Author: Herbert Thurston, S.J.


by Herbert Thurston, S.J.

FOR those who approach the question of Spiritualism from the standpoint of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other enthusiastic believers in the New Revelation, it must be a little difficult to explain why any effective intervention of the spirit world in human affairs should have been so long delayed. We are told that many of these intelligences who passed on thousands of years ago are supremely wise, that it is their main concern to guide and uplift mankind, and that only through this channel can the people be rescued from the dogmatic fictions of the churches on the one hand and the blank hopelessness of materialism on the other.

Yet it was not until 1848 that intercourse with the realm of shades was opened up. For all practical purposes before that time the oracles were dumb. The delay was not due to the lack of suitable communicators. "Pheneas," the special control of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's family, claims to have died "thousands of years ago" and to have lived at Ur before the time of Abraham. "Imperator," the dominant partner of the Stainton Moses band, declared himself to be identical with the prophet Malachi (c. 460 B.C.).

We have then to suppose that these and a crowd of other beneficent spirits were in effect impotent to convey any message to mankind until two uneducated little girls in the hamlet of Hydesville, U.S.A., showed them the way to a solution by imitating the strange knockings which were heard in the haunted house their parents occupied. By these knockings a means of communication was first established just a hundred years ago. It is difficult to reconcile the idea of exalted spirits remaining, for untold centuries, powerless to make their influence felt, with the claim that to these same spirits we must look for any guidance which can contribute to the world's regeneration. Still, Conan Doyle, J. Arthur Findlay, and a crowd of others too numerous to catalogue here are satisfied that there is no hope for the religious future of the race outside the practice of Spiritualism.

Be this as it may, no one can dispute the fact that modern Spiritualism only dates from the year 1848. Both in America and in England the anniversary from time to time has been commemorated with great solemnity. On one such occasion, at the Queen's Hall, London (March 31, 1920), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told a crowded audience that they were there that evening "to celebrate the seventy-second anniversary of what Spiritualists considered to be the greatest event which had occurred in the world for two thousand years." In America the frame house in which the Fox family lived has been taken down and built up elsewhere. It now bears the inscription: "Spiritualism originated in this house, March 31, 1848."

There is no satisfactory evidence to prove that the two child mediums, Maggie and Katie Fox, through whom the communication with the spirit world by means of rappings first took its rise, were either vicious or fraudulent at the beginning of their career. On the contrary, many men of high character who were interested in the phenomena--it may be sufficient to name the statesman Horace

Greeley, and the Catholic publicist Orestes A. Brownson--spoke of them during those early years with sincere regard and sympathy. There seems no adequate ground for charging them with any imposture. The knockings and the table movements which soon came to be produced through other mediums as well, all over the country, cannot all be explained by mere trickery. Investigators like Father C. M. de Heredia, S.J., in recent years who, following in the track of Houdini the conjuror, began by denouncing all the manifestations as fraudulent, have found themselves compelled to modify their view.

But while, as I hold, we may admit that the Fox sisters were genuine mediums and that very remarkable and inexplicable phenomena were wont to occur in their presence, there can be no possible question that these two wonder-workers, who for thirty years and more were acclaimed as the founders of Spiritualism, both came to a very sad end. It is on record that the first message of guidance which they received from the spirits in 1848 was to the following effect:

"Dear Friends,

"You must proclaim these truths to the world. This is the dawning of a new era, and you must not try to conceal it any longer. When you do you. duty, God will protect you and good spirits will watch over you."

Maggie and Katie Fox did not fail to devote their energies to the propagation of Spiritualism, but the promise of protection was illusory; at any rate it led to no result. On October 21, 1888, the two sisters, who some time previously had contracted habits of intemperance, were persuaded--it may be were bribed, though I know no direct evidence of this--to attend an anti-Spiritualist meeting in one of the large halls in New York. There Maggie, in the presence of her sister, read aloud a short statement, in the course of which she declared: "I am here tonight as one of the founders of Spiritualism to denounce it as absolute falsehood . . . the most wicked blasphemy known to the world." This was followed by what purported to be a demonstration that the medium by cracking her toe or anklejoints was able to produce raps which could be heard all over the room.

That the scene occurred as described may be learnt from all the contemporary newspapers of New York and is perforce admitted by the most zealous advocates of the cult. They urge, however, that a year later Maggie, in the presence of witnesses, formally retracted all that she had said. This also is indisputable, but such contradictory declarations are equally worthless as evidence. The sisters at that time were so far the victims of the craving for drink that all sense of moral responsibility was lost. Within a few years both were dead. When Maggie, the last survivor, was nearing her end, an American newspaper described her as "an object of charity, a mental and physical wreck, whose appetite is only for intoxicating liquors" and added: "The lips that utter little else now than profanity once promulgated the doctrine of a new religion which still numbers its tens of thousands of enthusiastic believers."

A few weeks later we find the editor of a leading English Spiritualist journal improving the occasion in such terms as these:

"Here we have a wonderful twofold spiritual spectacle--we have a woman giving spiritual manifestations to others, while within herself she is spiritually lost and misdirected. All moral sense and control of mind and desire were gone.... But when the medium makes a trade of it and puffs the thing up as a commodity for sale, then farewell to all that might elevate or instruct in the subject.... Under such circumstances, and with drunkenness, sensuality, and moral abasement of all kinds added, is it any wonder that this kind of thing has covered the cause with scandals and left a heap of festering corpses along the course of these forty-five years?"

When a responsible representative of the movement used such language, can we fail to ask ourselves whether that contact with the spirit world which is alleged to have come about through the agency of the two Fox children has been for good or rather for evil?

It is no part of the contention of this essay that the phenomena commonly associated with Spiritualism must, when genuine, be necessarily of diabolic origin. The problem presented by these manifestations is extremely complicated, and in my judgment investigation will have to be carried on for many years--it may be for centuries--before it will be possible to pronounce confidently upon the nature of the strange occurrences of which we have incontrovertible evidence. But the tragic history of the Fox sisters must surely cast the gravest suspicion upon the wisdom, the beneficent purpose, and the promises of those supposed intelligences, whatever they may be, which purport to communicate from the other side.

Already in 1852 the Rev. Adin Ballou, a man of very sober judgment, was assured, as he believed, by his dead son that by Spiritualism the world was about to be transformed into a new Eden. "Father," the boy urged, "be patient, watch, and wait. Another century cannot commence before this great change will be wrought." No one, again, can be blind to the impression conveyed by Sir Oliver Lodge's book that a stupendous effect is to be produced in the world by Spiritualism--and that very soon. Thus, to take one instance, on March 3, 1916, Raymond, communicating at a Mrs. Leonard's seance, told his father: "Mr. Myers [i.e., the famous F. W. H. Myers, the psychic researcher who died in 1901] says that in ten years from now the world will be a different place. He says that about fifty percent of the civilized portion of the globe will be either Spiritualists or coming into it." The ten years spoken of are now long past, but the change predicted has not taken place. The "New Revelation" has not justified itself except as a new revelation of the readiness with which men are deceived and are carried about by every wind of doctrine. How can we expect guidance or the regeneration of mankind from powers that have shown themselves both blind to foresee the future and impotent to protect their own chosen instruments, even those who are honored as the founders of the new cult, from the most ignoble ruin?

Dangers of spiritualism

The Catholic Church has always condemned any attempt to hold communication of set purpose with the spirits of the dead. The Old Testament speaks in terms which cannot be mistaken (see, for example, Deut. 18:1012), and the very striking incident in the Acts of the Apostles (ch. 16), concerning "the girl with the pythonical spirit who brought to her masters much gain by divining," teaches us that the attitude of strict moralists had not changed since the coming of our Lord. Though the girl had spoken no falsehood of Paul and Silas, but rather had seemed to further their work by proclaiming that "these men are the servants of the most high God," Paul took it amiss and commanded the spirit to go out of her.

The language used seems to imply that the control which spoke through the lips of this divineress or medium was an evil spirit. Whether these biblical precedents were responsible or not, it is certain that most Christian teachers throughout the intervening centuries have been disposed to treat all occult powers which savored of necromancy as diabolic in their origin. It is only of recent years, since hypnotism and its strange manifestations have become familiar, that theologians have realized that such faculties as telepathy and clairvoyance may possibly be natural gifts, abnormal and hitherto unrecognized because until lately no serious attention was ever paid to them.

On the other hand, it must in fairness be admitted that both earlier and recent accounts of what purport to be hauntings or obsessions originating in the spirit world provide plenty of excuse for believing that the agencies concerned are often malicious, deceptive, and altogether evil. Even if we hesitate to accept the descriptions penned early in the last century by the Catholic statesman Gorres, or the Lutheran physician Justin Kerner, such modern psychic researchers as Mrs. Travers Smith (Hester Dowden) and Mr. Hereward Carrington make it clear that unpleasant and even horrible experiences are apt to be encountered not only by the rash and heedless, but also by practiced investigators. To take one instance, Mrs. Osborne Leonard, who figures so prominently in Raymond, bears the highest reputation as a medium, both for her personal character and for the reliability of her spirit messages. But she has made no secret of an alarming episode which occurred on one occasion when she took part with two friends in an attempt to obtain materializations at an impromptu seance. In a room which was not perfectly dark she saw an arm covered with hair stretched out towards the throat of her companion, Nelly.

Mrs. Leonard was trying to frame a word of warning in such terms as not to startle her, when the girl "jumped up with a piercing shriek, knocked over her chair and rushed blindly for the door, which she shook violently, forgetting in her terror that it was locked." She had felt the grasp upon her throat which a rent in the blind had enabled the friend beside her to discern visually. Even if we explain the incident as no more than a case of overwrought nerves, the possibility of such experiences goes far to illustrate the reasonableness of the biblical veto on dabbling in the occult.

But though many Catholics incline to the belief that all the genuine phenomena of Spiritualism are the work of demons, it cannot be maintained that this is a part of the Church's official teaching. The distinguished Dominican Pere Mainage, a Professor of the Institut Catholique de Paris, has pointed out that up to the present the attitude of ecclesiastical authority in these matters may be summed up in three directive principles: (1) the Church has not pronounced upon the essential nature of Spiritualistic phenomena; (2) the Church forbids the general body of the faithful to take any part in Spiritualistic practices; and (3) in the manifestations which occur the Church suspects that diabolic agencies may intervene.

Although a decree of the Holy Office in 1898 explicitly forbade the practice of automatic writing in which the psychic allows his hand to be guided to take down messages, the content of which is independent of his volition, and although a similar decree in 1917 condemned any participation in Spiritualistic seances, even though such participation was limited to mere presence as an onlooker, still it would be too much to say that the Church had set her face against all such investigations of phenomena as are commonly included under the term psychic research.

To genuine students who are well grounded in theological principles and sufficiently versed in psychology to deal with these manifestations in a scientific spirit, permission may be accorded to experiment with a medium and attend seances. The attitude of Catholic authority in the matter is based upon the matured conviction that for the ill- instructed, the idly curious, and the emotional, who are for the most part the very people upon whom the occult exercises the strongest attraction, any contact with the intelligences which purport to communicate from the other world can only be disquieting and morally, if not physically, dangerous.

Even Spiritualists of the more sober type readily admit the need of great caution on the part of the inexperienced. Mr. W. Stainton Moses, at first a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England and afterwards a member of the teaching staff of University College, London, wrote several works which have more than once been reprinted by the London Spiritualist Alliance as classical handbooks for the guidance of believers. He was the first editor of , and was a powerful medium for physical phenomena as well as an automatist.

But Stainton Moses was haunted by the dread of personation on the part of the spirits who purported to communicate. He seems never to have been entirely satisfied that he could trust even the chosen "Imperator" band of controls. Over and over again he reminds his readers that "the foes of God and man, enemies of goodness, ministers of evil," are striving to get into contact with those who are living on earth. He does not call these evil beings devils, because in his view they are the souls of men once on earth that have been "low in taste and impure in habit," souls which are "not changed save in the accident of being freed from the body," but which have "banded themselves together under the leadership of intelligence still more evil."

He urges that, "unfortunately for us, the spirits which are least progressive, least developed, least spiritual, and most material and earthly, hover round the confines" and are most eager to seek communication. Such language from a recognized adept of high authority in the cult goes far to justify the attitude of the Holy See and the Catholic clergy. Spiritualists can hardly be surprised that the Catholic Church, having good reason to believe that the evocation of the spirits of the dead throughout the ages has produced nothing but evil, refuses resolutely to countenance any attempt at communication with the other world. The psychic movement in our day includes, no doubt, a certain proportion of honest and serious inquirers after truth, but the majority of those who crowd to the trance addresses of mediums like Mrs. Meurig Morris, who attend "message services" and organize domestic seance circles, and not least of all those who are thrilled by the numberless printed volumes of conversations with the dead taken down in automatic writing, are unbalanced, gullible. and badly in need of protection.

It being admitted that the lowest types of spirits are the most eager to make contact with the earth and that the idle people who are particularly curious about the occult are also the most credulous and uncritical, the Church is thoroughly justified in forbidding her own subjects to put themselves needlessly in harm's way. Her sweeping prohibition may entail some hardship upon genuine students, but the good of the greater number of the faithful has the first title to her consideration. She does not act with precipitation. Spiritualism had existed for half a century, and full proof had been given of its harmful results, before the first explicit decree condemning automatic writing was published by the Holy See in 1898.

What is more, no student of the Spiritualistic movement can fail to observe that there has been for many years a steady trend in a direction hostile to Christianity and contemptuous of every form of religious dogma. The antagonism to revelation and the churches has been greatly intensified during recent years. It comes out strongly in the various writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and in such a Spiritualist newspaper as , published in Manchester. But it has recently reached a climax in Mr. J. Arthur Findlay's book, (1933) which, as the pages of and other journals bear witness, has seriously shocked a considerable section of his fellow believers. Suffice it to say that this writer is an avowed disciple of the late J. M. Robertson, author of and other similar works, and that he treats all such doctrines as the Trinity, the Fall of man, the Atonement, everlasting punishment, etc., as patent absurdities which can only be a subject for ridicule. While the later and constructive section of the volume is very involved and makes heavy reading, the earlier portion with its sensational attack on the clergy and its unscrupulous travesty of Christian history is much more likely to hold the attention of the not very erudite public who take Mr. Findlay for an oracle.

Much of the abuse of the teaching of the churches purports to have been communicated by exalted spirits in the etheric world. It is, for example, the Doyle control, Pheneas, who rails against "theological egotism and power and pride" and who proclaims that "Christ's guiding hand to happiness has been twisted by priestcraft till it pointed to hell. The Church which prates of him thus is his worst enemy." If these attacks were based upon a discussion of the historical evidence the mischief would be less serious, but they purport to be the utterances of supremely wise beings in the world beyond who, having long been emancipated from the conventions and superstitions of earth life, speak with a serenity and breadth of view unattainable by any living teacher.

Such communications are apt to be taken at their own valuation because they do at times exhibit a strange supernormal knowledge of trivial facts which can be verified. On the other hand, there is nearly always a considerable amount of incorrect information associated with the true, though these aberrations are forgotten in the wonder that something unknown has been revealed, seemingly from the skies. As Bacon says, "Men mark when they hit, but never mark when they miss." The Church has every reason to protect her subjects from pseudo-revelations of this kind, which offer no guarantee of truth and which, for the most part, openly attack the deposit of faith of which she is the appointed custodian.

It should also be noted that many intelligent people who are quite satisfied of the reality of mediumistic faculty and who, on the other hand, are not influenced by any religious scruples, are by no means disposed to encourage communications with the spirit world. Horace Greeley and Lloyd Garrison, the editor of , both of whom in early days had much to do with the Fox sisters, were of this class.

The late Lord Dunraven, who, as Lord Adare, had had unrivaled opportunities of studying the subject, living as he did for a year or more in almost daily companionship with the great medium D. D. Home, gave up the pursuit because he found it led him nowhere. He was not satisfied as to the identity of those who purported to communicate from the other side and moreover, he adds: "I observed that some devotees were inclined to dangerous extremes and became so much possessed by the idea of spiritual guidance in the everyday affairs of life as to undermine their self dependence and to weaken their will power."

Sir H. Rider Haggard, the novelist, after relating his personal experience with a medium for physical phenomena, which he could only attribute to some unknown force, concludes with the words: "Whatever may be the true explanation, on one point I am quite sure, that the whole business is mischievous and to be discouraged. Bearing in mind its effect upon my own nerves, never would I allow any young person over whom I had control to attend a seance." Haggard was not a recluse or a crank. A considerable part of his life was spent knocking about in South Africa and in many other parts of the world.

The fraudulent side

To discuss this aspect of the subject at any length would serve no good purpose, but it certainly cannot be passed over in silence. When Mr. James Burns, in 1893, wrote that the moral depravity of mediums had "covered the cause with scandals and left a heap of festering corpses along the course of these forty-five years," he was not using stronger language than that employed by Dr. Sexton, Mr. Andrew Leighton, the medium Home, Mr. S. Carter Hall, and many other representative Spiritualists. With the exception of Home there is hardly a prominent medium for psychical manifestations against whom a good case has not been made out that he or she, at least on certain occasions, had recourse to unscrupulous trickery. There is no room for doubt that the famous Eusapia Palladino in many instances faked her phenomena. "Dr." Monck, Slade, Eglinton, the Holmeses, and a score of others were caught red-handed.

More recently we have had the remarkable case of Mrs. Duncan, who unquestionably enjoyed a great reputation in many Spiritualistic circles. This last example is interesting both from the completeness of the exposure and the nature of the fraud itself. Mrs. Duncan at these seances used to appear, in a relatively good light, covered to her feet with what seemed to be a flowing sheet of white material.

The onlookers saw it, as they thought, extruded from the mouth or other facial orifices. This was supposed to be ectoplasm, and it sometimes showed a little face (a picture) embedded in its texture. Investigation however proved beyond doubt that this enveloping sheet was nothing but a roll of very thin cheese-cloth or butter-muslin, which had been swallowed by the medium and regurgitated.

So again the medium Valiantine, whose supernormal exploits have been glorified beyond measure by Mr. H. Dennis Bradley in his widely read books and , was later on caught out by Mr. Bradley himself in a flagrant piece of imposture. Valiantine had professed to produce an imprint of the thumb of Lord Dewar, then (February, 1931) recently deceased. In the course of a dark seance the imprint was made, sure enough, upon the smoked paper prepared for the purpose, but it proved to be an impression, not of Lord Dewar's thumb, but of Valiantine's big toe. The identity was established with certainty by finger-print experts, whose credit cannot be disputed.

In the matter of psychic photography which has occasioned so much controversy, and which, for over 70 years, has been brought forward again and again as supplying tangible proof of an agency which could not be of this world, there has been a hardly less surprising exposure and retractation. Of all the mediums for photographic "extras," the most famous in recent times was the late Mr. W. Hope, of Crewe. Dozens of books appeal to the negatives of spirit faces obtained in his presence as completely decisive, and in particular Conan Doyle, in his , stakes everything on Hope's results. Many expert photographers vouched for their genuineness and, in particular, Mr. Fred Barlow, the Secretary of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, contributed both a preface and an important chapter to Doyle's volume.

This was in 1922. Some years later, however, Mr. Barlow, who as a practical expert always retained a keen interest in the problem, was led, owing to the discoveries made and the confession of fraud obtained in the case of another psychic photographer, to conceive suspicions regarding Hope himself. After following up the clue and applying, in conjunction with Major Rampling Rose, certain rigorous tests, he came to the conclusion that his earlier belief in the integrity of the Crewe circle had been unwarranted. In a paper contributed to the of the Society for Psychical Research the whole case against Hope is set out in detail. It is conclusive, but based on too many converging lines of proof to be summarized here. It would seem that most of the "extras" must have been obtained by a tiny picture attached to a small flash light which Hope kept in his pocket or secreted in the hollow of his hand.

Altogether it is impossible to doubt that an enormous amount of trickery and fraud has been mixed up with Spiritualism from the very beginning. Even Doyle, in the volume of essays published a week or two before his death, owns that, in America particularly, things were worse than he had previously thought possible. Though nothing but ignorance, he remarks, can suppose that there are no real mediums, "at the same time the States, and in a lesser degree our own people, do need stern supervision." "I admit," he adds, "that I underrated the corruption in the States." It is then, perhaps, not unnatural that many intelligent people, whose normal attitude to the marvelous is one of healthy skepticism, should from the universal prevalence of trickery be led to infer that nothing is genuine in the phenomena of Spiritualism. This view has found acceptance among many earnest Catholics, both clergy and laity, especially in the United States. To the present writer the objections to this "nothing but trickery" hypothesis seem even more serious than those which beset what Mr. J. Arthur Hill has called "the wholesale devil theory," espoused by the late Mr. Godfrey Raupert, Father Blackmore, and the majority of Continental ecclesiastics.

It is often taken for granted that a medium who has once been detected in imposture may be assumed to produce all his phenomena fraudulently. This is an extreme view which seems to be contradicted by evidence that cannot be lightly dismissed. The well- known Eusapia Palladino is said to have habitually taken advantage of any carelessness on the part of those who controlled her limbs in order with a free hand or foot to play any childish trick which would cause a sensation in the dim light of the seance room.

Nevertheless the testimony of dozens of experienced investigators, the flash-light photographs revealing levitated objects in contact with no human support, and above all the detailed report of the Naples sittings with Messrs. Feilding, Carrington, and Baggally demonstrated that Eusapia undoubtedly did on occasion exhibit extraordinary powers. It is even possible that the medium who tricks is not always consciously fraudulent. He or she is often entranced and in that hypnotic condition may be peculiarly susceptible to the suggestion latent in the minds of the sitters that some particular deception is about to be attempted. Their minds are intent on this thought, and the battery of suggestion becomes so strong that the medium, in spite of herself, does the very thing which they have mentally pictured her doing.

Again, we know nothing about the nature or dispositions of the "spirits" who are supposed to be the agents of these phenomena. Certain records would even suggest that they may deliberately prompt some fraudulent device which results in the undoing of the medium. There is nothing to forbid our thinking that among them are evil spirits animated by a malicious purpose, though, on the other hand, some of the communicating intelligences appear truthful and kindly. A suggestion has been made that they may be souls of the unbaptized, who died in infancy or without any sufficient knowledge of God, and whom Catholics believe to enjoy some sort of natural beatitude in "limbo."

It is certainly curious that so large a proportion of those controls who seem somewhat more trustworthy than the rest profess to be Indians, calling themselves by such names as "Red Cloud," "White Feather," etc. There is not much likelihood that the beings who bore these names ever received baptism. But the fact is that we know nothing about the agencies who purport to communicate. The subconsciousness of the medium is no doubt responsible for by far the larger part of the messages received, but there is a residue which it is very hard to account for except as coming from some intelligence which is external to the world in which we live.

A few conclusions

If Spiritualism has the merit of upholding the belief that man is not purely material and that a future life awaits him, the conditions of which are in a measure dependent upon his conduct here upon earth, it must be confessed that there is very little else to set to its credit. Catholic teaching recognizes one divine revelation which it is the appointed office of the Church, in dependence upon the living voice of the Supreme Pontiff, to maintain inviolate. For this Spiritualism substitutes as many revelations as there are mediums or rather controls, all these communications being open to suspicion and, as the briefest examination shows, abounding in contradictions about matters most vital.

Largely as a consequence of the disagreements in the guidance thus received, hardly any two Spiritualists hold the same views, and, from its earliest beginnings down to the present time, the movement has entirely lacked cohesion. Such energizing force as it possesses seems to be due partly to that curiosity about the occult which leads people to consult palmists and to purchase , partly to a pathetic desire of the bereaved to obtain tidings of those who are dear to them, the tragedies of the War having clearly exercised a great stimulus in promoting the vogue of this form of relief.

Unfortunately the comfort which Spiritualism offers in such cases is entirely dependent upon one indispensable condition, the possibility of identification. But those who believe that they have got into contact with their dear ones, that they have received messages from them or have even heard their voice and recognized their features, are building on very insecure foundations. It is admitted that personation is constantly attempted. We know little of the agencies which purport to communicate, but we do know that for some freakish purpose or other they constantly pretend to be what they are not. It is also a generally received tenet among Spiritualists that the departed are free to return to earth, to witness, though invisible themselves, anything which is being done even in the utmost secrecy. There is, on this supposition, no trivial incident in our past lives which may not be known and published abroad in that spirit world of which Conan Doyle and the automatists profess to tell us so much.

It is impossible, therefore, for any spirit to give any convincing proof of his identity. Incidents which on earth were known to him alone may be public property on the other side. The tones of the voice or tricks of expression which are reproduced in a "direct- voice" sitting cannot proceed from the larynx which has long since crumbled to dust. However effected, the voice is a counterfeit, and who will say that it is only the spirit of the departed which can build up the vocal chords so as to yield a perfect imitation? Similarly when Conan Doyle assures us that at a seance he has seen his son as clearly as he ever saw him in life, we may be sure that the features he beheld were not the features as they then lay buried beneath the soil. So here again we are led to ask how the which he recognized afforded any proof that the poor lad who had perished stood there himself beside him. Finally the whole atmosphere of the seance room is repellent, and even the process of automatic writing, with its frequent inanities and platitudes and obvious fictions, characterizes such communications as mainly the product of subconscious, and often morbid auto-suggestion.

"There is very little that is spiritual in Spiritualism," wrote Friedrich von Hugel, and as G. K. Chesterton happily remarks "you do not expect to hear the voice of God calling from a coal cellar." Mr. Findlay, Mr. Oaten, and their followers who have made short work of the Trinity do at the same time profess to hold that "the Universe is governed by Mind, commonly called God." What sort of "Mind" is it, one wonders, which has planned that a handful of men, sitting for hours in the dark, playing gramophone records or making discordant attempts at song in order to "stimulate vibrations," shall be privileged to evoke those momentous communications from the etheric world which will uplift the whole human race to a moral eminence never attained before? Spiritualism, so far, has certainly not been associated with progress. No new fact has come to light through this source which has added to the world's knowledge or has led it to seek higher ideals. Its history reminds us, on the contrary, of what Paul wrote to Timothy: "But the Spirit plainly saith that in after times some will fall away from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and the teachings of demons, through the impostures of those who speak falsely, men seared in their own conscience" (1 Tim. 4:1- 2). +

Herbert Thurston, S. J. (1856-1939) was considered by many the epitome of a Jesuit scholar. Three of his books were on psychical phenomena. This essay is extracted from an introductory booklet titled Spiritualism.

This article was taken from the March 1995 issue of "This Rock," published by Catholic Answers, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177, (619) 541-1131, $24.00 per year.