The Making of Religion
by Andrew Lang
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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].

[Footnote 1: The 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.]

[Footnote 2: See 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.]

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

[Footnote 4: Studies in Psychical Research, p. 388.]

[Footnote 5: This, 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?]

[Footnote 6: Prim. Cult. i. 449.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid. i. 450.]

[Footnote 8: Prim. Cult. vol. i. p. 450.]

[Footnote 9: From Shortland's Traditions of New Zealand, p. 140.]

[Footnote 10: Gurney and Myers, 'Phantasms of the Living,' vol. ii. ch. v. p. 557.]

[Footnote 11: The 'Adventure' and 'Beagle,' iii. 181, cf. 204.]

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

[Footnote 13: Prim. Cult. i. 116.]

[Footnote 14: Polack's Manners of the New Zealanders, i. 268.]

[Footnote 15: Howitt, op. cit. p. 186.]

[Footnote 16: On 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.]

[Footnote 17: On 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.]

[Footnote 18: Appendix A.]



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 Tlapane, 'who held intercourse with gods,' turned his face west-wards. Tlapane 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 prophete. '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. Tlapane, 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]

Tlapane 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 Littre 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] 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, rarae 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.'[19]


'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 procedes de connaitre non soupconnes par notre analyse.'[20]

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.'[21]

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.[22] 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.'[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

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[26] 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.'[27] 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?[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31] The Greenland seer is bound 'with his head between his legs.'[32]

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.[33] 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.'[34] The dead Greenlanders were 'wrapped and sewed up in their best deer-skins.'[35]

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.'[36]

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.'[37] 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.[38] 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.

[Footnote 1: Among the Zulus, p. 120.]

[Footnote 2: Burmah, p. 107.]

[Footnote 3: Hodgson, 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.]

[Footnote 4: Prim. Cult. ii. 184.]

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

[Footnote 6: Op. cit. p. 169.]

[Footnote 7: Putnam, 1881.]

[Footnote 8: Nevius, p. 33.]

[Footnote 9: Ibid. p. 35.]

[Footnote 10: Op. cit. p. 38.]

[Footnote 11: See 'Fetishism and Spiritualism.']

[Footnote 12: Necroses et Idees Fixes. Alcan, Paris, 1898. This is the first of a series of works connected with the Laboratoire de Psychologie, at the Salpetritere, in Paris.]

[Footnote 13: 'Macleod shall return, but Macrimmon shall never!']

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

[Footnote 15: Prim. Cult. ii. 133.]

[Footnote 16: Doolittle's Chinese, i. 143; ii. 110, 320.]

[Footnote 17: Proceedings, S.P.R., pt. xxxiii.]

[Footnote 18: Proceedings, S.P.R., vi. 436-650; viii. 1-167; xiii. 284-582].

[Footnote 19: The Will to Believe, p. 814.]

[Footnote 20: Figaro, January 14, 1895.]

[Footnote 21: Proceedings, vi. 605, 606.]

[Footnote 22: Proceedings, S.P.R, part xxxiii. vol. xiii.]

[Footnote 23: Op. cit. part xxxiii. p. 406.]

[Footnote 24: See 'Fetishism.' Compare Callaway, p. 328.]

[Footnote 25: Callaway, pp. 361-374.]

[Footnote 26: Cock Lane and Common Sense, p. 66.]

[Footnote 27: Brough 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.]

[Footnote 28: Prim. Cult. i. 152.]

[Footnote 29: Eusebius, Prap. Evang. v. 9.]

[Footnote 30: Brough Smyth, i. 100, 113.]

[Footnote 31: Kirk, Secret Commonwealth 1691.]

[Footnote 32: Crantz, p. 209.]

[Footnote 33: Pere Arnaud, in Hind's Labrador, ii. 102.]

[Footnote 34: Major Swan, 1791, official letter on the Creek Indians, Schoolcraft, v. 270.]

[Footnote 35: Crantz, p. 237.]

[Footnote 36: Polynesian Researches, i. 519.]

[Footnote 37: 1 Kings xviii. 42.]

[Footnote 38: Carver, pp. 123, 184.]



It has been shown how the doctrine of souls was developed according to the anthropological theory. The hypothesis as to how souls of the dead were later elevated to the rank of gods, or supplied models after which such gods might be inventively fashioned, will be criticised in a later chapter. Here it must suffice to say that the conception of a separable surviving soul of a dead man was not only not essential to the savage's idea of his supreme god, as it seems to me, but would have been wholly inconsistent with that conception. There exist, however, numerous forms of savage religion in addition to the creed in a Supreme Being, and these contribute their streams to the ocean of faith. Thus among the kinds of belief which served in the development of Polytheism, was Fetishism, itself an adaptation and extension of the idea of separable souls. In this regard, like ancestor-worship, it differs from the belief in a Supreme Being, which, as we shall try to demonstrate, is not derived from the theory of ghosts or souls at all.

Fetish (fetiche) seems to come from Portuguese feitico, a talisman or amulet, applied by the Portuguese to various material objects regarded by the negroes of the west coast with more or less of religious reverence. These objects may be held sacred in some degree for a number of incongruous reasons. They may be tokens, or may be of value in sympathetic magic, or merely odd, and therefore probably endowed with unknown mystic qualities. Or they may have been pointed out in a dream, or met in a lucky hour and associated with good fortune, or they may (like a tree with an unexplained stir in its branches, as reported by Kohl) have seemed to show signs of life by spontaneous movements; in fact, a thing may be what Europeans call a fetish for scores of reasons. For our present purpose, as Mr. Tylor says, 'to class an object as a fetish demands explicit statement that a spirit is considered as embodied in it, or acting through it, or communicating by it, or, at least, that the people it belongs to do habitually think this of such objects; or it must be shown that the object is treated as having personal consciousness or power, is talked with, worshipped...' and so forth. The in-dwelling spirit may be human, as when a fetish is made out of a friend's skull, the spirit in which may even be asked for oracles, like the Head of Bran in Welsh legend.

We have tried to show that the belief in human souls may be, in part at least, based on supernormal phenomena which Materialism disregards. We shall now endeavour to make it probable that Fetishism (the belief in the souls tenanting inanimate objects) may also have sources which perhaps are not normal, or which at all events seemed supernormal to savages. We say 'perhaps not normal' because the phenomena now to be discussed are of the most puzzling character. We may lean to the belief in a supernormal cause of certain hallucinations, but the alleged movements of inanimate objects which probably supply one origin of Fetishism, one suggestion of the presence of a spirit in things dead, leave the inquiring mind in perplexity. In following Mr. Tylor's discussion of the subject, it is necessary to combine what he says about Spiritualism in his fourth with what he says about Fetishism in his fourteenth and later chapters. For some reason his book is so arranged that he criticises 'Spiritualism' long before he puts forward his doctrine of the origin and development of the belief in spirits.

We have seen a savage reason for supposing that human spirits inhabit certain lifeless things, such as skulls and other relics of the dead. But how did it come to be thought that a spirit dwelt in a lifeless and motionless piece of stone or stick? Mr. Tylor, perhaps, leads us to a plausible conjecture by writing: 'Mr. Darwin saw two Malay women in Keeling Island, who held a wooden spoon dressed in clothes like a doll: this spoon had been carried to the grave of a dead man, and becoming inspired at full moon, in fact lunatic, it danced about convulsively, like a table or a hat at a modern spirit seance.'[1] Now M. Lefebure has pointed out (in 'Melusine') that, according to De Brosses, the African conjurers gave an appearance of independent motion to small objects, which were then accepted as fetishes, being visibly animated. M. Lefebure next compares, like Mr. Tylor, the alleged physical phenomena of spiritualism, the flights and movements of inanimate objects apparently untouched.

The question thus arises, Is there any truth whatever in these world-wide and world-old stories of inanimate objects acting like animated things? Has fetishism one of its origins in the actual field of supernormal experience in the X region? This question we do not propose to answer, as the evidence, though practically universal, may be said to rest on imposture and illusion. But we can, at least, give a sketch of the nature of the evidence, beginning with that as to the apparently voluntary movements of objects, not untouched. Mr. Tylor quotes from John Bell's 'Journey in Asia' (1719) an account of a Mongol Lama who wished to discover certain stolen pieces of damask. His method was to sit on a bench, when 'he carried it, or, as was commonly believed, it carried him, to the very tent' of the thief. Here the bench is innocently believed to be self-moving. Again, Mr. Rowley tells how in Manganjah the sorcerer, to find out a criminal, placed, with magical ceremonies, two staffs of wood in the hands of some young men. 'The sticks whirled and dragged the men round like mad,' and finally escaped and rolled to the feet of the wife of a chief, who was then denounced as the guilty person.[2]

Mr. Duff Macdonald describes the same practice among the Yaos:[3]

'The sorcerer occasionally makes men take hold of a stick, which, after a time, begins to move as if endowed with life, and ultimately carries them off bodily and with great speed to the house of the thief.'

The process is just that of Jacques Aymard in the celebrated story of the detection of the Lyons murderer.[4]

In Melanesia, far enough away, Dr. Codrington found a similar practice, and here the sticks are explicitly said by the natives to be moved by spirits.[5] The wizard and a friend hold a bamboo stick by each end, and ask what man's ghost is afflicting a patient. At the mention of the right ghost 'the stick becomes violently agitated.' In the same way, the bamboo 'would run about' with a man holding it only on the palms of his hands. Again, a hut is built with a partition down the middle. Men sit there with their hands under one end of the bamboo, while the other end is extended into the empty half of the hut. They then call over the names of the recently dead, till 'they feel the bamboo moving in their hands.' A bamboo placed on a sacred tree, 'when the name of a ghost is called, moves of itself, and will lift and drag people about.' Put up into a tree, it would lift them from the ground. In other cases the holding of the sticks produces convulsions and trance.[6] The divining sticks of the Maori are also 'guided by spirits,'[7] and those of the Zulu sorcerers rise, fall, and jump about.[8]

These Zulu performances must be really very curious. In the last chapter we told how a Zulu named John, having a shilling to lay out in the interests of psychical research, declined to pay a perplexed diviner, and reserved his capital far a more meritorious performance. He tried a medium named Unomantshintshi, who divined by Umabakula, or dancing sticks—

'If they say "no," they fall suddenly; if they say "yes," they arise and jump about very much, and leap on the person who has come to inquire. They "fix themselves on the place where the sick man is affected; ... if the head, they leap on his head.... Many believe in Umabakula more than in the diviner. But there are not many who have the Umabakula."'

Dr. Callaway's informant only knew two Umabakulists, John was quite satisfied, paid his shilling, and went home.[9]

The sticks are about a foot long. It is not reported that they are moved by spirits, nor do they seem to be regarded as fetishes.

Mr. Tylor also cites a form of the familiar pendulum experiment. Among the Karens a ring is suspended by a thread over a metal basin. The relations of the dead strike the basin, and when he who was dearest to the ghost touches it the spirit twists the thread till it breaks, and the ring falls into the basin. With us a ring is held by a thread over a tumbler, and our unconscious movements swing it till it strikes the hour. How the Karens manage it is less obvious. These savage devices with animated sticks clearly correspond to the more modern 'table-turning.' Here, when the players are honest, the pushing is certainly unconscious.

I have tested this in two ways—first by trying the minimum of conscious muscular action that would stir a table at which I was alone, and by comparing the absolute unconsciousness of muscular action when the table began to move in response to no voluntary push. Again, I tried with a friend, who said, 'You are pushing,' when I gently removed my hands altogether, though they seemed to rest on the table, which still revolved. My friend was himself unconsciously pushing. It is undeniable that, to a solitary experimenter, the table seems to make little darts of its own will in a curious way. Thus, the unconsciousness of muscular action on the part of savages engaged in the experiment with sticks would lead them to believe that spirits were animating the wood. The same fallacy beset the table-turners of 1855-65, and was, to some extent, exposed by Faraday. Of course, savages would be even more convinced by the dancing spoon of Mr. Darwin's tale, by the dancing sticks of the Zulus, and the rest, whether the phenomena were supernormal or merely worked by unseen strings. The same remark applies to modern experimenters, when, as they declare, various objects move untouched, without physical contact.

Still more analogous than turning tables to the savage use of inspired sticks for directing the inquirer to a lost object or to a criminal, is the modern employment of the divining-rod—a forked twig which, held by the ends, revolves in the hands of the performer when he reaches the object of his quest. He, like the savage cited, is occasionally agitated in a convulsive manner; and cases are quoted in which the twig writhes when held in a pair of tongs! The best-known modern treatise on the divining-rod is that of M. Chevreul, 'La Baguette Divinatoire' (1854). We have also 'L'Histoire du Merveilleux dans les Temps Modernes,' by M. Figuier (1860). In 1781 Thouvenel published his 600 experiments with Bleton and others; and Hegel refers to Amoretti's collection of hundreds of cases. The case of Jacques Aymard, who in the seventeenth century discovered a murderer by the use of the rod in true savage fashion, is well known. In modern England the rod is used in the interests of private individuals and public bodies (such as Trinity College, Cambridge) for the discovery of water.

Professor Barrett has lately published a book of 280 pages, in which evidence of failures and successes is collected.[10] Professor Barrett gives about one hundred and fifty cases, in which he was only able to discover, on good authority, twelve failures. He gives a variety of tests calculated to check frauds and chance coincidence, and he publishes opinions, hostile or agnostic, by geologists. The evidence, as a general rule, is what is called first-hand in other inquiries. The actual spectators, and often the owners of the land, or the persons in whose interest water was wanted, having been present, give their testimony; and it is certain that the 'diviner' is called in by people of sense and education, commonly too practical to have a theory, and content with getting what they want, especially where scientific experts have failed.[11]

In Mr. Barrett's opinion, the subconscious perception of indications of the presence of water produces an equally unconscious muscular 'spasm,' which twirls the rod till it often breaks. Yet 'it is almost impossible to imitate its characteristic movement by any voluntary effort.' I have myself held the hands of an amateur performer when the twig was moving, and neither by sight nor touch could I detect any muscular movement on his part, much less a spasm. The person was bailiff on a large estate, and, having accidentally discovered that he possessed the gift, used it when he wanted wells dug for the tenants on the property.

The whole topic is obscure; nor am I concerned here with the successes or failures of the divining-rod. But the movements of the twig have never, to my knowledge, been attributed by modern English performers to the operation of spirits. They say 'electricity.' Mr. Tylor merely writes:

'The action of the famous divining-rod, with its curiously versatile sensibility to water, ore, treasure, and thieves, seems to belong partly to trickery and partly to more or less conscious direction by honester operators.'

As the divining-rod is the only instance in which automatism, whatever its nature and causes, has been found of practical value by practical men, and as it is obviously associated with a number of analogous phenomena, both in civilised and savage life, it certainly deserves the attention of science. But no advance will be made till scientifically trained inquirers themselves arrange and test a large number of experiments. Knowledge of the geological ignorance of the dowsers, examples of fraud on their part, and cases of failure or reported failure, with a general hostile bias, may prevent such experiments from being made by scientific experts on an adequate scale. Such experts ought, of course, to avoid working the dowsers into a state of irritation.

It is just worth while to notice cases in which the rod acts like those of the Melanesians, Africans, and other savages. A Mr. Thomas Welton published an English translation of 'La Verge de Jacob' (Lyon, 1693). In 1651 he asked his servant to bring into the garden 'a stick that stood behind the parlour door. In great terror she brought it to the garden, her hand firmly clutched on it, nor could she let it go.' When Mrs. Welton took the stick, 'it drew her with very considerable velocity to nearly the centre of the garden,' where a well was found. Mr. Welton is not likely to have known of the lately published savage examples. The coincidence with the African and Melanesian cases is, therefore, probably undesigned.

Again, in 1694, the rod was used by le Pere Menestrier and others, just as it is by savages, to indicate by its movements answers to all sorts of questions. Experiments of this kind have not been made by Professor Barrett, and other modern inquirers, except by M. Richet, as a mode of detecting automatic action. But it would be just as sensible to use the twig as to use planchette or any other 'autoscopic' apparatus. If these elicit knowledge unconsciously present to the mind, mere water-finding ought not to be the sole province of the rod. In the same class as these rods is the forked twig which, in China, is held at each end by two persons, and made to write in the sand. The little apparatus called planchette, or the other, the ouija, is of course, consciously or unconsciously, pushed by the performers. In the case of the twig, as held by water-seekers, the difficulty of consciously moving it so as to escape close observation is considerable.

In the case of the ouija (a little tripod, which, under the operators' hands, runs about a table inscribed with letters at which it points), I have known curious successes to be achieved by amateurs. Thus, in the house of a lady who owned an old chateau in another county, the ouija, operated on by two ladies known to myself, wrote a number of details about a visit paid to the chateau for a certain purpose by Mary Stuart. That visit, and its object, a purely personal one, are unknown to history, and the chateau is not spoken of in Mr. Hay Fleming's careful, but unavoidably incomplete, itinerary of the Queen's residence in Scotland. After the communication had been made, the owner of the chateau explained that she was already acquainted with the circumstances described, as she had recently read them in documents in her charter chest, where they remain.

Of course, the belief we extend to such narratives is entirely conditioned by our knowledge of the personal character of the performers. The point here is merely the civilised and savage practice of automatism, the apparent eliciting of knowledge not otherwise accessible, by the movements of a stick, or a bit of wood. These movements, made without conscious exertion or direction, seem, to savage philosophy, to be caused by in-dwelling spirits, the sources of Fetishism.

These examples, then, demonstrating unconscious movement of objects by the operators, make it clear that movements even of touched objects, may be attributed, by some civilised and by savage amateurs, to 'spirits.' The objects so moved may, by savages, be regarded in some cases as fetishes, and their movements may have helped to originate the belief that spirits can inhabit inanimate objects. When objects apparently quite untouched become volatile, the mystery is deeper. This apparent animation and frolicsome behaviour of inanimate objects is reported all through history, and attested by immense quantities of evidence of every degree. It would be tedious to give a full account of the antiquity and diffusion of reports about such occurrences. We find them among Neo-Platonists, in the English and Continental Middle Ages, among Eskimo, Hurons, Algonkins, Tartars, Zulus, Malays, Nasquapees, Maoris, in witch trials, in ancient Peru (immediately after the Spanish Conquest), in China, in modern Russia, in New England (1680), all through the career of modern spiritualism, in Hayti (where they are attributed to 'Obeah'), and, sporadically, everywhere.[12]

Among all these cases, we must dismiss whatever the modern paid medium does in the dark. The only thing to be done with the ethnographic and modern accounts of such marvels is to 'file them for reference.' If a spontaneous example occurs, under proper inspection, we can then compare our old tales. Professor James says: 'Their mutual resemblances suggest a natural type, and I confess that till these records, or others like them, are positively explained away, I cannot feel (in spite of such vast amounts of detected frauds) as if the case of physical mediumship itself, as a freak of nature, were definitely closed.... So long as the stories multiply in various lands, and so few are positively explained away, it is bad method to ignore them.'[13] Here they are not ignored, because, whatever the cause or causes of the phenomena, they would buttress, if they did not originate, the savage belief in spirits tenanting inanimate matter, whence came Fetishism. As to facts, we cannot, of course, 'explain away' events of this kind, which we know only through report. A conjurer cannot explain a trick merely from a description, especially a description by a non-conjurer. But, as a rule, nothing so much leads to doubt on this theme as the 'explanation' given—except, of course, in the case of 'dark seances' got up and prepared by paid mediums. We know, sometimes, how the 'explanation' arose.

Thus, the house of a certain M. Zoller, a lawyer and member of the Swiss Federal Council, a house at Stans, in Unterwalden, was made simply uninhabitable in 1860-1862. The disturbances, including movements of objects, were of a truly odious description, and occurred in full daylight. M. Zoller, deeply attached to his home, which had many interesting associations with the part his family played in the struggle against revolutionary France, was obliged to abandon the place. He had made every conceivable sort of research, and had called in the local police and savants, to no purpose.

But the affair was explained away thus: While the phenomena could still be concealed from public curiosity, a client called to see M. Zoller, who was out. The client, therefore, remained in the drawing-room. Loud and heavy blows resounded through the room. The client, as it chanced, had once felt the effects of an electric battery, for some medical reason, apparently. M. Zoller writes: 'My eldest son was present at the time, and, when my client asked whether there was such a thing as an electrical machine in the house (the family having been enjoined to keep the disturbances as secret as possible), he allowed S. to think that there was.' Consequently, the phenomena were set down to M. Zoller's singular idea of making his house untenantable with an 'electric machine'—which he did not possess.[14] A number of the most respected citizens, including the Superintendent of Police, and the chief magistrate for law, published a statement that neither Zoller, nor any of his family, nor any of themselves, produced or could have produced the phenomena witnessed by them in August 1862. This declaration they put forth in the 'Schwytzer Zeitung,' October 5, 1863.[15] No electric machine known to mortals could have produced the vast variety of alleged effects, none was ever found; and as M. Zoller changed his servants without escaping his tribulations, they can hardly be blamed for what, prima facie, it seems that they could not possibly do. However, 'electricity,' like Mesopotamia, is 'a blessed word.'[16]

My own position in this matter of 'physical phenomena' is, I hope, clear. They interest me, for my present purpose, as being, whatever their real nature and origin, things which would suggest to a savage his theory of Fetishism. 'An inanimate object may be tenanted by a spirit, as is proved by its extraordinary movements.' Thus the early thinker might reason, and go on to revere the object. It is to be wished that competent observers would pay more attention to such savage practices as crystal-gazing and automatism as illustrated by the sticks of the Melanesians, Zulus, and Yaos. Our scanty information we pick up out of stray allusions, but it has the advantage of being uncontaminated by theory, the European spectator not knowing the wide range of such practices and their value in experimental psychology.

We have now finished our study of the less normal and usual phenomena, which gave rise to belief in separable, self-existing, conscious, and powerful souls. We have shown that the supernormal factors which, when reflected on, probably supported this belief, are represented in civilised as well as in savage life, while as to their existence among the founders of religion we can historically know nothing at all. If we may infer from certain considerations, the supernormal experiences were possibly more prevalent among the remote ancestors of known savage races than among their modern descendants. We have suggested that clairvoyance, thought transference, and telepathy cannot be dismissed as mere fables, by a cautious inquirer, while even the far more obscure stories of 'physical manifestations' are but poorly explained away by those who cannot explain them.[17] Again, these faculties have presented—in the acquisition of otherwise unattainable knowledge, in coincidental hallucinations, and in other ways—just the kind of facts on which the savage doctrine of souls might be based, or by which it might be buttressed. Thus, while the actuality of the supernormal facts and faculties remains at least an open question, the prevalent theory of Materialism cannot be admitted as dogmatically certain in its present shape. No more than any other theory, nay, less than some other theories, can it account for the psychical facts which, at the lowest, we may not honestly leave out of the reckoning.

We have therefore no more to say about the supernormal aspects of the origins of religion. We are henceforth concerned with matters of verifiable belief and practice. We have to ask whether, when once the doctrine of souls was conceived by early men, it took precisely the course of development usually indicated by anthropological science.

[Footnote 1: Darwin, Journal, p. 458; Tylor, Prim. Cult. ii. 152. The spoon was not untouched.]

[Footnote 2: Rowley, Universities' Mission, p. 217.]

[Footnote 3: Africana, vol. i. p. 161.]

[Footnote 4: In the author's Custom and Myth, 'The Divining Rod.']

[Footnote 5: Codrington's Melanesia, p. 210.]

[Footnote 6: Op. cit. pp. 229-325.]

[Footnote 7: Prim. Cult. vol. i. p. 125.]

[Footnote 8: Callaway, Amazulu, p. 330.]

[Footnote 9: Callaway, Amazulu, p. 368.]

[Footnote 10: The So-called Divining-Rod, S.P.R. 1897.]

[Footnote 11: See especially The Waterford Experiments, p. 106.]

[Footnote 12: Authorities and examples are collected in the author's Cock Lane and Common Sense.]

[Footnote 13: Proceedings, xii. 7, 8.]

[Footnote 14: Personal Narrative, by M. Zoller. Hanke, Zurich, 1863.]

[Footnote 15: Daumer, Reich des Wundersamen, Regensburg, 1872, pp. 265, 266.]

[Footnote 16: A criticism of modern explanations of the phenomena here touched upon will be found in Appendix B.]

[Footnote 17: See Appendix B.]



To the anthropological philosopher 'a plain man' would naturally put the question: 'Having got your idea of spirit or soul—your theory of Animism—out of the idea of ghosts, and having got your idea of ghosts out of dreams and visions, how do you get at the Idea of God?' Now by 'God' the proverbial 'plain man' of controversy means a primal eternal Being, author of all things, the father and friend of man, the invisible, omniscient guardian of morality.

The usual though not invariable reply of the anthropologist might be given in the words of Mr. Im Thurn, author of a most interesting work on the Indians of British Guiana:

'From the notion of ghosts,' says Mr. Im Thurn, 'a belief has arisen, but very gradually, in higher spirits, and eventually in a Highest Spirit, and, keeping pace with the growth of these beliefs, a habit of reverence for, and worship of spirits.... The Indians of Guiana know no God.'[1]

As another example of Mr. Im Thurn's hypothesis that God is a late development from the idea of spirit may be cited Mr. Payne's learned 'History of the New World,' a work of much research:[2]

'The lowest savages not only have no gods, but do not even recognise those lower beings usually called spirits, the conception of which has invariably preceded that of gods in the human mind.'

Mr. Payne here differs, toto caelo, from Mr. Tylor, who finds no sufficient proof for wholly non-religious savages, and from Roskoff, who has disposed of the arguments of Sir John Lubbock. Mr. Payne, then, for ethnological purposes, defines a god as 'a benevolent spirit, permanently embodied in some tangible object, usually an image, and to whom food, drink,' and so on, 'are regularly offered for the purpose of securing assistance in the affairs of life.'

On this theory 'the lowest savages' are devoid of the idea of god or of spirit. Later they develop the idea of spirit, and when they have secured the spirit, as it were, in a tangible object, and kept it on board wages, then the spirit has attained to the dignity and the savage to the conception of a god. But while a god of this kind is, in Mr. Payne's opinion, relatively a late flower of culture, for the hunting races generally (with some exceptions) have no gods, yet 'the conception of a creator or maker of all things ... obviously a great spirit' is 'one of the earliest efforts of primitive logic.'[3]

Mr. Payne's own logic is not very clear. The 'primitive logic' of the savage leads him to seek for a cause or maker of things, which he finds in a great creative spirit. Yet the lowest savages have no idea even of spirit, and the hunting races, as a rule, have no god. Does Mr. Payne mean that a great creative spirit is not a god, while a spirit kept on board wages in a tangible object is a god? We are unable, by reason of evidence later to be given, to agree with Mr. Payne's view of the facts, while his reasoning appears somewhat inconsistent, the lowest savages having, in his opinion, no idea of spirit, though the idea of a creative spirit is, for all that, one of the earliest efforts of primitive logic.

On any such theories as these the belief in a moral Supreme Being is a very late (or a very early?) result of evolution, due to the action of advancing thought upon the original conception of ghosts. This opinion of Mr. Im Thurn's is, roughly stated, the usual theory of anthropologists. We wish, on the other hand, to show that the idea of God, as he is conceived of by our inquiring plain man, is shadowed forth (among contradictory fables) in the lowest-known grades of savagery, and therefore cannot arise from the later speculation of men, comparatively civilised and advanced, on the original datum of ghosts. We shall demonstrate, contrary to the opinion of Mr. Spencer, Mr. Huxley, and even Mr. Tylor, that the Supreme Being, and, in one case at least, the casual sprites of savage faith, are active moral influences. What is even more important, we shall make it undeniable that Anthropology has simplified her problem by neglecting or ignoring her facts. While the real problem is to account for the evolution out of ghosts of the eternal, creative moral god of the 'plain man,' the germ of such a god or being in the creeds of the lowest savages is by anthropologists denied, or left out of sight, or accounted for by theories contradicted by facts, or, at best, is explained away as a result of European or Islamite influences. Now, as the problem is to account for the evolution of the highest conception of God, as far as that conception exists among the most backward races, the problem can never be solved while that highest conception of God is practically ignored.

Thus, anthropologists, as a rule, in place of facing and solving their problem, have merely evaded it—doubtless unwittingly. This, of course, is not the practice of Mr. Tylor, though even his great work is professedly much more concerned with the development of the idea of spirit and with the lower forms of animism than with the real crux—the evolution of the idea (always obscured by mythology) of a moral, uncreated, undying God among the lowest savages. This negligence of anthropologists has arisen from a single circumstance. They take it for granted that God is always (except where the word for God is applied to a living human being) regarded as Spirit. Thus, having accounted for the development of the idea of spirit, they regard God as that idea carried to its highest power, and as the final step in its evolution. But, if we can show that the early idea of an undying, moral, creative being does not necessarily or logically imply the doctrine of spirit (or ghost), then this idea of an eternal, moral, creative being may have existed even before the doctrine of spirit was evolved.

We may admit that Mr. Tylor's account of the process by which Gods were evolved out of ghosts is a little touffu—rather buried in facts. We 'can scarcely see the wood for the trees.' We want to know how Gods, makers of things (or of most things), fathers in heaven, and friends, guardians of morality, seeing what is good or bad in the hearts of men, were evolved, as is supposed, out of ghosts or surviving souls of the dead. That such moral, practically omniscient Gods are known to the very lowest savages—Bushmen, Fuegians, Australians—we shall demonstrate.

Here the inquirer must be careful not to adopt the common opinion that Gods improve, morally and otherwise, in direct ratio to the rising grades in the evolution of culture and civilisation. That is not necessarily the case; usually the reverse occurs. Still less must we take it for granted, following Mr. Tylor and Mr. Huxley, that the 'alliance [of religion and morality] belongs almost, or wholly, to religions above the savage level—not to the earlier and lower creeds;' or that 'among the Australian savages,' and 'in its simplest condition,' 'theology is wholly independent of ethics.'[4] These statements can be proved (by such evidence as anthropology is obliged to rely upon) to be erroneous. And, just because these statements are put forward, Anthropology has an easier task in explaining the origin of religion; while, just because these statements are incorrect, her conclusion, being deduced from premises so far false, is invalidated.

Given souls, acquired by thinking on the lines already described, Mr. Tylor develops Gods out of them. But he is not one of the writers who is certain about every detail. He 'scarcely attempts to clear away the haze that covers great parts of the subject.'[5]

The human soul, he says, has been the model on which man 'framed his ideas of spiritual beings in general, from the tiniest elf that sports in the grass up to the heavenly creator and ruler of the world, the Great Spirit.' Here it is taken for granted that the Heavenly Ruler was from the first envisaged as a 'spiritual being'—which is just the difficulty. Was He?[6]

The process of framing these ideas is rather obscure. The savage 'lives in terror of the souls of the dead as harmful spirits.' This might yield a Devil; it would not yield a God who 'makes for righteousness.' Happily, 'deified ancestors are regarded, on the whole, as kindly spirits.' The dead ancestor is 'now passed into a deity.'[7] Examples of ancestor-worship follow. But we are no nearer home. For among the Zulus many Amatongo (ancestral spirits) are sacred. 'Yet their father [i.e. the father of each actual family] is far before all others when they worship the Amatongo.... They do not know the ancients who are dead, nor their laud-giving names, nor their names.'[8] Thus, each new generation of Zulus must have a new first worshipful object—its own father's Itongo. This father, and his very name, are, in a generation or two, forgotten. The name of such a man, therefore, cannot survive as that of the God or Supreme Being from age to age; and, obviously, such a real dead man, while known at all, is much too well known to be taken for the creator and ruler of the world, despite some African flattering titles and superstitions about kings who control the weather. The Zulus, about as 'godless' a people as possible, have a mythical first ancestor, Unkulunkulu, but he is 'beyond the reach of rites,' and is a centre of myths rather than of worship or of moral ideas.[9]

After other examples of ancestor-worship, Mr. Tylor branches off into a long discussion of the theory of 'possession' or inspiration,[10] which does not assist the argument at the present point. Thence he passes to fetishism (already discussed by us), and the transitions from the fetish—(1) to the idol; (2) to the guardian angel ('subliminal self'); (3) to tree and river spirits, and local spirits which cause volcanoes; and (4) to polytheism. A fetish may inhabit a tree; trees being generalised, the fetish of one oak becomes the god of the forest. Or, again, fetishes rise into 'species gods;' the gods of all bees, owls, or rabbits are thus evolved.


'As chiefs and kings are among men, so are the great gods among the lesser spirits.... With little exception, wherever a savage or barbaric system of religion is thoroughly described, great gods make their appearance in the spiritual world as distinctly as chiefs in the human tribe.'

Very good; but whence comes the great God among tribes which have neither chief nor king and probably never had, as among the Fuegians, Bushmen, and Australians? The maker and ruler of the world known to these races cannot be the shadow of king or chief, reflected and magnified on the mist of thought; for chief or king these peoples have none. This theory (Hume's) will not work where people have a great God but no king or chief; nor where they have a king but no Zeus or other supreme King-god, as (I conceive) among the Aztecs.

We now reach, in Mr. Tylor's theory, great fetish deities, such as Heaven and Earth, Sun and Moon, and 'departmental deities,' gods of Agriculture, War, and so forth, unknown to low savages.

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