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On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism: A Defence of Modern Spiritualism:
Historical Teachings of Spiritualism.
The lessons which modern Spiritualism teaches may be classed under two heads. In the first place, we find that it gives a rational account of various phenomena in human history which physical science has been unable to explain, and has therefore rejected or ignored; and, in the second, we derive from it some definite information as to man's nature and destiny, and, founded on this, an ethical system of great practical efficacy. The following are some of the more important phenomena of history and of human nature which science cannot deal with, but which Spiritualism explains.
1. It is no small thing that the spiritualist finds himself able to rehabilitate Socrates as a sane man, and his "demon" as an intelligent spiritual being who accompanied him through life,—in other words, a guardian spirit. The non-spiritualist is obliged to look upon one of the greatest men, in human history, not only as subject all his life to a mental illusion, but as being so weak, foolish, or superstitious as never to discover that it was an illusion. He is obliged to disbelieve the fact asserted by contemporaries and by Socrates himself, that it forewarned him truly of dangers; and to hold that this noble man, this subtle reasoner, this religious sceptic, who was looked up to with veneration and love by the great men who were his pupils, was imposed upon by his own fancies, and never during a long life found out that they were fancies, and that their supposed monitions were as often wrong as right. It is a positive mental relief not to have to think thus of Socrates.
2. Spiritualism allows us to believe that the oracles of antiquity were not all impostures; that a whole people, perhaps the most intellectually acute who ever existed, were not all dupes. In discussing the question, "Why the Prophetess Pythia giveth no Answers now from the Oracle in Verse," Plutarch tells us that when kings and states consulted the oracle on weighty matters that might do harm if made public, the replies were couched in enigmatical language; but when private persons asked about their own affairs they got direct answers in the plainest terms, so that some people even complained of their simplicity and directness as being unworthy of a divine origin. And he adds this positive testimony: "Her answers, though submitted to the severest scrutiny, have never proved false or incorrect. On the contrary, the verification of them has filled the temple with gifts from all parts of Greece and foreign countries." And again, "The answer of Pythoness proceeds to the very truth, without any diversion, circuit, fraud, or ambiguity. It has never yet, in a single instance, been convicted of falsehood." Would such statements be made by such a writer, if these oracles were all the mere guesses of impostors? The fact that they declined and ultimately failed, is wholly in their favour; for why should imposture cease as the world became less enlightened and more superstitious? Neither does the fact that the priests could sometimes he bribed to give out false oracles prove anything, against such statements as that of Plutarch and the belief during many generations, supported by ever-recurring experiences, of the greatest men of antiquity. That belief could only have been formed by demonstrative facts; and modern Spiritualism enables us to understand the nature of those facts.
3. Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of Spiritualism, and spiritualists alone can read the record with an enlightened belief. The hand that wrote upon the wall at Belshazzar's feast, and the three men unhurt in Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, are for them actual facts which they need not explain away. St. Paul's language about "spiritual gifts," and "trying the spirits," is to them intelligible language, and the "gift of tongues" a simple fact. When Christ cast out "devils" or "evil spirits," he really did so—not merely startle a madman into momentary quiescence; and the water changed into wine, as well as the bread and fishes continually renewed till five thousand men were fed, are credible, as extreme manifestations of a power which is still daily at work among us.
4. The miracles of the saints, when well attested, come into the same category. Those of St. Bernard, for instance, were often performed in broad day before thousands of spectators, and were recorded by eye-witnesses. He was himself greatly troubled by them, wondering why this power was bestowed upon him, and fearing lest it should make him less humble. This was not the frame of mind, nor was St. Bernard's the character of a deluded enthusiast. The spiritualists need not believe that all this never happened; or that St. Francis d'Assisi and Sta. Theresa were not raised into the air, as eye-witnesses declared they were.
5. Witchcraft, and witchcraft trials, have a new interest for the spiritualist. He is able to detect hundreds of curious and minute coincidences with phenomena he has himself witnessed; * he is able to separate the facts from the absurd inferences, which people imbued with the frightful superstition of diabolism drew from them, and from which false inferences all the horrors of the witchcraft mania arose. Spiritualism, and Spiritualism alone, gives a rational explanation of witchcraft, and determines how much of it was objective fact, how much subjective illusion.
* At a trial for Witchcraft, at Cork, in 1661, a young girl was believed to be bewitched. She had violent fits, and, during these, several witnesses declared that, while they were present, she was "removed strangely, in the twinkling of an eye, out of the bed, sometimes into the bottom of a chest with linen, under all the linen, and the linen not at all disordered, sometimes betwixt the two beds she lay on, sometimes under a parcel of wool; and once she was laid on a small deal board, which lay on the top of the house between two sollar beams, where it was necessary to rear up ladders to have her fetched down." At the same trial, it was declared, that little stones were thrown at her whereever she went, and the witnesses saw great quantities of these come and hit her, and fall to the ground, and then vanish, so that none of them could be found. But once the girl caught one, and the witness another, and she tied them in her purse, but they vanished in a little time, although the knot remained unopened.
These facts are very analogous to some of the more powerful manifestations of modern Spiritualism. Such occurrences as these are to be met with in the record of witchcraft trials by thousands, generally witnessed by numbers of persons educated and uneducated; and if any one will take the trouble to read the reports of these trials, they will see that the testimony of single witnesses, to extraordinary phenomena, was not accepted, unless corroborated by similar facts witnessed by several persons. It is generally the fashion to pass over these testimonies, as not worthy of a moment's notice; but this is surely not satisfactory ; and, when we find that phenomena of an exactly similar nature are witnessed in our own day, by men of talent and education, whose prepossessions are all against them, this concurrence of ancient and modern testimony, must be held to prove that, some, at least, of the facts witnessed, were realities.
6. Modern Roman Catholic Miracles become intelligibleacts. Spirits whose affections and passions are strongly excited in favour of Catholicism, produce those appearances of the Virgin, and of saints, which they know will tend to increased religious fervour. The appearance itself may be an objective reality; while it is only an inference that it is the Virgin Mary,—an inference which every intelligent spiritualist would repudiate as in the highest degree improbable.
7. Second-sight, and many of the so-called superstitions of savages may be realities. It is well known that mediumistic power is more frequent and more energetic in mountainous countries; and as these are generally inhabited by the less civilised races, the beliefs that are more prevalent there may be due to facts which are more prevalent, and be wrongly imputed to the coincident ignorance. It is known to spiritualists that the pure dry air of California led to more powerful and more startling manifestations than in any other part of the United States.
8. The recently discussed question of the efficacy of prayer receives a perfect solution by Spiritualism. Prayer may be often answered, though not directly by the Deity. Nor does the answer depend wholly on the morality or the religion of the petitioner; but as men who are both moral and religious, and are firm believers in a Divine response to prayer, will pray more frequently, more earnestly, and more disinterestedly, they will attract towards them a number of spiritual beings who sympathise with them, and who, when the necessary mediumistic power is present, will be able, as they are often willing, to answer the prayer. A striking case is that of George Muller, of Bristol, who has now for forty-four years depended wholly for his own support, and that of his wonderful charities, on answer to prayer. His "Narrative of Some of the Lord's Dealings with George Muller" (6th Edit., 1860), should have been referred to in the late discussion, since it furnishes a better demonstration that prayer is sometimes really answered than the hospital experiment proposed by Sir Henry Thomson could possibly have done. In this work we have a precise yearly statement of his receipts and expenditure for many years. He never asked any one, or allowed any one to be asked, directly or indirectly, for a penny. No subscriptions or collections were ever made; yet from 1830 (when he married without any income whatever) he has lived, brought up a family, and established institutions which have steadily increased, till now four thousand orphan children are educated and in part supported. It has happened hundreds of times that there has been no food in his house, and no money to buy any, or no bread or milk or sugar for the children. Yet he never took a loaf or any other article on credit even for a day; and during the thirty years over which his narrative extends, neither he nor the hundreds of children dependent upon him for their daily food have ever been without a regular meal! They have lived literally from hand to mouth; and his one and only resource has been secret prayer. Here is a case which has been going on in the midst of us for forty years, and is still going on; it has been published to the world for many years, yet a warm discussion is carried on by eminent men as to the fact of whether prayer is or is not answered, and not one of them exhibits the least knowledge of this most pertinent and illustrative phenomenon ! The spiritualist explains all this as a personal influence. The perfect simplicity, faith, boundless charity, and goodness of George Müller have enlisted in his cause beings of a like nature; and his mediumistic powers have enabled them to work for him by influencing others to send him money, food, clothes, &c., all arriving, as we should say, just in the nick of time. The numerous letters he received with these gifts, describing the sudden and uncontrollable impulse the donors felt to send him a certain definite sum at a certain fixed time, such being the exact sum he was in want of, and had prayed for, strikingly illustrates the nature of the power at work. All this might be explained away if it were partial and discontinuous ; but when it continued to supply the daily wants of a life of unexampled charity, for which no provision in advance was ever made (for that Müller considered would show want of trust in God), no such explanation can cover the facts.
9. Spiritualism enables us to comprehend and find a place for that long series of disturbances and occult phenomena of various kinds which occurred previous to what are termed the modern Spiritual manifestations. Robert Dale Owen's Works give a rather full account of this class of phenomena, which are most accurately recorded and philosophically treated by him. This is not the place to refer to them in detail; but one of them may be mentioned as showing how large an amount of unexplained mystery there was, even in our own country, before the world heard anything of modern Spiritualism. In 1841, Major Edward Moor, F.E.S., published a little book called "Bealings Bells," giving an account of mysterious bell-ringing in his house at Great Bealings, Suffolk, and which continued for fifty-three days. Every attempt to discover the cause, by himself, friends, and bell-hangers, was fruitless; and by no efforts, however violent, could the same clamorous and rapid ringing be produced. He wrote an account to the newspapers, requesting information bearing on the subject, when, in addition to certain wise suggestions—of rats or a monkey as efficient causes—he received fourteen communications, all relating cases of mysterious bell-ringing in different parts of England, many of them lasting much longer than Major Moor's, and all remaining equally unexplained. One lasted eighteen months; another was in Greenwich Hospital, where neither clerk-of-the-works, bell-hanger, nor men of science could discover the cause. One clergyman wrote of disturbances of a most serious kind continued in his parsonage for nine years, and he was able to trace back their existence in the same house for sixty years. Another case had lasted twenty years, and could be traced back for a century. Some of the details of these cases are most instructive. Trick is absolutely the most incredible of all explanations. Spiritualism furnishes the explanation by means of analogous facts occurring every day, and forming part of the great system of phenomena which demonstrates the spiritual theory. Major Moor's book is very rare; but a good abstract of it is given in "Owen's Debate-able Land," pp. 239-258.
*10. Spiritualism, if true, furnishes such proofs of the existence of ethereal beings, and of their power to act upon matter, as must revolutionise philosophy. It demonstrates the actuality of forms of matter, and modes of being, before inconceivable; it demonstrates mind without brain, and intelligence disconnected from what are termed a material body; and, it thus cuts away all presumption against our continued existence after the physical body is disorganised and dissolved. Yet more, it demonstrates, as completely as the fact can be demonstrated, that the so-called dead are still alive; that our friends are still with us, though unseen, and guide and strengthen us when, owing to absence of proper conditions, they cannot make their presence known. It thus furnishes that proof of a future life which so many crave, and for want of which so many live and die in anxious doubt, so many in positive disbelief.
* This paragraph did not appear in the article, as published in the Fortnighty Review, but its omission was a great oversight, as it is essential to a complete sketch of the "teachings" of Spiritualism.
How valuable the certainty gained by spiritual communications is, may be gathered from what was said to a friend of mine, by a clergyman who had witnessed the modern phenomena :—" Death is a different thing to me now, from what it ever has been; from the greatest depression because of the death of my sons I am full of confidence and cheerfulness; I am a changed man." This is the effect of modem Spiritualism, on a man who had all that a belief in Christianity could give him before; and this is the answer to those who ask, "What use is it?" It substitutes a definite, real, and practical conviction, for a vague, theoretical, and unsatisfying faith. It furnishes actual knowledge on a matter of vital importance to all men, and as to which the wisest men, and most advanced thinkers, have held that no knowledge was attainable.