The Occult Science and Attitude Towards The Supernatural

When I first bought into the wide and obscure field of Occult science and Occultism, with a light heart I set forth and an open mind. My aim was to ascertain, as far as the means at the disposal of an ordinary man with little of the mystic in his composition would allow, what degree of probability attached to published phenomena, which the ordinary laws of Nature, as most of us understand them, could not satisfactorily explain.

At the start of my journey, one obvious and, as it seemed to me, disconcerting fact faced me—namely, that although for a couple of generations “supernatural” manifestations had been promiscuously presented before the public, challenging comprehensive research and encouraging belief; although almost every day the newspapers publish some fascinating case of ghost apparition or materialization, coincident dreams, telepathy, trance utterances, or possession, often seemingly properly attested; yet in spite of all this testimony academic science proceeded to contradict the very foundation of such phenomena.

Any researcher must acknowledge here very unusual circumstances.

On the one hand are, let us say, half-a-million people, often highly intelligent, educated, reasonable people, strongly protesting that they have observed certain astonishing occult demonstrations and on the other hand — the Royal Society and the British Association, and other organized scientific bodies established for the research of the truth, completely refusing to accept such evidence or to consider it seriously. Many years ago Faraday, besought to give his judgment, in this wise wrote:

“They who say they see these things are not competent witnesses of facts. It would be condescension on my part to pay any more attention to them.” Faraday’s attitude was that of Huxley, Spencer, Tyndall, and Agassiz. The first-named, however, rather gave away his prejudice by saying: “Supposing the phenomena to be genuine, they do not interest me.” Tyndall’s utterance also deserves to be recalled: “There are people amongst us who, it is alleged, can produce effects before which the discoveries of Newton pale.

There are men of science who would sell all that they have, and give the proceeds to the poor, for a glimpse of phenomena which are mere trifles to the spiritualist.” He added: “The world will have religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of spiritualism.” Spencer’s words were: “I have settled the question in my own mind on à priori grounds.” Professor Carpenter called spiritualism “a most mischievous epidemic delusion, comparable to the witchcraft delusion of the seventeenth century.”

So, what you need to know about Occult science?

What, then, has happened to strengthen the case of the believers in ghosts, clairvoyance, thought-transference, sensory automatism, in the last quarter of a century? Or,what fresh evidence popped out, which would make the mid-Victorian scientific men rethink their position? Let’s assume Faraday and Huxley, Spencer and Tyndall, were alive to-day, would they see reason to alter their opinions?

I remember once—and I now give it as normal—overhearing a psychical experience. It was in a first-class chamber on a train coming from the UK. One of my fellow-travelers, an intellectual, well-spoken man of about thirty-six, was describing three friends in the following remarkable story. As nearly as I can remember, I give the storyteller’s own words:

“One week ago last Saturday, at eleven o’clock at twilight, my lady, who had just retired to bed, called out to me: ‘Arthur! Arthur!’ in a tone of dread. I sprang up and ran upstairs to see what was the matter. ‘Arthur,’ said my wife, ‘I’ve just seen my mother,’ and she began to weep. ‘Why,’ I said, ‘your mother’s at Wimbledon.’ ‘I know,’ she said; ‘but she appeared before me just there’ (pointing to the base of the bed) ‘few minutes ago as clearly as you do.’ Well, the next morning there was a telegram on the table: ‘Mother, died at eleven last night.’ Now, how do you consider it?”

There was silence for a whole minute.

“An unusual coincidence. Your wife’s hallucination coincided with her mother’s death!”

Another occupant of the carriage caught up the word:

“Yes, coincidence. A thing which mightn’t happen once in a million years.”

Nobody else tried to remark. Yet they appeared unconvinced. There was no one to tell them—even I did not know then—that these “synchronicities” were continually occurring, every year, perhaps every month; that an intellectual mind of men—the Society for Psychical Research—has made a census of such hallucinations, all seemingly well attested; that newspapers devoted to Occult science matters constantly record these things; that volumes—monthly, weekly, almost—fairly pour from the press detailing, expounding, dissecting, elaborating such evidence; that the theory of coincidence has already been rejected by many men of the first rank of science; and that official science itself is reluctantly reconsidering its position in more than one direction.

Yet, so deliberately do the crowds move in rational life, so tardily do truths, concerning not slightly occult but material and physical examination, more like Occult science, percolate through to the workaday world, that the researches, the activities, the discovered truths of students of psychical phenomena are as a closed book. Perhaps, the view of apathy with which occult phenomena and occult science are considered by the average man is not abnormal. To them, all wonders that are not Scriptural and ancient and, as it were, institutional are highly unlikely, if not unmanageable. All super-naturalism, they will tell you, is insane.

“There could be something in these things,” they says, “but it is not confirmed. As for metaphysics, my belief is that mediums are charlatans. Most of the spiritualists I have witnessed are ‘cranks’—they are surely dupes—and I have no doubt that if I entertained myself in these matters I should end up becoming a joke.'”

This, I assume, is the position of an average educated normal man.

“The moment,” wrote Lord Lytton, “one deals with things beyond our comprehension, and in which our own senses are appealed to and baffled, we revolt from the probable, as it appears to the senses of those who have not experienced what we have.” Now, that is just what the candid inquirer must avoid throughout his inquiry. It is often difficult to resist employing supernormal hypotheses; but, until normal hypotheses are exhausted, the resistance must be made. On the other hand, it is well to bear in mind Mr Andrew Lang’s timely remark, “there is a point at which the explanations of common-sense arouse scepticism.”

At all events, not even the most mundane man-in-the-music-hall, with two eyes in his head, can dispute that the great tide of occultism and Occult science, which twenty years ago seemed to be declining, is again returning with more prominent energy and strength, submerging many of the old cynical assumptions and soaking even the completely heartless and ignorant with its spray. It is not so long ago that the very idea of mesmerism was questioned—Mesmer was long viewed as a mere cheat—but today the induced trance is globally recognized.

Has it really been discovered, after a thousand trials and beyond the likelihood of error, that a mode of apprehension exists, which has no association with the five senses? For twenty-five years the brothers of the Society of Psychical Research have carried on their examinations of both sleeping and waking subjects, under every thinkable condition, and are at last fain to declare that such a mystic ability does exist by which the mind can interact with the brain without any known sensory.

As to the kind of “ghost” story recorded above, what an exact analogy it bears to the following, to be found in a recent volume of the “Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research!” The statement was received from a Madame Broussiloff, of St Petersburg:—

“On the 16th (28th) of February, between 9 and 10 o’clock, I, the undersigned, was sitting in our room—the small one—facing the big drawing-room, which I could see in its entire extent. My spouse, his colleague, with his wife, and my mother, were also resting in the same room with me around a big table. I was recording down my household accounts for the day, while the others were carrying on some lively chat.

Having unintentionally raised my head and looked into the big drawing-room, I saw, with amazement, that a large grey shadow had passed from the entrance of the dining-room to that of the antechamber; and it came into my head that the figure I had seen bore a remarkable likeness in stature to Colonel Ave-Meinander, an associate of ours, who had lived in this very building for a long time. At first, I wished to say at once that a demon had just flashed before me, but as I was worried about being laughed at by my husband. As I knew that Meinander was alive and well, and was the commander of the Malorossüsky 40th Regiment of Dragoons, I did not say anything; but when I was going to bed I described to my mother what I had seen the following day, but could not refrain from mentioning it to my husband.

“Our astonishment was extreme when, on the 18th of February (2nd of March), we learned Nicholas Ottovitch Ave-Meinander had actually died after a short illness on the 16th (28th) of February at nine o’clock in the evening, in the town of Strashovo, where his regiment is stationed.

“The above account is confirmed by the percipient’s mother, Marie von Hagemeister, and by the husband, Colonel Alexis Alexeievitch Broussiloff. Both state solemnly that Colonel Meinander died at nine P.M. on the evening of 16th February (28th) at Stashovo, 1200 versts from St Petersburg.”

To explain this phenomenon in the terms of telepathy, the grey shadow seen by Madame Broussiloff was not a ghost, not the “bodiless spirit in the likeness of a man,” but “a waking dream projected from the brain of the seer under the impulse of the dying man’s thought.”

But telepathy itself requires consideration and explanation. Sir William Crookes has repeatedly given publicity to his theory of brain-waves and to a kindred conception of ether substance, along which intelligence can be transmitted at an almost incalculable rate of speed to virtually interminable distances.

The occult, the science and the brain

That mind should affect the brain in a new mode may indicate no more than that mind can act upon the brain by means of ethereal vibrations previously unknown. The energy itself may be but a lingering remains of our heritage from ancient times, a long-disused faculty “brought from the dim lumber-room of a primitive consciousness, and galvanised into a belated and halting activity.”

Or, on the other hand, may not such ability be considered not as vestigial, but as basic? Telepathy, if we support the gifted author of “Human Personality,” is an outlook for the future, not an idle inheritance from the past.

Our aim now is, all esoteric speculations apart, to regard the phenomena in the order in which, if not yet fully accepted, they would seem to evoke the least opposition from the academic science of the century. What is the pure result of the proof for all classes of supernormal phenomena? That I shall endeavor to point out, as exactly and lucidly as I can, in the following blog posts on Stay tuned!

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