RECORD: S118.8. Wallace, A. R. 1866. The scientific aspect of the supernatural, VIII. English Leader 2( 11): 171-173

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker and John van Wyhe. RN1

NOTE: See the further parts here.


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THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECT OF THE SUPERNATURAL.

VIII.—THE MORAL TEACHINGS OF SPIRITUALISM.

We have now to consider whether this vast array of phenomena which claims to put us into communication with beings who have passed into another phase of existence, teaches us anything which may make us wiser and better men. I, myself, believe that it does, and shall endeavour, as briefly as possible, to set forth what the doctrines of modern spiritualism really are.

The hypothesis of Spiritualism not only accounts for all the facts (and is the only one that does so), but it is further remarkable as being associated with a theory of a future state of existence, which is the only one yet given to the world that can at all commend itself to the modern philosophical mind. There is a general agreement and tone of harmony, in the mass of facts and communications termed "spiritual," which has led to the growth of a new literature, and to the establishment of a new religion. The main doctrines of this religion are:—that after death man's spirit survives in an etherial body, gifted with new powers, but mentally and morally the same individual as when clothed in flesh. That he commences from that moment a course of apparently endless progression, which is rapid, just in proportion as his mental and moral faculties have been exercised and cultivated while on earth. That his comparative happiness or misery will depend entirely on himself; just in proportion as his higher human faculties have taken part in all his pleasures here, will he find himself contented and happy in a state of existence in which they will have the fullest exercise. While he who has depended more on the body than on the mind for his pleasures, will, when that body is no more, feel a grievous want, and must slowly and painfully develop his intellectual and moral nature till its exercise shall become easy and pleasureable. Neither punishments nor rewards are meted out by an external power, but each one's condition is the natural and inevitable sequence of his condition here. He starts again from the level of moral and intellectual development to which he has raised himself while on earth.

Now here again we have a striking supplement to the doctrines of modern science. The organic world has been carried on to a high state of development, and has been ever kept in harmony with the forces of external nature, by the grand law of "survival of the fittest" acting upon ever varying organisations. In the spiritual world, the law

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of the "progression of the fittest" takes its place, and carries on in unbroken continuity that development of the human mind which has been commenced here.

The communion of spirit with spirit is said to be by thought-reading and sympathy, and to be perfect between those whose beings are in harmony with each other. Those who differ widely, have little or no power of intercommunion, and thus are constituted "spheres," which are divisions, not merely of space, but of social and moral sympathetic organisation. Spirits of the higher "spheres" can and do communicate with those below; but these latter cannot communicate at will with those above. But there is for all an eternal progress, a progress solely dependent on the power of will in the development of spirit nature. There are no evil spirits but the spirits of bad men, and even the worst are surely if slowly progressing. Life in the higher spheres has beauties and pleasures of which we have no conception. Ideas of beauty and power become realised by the will, and the infinite cosmos becomes a field where the highest developments of intellect may range in the acquisition of boundless knowledge.

It may be thought, perhaps, that I am here giving merely my own ideal of a future state, but it is not so. Every statement I have made is derived from those despised sources, the rapping table, the writing hand, or the entranced speaker. And to show that I have not even done justice, either to the ideas themselves, or to the manner in which they are often conveyed to us, I subjoin a few extracts from the spoken addresses of one of the most gifted "trance-mediums," Miss Emma Hardinge.

In her address on "Hades," she sums up in this passage her account of our progress through the spheres:—

"Of the nature of those spheres and their inhabitants, we have spoken from the knowledge of the spirits, dwellers still in Hades. Would you receive some immediate definition of your own condition, and learn how you shall dwell, and what your garments shall be, what your mansion, scenery, likeness, occupations? Turn your eyes within, and ask what you have learned, and what you have done in this, the school house for the spheres of spirit land. There—there is an aristocracy, and even royal rank and varying degree, but the aristocracy is one of merit, and the royalty of soul. It is only the truly wise who govern, and as the wisest soul is he that is best, as the truest wisdom is the highest love, so the royalty of soul is truth and love. And within the spirit world, all knowledge of this earth, all forms of science, all revelations of art, all mysteries of space, must be understood. The exalted soul that is then fully ready for his departure to a higher state than Hades, must know all that Earth can teach, and have practised all that Heaven requires. The spirit never quits the spheres of earth, until he is fully possessed of all the life and knowledge of this planet and its spheres. And though the progress may be here commenced, and not one jot of what you learn, or think, or strive for here is lost, yet all achievements must be ultimated there, and no soul can wing its flight, to that which you call in view of its perfection, Heaven, till you have passed through Earth and Hades, and stand ready in your fully completed pilgrimage, to enter on the new and unspeakable glories of the celestial realms beyond."

Could the philosopher or the man of science picture to himself a more perfect ideal of a future state than this? Does it not commend itself to him as what he could wish, if he could, by his wish, form the future for himself? Yet this is the teaching of that which he scouts as an imposture, or a delusion—as the trickery of knaves, or the ravings of madmen—modern Spiritualism. I quote another passage from the same address, and I would ask my readers to compare the modesty of the first paragraph, with the claims of infallibility usually put forward by the teachers of new creeds, or new philosophies:—

"It is true that man is finite and imperfect; hence his utterances are too frequently the dictation of his own narrow perceptions, and his views are limited by his own finite capacity. But as you judge him, so also ye 'shall judge the angels.' Spirits only present you with the testimony of those who have advanced one step beyond humanity, and ask for no credence from man without the sanction of man's judgment and reason. Spirits, then, say that their world, is as the soul or spiritual and sublimated essence of this human world of yours; that in locality the spirit world extends around this planet, as all spirit spheres encircle in zones and belts all other planets, earths and bodies in space, until the sphere of each impinges upon the other, and they form in connection one vast and harmonious system of natural and spiritual worlds throughout the universe."

The effects of vice and ungoverned passions are thus depicted:—"Those spirits have engraved themselves with a fatal passion for vice, but, alas! they dwell in a world where there is no means for its gratification. There is the gambler, who has burnt into his soul the fire of the love of gain; he hovers around earth's gamblers, and, as an unseen tempter, seeks to repeat the now lost joys of the fatal game. The sensualist, the man of violence, the cruel and angry spirit; all who have steeped themselves in crime, or painted their souls with those dark stain spots which they vainly think are of the body only—all these are there, no longer able to enact their lives of earthly vice, but retaining on their souls the deadly mark, and the fatal though ungratified desire for habitual sin; and so these imprisoned spirits, chained by their own fell passions in the slavery of hopeless criminal desires, hover round those who attract them as magnets draw the needle, by vicious inclinations similar to their own. But you say, the soul, by tempting others, must thus sink deeper into crime. Ay, but remember that another point of the spiritual doctrine is the universal teaching of eternal progress." And then she goes on to depict in glowing language how these spirits too, in time lose their fierce passions, and learn how to begin the upward path of knowledge and virtue. But I must leave the subject, as I wish to give one extract from the address of the same gifted lady, on the question "What is Spirit?" as an example of the high eloquence and moral beauty with which all her discourses are inspired:—

"Small, and to some of us even insignificant, as seems the witness of the spirit-circle, its phenomenal gleams are lights which reveal in their aggregate, these solemn truths to us. There we behold foregleams of the powers of soul, which so vastly do transcend the laws of matter. That soul's continued existence and triumph over death; our own embodied spirit's power of communication with the invisible world around us, and its various occult forces. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, prophecy, trance, vision, psychometry, and magnetic healing; how grand and wonderful appears the soul, invested even in its earthly prison house, with all these gleams of powers so full of glorious promise of what we shall be, when the prison gates of matter open wide and set the spirit free! Oh! fair young girls, whose forms of supremest loveliness are nature's crowning gems, forget not, when the great Creator's bounteous hand adorned your blooming spring with the radiance of summer flowers, that He shrined within that casket of tinted beauty, a soul whose glory shall survive the decay of all earthly things, and live in weal or woe, as your generation stamps it with beauty or stains it with sinful ugliness, when springs shall no more return, nor summers melt in the vast and changeless evermore. Lift up your eyes from the beautiful dust of to-day, which to-morrow shall be foul in death's corruption, to the ever-living soul which you, not destiny, must adorn with immortal beauty. Remember you are spirits, and that the hours of your earthly life are only granted you to shape and form those spirits for eternity. Young men, who love to expand the muscles of mind, and wrestle in mental gladiatorial combats for the triumphant crowns of science, what are all these to the eternal conquests to be won in fields of illimitable science in the realms of immortality? Press on through earth as a means, but only to attain to the nobler, higher colleges of the never-dying life, and use mortal aims as instruments to gild your souls with the splendour that never fades, but which yourselves must win here or hereafter, ere you are fit to pass as graduates in the halls of eternal science. To understand that we are spirits, and that we live for immortality, to know and insure its issues; is not this, to Spiritualists, the noblest though last bright page which God has revealed to us? Is not to read and comprehend this page the true mission of modern Spiritualism? All else is but the phenomenal basis of the science which gives us the assurance that spirit lives. This is one great aim and purpose of modern Spiritualism, to know what the spirit is, and what it must do—how best to live, so that it may most surely array itself in the pure white robes of an immortality which is purged of all mortal sin and earthly grossness."

The teachings of Miss Hardinge agree in substance with those of all the more developed mediums, and I would ask whether it is probable that these teachings have been evolved from the conflicting dogmas of a set of impostors? Neither does it seem a more probable solution, that they have been

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produced "unconsciously" from the minds of self-deluded men and weak women, since it is palpable to every reader that these doctrines are essentially different in every detail, from those taught and believed by any school of philosophers or any sect of Christians.

This is well shown by their opposing statements as to the condition of mankind after death. In the accounts of a future state given by, or through the best mediums, and in the visions of deceased persons by clairvoyants, spirits are uniformly represented in the form of human beings, and their occupations as analogous to those of earth. But in most religious descriptions, or pictures of heaven, they are represented as winged beings, as resting on, or surrounded by clouds, and their occupations to be playing on golden harps, or perpetual singing prayer and adoration before the throne of God. How is it, if these visions and communications are but the remodelling of pre-existing, or preconceived ideas by a diseased imagination, that the popular notions are never reproduced? How is it, that, whether the medium be man, woman, or child, whether ignorant or educated, whether English, German, or American, there should be one and the same consistent representation of these preterhuman beings, at variance with popular notions of them, but such as strikingly to accord with the modern scientific doctrine of "continuity?" I submit that this little fact is of itself a strong corroborative argument, that there is some objective truth in these communications.

Equally at variance with each other are the popular and the spiritualistic doctrines as regards the Deity. Our modern religious teachers maintain that they know a great deal about God. They define minutely and critically his various attributes; they enter into his motives, his feelings, and his opinions; they explain exactly what he has done, and why he has done it; and they declare that after death we shall be with him, and shall see and know him. In the teaching of the "spirits" there is not a word of all this. They tell us that they commune with higher intelligences than themselves, but of God they really know no more than we do. They say that above these higher intelligences are others higher and higher in apparently endless gradation, but as far as they know, no absolute knowledge of the Deity himself is claimed by any of them. Is it possible, if these "spiritual" communications are but the evolutions of the minds of weak superstitious or deluded human beings, that they should so completely contradict one of the strongest and most cherished beliefs of the superstitious and the religious, and should agree with that highest philosophy (of which most mediums have certainly never heard), which maintains, that we can know nothing of the almighty, the eternal, the infinite, the absolute Being, who must necessarily be not only unknown and unknowable, but even unthinkable by finite intelligences.

It is often asked, "What has Spiritualism done—what new facts, or what useful information have the supposed spirits ever given to man?" The true answer to this demand probably is, that it is no part of their mission to give knowledge to man which his faculties enable him to acquire for himself, and the very effort to acquire which is part of his education and preparation for the spiritual life. Direct information on matters of fact is however occasionally given, as the records of Spiritualism abundantly show; for example the recent discovery of an inexhaustible supply of pure water in the great city of Chicago (the want of which rendered it notoriously unhealthy) obtained from an artesian well sunk under the guidance of a medium, after it had been pronounced impracticable by men of science. These and all similar facts are however invariably disbelieved without inquiry. I prefer therefore to rest the claims of Spiritualism on its moral uses. I would point to the thousands it has convinced of the reality of another world, to the many it has led to devote their lives to works of philanthropy, to the eloquence and the poetry it has given us, and to the grand doctrine of an ever progressive future state which it teaches. Those who will examine its literature will acknowledge these to be facts. Those who will not examine for themselves either the literature or the phenomena of Spiritualism, should at least refrain from passing judgment on a matter of which they are confessedly and wilfully ignorant.

The subject, of which I have here endeavoured to sketch the outlines in a few pages which may perhaps be read when volumes would lie unopened, is far too wide and too important for this mode of treatment to do any justice to it. I have been obliged entirely to leave out all mention of the historical proofs of similar phenomena occurring in unbroken succession from the earliest ages to the present day. I could not allude to the spread of Spiritualism on the continent with its numbers of eminent converts. I could not refer to the numbers of scientific and medical men, who have been convinced of its truth, but have not made public their belief.

In concluding these imperfect illustrations of a subject so generally tabooed by scientific men, I do not expect or wish to make a single convert. All I claim is, to have shown cause for investigation; to have proved that it is not a subject that can any longer be contemptuously sneered at as unworthy of a moment's enquiry. I feel myself so confident of the truth and objective reality of many of the facts here narrated, that I would stake the whole question on the opinion of any man of science desirous of arriving at the truth, if he would only devote two or three hours a week for a few months to an examination of the phenomena, before pronouncing an opinion; for, I again repeat, not a single individual that I have heard of, has done this without becoming convinced of the reality of these phenomena. I maintain therefore finally—that whether we consider the vast number and the high character of its converts, the immense accumulation and the authenticity of its facts, or the noble doctrine of a future state which it has elaborated—the so-called supernatural, as developed in the phenomena of animal magnetism, clairvoyance, and modern Spiritualism, is an experimental science which must add greatly to our knowledge of man's true nature and highest interests, and therefore demands an honest and a thorough examination.

ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE.


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