.

[4Prim. Cult. ii. 184.

[5Nevius’s Demon Possession in China, a curious collection of examples by an American missionary. The reports of Catholic missionaries abound in cases.

[6Op. cit. p. 169.

[7Putnam, 1881.

[8Nevius, p. 33.

[9Ibid. p. 35.

[10Op. cit. p. 38.

[11See ’Fetishism and Spiritualism.’

[12Névroses et Idées Fixes. Alcan, Paris, 1898. This is the first of a series of works connected with the Laboratoire de Psychologie, at the Salpètrière, in Paris.

[13’Macleod shall return, but Macrimmon shall never!’

[14See Ribot, Les Maladies de la Personnalité,; Bourru et Burot, Variations de la Personnalité; Janet, L’Automatisme Psychologique; James, Principles of Psychology; Myers, in Proceedings of S.P.R., ’The Mechanism of Genius,’ ’The Subliminal Self.’

[15Prim. Cult. ii. 133.

[16Doolittle’s Chinese, i. 143; ii. 110, 320.

[17Proceedings, S.P.R., pt. xxxiii.

[18Proceedings, S.P.R., vi. 436-650; viii. 1-167; xiii. 284-582].] He was at first convinced that Mrs. Piper, in her condition of trance, obtains knowledge not otherwise and normally accessible to her. It was admitted that her familiar spirit guesses, attempts to extract information from the people who sit with her, and tries sophistically to conceal his failures. Here follow the statements of Professor James of Harvard.

’The most convincing things said about my own immediate household were either very intimate or very trivial. Unfortunately the former things cannot well be published. Of the trivial things I have forgotten the greater number, but the following, raræ nantes, may serve as samples of their class. She said that we had lost recently a rug, and I a waistcoat. (She wrongly accused a person of stealing the rug, which was afterwards found in the house.) She told of my killing a grey-and-white cat with ether, and described how it had "spun round and round" before dying. She told how my New York aunt had written a letter to my wife, warning her against all mediums, and then went off on a most amusing criticism, full of traits vifs, of the excellent woman’s character. (Of course, no one but my wife and I knew the existence of the letter in question.) She was strong on the events in our nursery, and gave striking advice during our first visit to her about the way to deal with certain "tantrums" of our second child—"little Billy-boy," as she called him, reproducing his nursery name. She told how the crib creaked at night, how a certain rocking-chair creaked mysteriously, how my wife had heard footsteps on a stair, &c. &c. Insignificant as these things sound when read, the accumulation of them has an irresistible effect; and I repeat again what I said before, that, taking everything that I know of Mrs. Piper into account, the result is to make me feel as absolutely certain as I am of any personal fact in the world that she knows things in her trances which she cannot possibly have heard in her waking state, and that the definitive philosophy of her trances is yet to be found. The limitations of her trance information, its discontinuity and fitfulness, and its apparent inability to develop beyond a certain point, although they end by arousing one’s moral and human impatience with the phenomenon, yet are, from a scientific point of view, amongst its most interesting peculiarities, since where there are limits there are conditions, and the discovery of them is always the beginning of an explanation.

’This is all I cam tell you of Mrs. Piper. I wish it were more "scientific." But valcat quantum! it is the best I can do.’

Elsewhere Mr. James writes:

’Mr. Hodgson and others have made prolonged study of this lady’s trances, and are all convinced that supernormal powers of cognition are displayed therein. They are, prima facie, due to "spirit control." But the conditions are so complex that a dogmatic decision either for or against the hypothesis must as yet be postponed.’[[The Will to Believe, p. 814.

[19Figaro, January 14, 1895.

[20Proceedings, vi. 605, 606.

[21Proceedings, S.P.R, part xxxiii. vol. xiii.

[22Op. cit. part xxxiii. p. 406.

[23See ’Fetishism.’ Compare Callaway, p. 328.

[24Callaway, pp. 361-374.

[25Cock Lane and Common Sense, p. 66.

[26Brough Smyth, i. 475. This point is disputed, but I did not invent it, and a case appears in Mr. Curr’s work on the natives.

[27Prim. Cult. i. 152.

[28Eusebius, Prap. Evang. v. 9.

[29Brough Smyth, i. 100, 113.

[30Kirk, Secret Commonwealth 1691.

[31Crantz, p. 209.

[32Père Arnaud, in Hind’s Labrador, ii. 102.

[33Major Swan, 1791, official letter on the Creek Indians, Schoolcraft, v. 270.

[34Crantz, p. 237.

[35Polynesian Researches, i. 519.

[361 Kings xviii. 42.

[37Carver, pp. 123, 184.

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