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The Drama of Love and Death

by Edward Carpenter

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On the Creation and Materialization of Forms

I have suggested more than once, in preceding chapters of this book, and in The Art of Creation and elsewhere, that in the ordinary evolution of thought, in dreams, in trance and in other psychic states, we are witness of a process which is continually and eternally going on, by which the faintest invisible forms and outlines, the nearest cloud-currents of the inner soul, gradually condense themselves, pass into visibility, tangibility, and so forth, and (if the process is continued) ultimately take their place among the substantial things of the outer world.

Hitherto this thought has been applied in certain departments of inquiry, but I am of impression that its considerable and world-wide significance has been missed. Freud, in his Traumdeutung, insists that behind the dream, and inspiring its action and symbolism there always lurks an emotion, a desire, a wish. And Havelock Ellis (though with due caution) corroborates this. He speaks[102] of “the controlling power of emotion on dream-ideas,” and says, “the 193 fundamental source of our dream-life may be said to be emotion.” That is, an emotion (from whatever source) arises in the mind. Vague and cloudlike at first, it presently takes form, and (if in sleep) clothes itself with the imagery of a dream, which becomes at last vivid and dramatic and real, to a degree which astounds us. But dream-life is only a paraphrase, so to speak, of waking life—a phase largely corresponding to the waking life of children[103] and animals; and in waking life the same thing happens. A wish or desire appears in the background of the mind; it moves forward and becomes a definite thought and a plan; then it moves forward again and becomes an action; the action creates a result; and the desire finally establishes itself or its image in the actual world. These emotions and desires and the images which sprung from them have a certain vitality and growth-power of their own. The figures in dreams move of themselves and concatenate with each other of their own accord—much as the figures do in a drama, as Coleridge long ago observed—and as the waking thoughts of all of us do, when we leave them a little to themselves and to go with loose rein. More than that; in some cases waking thoughts or passions become powerful enough to take possession of the whole man and embody themselves in his deeds—sometimes to heroic, sometimes to criminal ends. Or, taking possession of portions of the man, they precipitate conflict 194 within him. The dramatic quality of dreams is evidently due to the different figures or incidents of the dream being inspired by different qualities or experiences of the dreamer; and in the waking man the same process may lead to tragic struggles and disintegrations of personality. In hysteric patients, where the central controlling power is weak, the very thought or fear of a disease may seize upon a certain centre in the body and stimulate there all the symptoms of that disease; or a mental image may seize upon a certain portion of the brain, and break up the personality with strange new manifestations.

In all these cases, and scores of others which we cannot consider now, the same action is taking place—by which invisible psychic and spiritual forces, for good or evil, are ever pressing forward into the manifest, and condensing themselves into visible and even tangible forms, or taking possession of existing forms for the purpose of expression and manifestation. And here we have (as I think will be seen one day) the whole rationale of Creation—we have the conception which brings into line the phenomena of the visible and material world and their genesis, with the genesis of thoughts in our own minds, and their passage into visibility and expression; we have the conception which unites the mental and material, and which makes the whole Creation luminous with meaning. Especially is this obvious to-day, when the theory of electrons is introducing us to a world as far finer and subtler 195 than the atom, as the atom is finer and subtler than the tangible world of our experience; and is suggesting that these finest states of matter are of the nature of electrical charges, which, again, are quite analogous to mental states.[104] Thus we have, almost forced upon us as the key to the creation of visible forms, the conception, of a process of condensation by which the most subtle thought and emotion does in course of time (brief or lengthy) tend to manifest itself in material shape, and may ultimately take on the most persistent and quasi-indestructible forms.

Reverting, then, to the subject of last chapter, we see that a ‘spiritual’ body—that is, a material body of a texture so fine and so swiftly plastic as to be the analogue of thought—is a conception quite in line with the conclusions of modern science; and that granted the existence of such a thing, it is quite in line also to conclude that it would tend toward condensation and manifestation in grosser and more visible form. I gave in that chapter some general outline of how such condensation might take place. I now propose to consider this process more in detail, and to give some evidence as to its actually taking place.

There is something perhaps a little comic about the idea of spirit photography—something which has thus helped to retard its acceptance. 196 The busy photographer with his camera is so banal, and sometimes so obnoxious, a figure, that to think of him photographing a ghost, or the spirit of a dead relation, verges on bathos or the burlesque. Nevertheless, Nature does not attend to our canons in such matters, and in reality the thing is perfectly feasible and in order. It is well known that the photographic plate is most sensitive to the violet end of the spectrum—that it is this end which has the actinic quality. Moreover, it is known that the actinic quality extends beyond this end, and that there are ultra-violet rays which we cannot see, and which yet are photographically powerful. But the violet rays, as is also well known, are those whose light-waves are smallest—being only about half the size of the red waves;[105] and the ultra-violet rays are still smaller. Consequently, by means of the violet end of the spectrum, information can be got about small objects and infinitesimal details which would elude the more ordinary light. A particle, in fact, may be so small that it would reflect the violet waves, while it would be unable to reflect the red—just as a boat floating on the water will reflect and turn back tiny ripples, while it will simply be tossed about by good-sized waves. Advantage has been taken of this in microscopy, and by ingenious arrangements photographs of objects under the 197 microscope can now be taken by ultra-violet light, so as to show the very minutest details.

The application of this to the question before us is clear. If there be a spiritual body, composed of particles so infinitesimal as to be—to begin with—far beyond the limits of visibility, yet gradually condensing and accreting to themselves other and subsidiary particles, there might come a time when such a cloud-form would approach the limit of visibility—the molecules of which it was composed having grown so far. It would be perfectly natural, then, for a body composed of such molecules to come into the region of possible photography in the camera through the ultra-violet rays before it came into the region of visibility to the human eye by means of ordinary light. And thus the seeming paradox may be accounted for—of the appearance of spirit-forms, or even thought-forms, on the photographic plate which are not yet discernible by the eye. At a later stage of materialization the form may of course yield an image both to the eye and to the camera.[106]

Again, in this connection, it is often urged against the reality of spirit-forms, ghosts, and so forth, that they cannot bear a strong light; and this is held to dispose of all their claims for consideration. But what has just been said shows that on the contrary such an effect is just what might be expected. The delicate growing structure, whose particles were just large enough 198 to reflect the smaller light-waves, might easily be broken up and quite disintegrated by the larger and more powerful weaves of a strong glare—just as, in fact, our forms, which can endure light, are broken up and disintegrated by the still larger waves of intense heat. Katie King, who, as before mentioned, appeared so many times in connection with the medium Florence Cook, was frequently seen to fade away if the light was too strong. “At the earlier seances she could only come out of the cabinet for a few seconds at a time, once or twice during the seance; she had to go back quickly into the cabinet to gather fresh power from her medium, saying that the strong and unaccustomed brilliancy of the light made her ‘melt quite away.’”[107] And Nepenthes, that finely formed and beautiful figure which appeared in connection with Mme. D’Espérance, was more than once seen, by a large company assembled, to walk by the side of the medium up to the open French window at the end of the room and then to disappear as she came into the full daylight.[108]

Photographs, it may be noticed, of forms appearing at seances, or in connection with sitters, vary from mere cloudlike masses without or almost without shape to very distinct human figures with much detail of feature and dress,[109]—the 199 same figure being often recognized in various stages of clearness and definition. And this is interesting because it entirely corroborates the observations made in hundreds of seances, and in other cases, in which a form is first distinguished by the eye as a faintly luminous cloud, and gradually grows in distinctness and definition till it becomes visible in all detail, and even tangible. Mme. D’Espérance, whose book, Shadowland, should be read on account of its intelligent handling and obvious sincerity, as well as on account of the remarkable phenomena reported, describes (p. 151) the first occasion on which a ‘materialization’ appeared to her:—“One evening, for some reason or other, we were sitting without a lighted lamp. The daylight had not faded when we commenced the sitting, but though it grew dark no one suggested making a light. Happening to glance over to the part of the room where the shadows were deepest it seemed to me that there was a curious cloudy luminosity standing out distinct and clear from the darkness. I watched it for a minute or two without saying anything, wondering where it came from and how it was caused. I thought it must be a reflection from the street lamps outside, though I had never seen it like that before. While I watched, the luminous cloud seemed to concentrate itself, become substantial, and form itself into a figure of a child, illuminated as it were by daylight that did not shine on it but, somehow, from within it—the darkness 200 of the room seeming to act as a background, throwing up by contrast every curve of the form and every feature into strong relief.” And in another passage she says:—“As soon as I have entered the mediumistic cabinet my first impression is of being covered with spider webs. Then I feel that the air is filled with substance, and a kind of white and vaporous mass, quasi-luminous, like the steam from a locomotive, is formed in front of the abdomen. After this mass has been tossed and agitated in every way for some minutes, sometimes even for half-an-hour, it suddenly stops, and then out of it is born a living being close by me.”[110]

Another figure—that of Yolande (a young woman)—is mentioned in the same book (p. 254) as appearing again and again out of such a filmy cloudy patch on the floor. Similarly, Professor Richet noticed over and over again 201 the outgrowth of a figure (Beni Boa) from a white cloud. “Near the cabinet we could see, betwixt the curtain and the table, a whitish globe forming, luminous, and rotating on the floor; from this globe Beni Boa sprang.” The figure would then walk round the room and disappear again; but after a time the white cloud would again form and Beni Boa reappear. And Professor Lombroso, alluding to this, says:[111]—“This observation is of great importance, since it is not possible to attribute to fraud the formation of a luminous patch on the floor which transforms itself into a living being.” Further, Lombroso says:—“Five photographs were obtained at these sittings by magnesium and chlorate of potash light, with a Kodak and with a Richard stereoscopic apparatus simultaneously, which fact excludes the possibility of photographic fraud; and all the plates were developed in Algeria by an optician who was unaware of what had preceded. On the plates appeared a tall figure wrapped in a white mantle” (and similar to the figure which the seven sitters present at the seances had seen).

I have alluded to this cloud-formation before as characteristic of an early stage of the appearance of these figures, and as suggesting a process of condensation going on. Lombroso, from various considerations which he brings forward (p. 185),[112] 202 seems convinced that the phenomena of these forms are largely connected with radio-activity. He says:—“It would seem that these bodies belong to that further state of matter, the radiant state, which now at last has established a firm footing in science—and which thus offers the only hypothesis which can reconcile the ancient and universal belief in the persistence of some form of life after death with the postulates of science which maintain that without organ there can be no function.” This radio-active condition of matter is of course that finest and most active state represented by the electrons—in which each electron is excessively minute,[113] yet moves at enormous speed, and carries with it an electric charge. It connects itself with condensation in this way, that “an electric charge assists vapor to condense,” and “where ions (i.e. positively or negatively charged particles) are present in considerable numbers a thick mist will form whenever the space is saturated with vapor.”[114] And Fournier d’Albe says:[115]—“In the physical theory of ionization and condensation we have become familiar with the fact that the smallest charged particles are the most effective promoters of condensation. In fact, it would suffice to extract a 203 very small proportion of the innumerable electrons within the body to bring about a vigorous condensation in the moist air around it.”

Thus it is quite probable that the cloud-formation, which in general precedes the manifestation of distinct figures, is due to condensation, and in part at any rate to a condensation of water-vapor on the accreting particles of the spirit-body. And this is made the more probable by the strong sensation of cold which so frequently accompanies these appearances, and which is a common accompaniment of condensation. Crookes, in his Researches, emphasizes this in connection with almost all the phenomena, and says[116] they “are generally preceded by a peculiar cold air, sometimes amounting to a decided wind. I have had sheets of paper blown about by it, and a thermometer lowered several degrees. On some occasions ... the cold has been so intense that I could only compare it to that felt when the hand has been within a few inches of frozen mercury.” Some such sensation seems to be quite a common experience, and the authoress of Shadowland, speaking of her earlier sittings (p. 228), says:—“It was not long before the same strange disturbances in the air began as on the previous occasion. I felt my hair blown and lifted by currents of air, and cool breezes played about my face and hands.”

Thus (with the corroborating evidence of 204 Crookes’ thermometer) we may suppose that, after all, the cold airs and shivering sensations which seem so often to accompany apparitions may not be merely subjective to the observer, but may be real phenomena due to physical condensations taking place in his immediate proximity. Moreover, it has to be noted that the condensations may not be merely of water-vapor, but of other substances as well, namely (according to an opinion now gaining ground), of fine matter or effluences provided by the bodies of the sitters present (or some of them) as well as by the body of the medium. The passage last quoted from Shadowland continues: “then began a strange sensation, which I had sometimes felt at seances. Frequently I have heard it described by others as of cobwebs being passed over the face, but to me, who watched it curiously, it seemed that I could feel fine threads being drawn out of the pores of my skin.” And in another passage[117] the same writer describes the cloud which precedes a materialization as “a slightly luminous haze” which often appears “about the head, shoulders, elbows and sometimes the knees and feet (of the medium). Frequently it gathers slowly at the fingers, increasing in density till it resembles a slight transparent film of slightly luminous cotton wool.” Further, she explains that it goes on condensing till it becomes cobwebby and perceptible to touch. The evidence generally seems to show that these clouds are of the nature of effluences 205 from the medium or other person present; and the above quotation affords corroboration of that view and makes easily intelligible the great exhaustion from which mediums often suffer on these occasions. It suggests also that the condensation is by no means of water-vapor only, but of other substances drawn from the interior vitality of the persons concerned, and necessary for the building up of the apparitional form.

It is difficult in the case, for instance, of “Katie King,” who, as already said, appeared hundreds of times during two or three years, or of Estella Martha, who appeared to her husband during five years and in 380 or more seances in connection with the medium Kate Fox,[118] not to believe that such figures are (as we should say) really the individuals they profess to be, and not mere thought-forms or images projected from the medium’s under-mind. But whichever view we take, it is obvious that they are centres in some degree, of intelligent force or vitality, centres which, though in their essence rare and tenuous as thought or feeling, succeed in clothing themselves with a certain grade of corporeality by the use of the materials at hand, and in so coming into visible manifestation. And this general view is confirmed by the fact, so often observed, that when the same figure appears repeatedly, it does, as time goes on, acquire skill and adroitness in carrying out the process of condensation or whatever it is, which is concerned, and 206 consequently comes into manifestation and activity more quickly and decisively. Also, it may be noted, and has often been observed (as in the case of the said Estella Martha and many others), that by practice the figure attains the power of enduring strong light—that is, its state of condensation reaches a point of solidity almost comparable with that of our tissues, which are not as a rule disintegrated by light.

The radio-activity of the ‘inner being’ also helps to explain the extraordinary manifestations of sheer physical force in these connections. Some of these manifestations have been so astonishing, that the fact alone has caused them to be disbelieved; but though, of course, fraud has played a part in such phenomena, and has to be guarded against, it is now quite evident that in a multitude of cases fraud does not enter at all.

Eusapia Paladino, for instance—though capable of little fraudulences—was obviously the seat of extraordinary powers not to be explained by these. Mr. Carrington, who made a special study of this medium, and who (as I have said before) has also made a special study of fraudulent methods in so-called spiritualism, vouches most strongly for the great exhibitions of inexplicable force in her vicinity—especially perhaps in the way of levitations. He says:—“Every one who has studied Eusapia’s phenomena knows that practically every seance (for some reason) commences with table-levitations—this, whether 207 they are wanted or not! It seems the necessary programme, and it is almost invariably carried out. Seeing them time after time, one can obtain a very fair idea of their nature and reality. And I may say that I now consider levitations as well established as any other physical facts. They are not open to the objection to which most psychical phenomena are subjected—that they cannot be repeated or induced and studied experimentally, as one would study other physical facts—for they can be induced and studied in just this laboratory manner. I have probably seen several hundreds of these levitations now, under every conceivable condition and in excellent light, and I consider them so far established that, as Count Solovovo said, “the burden of proof is now on the man who asserts that they are not real, not upon the man who asserts that they are.” These are pretty strong words, and by a very responsible observer! And then Mr. Carrington proceeds with a detailed account of these and other physical phenomena.[119]

Some years ago, the reports and accounts of such phenomena were generally at once dismissed as absurd and incredible; but by a remarkable coincidence the last few years have seen the wonderful development of the science of radio-activity—dating from the epoch-making experiments of Crookes, in 1879 and earlier. These experiments, curiously enough, were worked out during much of the same period as Crookes’ 208 researches into spiritualistic phenomena, and have led to the shedding of much light upon the latter. For the new science developed from them, and already more or less popularized,[120] compels us to suppose that the most enormous forces lurk all around, within the very structure of the atom itself—which of course is totally invisible to our eyes. The new facts observed, with regard to radium and other such substances, seem to compel the supposition that each atom is composed of an immense number (say 100,000) of highly charged electrical particles moving each with huge velocity—a velocity at any rate comparable to that of light. The dissociation of such atoms and the liberation of their constituent particles develops a fabulous energy. When it is calculated that one gramme or fifteen grains of matter (say the weight of thirty postage stamps) moving with the speed of light, would have energy enough to lift the British Navy to the top of Ben Nevis (Crookes); or that one milligramme (say the sixty-sixth part of a grain of wheat) at the same speed would represent the energy of fifteen million foot-tons (Lodge); or when, according to J. J. Thomson, the combined speed and mass of the electrons within such a milligramme of matter would total up to the work represented by a hundred million kilogram-metres;[121] then we can at any rate see—whatever 209 small variations there may be in the estimates—how immense are the potentialities of the tiniest points of matter; how each minutest atom comprehends, as Shelley says, “a world of loves and hatreds” (i.e. positive and negative electric charges); we realize that no manifestations of unexpected power are per se incredible; and we are indeed rather inclined to wonder how it is that these great inter-atomic energies do not more often force themselves on our attention!

It is evident that any such condition of being as we have supposed in the case of the ‘inner’ or ‘spiritual’ body, might afford means for the liberation—even from a single atom—of forces amply sufficient for the most ‘miraculous’ phenomena; and we are led to wonder and to ask whether it may not be the case that, after all, our gross bodies are really a hindrance rather than a help—whether it may not be true that the powers we could exert without them and independently of muscles and sinews and hands and feet would be far greater than those we actually do exert by means of these organs and appendages; whether, in fact, our gross bodies do not exercise a limiting effect, confining our activities to certain very clearly specified directions, and within certain very definite bounds? At any rate, this point of view is worth considering.

Certainly the well-established facts of telepathy, and the equally well-established facts of the projection of phantoms from persons dying, 210 or passing through great danger, to friends even at a great distance, seem to show that the inner self of one person can send out rays or in some way impress itself on the inner self of another far-off person;[122] and this, under the theory of electrons moving at prodigious speed, seems not impossible. For though there is a difficulty in supposing ordinary physical vibrations or radiations to reach effectively from one person to another (say a thousand miles away) on account of the law of space itself, which makes such radiations diminish in intensity as the square of the distance increases, yet in the case of electrical radiations it seems possible to suppose two people related to each other as positive and negative poles—in which case the radiations of electric charges would pass along lines connecting the two, and with comparatively little loss of intensity. Our present rather crude and lumbering bodies probably impede these subtle exertions of force; and the fact (already noted once or twice) of the greater activity of people in the telepathic or phantasmogenetic directions, when they are themselves outwardly in a dying or exhausted condition, seems to point to a considerable liberation of these powers after death.

On the other hand, the well-established facts of perceptivity at a great distance, or without the mediation of the gross body and the usual 211 end-organs, point in the same direction. Considerable investigations have been made in this subject; and not only is the evidence for occasional clairvoyance at a distance well established, but there are curious cases in which the faculty of sight or of hearing seems to be transferred from its natural organ to some other part of the body, as of seeing with the knee, or the stomach, or the finger-tips. Myers gives considerable attention to this subject, and thinks that Professor Fontan’s experiments[123] “cannot lightly be set aside”; while Lombroso quotes an hysterical patient of his own, a girl of fourteen, who lost the sight of her eyes, but was able to read perfectly with the lobe of her left ear! Later on, in the same patient, the sense of smell concentrated itself in the heel of her foot! Mrs. Piper, as is well known, commonly raises her hand for the sitter to speak into, as if it were her ear. And in cases of somnambulism the sleepwalker will sometimes move securely through difficult or dangerous places with eyes absolutely closed. All these things seem to point to an aboriginal power of perception independent of the end-organs. It is obvious that if in the course of evolution our present faculties of sight, hearing, and so forth have been developed from the diffused sensitivity of an amœba or some such creature, then those faculties must have existed, in their undifferentiated state, in the amœba; or, to put the matter another way, 212 the faculty of sight clearly does not reside in the cornea of the eye, or in the crystalline lens, or even in the retina itself; which are merely an apparatus evolved for dealing with the details of the matter. The retina catches the light-disturbance, and the optic nerve conveys it to the brain, and the brain-cells are agitated by it; but where does sight come in? At some point, doubtless, the agitations of the brain-cells or of their internal molecules are seen and interpreted; but the being that sees and interprets them may (we had almost said must) be capable of directly seeing and interpreting similar agitations in the outer world—that is, it may or must by its nature be capable of seeing the events of the outer world without the mediation of the end-organs or the brain. Frederick Myers, dealing with this subject, says:—“I start from the thesis that the perceptive power within us precedes and is independent of the specialized sense-organs, which it has developed for earthly use. ‘It is the mind that sees and the mind that hears, the other things are blind and deaf.’”[124] He thinks that in the development or unfolding of life on our planet “certain sensibilities got themselves defined and stereotyped upon the organism by the evolution of end-organs. Others failed to get thus externalized; but may, for aught we know, persist nevertheless in the central organs.”[125] 213 It is evident—however we may explain the matter—that activities and sensibilities do persist and manifest themselves in the human organism quite independent of the ordinary and stereotyped end-organs, and this fact must go far to persuade us, not only that there is an inner, a more subtle, and a more durable body than that which we usually recognize, but that in some respects this latter body is a limitation and a hindrance to the activity of the former, and to the swiftness and range of the perceptions of the soul.

What, then, it will naturally be asked, is the object or purpose or use of our incarnation in this grosser body?—why, if there is such an ethereal or spiritual frame within, should it thus tend to accrete denser particles upon itself and ultimately to clothe itself in a vesture of so opaque and material a nature? It would be rash to attempt to answer so profound a question offhand—off one’s own bat as it were; and still more rash perhaps to accept any of the ready-made answers which are offered in such profusion, and in so many different jargons and lingos, by the sects and schools, from the Gnostics and Theosophists to the most philistine of the chapels and churches. Yet if one may venture a suggestion, it would seem rather likely that the object and purpose and use of this process by which the soul is entangled in matter, and its operation and perception so strangely 214 hampered and limited, is—limitation; that limitation itself and even hindrance are part and parcel of the great scheme of the soul’s deliverance. But the further consideration of this I will defer to a later chapter.[126]

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