The complexity of this subject makes treatment of it difficult. So little is known, and challenge of power to know is so natural, that any treatment must be unsatisfactory. Those “spirits” whose existence as active entities wholly in the spiritual world is claimed by the votaries of the worship of the dead, have not told us clearly anything of lasting value. They have had in America distinctly forty years to give the information in, but disagreeing among themselves and not showing in any way a concert of mental action by way of explanation, nothing has as yet resulted from the very sphere where, if anywhere, the knowledge ought to exist. If it be true, as is asserted for them, that those who have reported are conscious, intelligent spirits, then all of them who while reporting to man have failed to lead him to a right conclusion are blameworthy. Some of these entities or intelligences or spirits or whatever they are have, however, made through their mediums assertions of fact about nature and occult physiology which are in my opinion true, but they have not been accepted. Independently speaking in the air, using trance mediums and writings, they have at various times spoken of and described the astral light; have upheld reincarnation; have sustained the teaching of Swedenborg, and in many ways indicated a complete agreement with Theosophical explanations of occult nature; they have shown that materializations of spirits cannot be possible, and that the sometimes really coagulated forms are liable to be frauds of a pious nature, inasmuch as they are not the bodies of the dead nor in any sense whatever their property, that they are over and over again simply surfaces or masses on which pictures of dead or living may be reflected, being thus a spirit-conjurer’s trick beyond our power. But they have found no favor, and the cult does not, as a whole, think along those lines. If, then, the “spirits” themselves failed to get credence, how shall I gain any? The scientific world, on the other hand, knows not these realms, and believing not in either Theosophical or Spiritualistic explanations accords no belief to the one or the other. So we will have to be satisfied with just saying what is in mind, trusting to fate and time alone.
Many factors have to be admitted as present in this question. Some of them may be described, but many must as yet remain untouchable.
First. There are the minds (a) of the medium, and (b) of the sitter or sitters or enquirers. Neither can be left out of the account. At once this should show how vast is the theme, for it is well known that the mind and its powers are but little known.
Second. Occult psychological powers and faculties of all concerned. This would include the subconscious or subliminal mind of the hypnotic schools.
Third. Physical memory, which is automatic, racial, national, and personal. This is present at all times. To overlook it is simply blindness. To trace it is extremely difficult, requiring a trained mind and trained inner sense. It is that memory which causes a child to catch at a support even just at birth; it is the guide in sleep when often we do acts for preservation or otherwise; it brings up the hate that a man of one race may feel for another race after centuries of oppression or repulsion; it cause the cat, no matter how young, to arch back and expand the tail the moment a dog is near. To say that man, the one who is the last great product of all the material evolution, has not this physical memory would be folly. But I have not heard that the spirits have told of this, nor described it, nor indicated how it may be traced, not to what extent it acts in the simulation of conscious intelligence.
Fourth. Forces in their law and method wholly unknown to medium or sitters. These constitute the moving power, the writing force, the reflecting power, and all the vast number of hidden powerful forces behind the veil of objective matter.
Fifth. Entities of some kind or another, unseen but present, whether elementals, elementaries, shades, angels, nature-spirits, or what not.
Sixth. The Astral Light, the Ether, the Akâsa, the Anima Mundi.
Seventh. The Astral Body of medium and sitter. I have purposely put this by itself, for it has its own automatic action as much as has the physical body. With it must be also noted its memory, its idiosyncrasies, whether it is new for the person in question or whether it is one that has been used for more than on life, though each time in a different body. For if it be new to the present body, its memories and powers and peculiarities will be different from those of one that has actually been through several lives. It is not so rare in fact that the astral body is an old one; many mediums have strange powers because they have several distinct astral memories due to so much prior experience in one astral body. This alone would furnish a field for study, but we have not heard of the “spirits” telling about it, though some have shown that they experience these multiform personalities.
Lastly, there is the great fact well known to those who have studied this subject from its occult side, that the personal inner self centered in the astral body has the power not only to delude itself, but also to delude the brain in the body and cause the person to think that a distinct other personality and intelligence is speaking to the brain from other spheres, when it is from the astral self. This is for some people extremely difficult to grasp, as they cannot see how that which is apparently another person or entity may be themselves acting through the means of the dual consciousness of man. This dual consciousness acts for good or for the opposite in accordance with the Karma and character of the inner, personal self. It sometimes appears to a sensitive as another person asking him to do this, that, or the other, or exhorting some line of conduct, or merely wearing some definite expression but being silent. The image seems to be another, acts as another, is to all present perception outside the perceiving brain, and no wonder the sensitive thinks it to be another or does not know what to think. And if the present birth happens to be one in which strong psychic power is a part of the nature, the delusion may be all the greater.
Having briefly analyzed to begin with, let us now go further.
During the history of Spiritualism, many communications have been made to and through mediums upon many subjects. Facts have been given that could not be known to the medium, some lofty ideas have also had expression, advice has emanated, prophecies have been issued, some of the questions that vex the soul have been treated.
The facts of death, kind of death, place where wills might be found have been told, unexecuted purpose of the dead expressed, personal peculiarities of the former person shown, have all been too easily accepted as proof of identity. These things are not proof. If they ære, then a parrot or a phonograph may prove identity with a man. The possibilities are too many in other directions for this sort of proof to be final or even competent. The living clairvoyant may, by taking the requisite mental steps, become so absorbed in the person clairvoyantly brought up—both being alive—as to accurately reproduce all the other person’s peculiarities. Consequently the same thing done in respect to a deceased may be possible in the same way for a clairvoyant entity on the other side of death reporting to us. But, at the same time, it is the fact that the astral body of the deceased does now and then consciously have a part in such reports by reason of unfinished separation from earth and its concerns, or from gross materiality. In other cases where the astral “shell,” as some call it, is involved, it is galvanized by nature spirits or by the power of living beings once men who are condemned by their own character to live and function in the denser part of the astral envelope of the earth.
The very moment we go to a medium, who always forms the condensing focus for these forces and that realm we begin to draw to us the astral remains of all person whom we think of or who are enough like us or the medium to fall into the line of attraction. Thus we have in the sphere of the focus those we knew and those we never heard of and who never heard of us when they were alive. Elementals sprites which act as the nerves of nature come also, and they, condensed or plunged into the human astral shells, give a new life to the latter and cause them to simulate intelligence and action sufficient to delude all who are not positively trained in these matters. And this sort of training is almost unknown as yet here; it does not suffice to have followed on the proceedings of hundreds of seances or hundreds of experiments; it consist in actual training of the inner senses in the living man. If the astral shape is coherent it will render a coherent report, but that is what also a phonograph will do. If it be partly gone or disintegrated it will, like a damaged phonograph cylinder, give a confused report or suddenly stop, to be replace by another, better or worse. In no case can it go beyond facts known before to it, or those known to the inner or outer sense of the medium or sitter. And as these astral shells form the greater part of what come to a medium, this is the reason that forty long years of dealing with them have resulted in so little. It is no wonder, then, that the “astral shell” theory has been over-worn by many Theosophists, causing Spiritualists to think that to be the only explanation which we have. A judicious fear also has contributed to the much dwelling on this theory, for with it come up all the actual and very present dangers to mediums and sitters. These galvanized things necessarily are devoid of conscience, and hence cannot but act on and from the very lowest plane of morals and life, just as may happen to be the left-over material memory of the astral person; and that will vary in accord with the essence of the former life and not with its appearance. Hence we may have the shade of Smith or Jones who seemed to their neighbors to have been good men but who in reality always had low or wicked thoughts and strong desires which law or convention prevented then from giving full expression to. In the astral world, however, this hypocrisy is absent, and the real inner character will show itself or have its effect. And in any case whatever, the material shade of the best of men will not be as good as the man tried to be, but will have all the follies and inner sinfulness of his inheritance against which he struggled when living. Therefore it cannot be that these astral remnants are beneficial to us, no matter who was the person they once belonged to. They are but old clothes, and not the spirit of the man. They are less divine than the living criminal, for he still may be a complete trinity.
But good thoughts, good advice, good teaching, high ideas, noble sentiments have also come from this other world, and it cannot be that “astral shells” have given them. If they were sifted out and tabulated, it would be found that they are not different from what living men have said of their own free will and intent. They are not new save as to means of communication. The strangeness of method very often serves to more deeply impress them on the mind of the recipient. But yet this extraordinary means has now and again led men to give them out as something new in all time, as very wonderful, as a revelation, when the unprejudiced observer sees that they are the opposite, are old or trite, and sometimes mixed up with gush and folly, the product of either one side or the other as might happen. This has cast a stigma on the cult of Spiritualism and made the profane to laugh.
We have therefore to consider such communications which were valuable at the time or to a person, and beneficial in their effect. For were we to refuse to do so, the weapon thus forged will cut the Theosophist who so often is found to be a believer—as I am myself—in communications from Masters or Mahâtmas are no less spirits, but rather more so, because they are still in bodies of one sort or another.