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The Drama of Love and Death Edward Carpenter

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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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CHAPTER X

Inner or Spiritual Body

In order to form a conception of what kind of body the surviving Self may have, it seems best for the moment to go back to the genesis of our present body. We saw (chapter vii.) that we were compelled to suppose, even in the first germ of our actual body an intelligent form of some kind at work, which while gathering up and representing race-memories of the past, presided over and directed their rehabilitation in the present, thus building up the present body according to a certain pattern—(though subject of course to modification by outer difficulties and obstacles). From the very first, the exceeding complexity and delicacy of the movements within the germ-cells, combined with the decisiveness of their divisions and differentiations, and the perfection and adaptation of the bodily structures and organs ultimately produced, all point in the suggested direction.[91] At the same time, we were compelled to conclude that this form, whose first manifestations in the tiny germ-cell evidently originate from quite ultra-microscopic 177 movements, was itself invisible, invisible through belonging either to an ultra-microscopic world, or to a world of a fourth-dimensional or other order of existence. I think, therefore, that for the present we may accept that conclusion, and fairly suppose that some such invisible form underlies the genesis of each of our bodies.

But at the same time the conclusion of invisibility must not be supposed to carry with it the conclusion of immateriality. Quite the contrary. A creature living in the two-dimensional world formed by the water-film on the surface of a pond might have no conception of the water-world below or the air-world above—both of which might be quite invisible to it; all the same a fish or a bird breaking through the surface would instantly cause some very powerful and very material phenomena there! And again, though atoms and electrons individually may be quite invisible, it is only a question of their number and the force of their electric charges, as to how far they intrude upon what we call the material world. Also, we must remember that invisibility or imperceptibility does not by any means imply non-occupation of space. On the contrary again. For four-dimensional existence carries with it an occupation of space which is quite miraculous to us—as, for instance, the power of appearing in two places at the same time; while a number of ultra-microscopic atoms, by their electrostatic attractions and repulsions, may maintain definite relations of distance from 178 each other, and may altogether constitute a cloud of considerable size and complex organization—quite imperceptible as a rule, yet occupying a definite area and fully capable of affecting material things.

It may be a question, then, whether it is not some such invisible cloud—perhaps of quite human size and measurement—which at conception begins to enter the fertilized germ-cell, stimulating it to division, and penetrating further and further into the newly-formed body-cells, as by thousands and millions they divide and multiply to form the growing organism. Whatever it is, it is something of infinitely subtle organization and constitution, representing the inmost vitality of the body, and not that inmost vitality in a merely general sense, but the vitality of every portion and section of the body. It establishes itself within the gross body (or it builds that body round itself) and becomes the organizer and provider of its life; maintains its form and structure during life, fortifies it against change and disease, and wards off as long as it can the arrival of death.

What, then, of Death? Why, granted so much as we have supposed, it seems easy to suppose that at death this inner body passes away again. It just leaves the gross body behind and passes out of it. For a fourth-dimensional being this must be easy to do! But not to presume too much on other-dimensional conditions, if we only assume the inner body to be such a cloud of 179 atoms or electrons as already mentioned, the passage of such atoms through the tissues of the gross body would be entirely in accordance with the well-known facts of osmose and the diffusion of liquids and gases, and would present no exceptional or impossible problem. Through cell-walls and muscular and other tissues such atoms would pass, conceivably maintaining still their relative ‘form’ and organization with regard to each other, and forming a cloud similar to that which entered the germ and other cells at conception (though of course so far modified by the life-experience), and leaving now the gross body devitalized, and doomed to slow corruption and to serve only as material for lower forms.


One would not, of course, venture on conjectures so speculative as the above, if it were not that long tradition and history, and even modern experience, so singularly confirm or favor their general truth. The conception of a cloud-like ghost—sometimes visible, sometimes invisible[92]—leaving the body at death, roaming through the fields of Hades or some hidden world, and from time to time revisiting the glimpses of the moon and the gaze of wondering mortals—penetrates all literature and tradition. Among all primitive peoples it seems to be accepted as a matter of course; it informs the legends 180 and the drama and the philosophies of the more cultivated; it claims detailed historical instances and proofs[93] (as in the case of Field-marshal von Grumbkoff, to whom the wraith of King Frederick Augustus announced his own death—which had just occurred; or in the case of the poet Petrarch, to whom Bishop Colonna made a similar announcement); and in modern times it has met with extraordinary and in many quarters quite unexpected confirmation at the hands of scientific investigation.

To this evidence of general probability that at death a vital and subtle yet substantial inner body is withdrawn from every part and portion of the gross body, we may add the evidence, such as it is, from actual sensation and experience. In the hour of death and in allied physical changes sensations are experienced corresponding to such a conclusion. Though necessarily there is little quite direct evidence, for the actual moment of death, yet in the just preceding stage, of extreme weakness, the sensation of depletion in every part of the body, and of withdrawal, as of a hand being drawn out of a glove, is very noticeable. (And it may be remarked that clairvoyants not unfrequently observe, at death itself, 181 a luminous cloud of the general outline and shape of the dying person being slowly distilled, head first, from his or her head.) Furthermore, in the state of ecstasy—which is closely allied to death—the same sensation of withdrawal is experienced. The person seems to himself to stand outside and a little beyond his own body—and doubtless this experience is denoted in the very etymology of the word. In trance the same: the medium experiences the extreme of exhaustion while some portion of her vital being is functioning (as it appears) outside. Under anæsthetics it is a common experience to dream that one has left the body and is flying through space. (See The Art of Creation, p. 18.) And again, in the case of love—whose close relation to death we have several times already noted—whether it be in the strain of emotional desire or the stress of the physical orgasm this ‘hand from the glove’ sensation is often most acute and seems to suggest that every portion of the body is contributing its part to the process in hand; which indeed in this case of love may very fairly be supposed to consist in a transfer of the cloud-like organism (or a large part of it) to the other person concerned.

There are cases, too, where in a kind of dream-consciousness the sensation of the self passing out through walls and other obstacles is so powerful as to leave an impress on the mind ever after. Such is the case already alluded to 182 (chapter viii. p. 148, supra) from Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, where a lady half waking from sleep “felt herself carried to the wall of her room, with a feeling that it must arrest her further progress. But no; she seemed to pass through it into the open air. Outside the house was a tree; and this also she appeared to traverse as if it interposed no obstacle.” She thus passed to the house of a lady friend, held a conversation with her, and in her dream returned. But afterward the friend reported that she had seen the apparition that night and conversed with it. Similarly a young friend of mine, dreaming one night that his mother (in the same house) was ill, was intensely conscious of dashing—not along corridors and through doorways but through the partition walls of two rooms—into the chamber where his mother slept, when finding her all right he returned; and the experience was so vivid that it remained with him for days afterward.

Taking all these considerations together, we may say that there is a strong general probability in favor of the proposition put forward. And it is interesting and important to find that at this juncture modern science is coming out from her old haunts and beginning seriously to tackle a question which she has hitherto for the most part evaded or ignored. The whole of the psychology and even physiology of Death have (as I have previously remarked) been sadly 183 neglected; but now and of late quite a number of books on this subject have been published,[94] and a good deal of scientific activity is moving in that direction.

Professor Fournier d’Albe, in his book New Light on Immortality,[95] has made some very interesting suggestions—which though they may not as yet be accounted more than suggestions, seem to be in the right direction, and certainly acquire some authority from his intimate command of the modern discoveries in Physics as well as in the field of Psychical Research. His view is that every one of the twenty-five thousand million million cells which constitute say the human body has probably some ‘centrosome’ or other vital point within it, which is in fact the governing and organizing power of that cell. Such point or collection of points, though ‘material,’ may likely weigh only a ten-thousandth part of the cell-weight. Hence if this ‘soul’ was abstracted from each cell, the total weight of the twenty-five thousand billion souls resulting would be only a ten-thousandth part of the body weight, or about a fifth of an ounce! But these soul-fragments or psychomeres as he calls them, would together make up the total soul of the man, and—as already explained—might not only by their negative and positive charges maintain certain spatial 184 relations and organization with regard to each other, but would, owing to their extreme minuteness, easily pass through the tissues and liberate themselves from the gross body. Thus a human soul, weighing a fraction only of an ounce, but of like shape and size to the human body, and of intense vitality and subtlety, might disengage itself at death, to begin a fresh career and to enter into a new life—leaving the existing body to fall to ruin and decay. Further, Professor Fournier d’Albe, greatly bold in speculation, surmises that such a spiritual body, discharging the atmosphere from its interior frame, might quite naturally rise in the air till it attained its position of equilibrium at a great height up—say in a region 35–80 miles over the earth, which would thus become the (first) abode of the departed.

Whatever may be said about the details of this theory, and whatever difficulties they may present, the main outlines—as I have already indicated—seem quite feasible and probable, and in line with world-old belief and tradition. And certain details (which we shall return to again) are powerfully corroborated by modern observation.

Meanwhile it is interesting to find, in corroboration of the general theory, that some experiments lately carried out, in weighing the body before and after death, have apparently yielded the result of a decided loss of weight at or very shortly after, the moment of Death. Dr. Duncan M‘Dougall, experimenting with 185 considerable care, found that one of his patients lost ¾ ounce precisely at death;[96] another lost ½ ounce, with an additional loss of 1 ounce during the next few minutes, after which no further loss took place; another yielded very nearly the same result; and so on. Thus we have the old Egyptian idea of the weighing of the soul after death resuscitated in a very practical form in modern times—only with the medical practitioner in the place of Thoth, the great assessor of the Underworld! And it would be satisfactory to know how far modern observation of a normal soul weight corresponds with ancient speculation in the matter. It is curious anyhow to find that Fournier d’Albe’s estimates are so nearly corroborated by Dr. M‘Dougall; and we must await with interest further and perhaps more detailed observations along the same line.

Another line along which something seems to have been done by hard and fast science to corroborate the general theory of the extrusion of a cloud-like spirit form from the body at death, is in the matter of photography. Dr. Baraduc, in his book, Mes Morts: leurs manifestations 186 (1908), gives an account of photographs which he took of his wife’s body within an hour after death and of his son’s body (in the coffin) nine hours after death. When developed the plates all showed cloud-like emanations hovering over the corpses, not certainly having definite human outline, but apparently shot through by lines and streaks of light. And though here again the experiments are not conclusive, they so far are corroborative, and may be taken to indicate a direction for further inquiry.

This last I think we are especially entitled to say, on account of what has been already done in the way of photographing the cloud-figures (some of them very definite in outline) which are found to emanate on occasions from mediums in the state of trance. For notwithstanding the doubt which has commonly been cast on all such photographs and notwithstanding the very obvious ease with which cameras can be manipulated and shadow-figures of some kind fraudulently produced, the evidence for the genuineness of some such ‘spirit’ photographs is—to any one who really studies it—beyond question. The celebrated “Katie King,” who appeared at seances in connection with the medium Florence Cook, and during a period of two years or more was seen by some hundreds of people—and especially studied by Sir William Crookes—was photographed several times under test conditions.[97] Professor 187 Charles Richet, who when he first heard of Crookes’ conclusions was convulsed with laughter over their supposed absurdity, afterward confessed his error,[98] for time after time he not only saw a phantasm (“Beni Boa”) in connection with the Algerian medium Aisha, but obtained photographs of the same.[99] Dr. A. R. Wallace, in a long note, pp. 190, 191 of his book, Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, gives a careful description of his own experiments in this line. Several different figures were at different times photographed in connection with Mme. D’Espérance; and the very detailed account, with illustrations, which she gives of these phenomena in ch. xxvii. of her book, Shadowland, must give the unbeliever pause. And so on.[100] The evidence is so abundant, and so on the whole so well confirmed, that we are practically now compelled to admit (and this is the point in hand) that cloud-like forms of human outline emanating from a medium’s or other person’s living body may at times be caught by the photographic plate. And this is important because it removes the 188 phenomenon from the region of the fanciful or imaginative and gives it automatic and objective registration.

That these forms occurring and occasionally photographed in connection with mediums are independent ‘spirits’ or souls is of course in no way assumed. They may be such, or (what seems more likely) they may be simply extensions of the spiritual or inner body of the medium. The point that interests us here is that their appearance in either case points to the actual existence of such an inner body, capable of becoming extruded from the gross body, and of becoming the seat and manifestation of intelligence. Further than that we need not go at present.

But it will be objected, if the inner or spiritual body is, as has just been supposed, of such a subtle and tenuous nature as to be in itself quite invisible, what connection can this have with phantoms that can be photographed, or that can be seen, or that can be actually touched and handled? This question—the question as to how an excessively rare and tenuous and invisible being may gradually condense and materialize so as to come first within the region of photographic activity, and then within the region of normal visibility, and so on into audible and tangible and material existence and operation, I shall discuss more at length in the next chapter. Suffice it here to point out that the general consensus of thoughtful opinion on this subject at the present time points to a probable condensation of some kind, and 189 utilization of such suitable materials as may be to hand, by which the subtle inner body gradually clothes itself in an outer and denser garment. Whether with Fournier d’Albe we suppose a soul-like core to every single cell, or whether we take a more diffused and general view, in any case we seem compelled to believe that our actual bodies are carried on by organizing powers distributed in centres throughout the body.[101] If by any means these vital centres were separated from the gross body, it would still seem natural for them to continue their organizing activity whenever they were surrounded with suitable material. And if, as seems likely, in the case of mediums and seances, a considerable quantity of loose floating organic material is commonly evolved from the bodies of those present, such effluences might be quickly caught up and condensed by any such vital centres present into more or less visible forms and figures.

If, by way of illustration, we were to suppose an army-corps to represent a gross body, then the officers, from corporals to general, would represent the inner or organizing soul; and all these officers together, though really being a ‘body,’ would constitute a mass so small and so scattered compared with the mass-body of the army, that in comparison they would be invisible, and might easily all pass out and away from the army without being observed. They might pass out and conceivably organize another army-corps 190 elsewhere; but the result on that left behind (of which they were really the soul) would soon be seen in its complete disintegration and collapse. Now suppose further that in a neighboring nation, across the frontier, there was a great deal of disaffection existing—that large masses of the people there were out of touch with their own Government (the case of a medium in trance), and waiting for some one to come and organize them. Then it is easy to imagine the small group of officers aforesaid passing across the frontier (quite unseen and unobserved) and immediately on doing so finding ready to their hands a quantity of material just suitable for their activity. In a wonderfully short time the various officers would begin to organize the various departments of a new army-corps; the people would flock to their standard. Even in a day or two the faint outline of a new political form or movement would show itself; and in a week this might become substantial enough to exhibit serious manifestations of force!

The general application of this to the question in hand is obvious enough. But there is another point which it illustrates—a point which we have raised before. I am convinced that science will never yield any very fruitful understanding of the world, until it recognizes that life and intelligence (of course in the broadest signification) pervade all the phenomena of Nature. It is perfectly useless to try to explain human development, human destiny, mental 191 activity, the forces of nature, and so forth, in terms of dead matter. No explanation of such a kind could possibly be satisfying. And more and more it is becoming clear that even what we call the inorganic world is as subtle and swift in its responses as what we call the organic. Many difficulties must inevitably arise in any attempted solution of the problem before us—that problem which is generally denoted by “the nature of the soul and its relation to the body”; but we shall never arrive at any harmonious view of the whole question until we are persuaded, and practically assume, that life and intelligence in some degree are characteristic of all that we call ‘matter’ as well as of all we call mind, and pervade the whole structure of the universe. We shall then see that the forces, for instance, which organize and direct the human body, even down to its minutest parts, are probably just as individual and intelligent in their action as those (to take the example just given) which organize and direct an army-corps.

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