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Chapter XIII - Spiritualistic Phenomena Explained
The Confessions of Medium -- Spiritualistic Phenomena Explained on Theory
of Telepathy -- Interesting Statement of Mrs. Piper, the Famous Medium of
the Psychical Research Society.
The subject of spiritualism has been very thoroughly investigated by the
Society for Psychical Research, both in England and this country, and
under circumstances so peculiarly advantageous that a world of light has
been thrown on the connection between hypnotism and this strange
Professor William James, the professor of psychology at Harvard
University, was fortunate enough some years ago to find a perfect medium
who was not a professional and whose character was such as to preclude
fraud. This was Mrs. Leonora E. Piper, of Boston. For many years she
remained in the special employ of the Society for Psychical Research,
and the members of that society were able to study her case under every
possible condition through a long period of time. Not long ago she
resolved to give up her engagement, and made a public statement over her
own signature which is full of interest.
A brief history of her life and experiences will go far toward
furnishing the general reader a fair explanation of clairvoyant and
Mrs. Piper was the wife of a modest tailor, and lived on Pinckney
street, back of Beacon Hill. She was married in 1881, and it was not
until May 16, 1884, that her first child was born. A little more than a
month later, on June 29, she had her first trance experience. Says she:
"I remember the date distinctly, because it was two days after my first
birthday following the birth of my first child." She had gone to Dr. J.
R. Cocke, the great authority on hypnotism and a practicing physician of
high scientific attainments. "During the interview," says Mrs. Piper, "I
was partly unconscious for a few minutes. On the following Sunday I went
into a trance."
She appears to have slipped into it unconsciously. She surprised her
friends by saying some very odd things, none of which she remembered
when she came to herself. Not long after she did it again. A neighbor,
the wife of a merchant, when she heard the things that had been said,
assured Mrs. Piper that it must be messages from the spirit world. The
atmosphere in Boston was full of talk of that kind, and it was not hard
for people to believe that a real medium of spirit communication had
been found. The merchant's wife wanted a sitting, and Mrs. Piper
arranged one, for which she received her first dollar.
She had discovered that she could go into trances by an effort of her
own will. She would sit down at a table, with her sitter opposite, and
leaning her head on a pillow, go off into the trance after a few minutes
of silence. There was a clock behind her. She gave her sitters an hour,
sometimes two hours, and they wondered how she knew when the hour had
expired. At any rate, when the time came around she awoke. In describing
her experiences she has said:
"At first when I sat in my chair and leaned my head back and went into
the trance state, the action was attended by something of a struggle. I
always felt as if I were undergoing an anesthetic, but of late years I
have slipped easily into the condition, leaning the head forward. On
coming out of it I felt stupid and dazed. At first I said disconnected
things. It was all a gibberish, nothing but gibberish. Then I began to
speak some broken French phrases. I had studied French two years, but
did not speak it well."
Once she had an Italian for sitter, who could speak no English and asked
questions in Italian. Mrs. Piper could speak no Italian, indeed did not
understand a word of it, except in her trance state. But she had no
trouble in understanding her sitter.
After a while her automatic utterance announced the personality of a
certain Dr. Phinuit, who was said to have been a noted French physician
who had died long before. His "spirit" controlled her for a number of
years. After some time Dr. Phinuit was succeeded by one "Pelham," and
finally by "Imperator" and "Rector."
As the birth of her second child approached Mrs. Piper gave up what she
considered a form of hysteria; but after the birth of the child the
sittings, paid for at a dollar each, began again. Dr. Hodgson, of the
London Society for Psychical Research, saw her at the house of Professor
James, and he became so interested in her case that he decided to take
her to London to be studied. She spent nearly a year abroad; and after
her return the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research was
formed, and for a long time Mrs. Piper received a salary to sit
exclusively for the society. Their records and reports are full of the
things she said and did.
Every one who investigated Mrs. Piper had to admit that her case was
full of mystery. But if one reads the reports through from beginning to
end one cannot help feeling that her spirit messages are filled with
nonsense, at least of triviality. Here is a specimen -- and a fair
specimen, too -- of the kind of communication Pelham gave. He wrote out the
message. It referred to a certain famous man known in the reports as Mr.
Marte. Pelham is reported to have written by Mrs. Piper's hand:
"That he (Mr. Marte), with his keen brain and marvelous perception, will
be interested, I know. He was a very dear friend of X. I was exceedingly
fond of him. Comical weather interests both he and I -- me -- him -- I know it
all. Don't you see I correct these? Well, I am not less intelligent now.
But there are many difficulties. I am far clearer on all points than I
was shut up in the prisoned body (prisoned, prisoning or imprisoned you
ought to say). No, I don't mean, to get it that way. 'See here, H, don't
view me with a critic's eye, but pass my imperfections by.' Of course, I
know all that as well as anybody on your sphere (of course). Well, I
think so. I tell you, old fellow, it don't do to pick all these little
errors too much when they amount to nothing in one way. You have light
enough and brain enough, I know, to understand my explanations of being
shut up in this body, dreaming, as it were, and trying to help on
Some people would say that Pelham had had a little too much whisky toddy
when he wrote that rambling, meaningless string of words. Or we can
suppose that Mrs. Piper was dreaming. We see in the last sentence a
curious mixture of ideas that must have been in her mind. She herself
"I do not see how anybody can look on all that as testimony from another
world. I cannot see but that it must have been an unconscious expression
of my subliminal self, writing such stuff as dreams are made of."
In another place Mrs. Piper makes the following direct statement: "I
never heard of anything being said by myself while in a trance state
which might not have been latent in:
- "1. My own mind.
- "2. In the mind of the person in charge of the sitting.
- "3. In the mind of the person who was trying to get communication with
some one in another state of existence, or some companion present with
such person, or,
- "4. In the mind of some absent person alive somewhere else in the
Writing in the Psychological Review in 1898, Professor James says:
"Mrs. Piper's trance memory is no ordinary human memory, and we have to
explain its singular perfection either as the natural endowment of her
solitary subliminal self, or as a collection of distinct memory systems,
each with a communicating spirit as its vehicle.
"The spirit hypothesis exhibits a vacancy, triviality, and incoherence
of mind painful to think of as the state of the departed, and coupled
with a pretension to impress one, a disposition to 'fish' and face
around and disguise the essential hollowness which is, if anything, more
painful still. Mr. Hodgson has to resort to the theory that, although
the communicants probably are spirits, they are in a semi-comatose or
sleeping state while communicating, and only half aware of what is going
on, while the habits of Mrs. Piper's neural organism largely supply the
definite form of words, etc., in which the phenomenon is clothed."
After considering other theories Professor James concludes:
"The world is evidently more complex than we are accustomed to think it,
the absolute 'world ground' in particular being farther off than we are
wont to think it."
Mrs. Piper is reported to have said:
"Of what occurs after I enter the trance period I remember
nothing -- nothing of what I said or what was said to me. I am but a
passive agent in the hands of powers that control me. I can give no
account of what becomes of me during a trance. The wisdom and inspired
eloquence which of late has been conveyed to Dr. Hodgson through my
mediumship is entirely beyond my understanding. I do not pretend to
understand it, and can give no explanation -- I simply know that I have the
power of going into a trance when I wish."
Professor James says: "The Piper phenomena are the most absolutely
baffling thing I know."
Professor Hudson, Ph.D., LL.D., author of "The Law of Psychic
Phenomena," comes as near giving an explanation of "spiritualism," so
called, as any one. He begins by saying:
"All things considered, Mrs. Piper is probably the best 'psychic' now
before the public for the scientific investigation of spiritualism and
it must be admitted that if her alleged communications from discarnate
spirits cannot be traced to any other source, the claims of spiritism
have been confirmed."
Then he goes on:
"A few words, however, will make it clear to the scientific mind that
her phenomena can be easily accounted for on purely psychological
"Man is endowed with a dual mind, or two minds, or states of
consciousness, designated, respectively, as the objective and the
subjective. The objective mind is normally unconscious of the content of
the subjective mind. The latter is constantly amenable to control by
suggestion, and it is exclusively endowed with the faculty of telepathy.
"An entranced psychic is dominated exclusively by her subjective mind,
and reason is in abeyance. Hence she is controlled by suggestion, and,
consequently, is compelled to believe herself to be a spirit, good or
bad, if that suggestion is in any way imparted to her, and she
automatically acts accordingly.
"She is in no sense responsible for the vagaries of a Phinuit, for that
eccentric personality is the creation of suggestion. But she is also in
the condition which enables her to read the subjective minds of others.
Hence her supernormal knowledge of the affairs of her sitters. What he
knows, or has ever known, consciously or unconsciously (subjective
memory being perfect), is easily within her reach.
"Thus far no intelligent psychical researcher will gainsay what I have
said. But it sometimes happens that the psychic obtains information that
neither she nor the sitter could ever have consciously possessed. Does
it necessarily follow that discarnate spirits gave her the information?
Spiritists say 'yes,' for this is the 'last ditch' of spiritism.
"Psychologists declare that the telepathic explanation is as valid in
the latter class of cases as it obviously is in the former. Thus,
telepathy being a power of the subjective mind, messages may be conveyed
from one to another at any time, neither of the parties being
objectively conscious of the fact. It follows that a telepathist at any
following seance with the recipient can reach the content of that
"If this argument is valid -- and its validity is self-evident -- it is
impossible to imagine a case that may not be thus explained on
Professor Hudson's argument will appeal to the ordinary reader as good.
It may be simplified, however, thus:
We may suppose that Mrs. Piper voluntarily hypnotizes herself. Perhaps
she simply puts her conscious reason to sleep. In that condition the
rest of her mind is in an exalted state, and capable of telepathy and
mind-reading, either of those near at hand or at a distance. Her reason
being asleep, she simply dreams, and the questions of her sitter are
made to fit into her dream.
If we regard mediums as persons who have the power of hypnotizing
themselves and then of doing what we know persons who have been
hypnotized by others sometimes do, we have an explanation that covers
the whole case perfectly. At the same time, as Professor James warns us,
we must believe that the mind is far more complex than we are accustomed
to think it.
Links to Additional Media for Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism by A. Alpheus such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.